At a secluded luxury lodge in Northland, Kirstie Bedford Takes pause at a mindfulness retreat on the remote Purerua Peninsula
I'm driving along a gravel road surrounded by farmland, convinced I must be lost.
I'm heading to The Landing, a luxury retreat on 400 hectares on the southwestern tip of Purerua Peninsula, for a wellness weekend, but for kilometres there's been nothing but rolling green hills dotted with cows. I'm about to turn around when I notice an impressive stone wall and, as I head up the driveway, iron gates slide open. A staff member waves out. I soon learn that having no signage is all part of the exclusivity here, and besides, many arrive by helicopter.
We drive past rows of vines that roll into a glassy bay to my residence and it's picture-perfect. There are four luxury architecturally designed residences, all discreetly dotted around the property. Mine, The Boathouse, was inspired by a colonial woolshed, but inside it looks anything but. There's an open-plan lounge, commercial-size kitchen and two large bedrooms. The one in the loft has a waka hanging overhead. Bi-fold doors open to the bay, glistening under a perfect spring day; a complete antithesis to the blackened clouds that threatened to erupt into a thunderous storm within me. The last two months have been hard. My mother had major heart surgery and wasn't expected to make it. The stress of balancing work, a young family, and having a gravely ill mother had taken its toll.
I am unpacking my suitcase when I hear Barb Draper at the door. She's founder of Te Manawa in Auckland, which provides mindfulness and yoga workshops, and leads all the women's wellness weekends here. She's one of those people you can't help but instantly like, and I decide to give her the benefit of the doubt.
Barb came to mindfulness from a place of trauma. She lost her sister and both her parents in a short period of time, and had to have a double mastectomy to save her own life. Barb tells me she was initially sceptical about the benefits of mindfulness, but after much research, she realised there was a science to it:
"Depression and anxiety have a real impact on parts of your brain. It makes the pre-frontal cortex, which handles executive thinking, shut down. Research shows paying attention 'in the now' can have a profound impact on changing that."
We sit by the fire and talk and drink wine from the onsite vineyard (the largest north of Auckland) and my inner walls start to come down. I sleep to the sound of lapping waves and wake to the moo of grazing cows in those greener-than-green pastures.
The next day Barb arrives early and we roll out mats to meditate.
"People give up meditation very quickly because they expect to have some epiphany." says Barb. "It shouldn't be about that. It's about paying attention to your surroundings and clearing your mind. If it does wander. Just bring it back.
We move to Yin Yoga, light stretches that are gentle on the body. "Everyone wants to push harder and faster, but sometimes you just need to be kind to yourself," she explains.
Afterwards, we take a "mindfulness walk", feeling the breeze on our faces and the soft ground underfoot. Barb tells me how in 1807 the Māori village of Te Puna was located here and it was once described as the "capital of the country". It's fitting then that the property was developed with local iwi, and the acknowledgement is everywhere. In the largest property (where Barack Obama and Mick Jagger have both stayed), Cooper Residence houses New Zealand's largest collection of Māori artefacts outside a museum.
That night Barb talks through some calming techniques I can take home. One that is surprisingly simple yet highly effective, is how to activate the vagus nerve, the longest cranial nerve in the body by simply breathing in and out slowly for five seconds, six times.
Dinner is prepared by head chef Jackie Smith and incorporates produce from the six gardens on site. Every dish has Jackie's signature edible flowers. I savour each mouthful, each is as appealing
on the palate as it is picturesque on the plate. That night, I practice the breathing technique and fall into a blissful sleep.
The following day we meditate, practise yoga, go for walks and head out on stand-up paddle boards. On my last day I'm jogging around the retreat and stop to watch The Landing boat Iti Rangi as it creates a ripple across the water and realise that's how I'm feeling. The storm has gone and all that remains is a ripple, and that's something I'm confident I can now manage.
Purerua Peninsula, Northland
Getting there: The Landing is 34 kilometres from Bay of Islands Airport, Kerikeri.
The next Wellness Weekend will be held March 26-28, priced from $1350 for one person per night and NZ$1150 twin share per night, inclusive of food and all activities. www.thelandingnz.com/entry
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