Roses and chocolates are always popular presents, but try a twist on tradition with indulgent gifts that won't wilt in the vase or weigh the recipient down. We've sampled two that most definitely fit the bill.
The old saying "smells good enough to eat" certainly holds true during the Spa at the Pullman's newest treatment.
Temptation is averted when I'm told the cocoa nibs my skin is coated in taste rather better when they have cocoa butter and sugar added. The nibs - pieces of cacao beans which have been picked, roasted and separated from their husks - are a vital ingredient of the chocolate-making process.
Tasked with coming up with a chocolate-inspired body treatment and with access to the resources of local manufacturer Whittaker's, spa therapist Meghan looked beyond the melting stuff to its raw ingredients. She discovered nibs would make a fine exfoliator.
New spa manager Handre Zaaiman is a big dark chocolate fan, having worked with it overseas, and says the skincare benefits come from its more than 70 per cent cocoa content, which means it can contain as many antioxidants as red wine or tea, plus amounts of stimulating caffeine.
"The delicious smell of chocolate we all know and love naturally encourages our bodies to release serotonin, a hormone which promotes positive feelings, all the while reducing stress."
The treatment begins with body brushing, so the de-stressing comes later. This skin whisking isn't for the overly modest or ticklish, but it certainly revs up the circulation in cellulite-prone areas explaining why it has its devotees among Hollywood celebrities. After a brush-down, the nibs mixed with a sugar scrub are kneaded in, then I am wrapped in foil to bake for a bit, while my skin absorbs the fragrant mix. I choose an orange chocolate aroma, the other option being peppermint.
A head massage helps pass the time before I go to the shower to wash off my body's brown-as-a-cup-of-cocoa coating.
Back on the massage table, camellia oil is applied all over. This fine-textured oil soaks in impressively and my only quibble is the massage ends all too soon, although my skin feels noticeably smoother for several days.
This treatment is being trialled during May and, if it proves popular, it may be added to a revamped spa menu. The introductory price is attractive given a trip to this spa includes access to its indoor pool and fitness centre.
Be warned, however, that if, like me, you scoff the complimentary fingers of Whittaker's chocolate that you leave with, some serious repeat body brushing may be needed.
The 60-minute chocolate scrub costs $99 at the Spa at the Pullman, Auckland, during May and includes valet parking. Ph (09) 355 1242. spaatthepullman.co.nz
COMING UP ROSES
It's hard to go past the cossetingly familiar and feminine smell of roses. Luckily, after this Ren facial, you'll carry the aroma home with you, thanks to the application of a rose body oil to your arms and decolletage.
The treatment begins with you being invited to draw deep relaxing breaths while inhaling the Moroccan rose oil, before a sumptuous double cleansing. The usual exfoliation and mask steps follow but, as therapist Kathleen explains, it is the purity of the products rather than any innovation in the order they are used that makes this facial stand out.
She is too modest to add that her own gentle but sinuous fingers also make a significant point of difference. So does the clever way she uses towels to reposition my head and incline my neck without discomfort. When I ask about the delicate pressure point massage she employs she explains this is called tsubo and is another hallmark of the Ren technique which draws on both digi-massage and Eastern styles.
In all, 11 products are applied to my skin, including a concentrate, a serum, a vitamin infusion and lip and eye balms. It is these extras which make having a spa facial a complexion boost compared with the simpler at-home skincare regimes most of us practice.
Ren also offers a more active facial using glycolics, but I enjoyed the calming feel of this anti-ageing one.
This English line, with a Scandinavian name meaning "clean", is new to East Day Spa and may be purchased for at-home use.
It will appeal to those who enjoy a more natural approach, but it is firmly anchored at the indulgent rather than the worthy end of the spectrum.
Before taking my petal-soft skin out into the world, I indulge in a little time-out with a magazine and a herbal tea in East's "chill" room.
The 75-minute Ren Stay Younger for Longer treatment costs $150 (with 30 and 60-minute Ren facials available also) at East Day Spa, Sky City Grand Hotel, Auckland, ph (09) 363 7050. eastdayspa.com
BEST FOOT FORWARD
I confess, it had been a rather stressful day, make that week. It had been back-to-back meetings and the thought of leaving the office early to check out the new Heavenly Jing Luo Foot Treatment at the Langham's Chuan Spa seemed, well, a little on the indulgent side. There were still those budgets to analyse...
On arrival at the spa I am offered a relaxing herbal tea "good for grounding you", smiled the therapist as she gave me a form to fill out with questions about my current sense of wellbeing. Good for making you stop and be mindful, I smiled to myself as I ticked the boxes and noted a pattern forming. (Stressed? Yes. Prone to laughing hysterically behind closed doors? Yes. Actually, that one I made up.)
Dressed in a warm, cocooning robe, I am led into a darkened room where the air is filled with herbs that work to soothe and balance and which have been added to the soapy water where I soak my feet. I start to relax.
The Jing Luo Foot Treatment, specially designed by Traditional Chinese Medicine practitioner and spa consultant Dr Gladys Cheung, is based around acupressure points and meridian lines, , that Dr Cheung says, "channel qi or energy to the organs."
After my foot bath, I move to a warm bed. A herbal stone thermal bag is placed under my lower back and a herbal mask of mineral salts and a concoction designed to condition the liver, spleen and kidney channels, is placed over my eyes. From here on, it's all about the feet and lower legs as my therapist starts her massage. There are certain places where her pressure is quite intense - "that is the meridian for your spleen" - but for the majority of this 90-minute session I am lulled into a state of bliss. This treatment is a real indulgence, especially for those who have foot tickling fetish. By the end of my session I am relaxed, revived and my feet feel fabulous.
The 90-minute Heavenly Jing Luo Foot Treatment costs $165 (or $310 for couples) at Chuan Spa, The Langham Hotel, Auckland, ph (09) 300 3960 to book or langhamhotels.co.nz