He Tāngata: Janine Hall of Escape Haven

Elisabeth Easther talks to Janine Hall of Escape Haven.

Mum and Dad bought the very first beach house in Whangapoua in the Coromandel, a real bach bach. They bought it for pounds, that’s how long ago it was. Every weekend throughout my childhood we’d go to that tiny beach town. No matter what time of year it was, I’d go out on my lilo till my skin went wrinkly, because I just love being
out in the ocean.

When I was young mum took me to Borneo where we stayed with former headhunters deep in the jungle. We travelled overland for five hours in a jeep then we went upriver in a longboat for a day. I remember seeing big water snakes in the river and monkeys in the trees. We stayed in a longhouse surrounded by jungle with pigs underneath it. The tribespeople were really lovely, but what was strange is that they were massive fans of Beverly Hills 90210. Imagine this most primitive place, yet they’d jimmied together some kind of TV that went in and out of reception, all so they could watch 90210. They had bones and adornments in their faces; they couldn’t speak English at all, yet they were huge 90210 fans with posters of Shannon Doherty on the walls of their longhouse.

Mum is 86 now and she’s still this huge adventurer. She goes to Alaska and hikes up icebergs, she’s been trekking in Nepal, and piranha fishing in the Amazon. She has such a thirst to learn about the world, and she passed that on to me.

I love Japan and I finished my degree there, doing my last few papers in international marketing, business and Japanese. Asia is in my soul. I love the chaos and the colour.

Everyone has this vision that Japan is very calm and orderly and certain aspects are, but it still has that craziness. People conform all day at work, so they tend to go nuts when they’re not working. The art and music scenes are incredible, think about how the Harajuku girls express themselves through fashion, or how the Japanese let themselves go at karaoke.

Back in New Zealand, when some friends told me they were going to the Rio carnival, I decided on a whim to go with them, on a three-month road trip of Brazil and Argentina. The carnival was amazing. I felt so alive, the music pulsated through the crowds, and everyone was high on life. People just open the backs of their cars and there are boom boxes, and parties in the street with everyone dancing. It’s all so colourful and flamboyant.

I’m a real animal rights activist and in Costa Rica I saw this goat that had tangled itself up, and it was crying. I unravelled the goat from the fence but then the goat took off. It ran through this tiny town so I had to run after it, only it looked like I was trying to steal the goat, so a crowd started running after me. The goat finally stopped. All I had wanted to do was untie it but it just bolted and then these people were all chasing me and yelling at me.

After the Brazil trip, I ended up living in London working as the head of marketing at Selfridges. I loved my job, I had a great group of friends and I was able to travel a lot but I hated the city lifestyle. And this was my dichotomy: how do I satisfy my corporate side and my need to succeed, and be true to my adventurous, bohemian side and my need to explore? I knew my life needed to be different but I didn’t have the guts to change it. A few years later, I was in Australia working for David Jones when I went to Ubud for the first time. I started doing yoga, and eating healthy food and I fell in love with the place. I saw the benefit of taking time out and having this menu of healthy pursuits — but retreats weren’t really around back then. It took a while but eventually I created Escape Haven, offering luxury active retreats for women with surfing, yoga and spa treatments.

Travelling with children has changed things. I’m not as intrepid as I used to be, but we just came back from Nihi Sumba, 400km east of Bali. It’s this raw island where these American surfers created this amazingly remote hotel on the edge of the wilderness. It’s all white sand, azure water, waterfalls in the backyard. One day we were riding horses, bareback, and the horses just started swimming and it was magical. The surfing is amazing, children are welcome and everyone cares about the environment. I don’t like cities. Paris, London, New York — I’m nonplussed by those places. I just want to be in nature, where the ocean meets the jungle, where my monkey brain can be calm.

Further information: see escapehaven.com;

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