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The Journey to Arete

Sally Duxfield is an industry leader in the art of experiential architecture, designing innovative and challenging leadership programmes and retreats. Her passion lies in building high performance and mental fitness to influence peoples lives.

The Journey to Arete began, as most journeys do, with a pain point. Sally - lover of nature and being disconnected - was finding it difficult to find the perfect place in New Zealand that ticked all the boxes for her to take clients for off-site programmes and retreats.

Make no mistake; there are several gorgeous options for inspiring retreats across the country. Absolutely there was luxury. Absolutely there was ‘remote’. But all came with light switches and power sockets, and most came with cell range and Wi-Fi too.

Specialising in the neuroscience of distraction (both internal and external), and knowing the detriment to deep thought and focus that being able to access the internet and the ‘world’ brings, Sally was driven to find that perfect off grid space. She found it wandering through her own back yard.

Late in 2005, Sally and her husband John purchased Makahika Outdoor Pursuit Centre. They have since grown it into a thriving business providing residential camps for around 3000 students a year, and multiple national and operational leadership and sporting teams. Makahika OPC, though perfect for ‘doing and challenging’, wasn’t perfect for ‘deep thinking and reflecting’.

About four years ago, Sally had a ‘unicorn’ dream – if she couldn’t find it, she’d build her own bespoke luxury retreat.  A little like The Field of Dreams “if you build it, they will come”, from the 1989 Kevin Costner movie.

She spent time wandering her property (the 33 acres that is Makahika OPC – nestled in the foothills of the Tararua Forest Park) and spied a small pocket of forestry and native bush that was sitting, disregarded, on the north-west boundary.

A storm had destroyed the pine plantation; overrun with blackberry and gorse, smashed pines, apparently with little potential, but what lay beneath the broken forest and blackberry was an abundance of native ferns and plants. The land had nuances; small trails seemed obvious in Sally’s head (and the unicorns agreed). She could visualise little sites - perfect to locate the accommodation whare - dashes of sunshine, and she was able to see how she might make the most of this small slice of paradise. And so the journey to Arete Retreat began. Self-funding as much as possible, driving the project with loyal and passionate team members and a life-long friend, the other Sallyd, and the all-hands-on-deck ethos, her small team have built a space, an ‘event’ in fact, quite like nothing that you’ll find in NZ.  

Four years on, two years of building, designing and forming pathways that meander through native forests, bird song and stunning plantings, Arete stands ready for clients. 2020 saw the first of Sally’s corporate clients spend time off grid in deep reflection. During 2021 the final touches to the accommodation whare were completed.  

2022 will welcome a new standalone facilitation space; working days will be spent in the facilitation wharenui (also a perfect space for yoga), allowing a change of environment at day’s end.  Teams are able to enjoy the main wharenui, with her gorgeous wood fires and stunning teak furniture, as their social and dining space.  

It has been a journey. Tears, joy, laughter, loyalty, hard graft and exceptional talent.  A local building company built the main structures. Sally’s husband John (a retired RNZAF Pilot) then became the master bathroom builder, solar expert, roofer, deck builder, and kitchen aficionado. Jules, Sally’s operations and catering manager, lead the team from planting, to building pathways, moving furniture and doing everything that was needed, none of which was in anyone’s work directive. Maria magically made the gardens. Planting, with the help of the team, thousands of grasses and natives, allowing a forest of beauty to be enhanced with her clever ideas and work.

And so, here she is. Welcome to Arete Retreat - Sally’s dream. 

Our place is your space.