Sunny LA couldn’t feel further away on a rainy, misty day in Glenorchy in New Zealand’s South Island. Even with the mountains obscured by the thick, low clouds, the lake hidden, the tussock dull in the low light, there is something about this place that gives you that giddy feeling of having run away from the world and have found yourself in an empty, beautiful wonderland.

LA was where owner and yoga instructor Damian Chaparro was living before deciding, without ever visiting this country, to set up a retreat in New Zealand. New Zealand, though unvisited and unknown, was, nonetheless, compelling. Damian left LA and arrived down under to search for the ideal location for a retreat that might be fossil fuel free, indefinitely self sustaining, luxurious but not opulent, isolated but also connected to the world. This site in the hills overlooking the thin tongue of Lake Wakatipu near Glenorchy, was hard won, but delivered everything Damian and his business partner hoped for, its beauty almost a parody of how postcard-esque New Zealand can be.

We are talking in the glasshouse, where triangular panels of opaque plastic sit within a heavy timber structure that fan out in geometric starbursts. The rain falling on the stretched and resonant fabric seems to be amplified as if it was slapping a beat on the surface of a drum. It was deafening when you first walked into the breezeway, but soon became calming, the white noise eclipsing any mental chatter.

This is what Damian was hoping to create here – spatial cues that allow a stripping away of regular life. The challenge, Damian explains, is how do you bring people into an environment and let them drop their guard, how do you take guests away from the posturing and placating of everyday life and allow them to sink into a personal experience?

The project is ambitious in its vision – to create a ‘community space that fosters the connection between nature, wellness, and humanity’s need for transition to a regenerative existence’. The sustainability aspirations of the Aro Ha project are equally ambitious. Aro Ha is designed to be able to operate the facility for periods without connection to the grid and reliance on fossil fuels. Maximum on site food production based on Permaculture principles, to fulfil the self-sufficiency ethos also define the project. This vision and the scale, make it unique in New Zealand.

Aro Hā


Aro Hā
Glenorchy by Tennent Brown Architects







as Hills