A new style of wellness retreat has set sail in Auckland. Stephanie Holmes gets on board
After six years in London, New Zealander Rebekah Railton was ready for a change. Life had been good on the other side of the world - she successfully launched her business SailFit, providing multi-day wellness retreats aboard traditional gulets along Turkey's stunning Turquoise Coast. But something was missing.
"It was one of the most fun, rewarding and life-changing experiences of my life," Railton says. "But I was starting to feel claustrophobic."
She missed New Zealand's natural beauty - "the endless supply of ocean and islands" - so she made the timely decision to come home... and brought SailFit with her.
Railton launched SailFit New Zealand at the end of February, luckily squeezing in the first retreat the day before Auckland went back into alert level 3. It couldn't have been better timing - those of us on board ended the day well set-up to face the challenges of another lockdown thanks to a day of fresh air, salt water, beach workouts, yoga, meditation, good food, and coaching.
"Our focus for the New Zealand market is about creating a space for guests to re-energise, re-vitalise and reset," Railton says.
If the first retreat is anything to go by, she's going to see great success. The mix of energetic activities and time to relax and connect with others was the perfect balance.
On a wonderfully sunny late-summer day, we cruised across the Hauraki Gulf on board luxury yacht Tawaki, while wellness and fitness coach Micha Swallow led us in a resiliency workshop. She takes a holistic view of wellbeing and encouraged us to focus on enriching our minds as well as our bodies. She taught us some really useful tools to manage stress - from a greater awareness of breathing, to the power of positive thinking and random acts of kindness - and we all ended the session feeling inspired to carry these practices into our every day.
After a truly taxing HIIT workout followed by a calming yoga session on the sands of Rotoroa Island, some guests enjoyed full-body massages in a secluded cove, while others made good use of Tawaki's toys - stand up paddleboards, kayaks, and a giant inflatable slide which I can 100 per cent recommend as the most fun you'll have at sea.
Sailing back to the city, all far more relaxed than when we'd boarded that morning, we shared stories of our lives and experiences of the past 12 months - none of us having any idea we'd be back in lockdown in just over 12 hours' time.
"If guests implement some of the tools that we empower them with on our retreats, it has the power to seriously transform their wellbeing and ultimately, their happiness," Railton says.
It worked for me - the last week in lockdown was made that little bit easier, thanks to positive thinking and gratitude for my day at sea.
I certainly hope future guests don't end up in lockdown the day after their retreats. But if they do, they can be sure they'll be well set up to sail right through it.
The next one-day retreat is due to take place on March 27, and is priced from $700pp. Private charters and corporate packages are also available. sailfitretreats.com
Rebekah Railton reveals what's in store for SailFit New Zealand
How and why did you start SailFit in Turkey?
The Turquoise Coast is absolutely stunning- it's an underrated gem. I went on holiday there a few years back and when the idea of SailFit germinated, I just knew it was the perfect location to launch SailFit. A friend recommended a company who chartered beautiful Turkish gulets (yachts) and I started planning the SailFit magic from there.
Why did you decide to return home to launch here?
I'd been living in London for more than six years and although it had been one of the most fun, rewarding and life-changing experiences of my life, I was starting to feel a bit claustrophobic. The lack of nature will do that to you. It was a two-hour train ride to the nearest beach, which was ice-cold at that. We are unbelievably blessed to be from Aotearoa, with its endless supply of ocean and islands - it just made sense to bring SailFit to New Zealand.
What will you be doing differently for a NZ market?
Our focus for the NZ market is less about the sightseeing and more about creating a space for guests to re-energise, re-vitalise and reset. We are currently running luxury wellness day retreats for the general public, with the next one setting sail on March 27. In addition to this, we offer companies a holistic, alternative way of approaching their business meetings, work dos and incentives schemes all year long. When staff feel valued and are armed with the tools to combat stress, it results in greater productivity and higher profit margins. Win-win!
What do you want guests to get out of a one-day retreat?
The current idea that being busy equates to success simply is not true; in fact, it's dangerous. So many of us are unnecessarily suffering from burnout, exhaustion and overwhelm. I am passionate about giving guests the tools to sustain the level of energy they need to grow, develop and succeed. If guests implement some of the tools that we empower them with on our retreats, it has the power to seriously transform their wellbeing and ultimately their happiness.
What are your plans for NZ?
Our goal is to be the leader of wellness tourism in NZ and also be at the forefront of creating positive change in workplace wellbeing. From a workplace perspective, we will do this through senior leadership retreats, B2B incentive programmes, staff retreats etc. And from a wellness tourism perspective, we are looking to provide ways in which Kiwis can still travel, explore and have an epic adventure even with border restrictions in place. We are already working on growing our luxury wellness day retreats into 5-day retreats for next summer, where we'll be venturing to the stunning Aotea/Great Barrier Island, a world away from the stresses of daily life, to truly realign and gain clarity while still also getting that travel fix all of us crave.