At the Maruia River Retreat, just 2 hours from Nelson, relaxation and reconnection is the goal.

“People come here for different reasons,” says co-owner Cristina Holopainen. “To recover from burnout or stress, to reconnect with their partners or with nature, or to participate in a yoga retreat. No matter the reason, they definitely leave feeling better and more relaxed than when they arrived!”

Cristina and her husband Lasse purchased the property in 2018, which used to be a luxury fishing lodge that closed in 2013. Maruia River Retreat opened in 2019 as a luxury lodge for the international market, but when the pandemic hit and the borders were closed, they had to let go of their staff, took over the day-to-day operations and set about transforming it into a wellness eco-retreat that was focused on the domestic market.

Previously, the couple ran yoga schools in the Philippines, which they now run online. They also both worked in the banking industry and ran an eco-surf resort.

“We like to find places that we can preserve and respect; where humans can heal in nature, so this is perfect as there’s such a small footprint and this area is of very high ecological significance in the catchment. There are just seven villas on the 500-acre property. The only thing we really constructed was an additional outdoor room, which is an extension of the main building.”

Guests can stay at one of those villas (there’s a two-night minimum), or choose from a range of multi-night retreat packages, which include things like 90-minute massages, guided walks through the native beech forest, private yoga classes and three-course meals at night.

“Each guest gets an hour in the forest hot tub and sauna for their nature therapy and forest bathing experience. And the tub really is a mood enhancer. It’s a centrepiece of the whole experience and it completes our ecosystem of wellness. That’s why it took quite a bit of thought for us to get the right one.”

While the Stoked Stainless wood-fired tub was appealing, she says they decided to go with the large electric spa for two main reasons: beauty and practicality.

“I’ve been in marketing all my life so I wanted to create an iconic feature on the property and the way it looks with the cedar on the outside in the middle of the forest just fits perfectly. It’s beautiful to look at and it really blends in. It’s also easy for me as a business owner. We only have three full-time staff and I don’t need anyone to run it.”

They simply change the water every one or two weeks – depending on the number of guests – and use a small amount of water sanitiser. 

Maruia River Retreat

“Cleanliness and hygiene are important. We’re a health resort, so you look at the stainless steel and with its self-cleaning process and you know it’s clean.”

The couple has added a beautiful copper cold shower, a deck and solar lights along the pathway to the forest hot tub. And when you hear all the birds and take in the view over the river, there’s a distinct feeling that you’ve reached a very special, very private destination.

She says the hot tub is definitely a highlight for guests and 80% of their customers ask what time their session is when enquiring about their booking.

“The first person who books gets the evening slot after dinner. It’s so beautiful looking up at the stars through the trees and it eases you to sleep. If they’ve got a package, I try to time the hot tub booking for after their massage so they’re completely relaxed.”

Maruia River Spa

As well as hosting their own guests and running their own retreats, third parties also run retreats there, leaving the Maruia team to take care of the facilities and the food.

“And the picture they always seem to choose to promote these retreats is the one with the hot tub in it.”

On those retreats, it’s not unusual to have six people in the tub at one time, she says. But it’s also very popular with the increasing number of solo guests.

“A lot of people have never been in one just by themselves.”

She’s certain that some of their guests have experienced the Stoked Stainless hot tub at Maruia and ended up getting one for themselves. And for anyone considering a purchase, she would tell them it’s a “healthy luxury”.

“You feel like you’re indulging but at the same time, it’s beneficial for your health and healing. That’s a good thing because you’ll use it more. And if you are choosing one for your home, you might as well choose a pretty one!”

For more information or to book a stay, visit