Wellness retreat wins top tourism and leisure award

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A health and wellness education facility located near the head of Lake Wakatipu brings together modern design with environmentally-sustainable practices, without sacrificing on comfort.

Set in breathtaking scenery on an 8.4 hectare site, Aro Ha Wellness Retreat is a mix of luxury spa, retreat and a self-sustaining community.

Modern design integrates sophisticated, environmentally-sustainable practices that minimise energy use, while a complex internal infrastructure allows the facility to run off the main grid.

The Tourism and Leisure category and a Gold Award winner at this year’s New Zealand Commercial Project Awards, judges described the project team’s “unique vision” that was pursued with a “near-fanatical rigour” from design through to construction and completion.

“Despite the need to provide buildings, roading and all the other infrastructure necessary to supply water, generate electricity, grow food and dispose of waste, this project seems to barely touch the land,” the judging panel said.

Neutral wood, glass and stone allow the building to seamlessly blend into the landscape — an important feature of the complex designed by award-winning Wellington architects Tennent and Brown and executed by Triple Star Management Ltd.

Architect Hugh Tennent describes the vision as “special” — a place for well-being and rebalancing life, through connecting with oneself with yoga, meditation, exercise and nutrition, in an extraordinary environment.

“We also wanted a high degree of sustainability and self-sufficiency with permaculture, on-site power generation, passive solar and a super insulated thermal envelope. This very complete holistic vision is unique on this scale in New Zealand,” Mr Tennant says.

The site sits on a sub-alpine terrace with expansive views of Lake Wakatipu, and is built using the premise of passive haus and permaculture design, mixed with modern technology.

So while organic crops sourced from the gardens are stored in cellars, refrigerated by ambient earth temperatures, the site boasts the first renewable distributed heating system in New Zealand, where sun and water are converted into energy.

Triple Star Management’s Peter Campbell says the team can take lessons forward from their experiences working on Aro Ha.

“You need a good collaborative team and culture,” he says.

“We ensured all contributors were fully informed and totally aware of what we were trying to achieve. This approach is a big part of the project’s success.

“We learnt that to build a super-insulated air-tight building meant that you effectively construct the building twice which, although time consuming and labour intensive, results in a building that is warm and efficient to maintain.”

The team is “stoked” about receiving the award. “It’s recognition to a team who all contributed to create this special place and implement the creative design. As a small company, this helps us to strive to continue to better ourselves within the industry.”