Sunrise at a Cape South wellness retreat, Hawke's Bay. Photo by Jo Percival.

Live well: a Cape South retreat, Hawke’s Bay


“No coffee?!” I gasped. I was reading the information pack provided by the team at Cape South. In the week leading up to our wellness retreat it was advisable to cut out alcohol, sugar, all animal products and caffeine.

This, apparently, would help mitigate the risk of a ‘healing crisis’ when we got there. I could tolerate the rest of it, but the lack of coffee stung. After several days of mild fatigue and headaches I eventually broke the back of my 25-year, three-a-day coffee habit, which, combined with a purely plant-based regimen left me feeling lighter – both in virtue and step. I was prepared.

My friend Charlotte and I arrive at Cape South, an expansive red-roofed homestead nestled into the Waipuka Hills near Waimārama in Hawke’s Bay on a rare sunny winter afternoon. While the homestead has six spacious rooms, this retreat is just for the two of us, so host Cam McLeay shows us to our comfortable cottage adjacent to the main house. 

Sunrise views out to the ocean at Cape South, Hawke's Bay.

Sunrise views out to the ocean at Cape South, Hawke's Bay. Photo by Jo Percival.

Views stretch over rolling lawns dotted with giraffe sculptures to farmland and, in the distance, the vast blue ocean. We check out the permaculture vegetable gardens, lush with greenery even mid-winter and Cam hands us sprigs of mustard greens and bright purple borage flowers to taste. Just about everything served on site is grown in these gardens, he explains. 

Back in the cottage we sit down with Kate McLeay, our wellbeing guide for the weekend, to go through an energy audit. Sipping cups of Ayurvedic tea, spiced with fennel, coriander and cumin seeds, Kate gets us to set our intentions for the weekend. We reflect on how we have been feeling recently and Kate talks us through the principles of the retreat. It’s about emptying the bucket, she says – particularly in relation to my caffeine abstinence – discovering how I feel without it and then making an informed decision about whether to re-integrate it into my life. Or not. 

Kate is self-aware, self-deprecating. “I would definitely modify the way I speak when working with a group of Hawke’s Bay farmers for instance!” she laughs. And she does work with Hawke’s Bay farmers, many of whom come to her in crisis, on the brink of burnout or breakdown. Her clientele is diverse – from affluent Havelock North women to gang members; corporate wellness coaching to working with people in prison. They all have something to learn, to gain, from her teaching. Accredited in yoga, breathwork, sleep coaching and mindfulness, amongst other things, Kate was formerly a school principal in Uganda and there’s still a hint of ‘no nonsense’ behind her warm personality.

But a Cape South retreat is all about free will. We won’t be forced to do anything we don’t want to, Kate explains.

We should simply take what we need from what’s offered, finding the components that resonate with us. Kate tells us about people who’ve come on retreats and not left the cottage. Others are keen to participate in all of the activities. Which is what Charlotte and I do. 

We change into stretchy pants and reconvene in the yoga studio, all polished wooden floors, colourful bolsters and piles of handmade quilts and blankets. Kate leads us through a gentle Qi Gong practice, similar to Tai Chi. We scoop armfuls of energy from the earth, the sky, and feel ourselves moving purposefully. Our heart rates lower and we leave with a new sense of calm.

The serene yoga studio at Cape South.

The serene yoga studio at Cape South. Photo by Jo Percival.

That evening Kate delivers dinner to the cottage. Soup. Thick with chunky vegetables and served with a small side of whipped cashew ‘cheese’ and seedy crackers. If anyone had told me a few weeks prior that I’d feel satiated by nothing more than porridge, a smoothie and a bowl of vegetable soup in a day I would have laughed in their face. But I find that I’m not hungry. It is eye-opening. 

AA Directions has a Cape South weekend wellness retreat for two people to give away. Enter here!

In the morning I watch the sun rise. Creeping tentacles of gold touch the lawn, the giraffes and blaze the windows of the homestead. While the house looks like it was constructed last century, the majority of it is quite new. One wing was formerly the doctor’s surgery in nearby Waipawa that was relocated and extensively expanded about 20 years ago. The new additions merge seamlessly with the old building. 

Kate guides us through a morning yoga practice with the sun warming our backs, then we sit on the veranda to eat densely nutritious porridge – packed with quinoa, chia seeds and nuts – homemade, of course. 

We interrupt our calm relaxation with a shock. At Charlotte’s insistence we both plunge into the beautiful but incredibly cold mineral pool. Set at just 10ºC it’s colder than the sea at this time of year, which is intentional, Cam explains. He swims laps in it every morning to reap the many benefits of cold water therapy. Apparently the shock of the cold and the stress response it causes in your body helps to build resilience so that you’re more capable of managing stress in your day to day life. I manage two immersions of increasing duration, scuttling back to the hot tub in between. But after my third dip, swimming a full length of the pool, the sunshine feels warm in comparison and we recline on poolside loungers in our togs to dry off – ignoring the fact that it’s winter. 

Plant-based lunch at Cape South.

A delicious plant-based lunch at Cape South. Photo by Jo Percival.

Lunch is a visual symphony. A bowl of beautiful, colourful goodness harvested from the garden. Roasted vegetables of many varieties nestle amongst herbs and greens and seeds with a colourful garnish of edible petals and borage flowers. Replete, we while away the rest of the afternoon – resting, reading, relaxing and soaking up more sunshine. 

On our last morning the clear skies overnight mean a frosty crust has formed on the sun loungers where we lay yesterday. We dress warmly and meet Cam and Indi the dog for a steep but invigorating walk to the top of Waipuka Hill behind Cape South. Cam provides walking poles, which prove their worth on the climb. We reach the ridge breathless both from exertion and from the majestic views, down to Ocean Beach and across to Te Motu o Kura / Bare Island. On a flattish section of paddock, Cam, who is also a certified yoga instructor, takes us through a short practice. ‘Reaching for the heavens’ makes a lot more sense when we’re looking into an endless expanse of blue sky.

Yoga poses atop the Waipuka Hills at a Cape South retreat.

Yoga poses atop the Waipuka Hills at a Cape South retreat.

We leave Cape South with several takeaways. Not only a jar of bright blue mermaid smoothie for lunch, but also a lot of learning. I’ve discovered how much of a sledgehammer coffee was for my adrenal system. Without it, I begin to appreciate the nuances of my natural energy peaks and troughs. And my sleep is dense and velvety every night. So I shall continue to be – for now at least – caffeine-free. 


Story by Jo Percival for the Spring 2023 issue of AA Directions Magazine. Jo Percival is the Digital Editor for AA Directions Magazine.

AA Directions has a Cape South weekend wellness retreat for two people to give away. Enter here!

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