NZ Yoga Retreat

Tara Sanctuary

NZ Yoga Retreat

Day One: 2pm:

I’m driving up a long winding driveway through native bush. Here in the Coromandel at my annual NZ Yoga Retreat, the atmosphere is still and there is an almost eerie absence of people. The city, only two hours away, feels like a distant memory. I’m definitely in the country now. I’m at Mana Retreat Centre.

Home is the same cabin that I choose every year. I give an option to all repeat attendees, to take their same room each year.  My cabin, a short walk to the main lodge, has sweeping views of the harbour. I unpack, lay a crystal on my bedside table and select a few things to take back down to the studio. I then wander down the path, across the volleyball court and into the octagon shaped room to get ready. It’s Autumn and a chill is in the air that wasn’t there last week so decide to light the fire. We have assistants to help with this stuff, but lighting the fire reminds me of Dad, so I do it myself.

I drag the altar table to the front of the room. On it I place flowers, crystals & candles. I was caught out one year when I tried to buy flowers in the surrounding townships. There were no florists and no flowers anywhere! This year we have Auckland flowers on the altar. I set my mat and yoga cushion in front of the altar, say a prayer and lay out a circle of cushions for my guests.

I can’t wait to meet them. I’m running retreats overseas now, but this is my only NZ yoga retreat, and I affectionately call it ‘the Yoga Sanctuary annual holiday’. About 50% of attendees won’t be from my yoga studio however, and I already feel like I know some of them.

The studio is ready, it smells soooo good in there, time for a cup of tea. This is an alcohol free, vegetarian NZ yoga retreat, and even though that would be fairly standard of a four day snapshot of my life, when I pair it with nature and the extra yoga and meditation that we’ll be doing, I feel a sense of purity that don’t always feel at home.


The staff are preparing dinner. I’m in a large dining room with several tables that seat about 8 guests each. Off to one side is a huge commercial kitchen with big exposed orange brick windows so that we can see dinner prep. The ‘chop chop’ of the knives, the muted conversations and the aromas make me feel at home.

After my tea, I walk back up the path to my cabin. I see someone being shown to their room in the neighbouring lodge. Not even really sure if she knows who I am I wave out anyway. We’ll meet properly soon enough.

What do I want my guests to feel this year? Each year has a theme, but to be honest, I just want people to feel that sense of simplicity and purity that I feel whenever I’m here. It’s similar to childhood. Remember when you were a kid and dinner was chosen, cooked and served? You’d play, learn, and then come inside to eat. Not too much is expected of children, but a platform is provided in the hope they will be happy, healthy, challenged and fulfilled..

Well, if you had a good childhood, you’ll remember those times and you’ll get a sense of that here. If you didn’t, it is my intent that you’d have that simple, yet profound experience of being nurtured and cared for. It’s what I do well, and it’s what I enjoy doing.


We are sitting in a circle in the octagon shaped yoga studio. Some of my friends are here. Michelle’s got a trestle table set up with jewellery, kimonos, crystals, smudge sticks, potions, books and more. Anne-Marie is here and she’s brought her bespoke home made candles to sell. We can smell them all around us. A few regulars are here from the studio, they come every year and are familiar with the grounds. It’s comforting to know that another can turn on the sauna at 6.30am. The top lodges are right next door to the sauna. Some mornings I wander up the road in the dark to turn it on. Other years the regular attendees offer to do it for me.

After the introductions we file into the dining room to eat. Michelle drifts around with a cup of tea in her hand the entire time.


I’m excited. This is where I get to do what I do best. Teach yoga. Some people are a bit nervous ‘we just had dinner’. I assure them that we will ease in slowly to get the food digested before anything too dynamic. I know they’re going to love this.


Bed time. Some filter straight to their rooms. Others go into the library to read, the rest grab torches for a night walk up to the sauna before bed.

Day Two: 6.30am:

Still dark, I wrap up warm and walk down the path to light the fire and prepare the studio. As the studio warms, I sit in meditation. People quietly enter one by one and follow suit. By 7.30am we’re all here and I guide everyone in a half hour mediation before breakfast. It is not only the NZ Yoga Retreat where we start the day this way, this is on every single yoga retreat that I facilitate.

“Remember that you can meditate with your eyes open. If you want to scoot up to the window and simply gaze at the beauty for half an hour, please do so.”

The studio still hasn’t warmed fully. Some settle around the fire and journal, others wrap up in blankets, the rest sit by the windows and gaze outward. There is a different energy than at home. We woke on the same property, still a bit sleepy and there’s a deeper connection. People already seem relaxed around each other and this is an energy that I am committed to creating and maintaining.


Lunch was chickpea salad with apple pie for dessert. The food settled in, we are now meeting in front of the main lodge to hike up to the chapel. The chapel, called Tara Sanctuary (just like my Yoga Sanctuary) has incredible acoustics for singing. Two women are going to do a duet for us when we get there. They didn’t come together, but a friendship has begun to form. It is a great joy to feel that my retreat was the catalyst for a new friendship. I cast my mind back to last year’s Bali retreat where a woman was proposed to. Sooooo good.

We wander through the native forest and see tiny statues of gods and goddesses along the path. It feels like they have been sitting there in the forest for hundreds of years.  At the top we emerge from the forest to see a statuesque chapel standing alone in the silence. Humanity feels like it is miles away, back at the bottom of the mountain. The chatter becomes quiet as people take photos and drink in the view. I feel proud. I love it here, and I can see that my guests are blown away by Mana’s beauty.

Some decide to continue all the way to the top of the mountain. Here they will have 360 degree views of the Coromandel Peninsula. Others hang out at the chapel before going back down to the main lodges and cabins.


We’re feeling relaxed. Since being at my NZ yoga retreat, we’ve already done two yoga classes and a hike.

“Don’t worry!” I say, “It’s Restorative Yoga this afternoon. We are pretty much going to take a yoga nap in the studio.” And that is just what we do. We grab bolsters, blankets and props, stretch out and relax for 90 minutes. This class takes us pretty much up to dinner.


We wander back into the studio and roll up the yoga mats. No yoga tonight. Instead Martin, a pharmacist, yoga student / teacher who walks the natural path, chats about how to use supplements to bring your body to extraordinary health. He is an incredible speaker and has everyone captivated. It was his daughter that was proposed to in Bali at last year’s retreat. He’s one of the regulars.


Final Day. I’m packed up, the car is loaded and my guests are all on the road. I love what I do. I’m tired, ready to go home, but I’m bloody satisfied. Over three nights / four days, I’ve eaten pure, done what I love, shared what I know and brought people back to a sense of pure joy and simplicity.

I drive back down the winding driveway through the forest and back home to Auckland. Done and dusted for another year.

Find out more about Yoga Retreats with me.