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LUXURY RESORTS: Split Apple Retreat, Tasman, New Zealand
Style: Shinto temple chic
Scene: Water and wilderness
Seen in the lobby: The be-socked and newly shoeless

The moment I walk through the ancient Japanese temple gates and into the foyer of Split Apple Retreat I start to relax. I have left my worries on the rack at the front door along with my shoes and stepped into the peaceful world of Lee and Pen Nelson.

This exclusive 3-bed retreat is in the hills above Nelson, NZ, but it feels as if I've been jetted directly to Japan. The design is Shinto temple chic with a modern twist. No wonder the day I check-in NZ Architectural Digest are also there to judge whether the property should win best NZ architectural design of the year.

split apple retreat view
split apple retreat view
bedroom
split apple retreat deck
split apple retreat at night
infinity pool
gardens

However the appeal of Split Apple Retreat isn't just its design but the serenity of the space.

The view is everywhere, flowing into the house like a breeze, "we like to bring the outside in, says owner Lee. "Japanese design is all about pure clean lines, we want everything here to flow".

I am welcomed with green tea which I drink in a lounge hung with 18th and 19th century Japanese paintings from Kyoto and decorated with Burmese antique carvings. Through the wide open windows the bay is a watercolour of muted grey and the rounded hills of the Abel Tasman National Park are cloaked in a gentle veil of mist. It is the perfect day to arrive, as if the landscape and the weather were in tune with the peace and quiet of the retreat.

Green tea in hand I wonder around the small art gallery, intrigued by Lee's collection of jewel-like Chinese snuff bottle (inherited from his mother) and delicate Japanese scrolls. A collection of Buddha statues stare at me serenely and a fat, cheery god of happiness from China seems to find me far more amusing. The collection is impressive, and valuable.
 
Split Apple walks the fine line between wellness retreat and luxury lodge and balances on the tightrope perfectly.

Lee is a doctor who specialises in nutrition and wellness, after surviving cancer he wanted to create a peaceful place dedicated to healing the mind and the spirit in luxurious and graceful surroundings. But don't get the wrong impression; this is a man who is also one of the world's best high stake poker players as well as a lover of all things organic and oriental. The art of meditation has helped him win millions by 'emptying the mind' and remaining calm and inscrutable at the poker table.

Wife Pen is the chef creating organic meals that taste so delicious it is hard to believe they are good for you. While all the food at Split Apple is organic and smoking is banned there is also extraordinary wine cellar. I spot a Château Lafite Rothschild label or ten in the climate controlled space, as well as local New Zealand wines from the Marlborough and Nelson regions. This is the kind of cellar that Lee's many high profile, high rolling guests appreciate when they come here to reconnect with the simpler side of life.

Split Apple walks the fine line between wellness retreat and luxury lodge and balances on the tightrope perfectly. Not an easy trick to perform.

My bedroom has a traditional Japanese style bathroom; the kind where you pour water over yourself to wash before soaking in the clean water of a stone bath. Beyond the sliding glass doors drops of rain dot my wooden deck, a stone pathway leads through a Japanese garden down to a lower deck and beyond that is the sublime view.

Just looking at a view like this each day would make you feel good but for those that need a little more help there are also health checks, nutrition courses, mediation, yoga, beauty therapies, and shiatsu. Or you can simply relax in the steam room, or sauna or, best of all, the outdoor onsen.

On my last morning I sit in the onsen looking out at the landscape as delicately hued as one of Lee's Japanese paintings and feel a sense of complete relaxation. Pen brings me a glass of water and tells me that she likes to sit here at night when the stars are little needle points of light, or on a full moon when the whole bay is silver.

I want to stay for another day, a week, a month and see it all. By the end of it I might just feel Zen enough to take Lee on at poker. Then again...
 
 

The Luxury Travel Bible Insider says...

Split Apple is named after the apple-shaped rock -almost slice in two - that sits in the bay just below The Retreat.

According to www.pokerpages.comLee Nelson started playing poker at 5yrs old. He has won more than $2.2 million in less than a decade of tournaments and is well-known for penning books like 'Kill Phil: The Fast Track to Success in No-Limit Hold'em Poker Tournaments'. He has also hosted numerous television shows and podcasts that highlight his knowledge of the game. He lists his hobbies as meditation, nutrition, walking, swimming and yoga and his favourite music as Beethoven's late quartets: A renaissance man indeed.

 

Check in: Split Apple Retreat, 195 Tokongawa Drive, RD2 Motueka, Tasman 7197,New Zealand
Ultimate Luxury: Staying a month
Most Indulgent Moment:Sitting in the onsen-with-a view
Insider Secrets: Many of Lee's smokin', drinkin' poker buddies come here to clean up their act 
Junior Luxies:Not real appropriate for the little ones, unless you take the whole retreat
Dress code:You'll be wearing a traditonal Yakata (Japense robe) for much of the time.
Dent in the platinum:
Luxury Resorts Link: www.splitappleretreat.com
 
Hilary Doling 29/10/10
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