A yurt — the traditional tent-like home of Central Asian nomads — isn’t exactly what you’d expect to come across in Raglan. But then your average Mongolian shepherd is equally unlikely to find his yurt comes with under-floor heating and an outdoor spa bath set amid native bush.
Raglan’s first yurt, and a luxury one at that, can be found up Maungatawhiri Road just past where tarseal gives way to gravel, and the sound of the wind in the trees can easily be mistaken for the roar of the ocean on a wild west coast day.
Hubby and I were ready for the yurt experience. One wet weekend after another in wintry Raglan had left us jaded and in need of an escape. It came in the form of a night of “living in the round” — as the yurt experience is called — as guests of massage therapist Robbyn Ho and her husband of just a couple of weeks, Peter.
The property was hard to miss: a circular watertank painted over to look like a mini yurt reassured us we’d arrived at the right place. And there, tucked in beside the driveway were two yurts. A few stepping stones and a short boardwalk into a secluded nikau grove led us to the larger of the tents, which Robbyn informed us was the traditional seven-odd metres in diameter.
On a blustery west coast afternoon there’s nothing like being transported to another world, and the feeling of opulence created by the rich red and black interior did the trick. It was like being in an inner sanctum, a Chinese emperor’s hideaway perhaps crossed with a touch of Arabian nights from another continent altogether.
But to one side of the expansive living area were the concessions to modern practicality: on one side of a T-shaped brick wall a small kitchen stocked with breakfast foods, on the other a bathroom. Between them they made the yurt entirely self-contained.
There were no worries about cabin fever, either: the yurt felt lofty and spacious, not least because of its traditional conical roof design with struts — painstakingly inset with fairy lights — that meet in a centre ring which can easily be opened in summer, says Robbyn, to expose the canopy of trees and starry nights overhead.
Lattice or trelliswork criss-crosses the walls and windows to head height; otherwise it’s an all-canvas structure with polyester fibre fill providing warmth and insulation. The tent, sitting on a concrete pad, opens out to a private wooden deck, a small gas barbecue and a spa bath — with candle lanterns and perfumed bubble bath for that touch of romance — at the far end.
Mature tree trunks grow through gaps in the deck, leaning artistically this way and that. And as we discovered, the grove of trees surrounding the deck is beautifully backlit at night.
Traditionally, yurts were basic shepherd shelters and were covered with sheep’s wool rather than canvas. Most importantly, given the nomadic nature of their owners, they could be set up within just 30 minutes. With neither yak nor nomad in sight, however, Robbyn told us it still took three of them only 45 minutes to erect the larger yurt once it had arrived from Takaka in kitset form. The lattice walls simply unfolded and stretched out into place.
It was a case though of practice makes perfect: the five-metre yurt which arrived on site first, and which Robbyn uses as her massage tent, took the the trio closer to two hours to erect.
Robbyn and Peter are delighted with the finished result, and that they are now able to offer couples a unique Raglan brand of “glamping” (glam camping) that Robbyn experienced while living overseas several years back. She describes it as getting back to nature without roughing it too much.
It was hard to disagree with that as we languished in the spa bath — complementary glass of bubbly in hand — with the trees rustling as westerly squalls threatened. Later that night, even as heavy rain thudded on the canvas, there was never a doubt we were well secured against the elements.
My experience was not complete without the last element of Robbyn’s full winter package: her all-over Hawaiian massage, learnt over the past few years on the isle of Maui. We were a little stymied by an unexpected power cut the following morning, but persevered anyway minus the music and the hot towels. And it was bliss all the same.
I was spoilt with a mix of both therapeutic and relaxation massage using smooth hot basalt stones — lomi ‘ili’ — gathered, says Robbyn, amid great ceremony on Maui. The 60-odd volcanic stones, she explained, had been heated up for two hours in a water heater. She worked quickly, massaging with oiled stones in hand while they were still hot enough before the water cooled too much.
The yurt experience has been set up only this year and the idea, says Robbyn, is to “grow” the business — maybe with another yurt or two, and perhaps with tours around Mount Karioi and picnics to remote Ruapuke come summertime.
Another possibility is “chauffeured” trips downtown for guests at night to take in Raglan’s cafe scene. That would come courtesy of another passion in their life — classic cars, a whole shedful of them including two recent imports from the US and all in varying degrees of restoration.
*Robbyn and Pete’s winter package comes at $180/night per couple with the therapeutic/relaxation massage included for an extra $50 each (normally $65).
Edith Symes