Te Atawhai Retreat

A post on Facebook where I cried out “I need a holiday” was how I got introduced to the launch of Annah Stretton’s newest venture, Te Atawhai Retreat in Te Aroha.
I have never experienced a retreat before so had no idea what to expect, though on the lead up to going I received an email that outlined what we needed. I looked at it quickly and when I went to toss it on my desk, I saw the words ‘No coffee, no alcohol, no sugar and no phones.’

Everything stopped. I was to have no coffee and no phone? I didn’t even think I could do that. My days start at 6:30 a.m. most mornings and they always start with a coffee, the first of four for the day (the last usually around 4 p.m.). How on earth was I going to be able to not have that? I think it is fair to say I had an caffeine addiction, however not having my phone became the real issue.

I didn’t sleep for days before and I think my trying to curb my coffee intake caused me to seek out something to replace those daily cups of Java and thus my sugar intake increased (another thing I wasn’t going to be allowed). I stressed myself out so much that I ended up staying in hospital overnight. My blood pressure was very high and my heart was beating to its own drum. They kept me overnight for observation and in the end labelled it a good old fashioned panic attack. As embarrassing as that was, the doctor agreed that heading away on a retreat was the best thing for me.

I decided that I had a problem. I mean, seriously, who puts themselves in hospital over a vacation? So when the morning of the retreat came, I packed up and headed off to the beautiful countryside.

Te Atawhai is a 5 star retreat based around the principles of nurture, nourish and thrive. The retreat is designed to reset our modern day living. It’s a new way of living, a new way of thinking and a new way of eating. I decided I was going to go with it and not fight the process but learn as much as I could to start changing the way I was living.

One of the first things that really stood out to me was the location. Te Aroha is such a beautiful town set in an expanse of countryside and nestled under the big mountain. The location of the retreat was beside healing natural mineral springs (which came in handy everyday).

Everything at the retreat was well-planned. Our accommodation were breathtaking, the bedrooms boasting inviting high beds and eclectic items scattered throughout (it certainly is a place I intend to visit again). But if I was overwhelmed by the beauty of my room, nothing prepared me for the overwhelming emotions I had over the food. Everything was natural, no processed foods in sight. Breakfast, lunch and dinner were completely devoid of anything unnatural or processed. If I could give the place a sixth star for the food, I would. Never have I had such amazing meals.

On the first night, when the food came out I was in shock because it was such a small portion. I sat looking at it thinking, God, this fat girl is going to ask for more, how embarrassing. But I was pleasantly surprised at how incredibly filling the meal was. Each mouthful was heavenly and each time I thought it couldn’t get any better, how wrong I was because the chefs outdid themselves with every meal.

By day two, I started to go through withdrawals, the absence of sugar and coffee already starting to play havoc with my system, but, overall, my detox wasn’t as bad as I thought it would be. To compensate for lack of coffee, the retreat had a selection of amazing teas from Teatotal. (My favourite was the Lemon and Ginger. One of the first things I did was purchase some before my trip home.)

Each day we were challenged physically: First up was a hike. On that first day, we headed up to the waterfalls, and I can tell you walking alongside a river to reach the top made it much easier somehow, the beauty distracting from the effort and my screaming muscles. Water crashed over huge boulders through the fresh, green bush on either side. If you do go, I will warn that the hikes are challenging, but the concept isn’t about getting to the top the fastest—it is about getting to the top in your own time.

Just like life, each step gets you closer to your goal. I didn’t make it to the top of the waterfall and while my first instinct was to internally bash myself, our host Sherryl talked me through the achievement and guided me through a new thought process: It isn’t about the final destination, it’s about what you experienced on the way up.

On the way up I also made friends. The women on the retreat were the most beautiful souls I have ever met. All of us are at different stages in our lives, but each of us loving and caring and accepting. We banded together immediately and supported each other. And, oh, we laughed and we accepted. We accepted each other as we were and as we are.

The friendships I have made were the best thing I took away. I think we are now banded together forever and we all are on a new journey together, a journey where we nurture, nourish and thrive.

Each afternoon, we had workshops where we were educated about everything from nutrition to mindset to my favourite—equine therapy (horses). Personally, I wish we had had more time to play with the horses, but what I learnt from that session will help me in life and business.

I leant that your mindset is incredibly powerful. What you can do is all about how you frame it up in your mind. Nothing proves that more to me than what I achieved on the third day….

The walk up Te Aroha mountain. This is not an easy walk. It is 957 metres straight up. I think I was only 50 metres up when I started thinking to myself I will never make this. But with the guidance and assurance from Rebecca, one of Te Atawhai’s owners, I slowly made my way up the mountain. I was the slowest, but I made it to the top. I’m over 100 kilos in weight, and I lugged ME up to the top because I made a decision three-quarters of the way that I would rather die than not make it to the top. (I might add it wasn’t a warm, sunny day, it was incredibly cold and it was raining. At the top of the mountain it was lightly snowing.) It was an amazing achievement.

There are times in your life where you know you have to make a change, that you have to step out of your set routines and this retreat truly is a stop, evaluate and restart when you are ready to go for it.

I came home determined to change my eating habits. I was going to be more mindful on what I was putting in my body. (And I came home 6 kilos lighter and my body was toxin-free.) The first thing I did was clean out our pantry. I got rid of everything that was processed.

A month, later I can report that 80 per cent of our eating is wholefoods. Coffee has crept back into my life, but I am down to only two a day. I feel so much stronger..

Oh, and being without my phone? It became very easy. Now I turn my phone off at 8 p.m. every day and am taking regular ‘digital sabbaticals’ over the weekends. I have learnt to respect me and my time more. Truly, things can wait.

What Annah, Rebecca and Sherryl have created in Te Atawhai is truly magical. I promise, it will change your life as it has changed mine.

For more info on the Te Atawhai Retreat teatawhai.co.nz

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