The peace within

Tune in with your soul and get inspired in this boutique holistic retreat on Auckland’s West Coast facing a protected native forest and magnetic view on Karekare Beach

Moving clouds on the ocean, the energy of a green forest, the fresh drops falling from a waterfall, the immaculate singing of birds, a soft breeze among the blossoms. In the vibrating nature of Waitakere Ranges, 40 minutes drive from Auckland and a few miles from Karekare Beach, you’ll find a peaceful place to be. Close enough to the city but far enough to unplug, Sacred Earth Retreat is as remote as you can imagine. Not only it’s surrounded by a green carpet of native ferns and Kauri trees, spectacular miles of hiking trails and refreshing water holes, its position facing the ocean instantly lets the mind fly away.

The dream

Creating a spiritual retreat where a community could live in harmony with nature, working on something meaningful and giving relief to troubled souls. The dream was in a pocket, until the time came and the magic happened. It all started around 25 years ago in India, when owners Phil and Jenny went to visit the ashram of spiritual master Sathya Sai Baba. A voice guided them to meet sage Sukonadi, and their questions were finally answered. The description of the hill and the garden, the idea of a little Eden and a full blessing. Soon after, following a serie of lucky coincidences, things started to move in the right direction. Blessings can travel many miles and will last forever.

“When we came to see this property, we just knew it was the place” Says Jenny with smiling eyes. “I don’t even remember how many rooms were there, if there was a kitchen or so. We immediately loved it”. First Satyavan, cosy house overlooking the forest and the ocean, and piece by piece the project came true. With three luxury lodges and eco-friendly cottages hidden in the bush, Sacred Earth Retreat welcomes short-term guests and a growing number of residents. Like Leslie, who lived here since the beginning. With her kind words and her adorable manners, she is always ready to share her wise happiness: “There’s nothing else I could desire”.

Wisdom is about being able to see the gift in everything around us and be grateful. It’s the meaning of He Pou Rerenga Wairua, the captivating Maori carving that stands in the middle of a sunny glade, facing north. A spiritual Waka, floating canoe reaching up towards the heavens and celebrating Aroha, the love of Father Sky and Mother Earth. “This special bliss belongs to all of us, it cleans our energy and helps us to continue our inner journeys”, says Matua Louis Kareopa sapiently. Inspired by this idyllic place and the knowledge of a millennial tradition, he carved the Pou out of the ancient wood of a Totara tree that was submerged in Tongariro river. Deep and humble, he touches this first artwork of a series of 12 and adds, laughing: “Don’t forget to look at the original bark of the timber at the back, nature’s work is much better than mine!”.

A place to rest

A home designed with love, bits of wilderness that come in through the open windows, a magnetic sunset on the coastline. It’s the perfect combination to connect with Gaia and begin a life-changing experience. It may start with a deep breath sitting cross legged on the grass, while birds are singing and a salty wind flows quiet. Or with a guided meditation in Savitri temple, a breathtaking octagonal building that sits on top of a hill and receives vibrating energy from the sea and the forest. Dedicated to Sathya Sai Baba and his teaching of the oneness of all people and all religions, it celebrates the universality of all beings and is open to all faiths and paths. If you hang around that area, you will definitely meet Tom, a blessed heart that would  give you relief just by standing next to you. “Self realization is knowing who you are”, he says smiling, “and underneath our ego, we all are Atma, which in Sanskrit means collective soul, the one big spiritual plasma that connects us. All are one”.

While meditation and yoga classes are held regularly in the temple, you can come over anytime. Here or on a wide wooden deck facing the ocean, you’ll find the ideal location to dive into your body, find stillness and deepen your practice. Joyful and caring, Mary will guide you to places you’ve never reached before through her angelic voice and the rhythm of the harmonium. Laugh, cry, go everywhere, come back to yourself. She will show you how to get rid of tensions until complete relaxation with her Yoga Therapy. And if you just want to lay down effortlessly, ask for an integrative Aromatouch massage, you won’t regret it. Once the body is feeling well, you can think about nourishing it and maybe ask her for a healthy catering or a raw whole food cooking class. “I like to involve people in the activity rather than teaching old-style”, she shrugs her shoulders. It’s much more fun.

No matter if you are going for lunch or you sit quietly familiarizing with yourself, mindfulness is the key. Even walking in the bush becomes an opportunity to discover something new. Warm peaceful soul, naturopath and director of Wellpark College in Auckland, Phil will guide you through the forest highlighting the native medicinal plants traditionally used by Maori tribes. Manuka tree, Kawa Kawa, Mapoe, the abundant unfolding Ponga and many more. “The leaves with holes from insect bites are the best ones. Always trust animals”, he blinks. Acknowledging the perfection of this marvelous living earth will make our stay much nicer and more respectful: once you reach this connection with nature, nothing will ever be the same.

Life in the community

Creatives, spiritual minds and wondering souls come to Sacred Earth to derive inspiration from this tranquility. Walking in the retreat on any ordinary day, you can meet amazing people like crystal healer and artist Kimi, who found the perfect workspace in her lovely hut in the forest. Sweet, dreamy and sensible, she crafts gorgeous wearable talismans and blesses them in the water of Karekare waterfalls. Or Lynn, childrens’ book illustrator, storyteller, teacher and awaken being that combines her skills with shining devotion and passionate work. And Aaron, scholar, author and publisher with profound interest in esoteric world. Reflective, calm and accurate, he would guide you to a better understanding of Alchemy or give you a detailed Astrology reading using ancient techniques from Greek and Egyptian knowledge.

Every individual here has something to share. Spiritual soul and unconventional healer, Tony would dig into your heart with his touching words, his scanning eye-gaze and his fulfilling light. You see him walking in his Maori tattoos followed by his playful dog, and he will do the rest. Also, you may be lucky and get the opportunity to join an exclusive sound journey, where you will connect with the purifying vibrations of mantras, traditional music instruments and guiding spirits. Reiki master and physical healer Will would take you to a dreamy escape far from this planet and closer to yourself. Or clean your energy, release your blocks and give you emotional balance with his sapient hands.

For Jenny, the community is the most important thing. Everybody brings bits of sunshine in and the result is pure harmony. Like a warm hug. It’s already in her visionary mind the project of sharing this heaven with people in need, running rescue programs to help troubled minds. According to psychological studies and experimental projects, it takes three months to introduce any longterm transformation. “We all grow beautiful flowers if we get the right context”, she says warmly, “here everyone can find an idyllic setting to find focus and discover the true aspect of who he really is, which is pure divine love”. In other words, happiness.

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Forest escape with view

Luxury retreat in protected regional park Waitakere Ranges on Auckland’s West Coast with natural waterfalls, private swimming hole and easy bush walk to world famous Karekare Beach

Plunge yourself in the wild peace of a protected forest with spectacular views of one of the most iconic beaches in the world. Immersed in the regional park Waitakere Ranges, Sacred Earth Retreat will surprise your senses with calming waterfalls, rock pools, hiking trails, native birdlife and idyllic green surroundings. Offering private luxury lodges and a dream-like environment, it’s the ultimate destination for a relaxing escape.

A light breeze through the bush, the rough sound of the ocean, the extravagant concert of native birds, the bitter smell of Manuka trees, a heart-opening sunset. As the mind finds its inner balance, time floats quiet and slow following the rhythm of the earth. Only 40 mins drive from the city and 15 to busy Piha Beach, it feels like being in the middle of a magic land. It’s exactly what you need to rest.

Hidden in nature with magnetic views on the scenic coastline, the three eco-friendly guest houses feature fully equipped kitchens, private hot tub, indoor fireplace, open wooden decks and just 14 rooms, comfortably accommodating up to 19 people. Attention to details makes the difference. Crystals, spiritual home ornaments, plenty of cushions to lie on and a warm earthy asian decor will add glam to your stay.

Sitting on a hill facing the ocean, there is a temple. Here, early birds can enjoy daily meditation and chantings, and get in contact with a welcoming spiritual community that shares fulfilling messages of love and compassion common to all religions and peoples. No worries if you enjoy to sleep in, the temple is always open, providing mats, pillows and yoga classes upon request. You might also get the chance to participate in a spiritual sound journey at sunset, an opportunity to give your mind a break, leave your body and clear your soul through vibrations, in an intense dreaming state.

The black sand of the volcanic Karekare Beach is at your doorstep and the easy hike down the valley makes the walk on the shore even more desirable. If you feel brave, a surf school and exciting canyoning adventures close by will challenge your balance. Make sure you always wear togs, there are plenty of opportunities to swim, either in the ocean or in the river. On the way down the hill, a glittering stream, waterfalls and refreshing natural pools pop up among the stunning Kauri, New Zealand’s tallest and oldest trees, and the massive roots of Rata trees. In the huge protected land of Waitakere Ranges regional park, birds such as the Tui, the Ruru, the rare little parrot Kakariki and the Wood Pigeon Kereru peacefully sing their freedom. Every step is an invite to know more about the land, its creatures, its native plants and powerful medicinal herbs like the surprisingly abundant Kawa Kawa, Manuka trees and unfolding Ponga Ferns.

Owners Jenny and Phil had the idea on one of their travels in India and when a friend invited them to come over to their new house in Karekare, they just knew this was the place. “Our purpose was to create a quiet relaxing context where people could connect with nature, find peace with their inner self and be happy”, says Jenny with shining eyes. Over 25 years and a lot of passionate work later, the dream is alive. “This place is full of energy”. You feel it coming from the roaring ocean, blowing through the trees, raising from the grass and spreading towards the sun. In a quiet glade surrounded by bushland, a Pou celebrates this sacred flow depicting the story of creation. This extraordinary traditional Maori carving was crafted from ancient Tatara wood by Matua Louis Kereopa in four months and gifted to Sacred Earth in April 2017. Like a canoe traveling from the spiritual world to the centre of the earth, this artwork is the treasure of the retreat.

Looking at the coloured clouds that paint the sky at every sunset, you will wonder why you don’t move here permanently or just stay a little longer. Not surprisingly, a unique community of creatives and spiritual souls gathers in the area, living in the beauty of nature, sharing energies and offering a variety of services on request. This is why, while you enjoy this paradise, you can consider treatments such as integrative massage and aromatherapy, detox and fasting programs, yoga classes, raw and whole food cooking classes. Follow your instinct, you could find inspiration through guided bush walks with teachings about native trees, plant essence healing, spiritual healing and reiki, astrology consultations and alchemy workshops, crystal jewelry and custom talismans.

Breathe deeply, enjoy the silence, feel the energy of the nature, make it yours. This place is the magical setting for a life-changing experience.

Amazing life as a heritage enthusiast

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In the amazing years of my job as a travel journalist, I’ve attended dozens of organized trips and all of them included both a cultural and a natural visit. History, art and nature can tell about the essence of a place as nothing else. Maybe only food. And of course, when you organize a trip or a travel, you try to see all the best of that area and fit as much experiences as possible in a few days.

The bike tour and the picnic in the enormous Hagaparken in Stockholm. The guided visit of the National Museum of Ireland, the Trinity College and the Chester Beatty Library in Dublin. The astonishing exploration of the idyllic Akama peninsula in Cyprus. The sight of the historic centre and the history of the procession in Trapani, Sicily. Even when I was going among Alpine Huts in the very north of Italy, I ended up in a fascinating castle surrounded by mountains with a lovely Christmas market in it. In Slovenia, I visited places that I bet very few locals have seen.

In fact, as a local, I haven’t visited so many places in Liguria, my hometown, in Milan, my adoptive city, in London, my favorite, and in  Florence, my current home. A good friend of mine, art historian and passionate to life, always tells me “let’s hire a car and go visit the wanders in the nearby”. It’s true. You don’t have to be in another country or in another region to be a tourist and to make interesting discoveries. You can be a tourist in your city.

Imagine how it would be if people would regularly visit cultural and natural spots in their nearby with the thrilling emotion of the discovery. If we look at our natural and cultural heritage with the same respect and wonder of a tourist (a good one), we would be more likely to preserve it. Heritage is the beauty, enthusiasm is the key. My key.

Now I’m moving to Sydney (Australia) and I’ll be a sort of tourist that tries to become local around there. I’ll do my best, stay tuned.

The wanderer approach to culture

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Why are we so happy and engaged with cultural heritage when we are traveling and we are so unresponsive when we are at home?

Concentrated in our everyday buzz, we live floating in a timeless and placeless bubble. Have you ever seen a tourist staring in front of a building that you walk through every day without even noticing its uniqueness? As they wander with exploring eyes, they make discoveries and appreciate every detail. Instead, when we are familiar with things, we don’t value them. Especially in Italy, we are so used to see statues and pieces of art, that we don’t care. But what if we change this approach?

We need to wear the wanderer’s glasses. In every travel guide, the top tourist attractions are museums, statues, buildings, squares, parks. Beyond being an extraordinary opportunity to experience beauty and diversity, seeing those items creates emotional responses that would leave the person with a memory – and hopefully some knowledge about the past and culture of the place – that will last over time. Moreover, such feelings aroused will facilitate emotional purchases and, ultimately, will bring money. It’s easy to understand why cultural policies of museums and municipalities mostly concentrate their actions on touristic offer. Nevertheless, we need to do something to prevent the worrying disneyization of historic city centers (see “The Disneyization of society” by sociologist Alan Bryman – maybe I’ll write another post on this). And we don’t really want to end up with the most beautiful urban areas in the world transformed in luna parks for tourists, right? Look at Florence, for example. People living in the historic city center hate tourists and avoid the most crowded areas, meaning a very large part of the old city and, of course, museums.

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Statistics say, museums are mostly attended by tourists and one of the challenges of every cultural institution today is to attract residents, people who don’t even think of those institutions as places to go. What if we design inclusive cultural offers that change this perspective? What if we rethink the way knowledge is seen outside schools? What if we shape intriguing experiences that would invite people to actively participate?

We need a multidisciplinary approach and new professionals to make museums and cultural institutions a real service for the community. A place where everyone can share culture, learn something new, make friends, feed his brain, feel amazement and, therefore, come back to.

Amazement will make us wanderers in our cities.