It pays to have a healthy scepticism of destinations promising wellness cures.
In the 1900s, Rotorua’s Sanatorium promised visitors a dose of “nature’s cure”. This was a combination of electric shock therapy, hypothermia and a suit made from porcelain. In Japan they swear by the healing practice of shinrin-yoku or “forest bathing” - a practice that leaves one neither calmer nor cleaner than a walk in the woods.
So when Destination Hauraki began promoting “The Coromandel Cure”, we had to find out more.
The tourism board for Auckland’s most popular summer bolthole has sought to back up its claims with science. Apparently a 48-hour break by the beach is now proven to lower heart rate, improve sleep and generally be a good idea.
The 87-page study commissioned by the Coromandel and conducted by the University of Auckland’s Dr Karen V Fernandez, of the University of Auckland, shows that stress markers drop by 33 per cent, and relaxation rates doubles. Two days at Hotwater Beach was found to drop by a mean of -1.54 beats per minute and increase sleep quality by almost 5 per cent. Although, as a trend, heart rate generally picked up on the last day of a holiday, a possible side effect of back-to-work anxiety.
“Results found that participants’ self-reported stress levels dropped by a staggering 56 per cent,” she said, calling a long-weekend on the Hauraki “a welcome antidote to the ills of the busy life of a city-dweller”.
The fact Dr Fernandez’ PHD is in marketing rather than medicine, is by the by.
Becca Goldsworth, one of the 14-person sample group, called the experience the best study she’d ever taken part in.
“Instead of a study where you’re popping pills or sat in a room for observation, I got to experience The Coromandel and enjoy a much-needed break.”
Naturally it has the endorsement of Thames-Coromandel district mayor Len Salt and the local destination tourism marketing team. After a difficult start to the year, with the storm-damaged SH25A expected to be closed through March 2024, the report was just what the doctor ordered.
Marketing manager Megan Nunn said there were plenty of places around the world prescribing time in nature and holidays for their health benefits. Now the Coromandel has “data to back it up”.
Although the study has yet to be followed by any academic appraisal, we’d like to volunteer to try and replicate the results. Sign us up for a beachy “pier review” in Whitianga.
What the doctor ordered: Where nature breaks can be medically prescribed
The “natural cure” has come a long way since the Rotorua baths.
New Zealand was a leader in the field of “Green Prescriptions”. Te Whatu Ora has been giving outdoor recreation and time in nature as part of its health and wellbeing programmes since 1998.
The idea has spread to much of the English-speaking world.
In the US, across 35 states, medical professionals can prescribe free passes to national parks under the Park Rx programme.
Since 2018 Scottish GPs in the Shetland Islands have been writing “Nature Prescriptions” for their patients through the NHS.
Since 2019, doctors in all 10 Canadian provinces have been able to prescribe nature breaks; more than 10,000 have been written up in the first five years of the programme.