The 2017 Kāpiti Writers’ Retreat

Immerse yourself in writing and conversation this summer. There’s something for everyone–whether you’re new to writing, an established writer, or somewhere in-between.

Dates: 3-5 March 2017
Location: El Rancho, Kāpiti Coast, New Zealand
Registration:  Register securely online or contact with any and all questions or for additional information.
Join us for the Kāpiti Writers’ Retreat and renew and recharge your writing and your life. The Kāpiti Writers’ Retreat is an immersive, two-day gathering for writers, happening on the Kāpiti Coast. The retreat includes intensive morning workshops, lively afternoon panels, discussions and space and time to write, relax and engage with topics critical to your work. Read about last year’s event here.
Kahini is delighted to host six established New Zealand and international writers–Helen Lehndorf, Hera Lindsay Bird, Jordan Hartt, Nalini Singh, Queenie Rikihana-Hyland, and Vivienne Plumb–who will teach the Retreat. Each writer will teach morning workshops: three in fiction, two in poetry, one in memoir writing, and one cross-genre. (Read descriptions of the workshops and teachers below.)Evening get together
In the afternoons the same teachers will lead panels and discussions on topics pertinent to craft and literature in Aotearoa. All writers are welcome, at whatever stage you are in your writing life. You’ll find community, encouragement, and a safe place in which to take artistic risks. Please contact Kirsten at for more information. Register for the Kāpiti Writers’ Retreat!


Friday, 3 March
5:30 pm: Welcome
7 pm: Barbecue
8:30 pm: Optional freewrite

Saturday, 4 March
7 am: Gentle morning yoga with Helen Lehndorf (optional)
8 am: Breakfast
9 am–12:30 pm: Morning workshop (morning tea break included)
12:30 pm–1:30 pm: Lunch
2 pm–4 pm: Afternoon sessions (open to all)
4 pm–5:30 pm: Time to write, relax or continue conversations
5:30 pm: Dinner
8 pm–9 pm: Optional open-mike readings

Sunday, 5 March
7 am: Gentle morning yoga with Helen Lehndorf (optional)
8 am: Breakfast
9 am–12:30 pm: Morning workshop (morning tea break included)
12:30pm–1:30 pm: Lunch
2pm–4 pm: Afternoon sessions (open to all)
4 pm: Closing


The Retreat is centred around core morning workshops which offer writers the space to delve into a specific topic or genre with one of six established writers. The six hours of workshop are spread over two mornings, allowing participants to engage, reflect and delve into the writing. There are no minimum requirements for attendance. Workshops will have a maximum of twelve participants. Select your workshop when you register.

Interested in coming along but not sure which workshop would best fit with you? Email Kirsten at for more information, suggestions, or to have questions answered.


helenHelen Lehndorf

Staring into the Source: Generating Contemplative Writing from the Spiritual Traditions

In this workshop, we will use original and contemporary writing from spiritual traditions to generate contemplative writing across different genre. We’ll be taking inspiration from the work of Rumi, Hafiz, the Bhagavad Gita, Natalie Goldberg, Gary Snyder and others who synthesise creative writing and spiritual practice. We will explore the practice of journaling in this context, and how it can support both our creative process as writers, and life generally.

Helen Lehndorf’s book, The Comforter, made the New Zealand Listener’s ‘Best 100 Books of 2012 list while her poem ‘Wabi-sabi’ was selected for Best New Zealand Poems in 2011. Her second book, a book about the practice of journaling, Write to the Centre was published by Haunui Press in 2016. She writes poetry and non-fiction, and has been published in Sport, Landfall, JAAM, and many other publications.

heraHera Lindsay Bird

Having Our Imagist Cake and Eating It, Too

“You owe reality nothing and the truth about your feelings everything.”
~Richard Hugo, Triggering Town

For me, the central question/task of poetry is how to make something that feels alive on the page. How do we get to the heart of what we are trying to say, without being overly didactic or too shy? How do we to approach what we are unable to approach, when we are stuck and overwhelmed, staring at a blank page? Good poetry should guide itself, not be dragged kicking and screaming towards a predestined conclusion. Good poetry allows the poem permission to steer itself. But how, practically, can we achieve this? And how can we take linguistic and formal risks while staying emotionally honest. In other words, how can we have our imagist cake and eat it too?

This workshop is a practical guide to generating new ideas & experimenting with text, but it’s also about how we integrate emotional honesty into our writing practice, and how we can adapt formal exercises, (which are so often sterile and cerebral) to bring us closer to the heart of what we are trying to say.

Hera Lindsay Bird is a poet from Wellington. Her debut collection Hera Lindsay Bird was published by Victoria University Press in 2016, and has gone on to be reprinted several times since. She has published work in the Toast, The Hairpin, The Listener and The Spinoff, and her book has been featured in The Guardian, Vice, and The Sunday Star Times. She believes in emotional honesty, excessive similes, and the occasional dick joke.

moi2Jordan Hartt

‘The Only Land I Own is That Between My Toes’: Writing New Work Inspired by Water

‘Water does not resist. Water flows. When you plunge your hand into it, all you feel is a caress. But water always goes where it wants to go, and nothing in the end can stand against it.’ ~Margaret Atwood

‘The only land I own is that beween my toes.’ ~Hone Tuwhare

The language and metaphors of ocean, rivers, rain fills our literatures. ‘Still waters run deep,’ ‘No man is an island,’ ‘She’s adrift’: From the hula to Homer to Hart Hemmings, from Melville to Mansfield to Morrison, from Woolf to Walcott to Williams, literary uses of water–and water’s relationship to land–have shaped the characters, narratives, and language of some of our best-known stories.

In this workshop, open to both poets and prose writers, we’ll write new work through the inspiration of water: whether rain, the ocean, a lake, a river, a waterfall, a chlorinated pool. We’ll explore water’s relationship to sand, rock, boat hulls, riverbanks, etc., and how these rhythms shape our own lives, as well as the lives of our characters, narrators, and metaphors. Much discussion and writing, as well as looking at the work of such writers as Dana Levin, James George, Hone Tuwhare, and others, will help us each generate a new short piece of up to 1,000 words. (Short-shorts are the easiest to publish and the hardest to write.) We’ll do a full discussion on this raw draft: you’ll leave the workshop with a completed and workshopped piece ready for advanced revision; with new craft tools, connections, and community as a writer; and with writing inspiration to last a long time.

Jordan Hartt is the author of Leap, a collection of narrative poems. Work has appeared in dozens of literary magazines and journals. He facilitates eleven annual writing retreats, serving around three thousand writers per year. Growing up on the Pacific Northwest coast of North America, he loves writing inspired by the natural rhythms of the earth, and how humans move within those rhythms. He believes that a good workshop creates a supportive, nurturing writing space where writers can unlock their best work, build lifelong connections, and be inspired. Hartt runs the Kahini workshops that happen in the Americas. 

naliniNalini Singh

Polish to a Shine: Revising and Editing Your Work So It’s the Best it Can Be 

‘I can fix a bad page. I can’t fix a blank page.’
~Nora Roberts

How do we make our novel the best it can be? In this workshop we’ll be looking at the various tools you can use to edit and revise your manuscript from the initial rough draft. Because as the legendary Nora Roberts points out, once you have words on a page, you can work with them, shape them, fine-tune them.

We’ll begin by identifying what works and what needs revision in our novels-in-progress, then talk tools to remedy issues whether to do with form, structure, or language. We’ll also cover how to do major revisions–including how to work with revision requests made by an editor. Hint: Don’t panic!

From broad edits to proofreading and writing copy, we will candidly share experiences of editing, and being edited. The workshop will best suit writers with a manuscript of at least 40,000 words who have enough distance from the work that they can look at it with clarity. Writers of shorter pieces are welcome too – however, please be aware that the structural points we discuss may not be as useful to you.

Most of all, we’ll be focusing on how to make your book—and your unique voice—shine.

Nalini Singh is the New York Times, USA Today, and internationally bestselling author of the Psy-Changeling, Guild Hunter, and Rock Kiss series. Born in Fiji and raised in New Zealand, she was first published in 2003. Her books have sold over six million copies worldwide and have been translated into more than twenty languages, including German, French, Japanese, and Turkish. Her most recent releases are: Allegiance of Honor, Wild Embrace, and Archangel’s Heart.

queenieQueenie Rikihana-Hyland

Ngā Maumahara: Dialling up the ‘T line’

Everyone can engage with their ancestors and their stories to create powerful works that bridge the boundaries between fact, fiction, and myth. In this workshop we’ll be tapping into the energy of our tupuna to write about their deeds. Bring a figure from your heritage that you’d love to remember and write about and we’ll take on their spirit to create exciting new work. Whether your ancestor is well known or a distant figure, we’ll delve into how to take their story and make it your own. Bring a willingness to share yourself and your work whatever stage it is at. We’ll be workshopping how to take your idea to fruition including how to research, interview and engage with your subject.

This workshop is open to anyone who has an interest in memoir, revisiting the past and making living history on the page.

Queenie Rikihana-Hyland is of Ngāti Toa/Raukawa/Te Ati Awa descent. She is a trained journalist and has written extensively about Te Ao Māori. Her book Illustrated Māori Myths and Legends (2003) has been adapted into many different forms including a series for children. Her more recent works include Manawa Hine: Women Who Swam Against the Tide, which tells the stories of four Māori heroines who swam between Kāpiti Island and the mainland. Rikihana-Hyland is working on her latest book Te Whenua: The Land (to be published in Matariki 2017), which captures the very personal 20-year fight to preserve land for her own whānau. Rikihana-Hyland is very active in the Kāpiti community, has worked for the Listener, been on radio and taught journalism at Whitireia.

vivVivienne Plumb

Conceiving Changes

How do we focus on the skeletal bones of a story and flesh out the meat that needs to surround those bones? In this workshop we will re-envision and rework your short fiction to create bolder, stronger work.

We’ll be talking about key tools to re-examine your fiction: how to produce denser, more efficient sentences, address dialogue issues, help with character backstories and develop methods of description. Then we’ll workshop a piece of your work (up to 3,000 words). You will need to provide your piece and the problems you would like to solve in this work two weeks prior to the Retreat.

Vivienne Plumb is of Australian and New Zealand heritage. She writes fiction, poetry and drama, holds a Doctorate in Creative Arts (Aust), and has been the recipient of the Hubert Church Prose Award (Best First Book of Fiction), the Bruce Mason Playwrighting Award, and a Sargeson Fellowship. She has been the recipient of many writing residencies including University of Iowa (USA), Hong Kong Baptist University, Varuna (Aust.), and most recently 2016 University of Auckland/Michael King Centre Fellowship. Her fifteen publications include collections of short fiction, poetry, a novel, a novella and playscripts. In November 2016, her playscript, The Wife Who Spoke Japanese In her Sleep, was published by Playmarket New Zealand. She teaches and mentors creative writing, and is a judge for the 2017 Ockham New Zealand Book Awards (poetry). 


klhKirsten Le Harivel

I established the Kāpiti Writers’ Retreat to meet a need I saw and felt for writers like myself to get together to talk writing and do writing away from the grind of day-to-day life.

This comment from participant Janis Freegard who participated in the inaugural Retreat in 2016 sums up what I hoped people would walk away with:

‘My Kahini Writers Retreat experience was a perfect blend of structured workshops, walks by the river, talking with other writers and having the time and space to write…. There were some lively group discussions and I came away with a couple of first drafts to work on further. The retreat was a great opportunity to connect with other writers and produce new work. Oh, and the food was great!’ (You can read more about last year’s event here.)

Alongside the Retreat I run all Kahini programmes in New Zealand, write poetry and short fiction which has been published in various New Zealand and international journal and take care of my new baby. I have an MA from the International Institute of Modern Letters and have worked as a programme, comms and stakeholder manager in the NGO sector particularly with young people and former refugees for over ten years.

Any surplus funds from the Retreat will be put towards running creative writing programmes for young people from refugee backgrounds.


Each afternoon we host discussions on topics pertinent to writing and our writing lives. These sessions are chaired by an experienced writer and provide the opportunity for you to ask questions, discuss ideas, and engage in contemporary writing issues.

Saturday, 2-4 pmThe Business of Writing: Nalini Singh in Conversation with Ines Almeida

Nalini answers your questions about the business of writing. How can I make a living out of writing? Should I publish my own book? Do I need an agent? How do I submit to an international publisher? What are sub-rights and why should I care about them? And many more. You can submit your questions anytime before the session via email or at the Retreat.

Saturday, 2-4 pm: The Forest of Story: Jordan Hartt and Vivienne Plumb in Conversation with Maria McMillan

With multiple possibilities, is story something we create or something we discover? What is the role of plot/narrative in story? How does characterisation fuel a story’s momentum? How do voice, language, tone, color, feel, conflict, tension, and dialogue work together, becoming inseparable? In addition, we’ll discuss scene-building, imagery, crisis, resolution, and. dramatic movement. Join Vivienne Plumb and Jordan Hartt in discussion with Maria McMillan under the tree to explore these questions—and find new ways into your own work.

Sunday, 2-4 pmThe Pool We Pull From: Hera Lindsay Bird, Helen Lehndorf, and Queenie Rikihan-Hyland in conversation with Maria McMillan

Whether it’s our ancestors, faiths, feelings, music cultures or the lineage of literature itself, our inspiration and our work comes from somewhere. Join us to delve into the how and why of what we write.

Note: all sessions are open to all.


The Kāpiti Writers’ Retreat will be held at El Rancho: a large camp situated near the Waikanae river. All workshops, discussions and meals will be provided onsite. When you register, you can let us know any dietary requirements you have.

Limited onsite accommodation is available in units with between four to ten rooms. Each unit has a bathroom, lounge and kitchenette where you can make tea and coffee. Beds come with linen and blankets. Sole occupancy or shared rooms (maximum three occupants) are available. If you would like to book out an entire unit for a group (minimm 4 people) please contact

Update: Accommodation at the venue has sold out. Contact Kirsten for information on other options.

Campsites are also available. Alternatively, there are many baches and bed and breakfasts in the area.

Getting There
El Rancho is situated at 58 Weggery Drive, Waikanae, Kāpiti Coast. You can drive or take public transport to the area.

If you are coming from Wellington, we recommend that you catch the train, as the traffic heading out of town on a Friday can be quite heavy. We will have a shuttle that can take you to and from the station. See below for more details.

Coming by public transport
If you wish to come by public transport, from the south it is easiest to catch the Tranz Metro train service heading to Waikanae. From the north you would need to travel by bus. The Intercity travels through Waikanae. We will provide transport to take participants from the Waikanae train station to the venue, departing at 5:15 pm on Friday and returning to Waikanae Station at the close of the event on Sunday. (If you are travelling on the train from Wellington you may wish to purchase a 3-day Weekend Rover Ticket as it is cheaper than two single tickets.)

Coming by car or bike
If you are driving or cycling the location is signposted. Drive through the complex and turn right just before the office into Elm Lodge, where we are staying.

If you have any questions regarding getting to the venue, or you wish to offer seats in your car to others in your area, please get in touch (

What to Bring
Please bring all the materials you need to write. If you are staying onsite your accommodation includes bed linen. You will need to bring a towel and your own toiletries. If you want to join in the morning yoga bring a mat and a light blanket or shawl.


Book now! 

Retreat (workshop, discussions and meals*) $330
Accommodation (two nights + two breakfasts), in a private room with shared facilities (Sold out). $132
OR Accommodation (two nights + two breakfasts) in a shared room with shared facilities $77

*Meals include morning and afternoon tea, lunch and dinner on both days.

Any surplus funds generated go towards running creative-writing programs for young people from refugee backgrounds.

Registration for all options is available securely online here. Want to pay in installments? Contact

Scholarship and Volunteer Opportunities
If you would like to assist in organising the event we are looking for several volunteers.

We’re aware that cost may be a barrier for some people. We are offering limited discounted and free tuition places for writers who would like to attend but for whatever reason are unable to afford the full fee. These options are not available through the online system.

Please contact Kirsten ( to find out more.