Will NZ's best wellness retreat really transform me?

Sarah Pollok
Sarah Pollok

Multimedia Journalist

When I learned about Resolution Retreats in Karapiro, I scanned the website with a curious but critical eye.

On the surface, it looked incredible; named New Zealand’s best wellness retreat in 2020, 2022, and 2023 at the Annual World Spa Awards, the 35ha property beside Lake Karapiro is also the country’s only solely female live-in weight-loss, health, and wellness retreat.

Several itineraries, from the three-day ‘fresh start’ to the 10-day ‘intensive’ programmes, offer techniques and treatments across the wellbeing spectrum from scientific (on-site blood testing and nutrition seminars) to spiritual (qi gong and meditation).

As someone who has pursued countless treatments, products and experiences that promise the ever-elusive state of ‘wellness’, I’m reasonably cynical towards anything vowing to unwind my stubborn habits in a matter of hours or days because most of the time, eventually, I end up back at the start; hunched at my desk drinking too much coffee or scrolling my phone in bed at 1am.

There was only one way to find out if Resolution Retreats would be any different, so I emailed the retreat and booked in for the ‘fresh start’ package.

Resolution Retreats overlooking the tennis court and main building. Photo/Supplied.
Resolution Retreats overlooking the tennis court and main building. Photo/Supplied.

One week before the retreat, I received a 28-page document detailing everything one could possibly need to know, from directions and packing lists to pages describing meals, staff, and accommodation. A sucker for information, I read the entire thing and felt a fizzy anticipation about spending three days eating salad bowls and practising yoga.

On page 26, I paused at a page titled “weight-loss guarantee”. See, unlike many wellness retreats, Resolution Retreats is open about the support it offers for those looking to lose weight; a goal that has become somewhat taboo in certain wellness circles.

Make no mistake, this isn’t because thinness is less idolised; it’s just less kosher to admit. So we say “healthy” instead of “low-calorie” or “getting lean” instead of “skinny”. Despite coming of age in the Dove body-positivity boom, I find the retreat’s candidness refreshing, especially since 50% of guests reportedly want to shift some weight.

Of course, weight is just one reason the six other women turn up on Friday morning, as we sit in a semi-circle in the “yoga chalet” and share what brought us here. Aged 30 to 65, some are recently divorced or pregnant with a second baby, others have just finished guiding teenagers through mental health struggles or are preparing for a period of solo parenting.

Specific circumstances are diverse but one shared thread combines them all; a desire to pause the invisible, full-time job of keeping a family running, to focus on their weary bodies and learn how to treat them better.

Women attend from around Aotearoa for their own unique reasons. Photo / Supplied
Women attend from around Aotearoa for their own unique reasons. Photo / Supplied

Thankfully, we’re in good hands with Joelene Ranby, the founder and key facilitator at Resolution Retreats.

Wearing a navy blue Aimn tennis dress with a tight brunette ponytail and slick Apple watch, Ranby absolutely looks the part of aspirational wellness guru. However, unlike the figures that grace social media feeds, Ranby doesn’t sugarcoat the tough reality of prioritising one’s health, illustrated by her own history.

From a family of “big girls”, Ranby said she grew up eating highly processed sugary foods and enjoyed a bowl of Sultana Bran topped with condensed milk before heading to her job as a chartered accountant.

When a family member innocently asked if she was pregnant (and no, she was not), she knew something needed to change. So, Ranby trained in nutrition, anatomy, and physiology, became a fitness instructor and eventually, founded Resolution Retreats in 2012.

“Health doesn’t come easy to me, I have to work hard at it,” she tells us during a nutrition workshop on the second day, earning knowing nods from the group. Unlike many in the wellbeing industry (for whom being ‘fit’ is their full-time job), Ranby gets the demands of real life. So, she shows us how to make Ricotta Bliss Balls, but then shares the most nutritious muesli bar to buy at the supermarket and toss in your car.

Armed with a polished PowerPoint, Ranby explains how appetite and hormones interact, debunks stubborn calorie myths and illustrates phrases like “medium-chain triglycerides” on the whiteboard beside her.

The perfect mix of expert lecturer and smart friend, she teaches us how our bodies work (information that demystifies my odd cravings or sleep patterns) but is realistic enough to end each section by saying “And if you only remember one thing, remember…” before depositing a gem of wisdom, typically printed in the workbook guests receive.

One of Resolution Retreat's seminars on health and nutrition, led by founder Joelene Ranby. Photo / Supplied
One of Resolution Retreat's seminars on health and nutrition, led by founder Joelene Ranby. Photo / Supplied

This moment, during day two, is when the cynic in me softens. When I realise that, unlike so many wellness retreats that promise to transform or enhance instantly and without effort, Ranby knows the path to feeling better is long and tricky and is honest about it. “We’re not about the magic pill, we’re about moving towards the optimal,” she says at one point, often reiterating the retreat’s motto “progress, not perfection”.

Of course, education and habits shift the stubborn dial of wellbeing but a little bliss doesn’t hurt either and the retreat certainly delivers.

After the ice-breaker meeting on Friday, we polish off morning tea (coconut chia puddings) and then I head to one of the 45 chalets on the lush, sprawling property.

Made from local stone and timber, the 60sq m chalet is spacious and luxurious, decked out with a combination of oatmeal, cream, and white decor with dark wood furnishings. In the small lounge is a sofa and flat-screen TV, the small kitchenette features a desk and the bedroom has a king-sized bed but the highlight is my roomy bathroom.

The chalet bedrooms are spacious at Resolution Retreats. Photo / Supplied
The chalet bedrooms are spacious at Resolution Retreats. Photo / Supplied

A soak in the jacuzzi bathtub with Ashley & Co toiletries must wait as it’s time for our first workshop (mental balance and self-care) with Lauri Blyth-Carter, an ex-Ministry of Justice registrar who left the corporate world and is the retreat’s general manager.

While less revelatory than the nutrition workshop, the session is a timely reminder of how the nervous system (parasympathetic and sympathetic) impacts everything from emotions to digestion and tips for self-soothing.

Lunch and all following meals are fresh, packed with nutritious ingredients and cater to the most nitpicky of preferences (e.g. “no mushrooms”). Yet, the most praised part of every meal is what isn’t included; meal planning, supermarket shopping, cooking, and clean-up.

“It’s such a relief to not think about what’s for school lunch or dinner,” is a common refrain as we sit in the dining area, sunlight streaming through two large glass windows while a fireplace chases away the winter chill.

Now, in the name of honesty, this grains-loving gal struggled with the humble portions of bread, rice, and pasta and I was very ready for meals when they came around.

It was only on the final night I realised that, if I needed a bit extra (given weight-loss wasn’t the goal), I simply had to ask. Sitting down during dinner, a slim, energetic woman laughed at the label beside her plate, which read “extra portion”, explaining she’d spoken to the chef.

Every day our printed schedules feature a chunk called “bliss time”, which covers several hours, after lunch but before the 5pm cooking demonstration.

During this time, we can do whatever we please and most of us headed straight to the on-site spa for pre-booked facials, massages, and a complimentary Flowpresso.

The latter was new to me and essentially involves velcro-ing heated compression wraps around your arms, torso, and legs (think Michelin man meets blood pressure cuff) then putting on an eye mask and noise-cancelling headphones playing gentle acoustic music.

Over an hour, the wraps firmly squeeze your body, supposedly massaging the lymphatic system. Whether or not toxins were wrung from my limbs, I don’t know but I did wake up after 45 minutes feeling like I’d slept for eight hours.

The lounge where I spent most of my time reading. Photo / Supplied�
The lounge where I spent most of my time reading. Photo / Supplied

Speaking of sleep, the booklet recommends you wean yourself off coffee during the days leading up to the caffeine-free retreat. Of course, I completely ignored this and drained my final flat white while pulling into the property.

The result was three sleepy days that made it clear how much I substitute coffee for deep sleep, as the relatively relaxed days have me yawning, napping and sleeping nine solid hours each night.

It still takes most of us a day to disconnect and slow down. On Saturday mid-morning, Ranby firmly reminds us to keep our phones in our rooms and embrace the chance to switch off. Guiltily tucking my phone into a bag, I follow her advice and spend the free time enjoying activities that feel ‘lazy’ back home; reading in bed and soaking in a spa pool, slowly walking a forest track, and journaling.

Exercise is certainly a part of the weekend and those who dread breathless burpees or intense yoga flows have nothing to fear as every class, whether it’s pool fitness or Qigong, has the dial turned down to three.

Thrown together for only three days, I’m delightfully surprised by how fast our little group bonds. Like kids on school camp, we’re quick to share past vulnerabilities and present struggles around the dinner table or, on Saturday night, an outdoor bonfire and every admission is met with a “mhm” of understanding or gentle encouragement.

A winter retreat meant it was too cold for outdoor yoga but the lakeside spot was perfect for circuit training instead. Photo / Supplied
A winter retreat meant it was too cold for outdoor yoga but the lakeside spot was perfect for circuit training instead. Photo / Supplied

In total, the all-inclusive getaway costs $1980 for three days (excluding extra spa treatments) but drops to $1500 if you share a chalet with someone or $1170 if you stay off-site.

Considering the amount the three-day stay includes, from a cookbook to cooking demonstrations, workshops and nutritionist-designed meals and the use of the beautiful facilities, it’s a pretty great deal and far cheaper (and more accessible) than a retreat in Australia, Bali, or Fiji, let alone the United States or Europe.

The question some (including my cynical self) may ask is; “okay, but what are the results?” Predictably, some things began fading the moment I drove home. At my desk on Monday morning, I’m firmly in my sympathetic nervous system (how the body prepares to fight a bear or, in my case, battle traffic) with a second coffee by my side.

Yet, it’s the retreat’s focus on education that has had a sustained influence on my life, weeks after attending. I now check the sugar content of my favourite products (‘healthy’ cereals and pasta sauce will surprise you) and usually skip anything over 10g per 100g. I take more time to stretch my body throughout the day and pay far more attention to getting a chunk of protein into every single meal.

All to say, I’ve made changes that aren’t sexy and extreme but humble and slow; small tweaks that will gradually form habits that stick around far longer than three days. Which, when it comes to any retreat, is the real goal.


Resolution Retreats run several all-inclusive programmes throughout the year, which start at $390 per day. Programmes include women’s-only wellness retreats and a resilience retreat, which focuses on stress and burnout and is open to men and women.

For more information on Resolution Retreats, visit www.resolutionretreats.co.nz or call 0800 473 873.