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Earlier this year my husband and I were lucky enough to visit Maruia Hot Springs and experience the gifts it has on offer first-hand. It is one of a growing number of wellness centres globally that are incorporating extreme forest bathing, pure cold water from above, hot water from a historical natural thermal mineral spring below and offering practices that concentrate on the whole body. We soon discovered that Maruia Hot Springs is not just a spa or some hot pools – it’s a service station for the mind, body and soul.

We wanted the most out of our days at Maruia Hot Springs, a two-hour drive from Christchurch, so we tried the rejuvenating mindful bathing experience, a guided session which takes you through a 10-minute hot soak in the mineral pools followed by a 15-minute sauna, a cold plunge, another sauna including the application of a 100 per cent natural face mask and an intense steam to finish, in the steam room.

Some people visit a wellness centre, happy to leave with just soft skin, but we were seeking something that not only challenges the body but also the mind. A quality retreat should offer nourishment for the mind, the body and the spirit, to enable you to live with more clarity, peace and happiness. Well, that’s the plan. But first we had to stay in the hot sauna long enough, allowing ourselves to feel almost uncomfortable and then breathing through it. ‘Focus on the breath,’ said Kael, the Springs sauna master, reminding us to slowly inhale and exhale. We were encouraged to relax, stretch out the body, if and where possible, and allow ourselves to sweat.

You learn quite a bit about the body’s ability to sweat. You sweat from places you didn’t know had sweat glands. Sweat even comes out of your shins. Who knew? When working through the sauna session we were reminded of the breath and over time it becomes all you seem to focus on as you push yourself through the barrier of feeling hot, sweaty and uncomfortable. At times we started thinking we couldn’t do this, but with encouragement from Kael, we did.

After the sauna we were guided through a cold plunge. (Yes, there’s more to that than just “jump in”.) Is there an easy way? The best tips here are to try to relax, not to squirm or wriggle too much in the cold water and take deep breaths in and out. It’s actually amazing how far you can push your body if you allow it. Kael reminded us that your mind will say that you can’t do this but your body will allow you to, if you allow it. The experience is an all-over body sensation, one that allows your body to feel cleansed, revitalised. You are utterly present in this bone-chilling moment. Even for the cynic, it is a euphoric experience. And, the best thing is that it’s a practice you can take on and do yourself, pushing yourself to go that little bit further each time following.

Short-term exposure to stress that is under our control stimulates our adaptive processes. The sauna and cold plunge, alternating between hot and cold has for decades been known for its benefits to relax, detox and cleanse the skin, and assist with muscular inflammation. Now, there is growing research around the world to show it may have greater health benefits in helping reduce the risk of Alzheimer’s disease and dementia if practised regularly.

The question remains, did we feel an impact from our recharging and connecting experience? Certainly, we’re keen to book the six-day, five-night retreat to explore further some profound life-changing practices. But it is undeniable that in the busy days following our visit, we found ourselves with more energy, sharper focus, less agitation, improved sleep and discovered we had deeper reserves of quiet happiness, even at the end of each jam-packed working day. Call it what you like. Call it zen or serenity. We like to call it the “slightly better versions of ourselves”. Quite remarkable for a 48-hour pit-stop.

Maruia Hot Springs is surrounded by some of New Zealand’s most untouched temperate rainforest. When you have finished soaking in the hot pools you can stimulate your mind and get your body moving in the natural surroundings on one of the hiking tracks. The loop track around the grounds takes about 40 minutes or for the most spectacular views, you can cross the riverbed and head up on the Mueller Tarn Track. It’s a 3–4-hour round trip, winding up through red beech, light silver beech to the mountaintop where there are 360-degree views of the Lewis Pass Scenic Reserve.  Every Sunday morning, yoga is on offer for guests to enjoy in the Mind & Body Studio. This is open all the time for all guests to come and go as they please and practise at their own pace. It’s a beautiful open space. You can even book in for a private yoga class.

There is a high attention to detail – even with the chooks. Drawing on holistic wisdom, every element including the environment, the experiences, the treatments, the service, the staff and the food has been considered to add to the grounding and restorative experiences offered. Wander through the natural environment in your white robes, submerse yourself in one of many different rock pools, immerse yourself in the exclusive bathing experiences or even treat yourself to an organic spa treatment. The food on offer is fresh, healthy and delicious made from produce sourced onsite, including eggs which were freshly laid by the happy roaming chickens, as well as produce from the wider local region. The onsite café serves a selection of healthy snacks, light meals, refreshing drinks and coffee.

To plan your trip, visit maruiahotsprings.nz.

Words Hana Read