This article first appeared in The House of Wellness magazine.

There are countless ways to unwind and recharge in this beautiful country of ours. For some, immersing oneself in nature proves to be the ultimate soul- soother, while others find that a luxurious retreat serves as an instant reset. Whatever your preferred method for revitalising the mind, body and spirit, New Zealand offers an incredible range of options. Remember to always stay sun safe – sunblock and a hat should be constant companions – and if you’re going it alone or spending time off the beaten path, always let someone know where you’ll be and for how long. Here are six ideas to help you create some wellness bliss this summer.

Critter comforts

Observing animals in their natural habitat is a tonic for the soul. Scientifically, this act has been linked to reduced stress levels and increased feelings of joy – which anyone who’s witnessed the majesty of a sperm whale breaching off the shoreline from Kaikoura or watched as the world’s smallest penguin, the kororā, waddles to a nesting burrow in Oamaru can attest to. Interacting with domesticated animals, too, has been shown to decrease levels of cortisol and lower blood pressure, whether that be through horse riding or visiting one of the many petting zoos around the country.

Can’t beat a retreat

Retreats offer a holistic escape, weaving a tapestry of benefits for the mind and body. Beyond the allure of serene landscapes, they provide a sanctuary for digital detoxing, allowing individuals to disconnect from the constant buzz of technology. Combined with cleansing diets, yoga and meditation, retreats become transformative experiences. A few to explore: Anahata Yoga Retreat, with spectacular views over Golden Bay, is run by a non-profit charitable organisation dedicated to sharing the traditional practices of yoga; Aro Ha Wellness Retreat at Glenorchy offers research-based programmes that include all aspects of natural health in a majestic Southern Alps setting; and Wanaka’s Mountain Spirit aims “to facilitate deeper connection with one’s self, each other and nature”.

Get the heart pumping

If you’re an active relaxer, you’re spoilt for choice with Aotearoa’s range of ways to get the blood pumping. Hiking and biking are not only great for your fitness but come with the added benefits of bountiful fresh air and fantastic scenery – great for the mind and body. The Tongariro Alpine Crossing stands out as New Zealand’s premier one-day trek and is recognised among the top 10 single-day treks globally. Completing the challenging 19.4km walk will reward hikers with breathtaking natural landscapes, including the iconic volcanic peaks of Ngauruhoe, Tongariro and Ruapehu. For multi-day walks, New Zealand Great Walks are so-called for good reason but often book out in advance. Spontaneous hikers may have more luck bagging a spot on the newest in the portfolio, the Paparoa Track on the South Island’s west coast, which opened in 2019. The beauty of this track is that it is designed for both walkers and mountain bikers. Biking is another great activity that all the family can get involved in. Hawke’s Bay has an excellent range of trails, and the Otago Central Rail Trail is perfect for all levels of fitness – with a gradual gradient stretching over 152km, you can choose a distance and a pace all your own along the former railway line from Middlemarch to Clyde, taking in scenic splendours, fascinating history and friendly towns.

Grounded and starry-eyed

Cool air scented with earthy flora, dappled sunlight, bird calls… The feel-good factor of being out in the bush is immediately evident. The serene act of forest bathing – called shinrin-yoku in Japan, where the practice originated – is about mindfully immersing your senses in this environment. The Waitakere Ranges, right on Aucklanders’ doorsteps, is a great place to soak up the healing powers of nature. Or make it a more formal affair with a guided forest-bathing cultural excursion in the majestic Whirinaki Te Pua-a-Tāne Conservation Park in the Bay of Plenty. Closer to home, even just taking your socks and shoes off and walking on the grass in a local park can benefit your mental health.

Feeling grounded isn’t just limited to the earth. Stargazing provides a cosmic perspective, fostering a sense of awe and insignificance that can alleviate daily worries. The Mackenzie Basin is the largest official dark-sky reserve in the Southern Hemisphere, almost entirely free of light pollution, while Stewart Island/Rakiura also offers an exceptionally dark location to view the night sky in all its glory. Both forest bathing and stargazing encourage mindfulness, which in turn promotes mental clarity and connects you with the larger rhythms of the universe.

Dive into some water therapy

The concept of “taking the waters” dates back centuries, with cultures worldwide recognising the healing properties of water immersion. Natural mineral pools amplify these benefits, promoting relaxation, easing muscle tension and improving skin health. Soaking weary bones in natural mineral hot springs becomes even more pleasurable when set in a gorgeous location, such as Maruia Hot Springs, located in the middle of the Lewis Pass Scenic Reserve in the South Island; or the many options of Rotorua, including its famed Polynesian Spa. For something off the beaten track, Great Barrier Island’s Kaitoke Hot Springs is hard to beat. Beyond pools, being out on the water anywhere offers a unique serenity, reducing stress and fostering a deep sense of tranquility.

Cultivate creativity

Nurturing creativity is a wellness booster. Creative activities, from painting to writing, off er stress relief, fostering a mindful state that eases anxiety. Expression through creativity becomes a sanctuary and outlet for complex emotions. Additionally, the joy and sense of accomplishment derived from creative endeavours release endorphins, promoting a positive mood. Some creative outlets that let you take advantage of the summer months include practising your photography skills out in nature – or you could unleash your inner Vincent van Gogh and try to capture the scenery on canvas. More super summer ideas include getting involved in the many sandcastle competitions around the country – the Bay of Islands Rotary Club Sandcastle Competition is always popular. Or, to truly stop and take the time to smell the flowers, why not head to the Slow Blooms permaculture garden in Matakana, north of Auckland, where you can wander the fields of glorious colours to pick and arrange your own bouquet?

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