A young Kiwi traveller has died after taking part in an ancient Amazon "cleansing ceremony".

Aucklander Matthew Dawson-Clarke, 24, was holidaying in Peru when he joined a seven-day ayahuasca retreat designed to foster a spiritual awakening and bring inner peace.

Ayahuasca, also known as yage, is a plant that contains a hallucinogen, and induces intense psychological effects.

The retreats, which are growing in popularity with tourists and holidaymakers, offer a variety of other "purging" drinks.


They have been linked to serious health problems and at least two other deaths, prompting warnings about the dangers.

Mr Dawson-Clarke's father, Stuart Clarke, said his son had packed a lot into his life.

"Whilst Matt only reached 24 years, he achieved so much in his short life and we remain completely amazed and proud of his achievements.

"Matthew was no different to so many other Kiwis who decide to travel the world in pursuit of their dreams. It is devastating to us that he won't be returning home with all the travel stories like many others have done before him."

The Aucklander had been working for the past 18 months on a luxury yacht based in Europe. The South American trip was a break before he headed back.

"No family should ever have to endure the loss of a child and particularly in such tragic circumstances when they are so far from home," Mr Clarke said.

He did not want to go into the circumstances surrounding his son's death as the family had been focused on bringing the body back to New Zealand.

Mr Dawson-Clarke died on September 3 but his body arrived in the country only yesterday. A coroner is now investigating.


Mr Clarke said his son was in excellent health before heading to the retreat.

"We want people to be aware of the potential dangers so other families do not have to go through what we're going through."

Ayahuasca use, which often involves an experienced shaman, has been documented since the 16th century. It is illegal in many countries but legal in Peru, Brazil and Ecuador. Retreats can cost up to $3000.

The Government's Safe Travel website offers advice relating to the dangers of spiritual cleansing rituals that involve ayahuasca tea.

"While not illegal, ayahuasca tourism is not regulated and consumption of the tea does present certain risks.

"Although deaths from ayahuasca remain uncommon, there have been reports of psychological damage, and assault, theft and rape of people under the influence."

Friends of Matthew have set up a givealittle page. Go to givealittle.co.nz/cause/bringdchome/