Want to spend three days away from the stresses of home, relaxing in a luxury lodge in native bush in the Papamoa Hills, with views looking out to the Pacific Ocean, all just a 15-minute drive from Tauranga?
"Yes please," is what I said to Joelene Ranby, owner of Resolution Retreats, New Zealand's only weight loss, health and wellness retreat run just for women. I first met Joelene, a chartered accountant, three years ago when she was a finalist in our first indulge Bay Model event.
Back then she was just starting her retreat business, and I said "Book me in". It took me three years but here I am on Anniversary Weekend, cancelling dates I had for the Jetsprints and the Winery Tour in favour of a much-needed kickstart to a healthier year.
Joelene was inspired to set up Resolution Retreats after attending a live-in yoga retreat in the Coromandel. "I was losing weight because of the food and the amount of yoga I was doing, and I was also obviously having a relaxed time-out for myself." She had also gone through a major lifestyle change in eating and health, losing 20kg in the process.
"When I was growing up I didn't learn about healthy eating, exercising or even cooking. Snacks were pies or a bowl of Weetbix and dinner was sausage and mash so it wasn't surprising I couldn't lose weight as an adult. I had to teach everything myself and I did a course in fitness. I wanted to share this with other women but in an environment where busy women can get away from the stresses and temptations of their everyday lives to focus on themselves, get pampered and lose weight. Something that works on the whole package - stress relief, rest and relaxation, success coaching, relationship building, body confidence, education on exercise, health and nutrition, teaching women to cook healthier meals, personal styling and having a makeover. Everything that would have helped me get educated, kick my bad habits and build some self-confidence when I was going through my weight loss journey."
Joelene runs the retreats at Ridge Country Retreat in Rocky Cutting Road, Welcome Bay. A main lodge with a redwood exterior is the hub of the retreat with a large kitchen. It leads to an outdoor dining area, a lap pool which is heated with geothermal water, and a spa pool. My home for the next three days is one of the on-site villas themed around the five elements of fire, water, wood, earth and metal. My room - or should I say my mini mansion - has a super king bed and queen day bed (for lounging around reading novels), en suite and geothermal bath outside on the deck. All water on the site is from a natural underground spring.
Every woman's journey that has led them to contacting us is different. Some common ones are women who are addicted to sugar, which has led to weight gain, and they are coming to detox and lose that weight.
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Joelene offers a Three Day Taster, Ten Day Intensive Package or Three Week Life-changer. The all-female retreat programmes - a first in New Zealand - have a maximum of 12 women on each retreat. There are eight on mine, of all ages, from all walks of life, and at different levels of fitness. The ethos is that the retreats are mutually supportive and non-judgmental. Many people are here for weight loss - the 10-day and 21-day stays guarantee weight loss - but also to have a break away from work or the stresses of home. Joelene says the biggest challenge is encouraging women, especially mothers, to take time out.
"Every woman's journey that has led them to contacting us is different. Some common ones are women who are addicted to sugar, which has led to weight gain, and they are coming to detox and lose that weight.
"Other women are attracted to retreats when they just need a break away from work and home life - the kids, the job and housework; women looking to get in shape after a baby; or recently divorced."
Weight loss coach Jo Andrews is the retreat facilitator. Greeting me with a hug as I arrive, I am relieved to learn she is no boot camp militant. A qualified personal trainer, Jo proves a great source of knowledge and support throughout the retreat - she is immensely knowledgeable about fitness and food and handles all sorts of weird and wonderful questions from the group. She is genuinely engaged with the guests and takes time to have lots of group chats as well as one-on-ones.
Food The meal plan while on retreat is designed by nutritionist Claire Turnbull, with each person's specific weight and health goals as well as dietary needs in mind. The calorie intake a day is about 1200 calories divided into breakfast, lunch and dinner, with two snacks. Joelene and Jo cook the food and before each evening meal there is a half-hour cooking demonstration.
There are also several education sessions on nutrition and diet throughout the retreat focusing on topics such as reading food labels, anatomy and weight loss and healthy eating. Joelene and Jo are always around and during the meal the conversation always turns to food!
We eat often and the food is good quality and tasty so you do not feel hungry. In fact I am surprised at the amount we can eat. We drink three litres of water a day plus unlimited herbal tea. No alcohol is allowed but at the evening meals, Jo makes a jug of fresh ginger and lemon punch with soda water. Not quite pinot gris but we feel very virtuous.
Exercise Resolution Retreats is certainly not "fat camp" US style where you are up at 5am doing star jumps. The philosophy is that exercise should be fun and, importantly, sustainable so you can do it when you get home.
The days start at 7am with Ryoho yoga with Jo - a gentle form of yoga working with organ functions and promoting a feeling of energy. This is followed by a half-hour of meditative yoga Nidra - a state of conscious deep sleep for extreme relaxation and subtler spiritual exploration.
After breakfast there is a fitness session each day with personal trainer Nicola Reilly, of online gym foreverfit.tv and fitness columnist for indulge. Nicola's approach, like Jo's, is to incorporate fitness into day-to-day life rather than impose rigid external routines that may not be sustainable.
On the first day we talk about the seven key moves that our body needs to do each day to stay flexible and fit: walking and running, bending, squatting, lunging, pulling up, pushing up and twisting.
On the second day Nicola gives us an introduction to high intensity training - current thinking is that the body benefits more from short periods of tough cardio activity that raises the heart rate than prolonged sessions. With this goal in mind, we complete a circuit on the deck and then run up and down the hill. It's tough but fun and easy to incorporate at home or out and about in a park.
The third day was my favourite - an exercise class in the pool. Again we completed exercises and raised the heart rate but it seemed easier in the pool even though muscles were getting an added workout from the resistance of the water. Nicola left us with the goal of incorporating some sort of movement into our everyday lives and aiming to walk a minimum of half an hour a day.
Jo also shared with us a four-minute workout that would be easy to complete on rising.
The option of doing extra exercise is also available during the retreat - one afternoon a few of us walked to the nearby Kaiate Falls.
One 45-minute beauty treatment of choice is included in the retreat cost and additional treatments are available for a little bit extra. On the second day of my retreat, I chose to enjoy a massage with beauty therapist Leanne Smit from the Skin Medic Clinic which was fantastic.
Another thing to mention was the camaraderie in the group. In just three days we got to know each other well and I imagine firm friendships are made in the longer retreats. You don't have to be a group person though - there is plenty of relaxation time when you can retreat to your room and read, hang out by the pool, or read in the lodge's library. For winter retreats guests often gather around the fire in the lodge. When we leave, we swap numbers and organise a private group Facebook page to share our progress post-retreat.
I left this retreat telling Joelene it was the best holiday of my life. She laughed but I was not joking - I felt not only revitalised (and 2kg lighter, I might add) but motivated to kickstart healthier routines. The great thing is that the retreat is not a quick one-off fix but it really does leave you with lots of tools to use and a support network which continues after you leave.
It has been a few weeks since the retreat and I have incorporated more exercise into my day, and been eating smaller and more regular meals. I feel lighter in mind and in body. I'm already thinking about returning for another retreat.
Three Day Taster - three days, two nights
Contact: Joelene Ranby or Jo Andrews
For more information go to www.resolutionretreats.co.nz
Cost: $260 a day, twin share, $360 a day, single room
- Three days of accommodation at a beautiful location
- Nutritious and delicious meals
- Nutritionist-designed personal meal plan (while on retreat)
- Daily yoga and meditation sessions
- Educational workshops, focusing on nutrition, exercise and health
- One 45-minute session with a beauty therapist - therapy of your choice
- Full-time facilitator support
Accommodation: Ridge Country Retreat,
300 Rocky Cutting Rd, Tauranga.