These experiences are between just $15 and $500 per night.
One of the greatest feelings in the world is being relaxed. But as soon as anyone mentions a wellness or relaxation escape, most of us assume two things. The first is that it involves yoga and kale smoothies, the second is that you’ll need to take out a mortgage to pay for it all.
We want to shatter those perceptions. Some of us relax by taking a road trip, walking, or lounging in a hot spring – so we’ve found a way to unwind for every interest. And best of all, these once-in-a-lifetime experiences don’t cost the earth, starting from just $15 a night.
One of the country’s best value wellness retreats is a Garden of Eden tucked away on an expansive plot of native bush 20 minutes outside the Coromandel township of Whitianga.
The moment you ascend the steep driveway to reveal Wairua Lodge, it’s as if you’ve arrived in paradise. Large flocks of quails parade around the grounds, alongside a welcoming committee of tūī.
After settling into your room, you can explore an extensive series of walking tracks along the river, with hammocks and relaxation chairs scattered along the paths, so you can find a secluded place to relax.
By evening, you can book (for free) a tree hut bath overlooking native bush, or a “star spa” – where you can marvel at the Milky Way without any light pollution. End the night gathered around a fire pit where you’ll be supplied with everything you need to make s’mores.
Great Barrier’s green heart
If you’ve already knocked off the obvious Great Walks, like the Tongariro Crossing, you may want to try Auckland’s hidden gem: the Aotea Track on Great Barrier Island.
This two- to three-day hike around the island’s Jurassic centre passes through kauri forests, serene wetlands, up through dramatic boulders, across swing bridges, and even has a natural hot spring.
The two huts on the circuit need to be booked in advance. The Department of Conservation says: “The track is a combination of easy walking tracks, boardwalks, steep climbs, stairways and bridges. It’s suitable for reasonably fit beginners or experienced trampers.”
Unwind in Milford Sound overnight
To truly appreciate the solitude of Milford Sound, you need to stay overnight. The mountains, which soar from the sea, act as a barrier to the outside world and prevents any form of mobile reception. All those weapons of mass distraction we own, like cellphones, iPads, and laptops, are pretty useless here – meaning an overnight trip to Milford is a 24-hour digital cleanse.
The only place to stay (on land) is at Milford Sound Lodge, which has mountain chalets with spectacular views of the fiord. Cross your fingers for heavy rain; as soon as it’s passed, head to a lookout to see hundreds of waterfalls descend from the heavens.
East Cape escape
State Highway 35, around East Cape, is the best under-the-radar tourist highway the country has to offer. A visit to remote communities like Ruatoria, Tikitiki and Te Araroa feel like a step back in time. Kids ride horses to the playground, there are empty beaches everywhere, and fresh kaimoana is served at most local pubs and fish and chip shops.
One of my greatest New Zealand travel memories is falling asleep to the sound of waves in a beachfront motel at Tokomaru Bay, after devouring a fresh seafood chowder at the Te Puka Tavern. The next morning, we woke for a walk on the beach, where we found kids playing on their horses. We then joined queues at Cafe 35, where people come from far and wide for a paua pie.
A trip around East Cape is like a nostalgic road trip through a 1970s version of New Zealand – where simple pleasures like the beach and food are all that matters.
Hot spring heaven
Nestled in the Lewis Pass National Reserve is a mountain hot spring retreat where it’s perfectly acceptable – if not encouraged – to stay in your dressing gown all day.
Maruia Hot Springs is found on the Lewis Pass alpine route, where most of the drive is gloriously empty of anything but nature. Even cellphone reception has no chance of penetrating the peaks – the retreat is entirely off-grid and is powered by hydroelectricity.
Although the resort caters for day-trippers, you’ll want to stay the night to take advantage of unlimited access to the hot springs, massages, free sauna infusions with the resident sauna master, free yoga classes, peaceful lounges for reading and relaxing and exceptional food.
You won’t find burgers and chips here; this is a place to rest the body just as much as the mind.
Safari on home soil
The southern coast of the South Island is home to the Catlins where you’ll find a magnificent mix of wildlife, Jurassic landscapes and magical waterfalls. For your best chance of seeing seals, penguins, albatross, dolphins and whales, you need to spend a little time getting acquainted with the area.
One of the best places to do that is Catlins Mohua Eco Park, a tranquil bush retreat with highly knowledgeable hosts who will point you in the right direction for finding wildlife, depending on the time of year.
Aside from wildlife, there are the Cathedral Caves (one of the longest in the world), numerous waterfalls and the Catlins’ version of Te Papa: The Lost Gypsy. This museum is a collection of weird and wonderful moving creations, with an exciting array of buttons and levers to push. Hit one, and a goat skeleton will start riding a bike. Another button will unexpectedly start squirting you with water from behind. You never know what to expect when you push or pull the next lever.
Soar above Queenstown
Many of us have hot air ballooning on our bucket list. The thought of silently gliding above the countryside is a once-in-a-lifetime adventure that has captivated people since the first balloon took off in Europe more than 230 years ago.
As most of us only do it once, we wait for a spectacular location like the arid landscape of Turkey’s Cappadocia region to give it a go. However, many don’t realise Queenstown is home to one of the most breathtaking balloon trips anywhere in the world.
With Sunrise Balloons, you take off from Lake Hayes before ascending more than 1.8 kilometres (6000 feet) above sea level. At that height, you get expansive views of the Southern Alps over to the West Coast.
If your idea of wellness involves wine, there is no better place to spend a few days than among the vines at one of the country’s top wine estates: Craggy Range in Hawke’s Bay.
The stunning Mediterranean-style winery and cellar door has a range of villas tucked away in the vines where two couples can share the cost and make it surprisingly affordable.
Start the day reading in a quiet place among the vines, before a lunchtime wine tasting with canapes. Don’t miss dinner at Craggy’s exceptional restaurant – which elegantly embodies farm-to-table dining by showing you, in kilometres, how far away your food was sourced. Naturally, you’ll have an outstanding selection of wines to match your meals.
A journey to Siberia
One of the country’s most spectacular short walks is to the Siberia Valley, a remote but beautiful slice of Mt Aspiring National Park. Start the journey in Makarora – between Haast and Wānaka – where you’ll board a bright yellow bush plane known as Buttercup. You’ll travel deep into a magnificent mountainscape, before making a steep descent into the centre of Siberia.
You’ll then walk for three kilometres out of the valley to find a waiting jet boat, that will whisk you back to the start. This day trip has it all for those who want a spectacular walk with a dash of adrenaline.
An unexpected star
When most people think wellness, few expect to point their cars in the direction of Palmerston North. However, 15 minutes out of town is a charming country estate offering a candlelit spa, massages and expansive grounds to relax in.
Hiwinui Country Estate is a place where you’ll find a roaring fire, plush furniture, and silence. Having only two rooms, you feel a sense of space and solitude. You’ll be hosted by Jan and Dave Stewart, alongside their daughter Julia – who serves a delicious cooked breakfast every morning.
Make sure to book the spa bath in the evening; an outdoor fire and candles will be ready for you to enjoy after dinner.
Milford Sound Lodge from $225, see: milfordlodge.com
Aotea Track hut bookings from $15. See: doc.govt.nz/aotea-track
Wairua Lodge from $225 a night. see: wairualodge.co.nz
Maruia Hot Springs from $199 a night. See: maruiahotsprings.nz
Catlins Mohua Eco Park from $225 a night, see: catlinsmohuapark.co.nz
Sunrise balloons $445 per adult and $195 per child (using the $50 discount code KIWI). See: ballooningnz.com
Craggy Range from $450 for a two-bedroom vineyard cottage. See: craggyrange.com
Siberia Experience from $455 per person, including flight and jet boat ride. See: siberiaexperience.co.nz
Hiwinui Country Estate & Day Spa from $370. See: hiwinui.co.nz
The author was hosted by the properties mentioned in the article.
Brook Sabin and Radha Engling travelled the length of New Zealand on a Stuff Travel nationwide road trip in a new Hyundai Kona Electric. The vehicle has 449km of real-world range on a single charge, for more information see: hyundai.co.nz/Kona-electric.