An opportunity to 'rekindle her sparkle' finds Annemarie Quill at a women-only five-star luxury resort.

There's coconut water running down my face, flicked over my head by a priest. It trickles over my "third eye" that a healer has marked on my forehead and soaks into the rice she pressed into my throat chakra to release "my truth".

Cross-legged in front of a banana leaf laden with intoxicating flowers and burning incense, I "wash" my face as instructed in the sweet smoke.

I whisper a mantra, firstly to the sun, secondly to the week ahead, and the thirdly with empty hands - to connect to your soul, you pray just as you entered the world, empty-handed.

Only 24 hours earlier I was praying the rain in Auckland would stop.


Now I am drenched in coconut and sweat and magic. I am praying in my yoga pants. Hello Bali.

This is how Escape Haven - a women-only surf, yoga, wellness, fitness, detox retreat set in a luxury private villa in hip surf village Canggu - welcomes its guests, with a traditional Balinese cleansing ceremony, led by the villa's in-house healer, Iluh and her husband, a priest.

I am one of seven women from around the world, from all walks of life and ages.

The ceremony sets our intentions for the week.

I'm not sure what mine is.

Some women reveal they have arrived at Escape Haven to recover from bereavement, recharge the mum batteries, regain femininity, repair relationships, or face a crossroads in a career.

I feel apprehensive that my fellow yoginis will bend like pretzels in Lululemon while I struggle to touch my toes in my Warehouse Ali Baba pants.

The cynical journalist in me wonders what's in the incense that has got me merrily saluting the sun with tropical flowers when I haven't even unpacked my bag.

Escape Haven - a women-only surf, yoga, wellness, fitness, detox retreat set in a luxury private villa in Canggu, Bali.
Escape Haven - a women-only surf, yoga, wellness, fitness, detox retreat set in a luxury private villa in Canggu, Bali.

Over-analytical internal dialogue (I learn later this is my "monkey mind") falls away when I am shown to my room, a palatial villa, (called Dharma, truth) surrounded by two rivers, with a temple behind.

On a huge bed my name is spelled out in frangipanis.

I walk through a private bridge to reach an outdoor shower and Jacuzzi overlooking the water, white sofas, handwoven cushions and wall art. Sofas in a bathroom. Why not? First intention already set: new bathroom goals.

When the butler - Escape Haven comes with 24-hour butler service - presses a chilled lavender towel into my palms and asks if Miss Annemarie is happy with her room, I wonder what Iluh did to my throat chakra, as I can't speak, only smile.

Renee, the retreat's leader with the title Chief Happiness Officer, says the Dharma room was designed for a goddess.

"Which one?" I ask, as though I know several.
"You!" she replies.


Outside my villa there's a stunning pool, lush tropical gardens and riverside spas where a range of therapeutic treatments are offered.

A banquet awaits: Indonesian baked fish, lentil and pumpkin curry and spicy sambal sauce, followed by cacao and chia chocolate mousse.


This goddess in Warehouse yoga pants has landed in paradise.

If Bali is the island of the gods, then Escape Haven must be their heaven.

The Balinese believe Bali is a magical island, a place of manifestations. This was certainly true for Escape's founder, 43-year-old Kiwi Janine Hall, when she first envisaged Escape Haven eight years ago on a yoga mat in Ubud, Bali (famous since Julia Roberts' characterisation of Elizabeth Gilbert's spiritual awakening in Eat Pray Love).

A workaholic, burned out from an international marketing career, Hall knew success in material terms but was not happy.


"I didn't know what I was doing with my life. Something led me to Bali. I didn't even like yoga but I made myself a promise that I would turn up on that mat every day."
In Bali, Hall learned to quieten her monkey mind. It was then she saw her "truth" - a calling to provide women opportunity to reconnect with themselves and "rekindle their sparkle".

Hall wanted to offer more than your regular spa break. Instead, Escape serves up a smorgasbord of holistic healing experiences packed into a deluxe week-long rejuvenation holiday.

Women choose from a range of packages covering surf, yoga or fitness programmes. The week includes an "indulge and ignite day" with options ranging from eco cycling tours, cooking classes, jewellery making, or a mystical high tea and tarot reading.

Hall believes every woman has the potential to blossom into the most radiant version of herself given the support of an uplifting environment. Escape Haven has welcomed more than 3000 women through its doors, with word of mouth about its magic spreading with every guest.

Escape Haven - a women-only surf, yoga, wellness, fitness, detox retreat set in a luxury private villa in Canggu, Bali.
Escape Haven - a women-only surf, yoga, wellness, fitness, detox retreat set in a luxury private villa in Canggu, Bali.

This year Hall will extend the Canggu location, as well as open a second Bali Escape Haven on the clifftops of Uluwatu, where she will add life coaching to the repertoire.

The attention to detail Hall has poured into Escape Haven positions it at the premium end of the competitive market for wellness holidays, particularly in Indonesia, where retreats promising life-enhancement are becoming as synonymous with Bali as scooters and Bintang.


Escape Haven has a priestess as its architect - Hall designed it in conjunction with Iluh, who advised on its location - a sacred site on two rivers near a temple, with the impressive yoga shala positioned in the right spiritual direction for saluting the sun and meditation.

It is not just the high-spec property and naturally marvellous environment that make Escape Haven a five-star luxury resort, it's also the people.

Staff have the gift of intuition: my every need was met, even ones I didn't know I had.

When a tropical downpour burst from the sky, an umbrella appeared above my head.

Each evening an inspirational handwritten note in gold ink was left on my pillow with a lip balm, candle or chocolate. Service is bestowed with such thoughtfulness that staff seem like friends who genuinely care for your wellbeing.

That first night, after dinner, a massage table awaited in my room where Balinese masseuse Natalie began her week-long mission of unknotting a body that likes to curl over a keyboard. With her knowledge of how the body, mind and soul are inextricably linked, my daily two-hour spa treatments were the best I have ever had.


At sunrise we rose to class with yoga goddess Laura, who haemorrhaged positive energy that enthused us to open our hearts and minds to the benefits of "the practice".

There was no need to worry about my downward dog or my pants; we were all beginners, and when Laura assured us that only 20 per cent of yoga is the postures/asanas, we exhaled gratitude.

After breakfast of black rice pudding and coconut milk, and strong coffee (my butler understands me), Chief Happiness Officer Renee presented me with a spreadsheet of my week mapped out with spas, massages and yoga, stand up paddle boarding, healing with Iluh, tarot, and a visit to Tanah Lot temple following full moon.

"What can we do to make sure you go home having had the best holiday you have ever had?" she asks I reply, "It already is".

Days unfolded into a Hollywood movie in which I am the star: coffee, yoga, eat, spa, swim, learn, talk, laugh, pray, sleep. Switch and repeat.

The distractions of life ebbed away.

The hardest decision I faced each morning was whether to have a hot stone massage or a boreh body scrub.


My daily playlist was the operatic cicadas and the ubiquitous gecko.

I had my own gecko in my room the butler called Tick Tock. Balinese believe the noise of the gecko (a loud cuckooing sound) is an echo after someone speaks the truth. Tick Tock thinks I speak a lot of truth.

Escape Haven doesn't just nourish your soul - here, food is medicine.

There's a "no hunger policy" with menus designed by therapeutic chefs and sourced by local organic growers.

Dishes are gluten- and sugar-free, with vegan options, and tailored to personal tastes.

Yoga with Laura was a highlight, which surprised me as, pre-Bali, I would to turn up to classes in New Zealand to begrudgingly shift my clumsy body from tree to cow, and use the meditation to freak out about my washing pile and deadlines.


Laura taught me to breathe properly and I finally "got" meditation, or Savasana.

We were supported on a transformational journey through yoga styles including Vinyasa Flow, Power Flow, Hatha and relaxing and restorative Yin.

Escape Haven - a women-only surf, yoga, wellness, fitness, detox retreat set in a luxury private villa in Canggu, Bali.
Escape Haven - a women-only surf, yoga, wellness, fitness, detox retreat set in a luxury private villa in Canggu, Bali.

As the week went on, we delved deeper into our practice.

I would never have believed that by the end of the week I would be chanting in an ohm circle while each of us took a turn in the centre to receive "good vibes".

This was surpassed only by the exuberant "Yoga Beats" session in which, if I still had a monkey mind (by now silenced), it would be questioning why I am smiling deliriously doing ninja lunges to Justin Bieber in the steamy heat.

Yoga Beats is said to engage your physical senses and make you as high as a kite, which may explain why at the end of class we all joyfully jumped in the pool, yoga pants still on.


It reflected the spirit of the week that allows freedom for introspection, or the opportunity to hang out with the group.

You can immerse yourself fully into Bali's healing power, or dip in and out of the schedule and make time to explore the boutiques, markets and foodie hangouts of the surf-cool Canggu village. A driver is at your disposal if you want to venture to nearby Seminyak if you cannot live without that boho jumpsuit you keep manifesting.

Bonding with like-minded solo adventurers is part of the Escape experience. There were times when we would cry with the type of belly laughter that usually only surfaces among old friends.

Groups of women return for reunions, says Hall. One Kiwi woman attends twice yearly, having decided that Escape Haven is as important to her wellbeing as waxing and highlights.

Did I find my truth?

Although I'm not going to grow my body hair and give away my possessions, I developed a love of yoga and understanding of the how and the why of it. I discovered the world won't end if I don't check a newsfeed every minute, and learned to enjoy "the now" without my phone glued to my hand.

I thought I couldn't touch my toes, but actually I can do a three-legged downward dog on a paddleboard in the middle of the ocean.


My monkey mind is still a chatterbox, but sometimes I can quieten it.

I remembered how to play, eat well, and laugh till I cry.

Despite holding out to be the last person in New Zealand without body ink, I casually mentioned to the kids I might get a tattoo. Of a gecko.

"Cool, Mum, but don't do that Justin Bieber yoga in our garden."

And I believe in magic.

Whereas I prayed with empty hands at the start, I left with a full heart and mind enriched with tools to lead a happier, healthier life.


Every woman needs a week at Escape Haven.

What happens in Bali, doesn't stay in Bali.

Escape Haven - a women-only surf, yoga, wellness, fitness, detox retreat set in a luxury private villa in Canggu, Bali.
Escape Haven - a women-only surf, yoga, wellness, fitness, detox retreat set in a luxury private villa in Canggu, Bali.

Fact box

Annemarie Quill experienced the Refresh (yoga) retreat. Escape Haven also offers surf and fitness weeks, which also include daily yoga and spa treatments.
Retreats at Escape Haven Canggu start from approx. NZ$2400 (flights additional).