Luxury resorts and spas are often the playground of the rich and famous but a New Zealand architect is changing the way we think about resorts and re-imagining their entire purpose through the creation of the completely self-sustaining resort.

Hugh Tennent is the Chief Architect for the Aro Ha Wellness Retreat, a luxurious $30 million spa that was specifically designed to foster the overall well-being of its visitors. Located on the South Island of New Zealand, Aro Ha is just 40 minutes drive from Queenstown, and gives back to the land it occupies through the ingenuity of it’s structure and functionality.



The idea for Aro Ha was first concocted about three years ago when business partners Damian Chaparro and Chris Madison consulted with famed architect, Hugh Tennent about creating something completely new and unheard of in the land of luxury resorts. The outgoing business partners wanted to bring something new to the table that not only would attract their high-end clientage but would serve as a pillar for sustainable living.

So Damian Chaparro and Chris Madison gave Hugh Tennent the green light to design a resort that could live completely on its own without any needed assistance from the neighboring electricity and water companies. Hugh Tennent envisioned a place in the Southern Alps where anyone seeking tranquility could go, find peace, all in the midst of a completely self-sustaining environment.

What the business partners ended up finding out is that it was not only possible but the entire structure, resources, and even guest’s meals could all be created in respect to the beauty surrounding the Lake Wakatipu resort hidden in the Southern Alps.

aro ha panorama


Before anyone could even blink, the Aro Ha was fully functioning this past January and was more than ready to show the world how you can live luxuriously and comfortably in tandem with the rest of nature. Sustainable living can truly be made possible for housing hundreds of people in a setting typically reserved for the top 1% wanting to practice excess and opulence.

Architect Hugh Tennent first started by making sure that Aro Ha is free of any dependence on external energy and water, he did this by first contacting solar panel specialists. The two came up with a unique way to heat and power the luxury resort: The photovoltaic solar panels collect the sun’s rays, then the energy is sent to a large battery pack where inverters enable the center to be self-sufficient until there is an over-supply of energy which is then sent to the grid.

Working in tandem with the solar panels for energy production, the retreat warms it’s guest’s water and living space with a centralized wood boiler that is completely powered by wood made on the luxury resort.

aro ha solar panels

Aro Ha introduced coppicing, a traditional wood managing method where a special breed of trees are planted and then cut down to the bark when they have grown large enough. Now this may sound like a bad idea but what makes this method extremely helpful in sustainable living is that this specific breed of trees actually grow incredibly fast after they are cut. So what Aro Ha possesses is about 700 fast-growing trees that can be cut, regrown, all while powering the central furnace that heats the entire resort.

Hugh Tennent didn’t stop his environmental ingenuity with the coppicing, the architect went on to make sure the insulation was green, all of the glazing on the residences was sourced from EuroTech in Dunedin. Tennent used the European standard with timber joinery with double seals, granting significantly better insulation than the majority of New Zealand systems.

The luxury resort also went a step further in the regulation of it’s waste water through the use of biolytic processing, where organic material is broken down by microorganisms. On top of that, the Aro Ha’s water and drainage system is completely self-sustaining and operates independently from the rest of the grid. What happens is that rainwater is collected from the roofs and then used to provide irrigation and a multitude of other benefits for the resort.

aro ha retreat


aro ha spa

An environmentally conscious resort like the Aro Ha is a definition of “luxury meets sustainability in a place of wonder and great beauty,” all thanks to the genius minds like architect, Hugh Tennent.  (Images from

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