The 14 other women had been together for nearly three weeks when I arrived for my three-day introduction. They had built a rapport that I could hear in the raucousness of their pool fitness session while I enjoyed my complimentary facial on arrival.
I had feared a batch of buffed, blonde bunnies in perky Lululemon activewear but instead met mothers, businesswomen, 21-year-olds: normal people. Most were seeking a lifestyle change towards less stress, healthier eating and a better all-round them. Sometimes, that’s the same thing.
They’d spent the past two weeks swapping second helpings for yoga and sugary cereals for soaked oats and chia seeds; and stodgy bought lunches for vegetable rice-paper rolls.
I met them at lunch on that first day (spinach, quinoa salad with a pesto sauce. It was divine, thank you.) The schedule is loose; some went into town to shop or to climb Mt Maunganui in the afternoon; some retired to their rooms — as I did, for a hot bath steeped in epsom salts and jasmine bath salt crystals. Others opted to go to a local trampoline park, some walked to the nearby Kaiate Falls — my choice on day two. If this was weight loss, I sincerely hoped it would take more than a week.
Before dinner we gathered for a brief talk about food groups and listened to our tummies gurgle in anticipation as a garlic-scented dinner of beans and finely cut beef was prepared. Programme co-ordinator Joelene Ranby says the retreat aims to bring about changes incrementally; to teach people how to make the changes they need to make themselves. To this end, the agenda features nutrition and meal-planning workshops, goal-setting sessions, talks on the role of hormones, and cooking sessions.
Chef James Broad lives nearby on a property where chickens cluck under laden avocado trees and a knee-high savoy cabbage marks the entrance to a garden where bees buzz among the flowering herbs and tomato vines climb above spreading zucchini.
Broad picked the green bean and butter beans for our lunch, adding home-grown parsley, kumara and melt-in-the-mouth home-smoked chicken — bought chicken, he added; his “pets” contributed only eggs and worked over the compost. Outrageously tasty starters of a brown rice fritter book-ended the meal with the equally outrageously tasty coconut date treats, proving that healthy food can taste better than anything that comes in a sealed bag from the supermarket.
Day three brought a headache so severe I could barely stand. The others nodded sympathetically as I sat down to breakfast: hey, no way was I going to miss out on my salmon and avocado on toast with cream cheese. I was in caffeine withdrawal. My morning habit came back to bite me with horribly big teeth that day. I was shocked at how such a small part of my daily routine brought such a punishment when I ditched it.