7.00am on a blustery day at Karioitahi Beach and we're inspired. Castaways is less than an hour's drive from Auckland CBD but it feels a million miles away. To start the day we're down on the beach for a pre-breakfast walk. The galloping hooves of power-packed race horses are out for their early run. Their energy racing past us on the beach is a clear reminder that everything can be wild on the West Coast so you best be alert and ready for it!
The black sands, crashing waves and untamable ruggedness or this landscape is the perfect backdrop for a corporate retreat, overnight stay and two days of planning. My business partner and I have run away from all responsibilities - home, kids, husbands, chores - to focus on our exciting new idea (and there are always lots of exciting ideas!).
Our destination - Castaways - is a far cry from the hustle and bustle of Auckland city but it's so easy to get to and the drive is all part of the experience. As soon as you've turned off the motorway at SH1 Drury turn off, heading South from Auckland City, the traffic disappears and everything slows down. There are rural country lanes in all directions and you know that you're heading away from the business of the city. It's always good to leave that behind for a while.
The Tasman sea views from our clifftop chalet is a message to be brave and unstoppable, just like the raging breakers below. Our conference space is a two bedroom, two bathroom apartment which can easily double up as a conference space for small groups of up to 8 people. There's a large open plan lounge and dining area so we can choose the slouchy couchy area or the table and chairs set up. It makes the working time casual, relaxed, informal and completely private which is ideal for getting the creative mind flowing. We're working in our slippers and that says it all!
We brainstorm and bounce ideas around until our heads hurt, stopping for short breaks to re-fuel with our own self catered snacks and lunches. That's one of the bonuses of being a small group in our own self catered apartment. We can keep the costs in check by bringing our own food and stop and start working as the rhythm of the session takes us rather than having to stop for a catered lunch that's been pre-ordered for a particular time. We often get asked at Venyou about self catering options for meeting and conference groups and whilst most venues will only allow you to order from their catering menu, there is some flexibility at the right venue for small groups and it can make a big difference to the budget and the flow of the work during the day.
But at the end of a busy, full-on brainstorming day, it's great to take the pressure off and let someone else do the cooking so we head to the restaurant, literally twenty steps from our apartment, for a hearty dinner. The joyful waiter grins and greets us with "it's been a long time since we had customers and we sure have missed them!". Our get away was just at the end of lockdown and we all needed a change of scenery for some sanity! It felt good to be customers for these people in the hospitality industry who had been hit so hard during the lockdown period. They need our support as much as we need them.
The food is delicious and well prepared but not over done with a nice glass of red in front of a roaring fire to round off a productive day. While the restaurant is quiet on this night, it's easy to see how a larger conference group could spread out and enjoy the space to network and socialise if they are staying overnight for a multi day conference and planning session. The restaurant is warm and inviting, modern and spacious. The portion sizes are generous which is always an important factor when you're feeding your group at the end of the day.
A luxurious sleep follows in our own ensuite bedrooms. The V shape configuration of the chalets means that the bedrooms are separated by the lounge area in the middle so when you need some time on your own, it's easy to do even when sharing an apartment and the quality furnishings and finish of the rooms and bathrooms are very much appreciated. Outside, there's a stormy winter's night creating havoc with the waves a few hundred meters away and while we can hear it all, our accommodation is warm and solid, protecting us from the elements. You need to feel safe when there's a storm outside and this place definitely gives you that feeling. The following morning, there's the calm after the storm and we're up bright and early for a walk 'n talk to wrap things up before returning to our other jobs, our families and our responsibilities.
What have we achieved? A huge amount it seems. We've gone from ideas to strategy to plans and to-do lists and we're both excited about the next steps of our new joint venture. We've cleared our heads, focussed our minds, developed our thinking and we're ready for it.
Castaways is a unique and exhilarating spot for a retreat. Whether that's for two people, 10, 50 or a hundred. It's inspiring partly because it's away from our normal routines and distractions and partly because the landscape and climate is wild and untamable and a reminder that just outside the urban sprawling city of Auckland is a very different backdrop that encourages you to think outside the square about the challenges that you face.
For more information about Castaways, check out their listing.
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