Unearthing sustainable wellbeing

February 28, 2019


Dr Emma Stone

“Aro Hā will bring people together to learn about nature, the world, and ultimately about themselves.  Aro Hā models a transitional path toward a regenerative relationship with our planet. We’ve done our  best to design a place that meets the needs of the present without compromising our future.”

- Damian Chaparro, Aro Hā

Seated on a sub-alpine terrace overlooking majestic Lake Wakatipu rests Aro Ha: a retreat unlike any other. Aro Ha offers wellness adventures designed to rejuvenate and refresh the human spirit. Unlike the hyper-luxe bastions of excess that often come to mind when most people think of indulgent spa retreats, Aro Ha has elected to emphasise personal well-being in ways that nourish the spirit but are also gentle on the planet.

Principles of sustainability, permaculture and a dedication to living lightly and mindfully permeate the ethos of the space, which is aesthetically striking yet simple. Luxury here means intelligent design that harnesses the energy of sun and water, and the merging of tradition with technology, to create a breathtaking space that makes the most of retreat’s stunning natural surroundings without waste or excess.

For co-founder Damian Chaparro, emphasising an individual’s personal journey to wellbeing in a way that encapsulates a connection with others, nature and the earth is essential. Wellbeing is often framed with a focus on the happiness and wholeness of the individual. But deep and authentic wellbeing emerges as a result of connection with the food one eats, and the way one lives as an integrated part of the planetary community.

Chaparro and the team at Aro Ha are dedicated to providing vegetarian cuisine grown on the premises, with a firm focus on fresh, local, seasonal, nutrient dense produce. Crops are stored in cellars, refrigerated by the ambient temperature of the earth.

Guests of Aro Ha are guided to collectively finding healthier expressions of their bodies and minds under the watchful and expert eyes of world leaders in nutritional education, self-development, yoga, results-oriented fitness and mindfulness training. The intention is that those who spend time at Aro Ha, guests, staff and volunteers alike, leave positively transformed and inspired both on a personal and planetary level.

In both 2016 and 2017, Aro Ha picked up the Haute Grandeur accolades from the Global Hotel Awards, and has also received awards from Conde Nast Traveller and Luxury Travel Magazine.

Treading Lightly had a chat with Damian Chaparro about his vision for Aro Ha, passions and views on living lightly.

TL: In what ways do you think individual well being can benefit from the adoption of a more sustainable lifestyle?

A healthier relationship with our planet will certainly create healthier humans.  Yet we’re being asked to overcome some ancient drivers in our biology and psychology.  True sustainability requires sustainable human consumption. To get there we’ll need to understand and tame craving and fear.  Bring on the awakening!

TL: What were some of the sustainable building principles utilised in the construction of Aro Ha?


  • Passive Haus (Passive Haus is a rigorous standard for energy efficiency in building that aims to reduce the building’s ecological footprint. You can learn more about Passive Haus building principles in New Zealand here)
  • Net Zero Energy consumption (A net zero building is a building with zero net energy consumption. This means the total amount of energy used by the building on an annual basis is approximately equal to the amount of renewable energy created on the site.)
  • Waste as a resource
  • Zero fossil fuel function (No fossil fuels are utilised in the running of the retreat)
  • Permaculture-inspired design (Permaculture is a system of conscious design that imitates patterns and relationships present in nature to provide for local human needs)
  • New Zealand’s first renewably sourced distributed heating system
  • New Zealand’s largest privately held Photovoltaic array (which is a complete solar power generating unit).

TL: What inspired the development of Aro Ha?

Damian: Chris (co-founder) and I are both interested in understanding human potential.  We want to know how we can best live this life, and we want to share what we find.

TL: How does sustainability inform the cuisine served at Aro Ha?

Damian: We are an ever-evolving experiment.  The goal is to be as localised, as resilient, and as natural as possible. We organically produce as much of our menu as makes sense, and we all learn to be kinder to our planet in the process.

TL: How do you think we can best spread the message of sustainability so it resonates through all sectors of society?

Damian: I seem to be most helpful when I’m looking inside to see where I can be an example.  If I can’t live sustainably, why would anyone else? I also have a dream of working with politicians, so if you chat with any, send them our way for a wellness adventure.  My treat ;)




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