Friday, March 1, 2024

Time Out In Paradise: Capsule Visits A Creativity Retreat In Glenorchy

A five-day creativity retreat at The Headwaters Eco Lodge At Camp Glenorchy is a great reminder to rest, retreat and also play, finds Capsule.

How do you design the perfect retreat for a group of stressed-out people, smack-bang in the middle of yet another stressed-out year? Firstly, you take away the need to do any chores – someone else will do the cleaning, cooking and planning for five days. Secondly, you make the schedule the same every day, so they can turn their calendars (and maybe their brains?) off. Thirdly, you tell them they can bail on everything and nap whenever they want.

It should tell you how powerful five days at The Headwaters Eco Lodge at Camp Glenorchy was for my soul that when I looked at their website just now, it was like I was looking at a photo of my long-lost love. (A soft sigh, a single tear down my cheek). Whenever I am stressed, I remember being able to sit in my cosy cabin – triple insulated, no outdoor noise – and read in SILENCE for three hours straight.

A dining table at Camp Glenorchy
A three-course Italian feast

I think about doing early morning yoga as the sun rose over the tops of the mountains, turning them all a gentle pink. I think about chef Pete Gawron, former chef of Saffron Restaurant in Arrowtown, cooking us a three-course dinner every night, and being able to turn up to the dining table in a tracksuit with wet hair. I think about walking the Routeburn Track (slowly… and the easy part) and sitting in silence with a group of women, appreciating nature with a sense of peace and awe.

I think about REST.

Given the nature of How Things Are Now, I didn’t let myself get excited for my five days in Glenorchy until the day of my flight, lest I suddenly tested positive for Covid-19 and was trapped at home (again). But upon boarding the flight, I looked out over The Remarkables that encircle Queenstown and felt the joy that comes from Not Being In Auckland (no offence, Auckland, but you have been a living nightmare for so much of the past two years).

I had signed up to do the Time Out For Body, Mind and Soul trip, as part of the Headwaters Eco Lodge retreat options offered by Adventures In Paradise. You can do a range of activity-based retreats and I wanted my range of activity to be as limited as possible – basically, the closest thing I could get to napping for a week straight (#fitspo).

But, luckily, the powers that be (Adventures in Paradise managers) understood what I needed – rather than what I assumed I wanted – and so planned a schedule that went like this: 7am: Yoga. 8am: Breakfast. 9.30am: Bush walk. 12.30: Lunch. 2-4pm: ART CLASS. 4pm: Free time. 6pm: Happy Hour (with wine if you wanted) (I wanted) and 6.30pm: Dinner, followed by an 8pm class on nutrition, mindfulness or creativity.

Why am I giving you the full retreat schedule? Because it was the same for every day and that meant that I no longer had to keep any details in my anxious little brain – which is a gift in itself.

The schedule was designed to prioritise rest, mindfulness and creativity, all of the things we can too easily leave behind when the going gets tough – and the going is always tough. The group that had signed up for the week that I was there ran from 30-75 in age, meaning that all activities had to be done by everyone.

As these things tend to go, it was the 60+ that were some of the most gung-ho about all the activities, which was super impressive and a good reminder that there really isn’t an age limit on anything worthwhile.

the lounge at Camp Glenorchy
The cosiest lounge, in the centre of Camp Glenorchy

In fact, when a group of us ventured out to go cold water swimming in Lake Whakatipu at twilight, it was the two women in their late 60s who wanted to go naked because ‘it felt wrong’ to wear togs. (if there is a more gives-no-f–ks genre of women than the over 60s, I don’t know it).

The retreats are designed to be gender inclusive but as fate would have it, our group was all women, and this meant the only man on board was our guide, Shaun Shallish, who was remarkably serene about the fact that he was sharing a van or forest with 12 different conversations being had, loudly and simultaneously, at any given time.

On day one, we were asked by the retreat’s guides, including Headwaters Eco Lodge co-founder Debbi Brainerd, resident Glenorchy artist Carolyn Dakin and Dr Tonya Cruikshank GP and health coach, to sit round and talk about why we were at the retreat. Answers were varied and private but safe to say, everybody had had a tricky two years for a variety of reasons and needed a break, ASAP, from their everyday lives. And to have a break that included gourmet meals, planned excursions and the cosiest of private cabins… ideal.

This award-winning eco luxury lodge has been named by Forbes, Time Magazine and Lonely Planet as one of the best eco-lodges in the world and not only does it prioritise sustainability to the highest global standards, it also gives back to the local community – meaning you know you’re putting your money into incredibly worthwhile causes, while also buying yourself five days of freedom. It’s not called a ‘retreat’ for nothing and being able to turn off the outside world is a real dream, because it gives you a rare opportunity to turn up your inside world instead.

a snack platter, courtesy of Camp Glenorchy
One of the many stunning snack platters throughout the week

My big reasons were alone time and trying to warm up my travel muscle. The first is easy enough to explain – the last Auckland lockdown saw all three of my household bubble working from home, full time, from August until March. I had forgotten what it was like to be alone and I knew there was a possibly finite amount of time to be reminded, with motherhood (fingers crossed) hopefully coming down the line in the future.

Secondly, the pandemic had also bruised my ability to solo travel – something that had been one of my biggest joys – and I was now too anxious to attempt it. I felt like a solo trip to Glenorchy, and meeting a new bunch of people for a week, was a great way to start.

But the most unexpected lesson I learned during that five days was the power of play. It came up, time and time again, whether it was taking a silent, imagination-filled walk around the spectacular Paradise, getting covered in paint and using absolutely all of the colours during the art class, after being told my our artist teacher, fine art photographer and photo artist Carolyn Dakin, that ‘there is no wrong.’

I felt it when we screamed like witches as we went into the 12°C waters of Lake Whakatipu, then sat in wet togs and puffer jackets for a mulled wine and a plate of chips, cackling with a bunch of also damp, also gleeful women. All fun, no responsibility – it felt like being a kid again (plus wine, if you wanted), and gently shifted away at least one year’s worth of pandemic stress. What a gift.

Emma was a guest at the retreat, courtesy of The Headwaters Eco Lodge at Camp Glenorchy

Accommodation Review: Te Arikinui Pullman Auckland Airport Hotel

Welcome to Capsule Travels, where we bring you stories, reviews and experiences of all the best the world – and New Zealand has to...

How Are You, Today… Brooke Fraser? The Kiwi Singer Talks Motherhood, Turning 40 and The Magic of The Creative Process

In our story series ‘How Are You Today?’, we have a meandering, mental-health focused chat with some of our most well-known New Zealanders. Check...

The Divorce Diaries: ‘The Text Message That Prompted the End of My Marriage’

Maria and Jake divorced because of a text message. That's how it started. From there, Maria watched as their marriage completely dissolved. Welcome to...

‘I Thought Covid Wasn’t Really a ‘Thing’ Anymore. Now I Have Long Covid’ One Woman’s Regret & Her Warning to Others

In the early days of hearing about the condition, many of us furiously Googled 'How to not get Long Covid'. When we were exposed...