Me time. We all want it – the challenge is making it happen. So it’s only fitting that in this spring/well-being issue, we plant an inspirational seed for a relaxing and reviving getaway. I took one for the team when I committed to experiencing one or two new things that were outside my comfort zone of eat, drink, sleep, repeat and headed to the Waikato for a quick recharge. It left me wondering why I don’t do this more often. Here’s a quick and easy trail for you to follow should you get the urge. Along the way I guarantee some moments of true bliss.

Zen and the art of tea drinking

You will probably have heard of Zealong and you may even drink their outstandingly delicious tea, but unless you have visited their luxury tea estate, you will be unable to appreciate the depth of this incredible venue and the multi-talented team behind New Zealand’s only commercial tea estate. Ideally located close to Hamilton, it’s the perfect place to start your journey to unwind in what feels like a beautifully wrapped botanical bouquet of multi-sensory delights. Take a tea walk through the picture-pretty gardens to discover numerous hand-crafted copper statues and sculptures, and breathe in the gently sloping fields of lovingly tended 100% certified organic tea. At the tea house you can indulge in an à la carte menu or take advantage of high tea, a savoury and sweet collection of bites curated to partner with their superb tea selection while you relax and take in the soothing surroundings. But it is the art of the tea ceremony that you must not miss, a tasting that has been painstakingly choreographed to ensure a full understanding of the complexity and depth of flavour in each precious leaf. From the more than 1.2 million tea plants that thrive on the estate, only the very top, young and tender leaves are plucked by hand at harvest, as these are the most flavourful. They are then sun-dried and withered to reduce their moisture, and tossed to initiate the oxidation process before the real work starts, when highly skilled tea masters oversee the process of browning the leaves. Zealong’s smooth and silky green tea, with its floral notes and subtle sweet finish, remains unoxidised, their sweet and fresh-tasting oolong is partially oxidised; and their full-bodied black tea, with its gorgeous smooth, honeyed undertone, is fully oxidised in a specialised glass house before de-enzyming (stopping) the oxidation process by using high temperature. Pressure is repeatedly applied to roll the leaves to release their juices, and the final step is the drying process, which further develops the flavour, colour and aroma. The story of Zealong is one for New Zealanders to be mighty proud of. It’s quite incredible to think that back in 1996 founder Vincent Chen created this magnificent tea empire from only 130 tea-plant cuttings; today it’s a premium New Zealand product that is sought after by tea connoisseurs across the globe. If you are yet to discover the connection between Zen and tea drinking, this peaceful sanctuary pours a superb blend of Waikato hospitality into each and every cup.

Stay a while

As for where to stay for your 24 hours of bliss, I have found a little piece of paradise. You may want to hit Cambridge first to grab some really good cheese and stock up on a few bottles of something delicious, and then head to the Oar & Paddle where hosts David and Sue Coldicutt have set up a hideaway for you to enjoy a break on your own or, even better, a couple of days away with friends. If you book ahead you might be lucky enough to bag the new chalet – ‘The Oarhouse’ – with two bedrooms, both with their own en suite and a number of bed configurations available. Here you can definitely leave behind the chaos and find some calm. Picturesque bike trails and walks are close to hand, but I suggest you unpack that goodie bag and head straight out to the extensive deck overlooking beautiful Lake Karapiro and just breathe…

Deep discoveries

Speaking of breathing, if you’ve come this far, I’d encourage you to venture a little further because something quite magical happened to me while staying in that stunning chalet on the banks of a glorious lake. I met Sandro Mota, an award-winning wellness coach who specialises in restorative breathwork. This therapy uses breathing exercises to improve mental, physical and spiritual health. Now, the only time I’ve ever really thought about controlled breathing was in prenatal classes, and that was a total waste of time because I was blessed with a premature delivery at 24 weeks and had absolutely no control over the situation. So it was with great scepticism that I approached Sandro’s breathing workshop, and with a huge fear of not being the one in charge of the conversation. After a series of intimate but necessary questions to get the ball rolling, before I knew it, he had me remembering my childhood and important details around situations that I had long forgotten, details that somehow connected to issues and feelings that I had pushed right down deep inside, many, many years ago. The Mota experience will be different for everyone and has been used by executives looking to enhance focus, people wanting to reduce stress and improve energy levels or, on a more serious note, to find release from acute trauma. I won’t treat you to the murky depths of my session but I will tell you that, despite my original cynicism, I felt safe in this space with Sandro, who is without a doubt a truly beautiful soul. I walked away with a much-needed change of perspective. You see, I’ve always handled whatever challenging cards I’m dealt along the way by pushing my feelings way below the surface and just getting on with things. I’ve worn that ability as a self-awarded badge of honour. I’m proud of my resilience, and yet I’ve lived my life always feeling as if tears are never very far from the surface. I’ll admit that breathing therapy may not be for everyone, but I am certainly enjoying my newfound freedom to let go of the past and I’ve been able to recognise some barriers I hadn’t even realised were holding me back. For me, this was ‘me’ time very well spent.

Taste the freedom

All that heavy breathing can work up an appetite. A cute and relatively new little spot to head to for dinner is Que Wine bar on Empire Street in Cambridge. Tim Beasant has opened a small, cosy neighbourhood venue and been lucky enough to harness the super-talented Sebastian Lemercier as head of house. Sebastian knows his wines and also knows a thing or two about how to pair them with something delicious. That’s where chef Siobhan Cole comes in. Working from a tiny kitchen, she was dishing up some big comfort during my mid-winter visit, including duck confit with braised red cabbage, red wine and black cherry, beef bourguignon with potato bread and a perfectly made mushroom risotto. This is a great, no-fuss spot for a few good glasses over luscious charcuterie or a meal with mates.

For a feel-good breakfast, brunch or lunch, Paddock on Victoria Street in Cambridge is a must-do. In this small but cleverly arranged space, the menu is quite extensive and it all looks really good. A cabinet bulging with goodies, burgers, bagels and bowls, omelettes, waffles, chargrilled bruschetta and eggs Bene are all here, plus an impressive list of Paddock smoothies with protein powder, chia seeds or spirulina add-ons. What better way to set yourself up for a lazy day?

Take the slow road

Another spot of self-indulgence before you hit the road is a visit to Slow Beauty at Le Papillon Day Spa, just 10 minutes’ drive from Cambridge in Te Miro. You can go it alone or book a group spa package and enjoy the relatively new concept of holistic ‘slow’ beauty. Yep, it’s just like slow cooking but for the skin, with a similar shift in values away from short-term convenience towards slower, deeper and truer ideals. No machines, no quick-fixes, no harsh chemicals, just plant-therapy, touch and wellness wisdom soothingly administered by beauty therapist Yolanda Floor. The products used are from the Janesce range, recognised for pure plant extracts that feed, nourish and support the skin, and the Bestow range of skin-nutrition boosters formulated by New Zealand dermo-nutritionist Janine Tait. With a great selection of pamper and relax/unwind treatments on offer, a highlight is that Yolanda welcomes her spa-package guests with drinks and nibbles.

Prioritising that sparkle

Here is where we pull out the big guns in our Waikato wellness round-up and where I am taken totally out of my comfort zone. It took a great deal of courage to make my way to Resolution Retreats on Tirau Road, Lake Karapiro. The words ‘fat camp’ and ‘do you need to buy wine’ were flashing in front of me like a neon sticky note for the entire drive. I was headed to a wellness retreat run by women, for women and I had a fair idea that would mean, no wine or cheese. On the day before my trip, as I started to hyperventilate about finding a bathing suit that would fit, I kept picturing myself in my cute yellow 1980s Lycra bikini (yes, I had a tan back then) as I settled miserably for a horrible lifeless, shapeless black one-piece. Beyond depressing… but my reward for having a magnificent job that has me eating for a living and spending every other available moment hunched over my laptop.

Resolution Retreats founder Joelene Ranby was in a position 10 years ago where she could have really used the award-winning retreat that she has created. It is that valuable personal understanding of how overwhelming the endless information about wellness, nutrition, supplements, exercise and lifestyle habits can be, that is at the core of this retreat experience. The super-comfortable private accommodation, the nutritionally planned meals, the health and education workshops and the brutal (for some) but flexible exercise regime, plus a smorgasbord of spectacular spa treatments within this spacious rural oasis are all excellent elements of the 3-, 4-, 7-, 10-, 14- or 21-day programmes on offer. But it is the interaction with the people, both the team and the guests, that makes this experience life changing.

Nutritional guru Emma Baldwin makes a huge impact with her simple and easy menus, especially the spectacular and all-important snacks! Retreat facilitator Carly Kirby gave me a much-needed lightbulb moment with the realisation that my body has not yet given up and I can push myself much harder than I thought with regards to exercise. Functional nutritionist Vinka Wong’s presentation was so bloody good I’ve introduced you to her here. Facilitator Tiffany Matthews made the excruciating morning workouts fun. FUN! And brought me to tears in a yoga session that left me feeling so good, I was distraught. Why had I not taken care of myself for so long? Finally, founder Joelene made it undeniably clear that at the end of the day, when I turn to my emotional toolbox for support and inspiration, and all it contains is wine and chips, it might be time to make some changes.

Looking at the diverse bunch of women around me from all walks of life, it was clear that they were all extremely vested in this opportunity to leave behind the stress of the day-to-day and family and business responsibilities for a short, intense period, in order to reset their lifestyles. Plus, the spectacular spa treatment menu is pure genius. I’d climb Rangitoto backwards in high heels for one more taste of the healing power of touch from Vicki Keene and her luxurious hot stone massage.

Although we pretty much all agreed that the ‘Retreat Wine’ made from herbal teas and sparkling water will never replace the real thing, I’m willing to bet that we are all still feeling an inner sparkle weeks after our retreat experience and have found it to be a powerful kickstart to breaking some very old, very stale and very dangerous habits.

Stress may be a state of mind, but so is bliss and we can all benefit from a little break from the madness. It doesn’t have to be a massive investment on a huge week away, but taking care of yourself is critical. Here’s hoping ‘me’ time just got easier.