Big Isle Bliss

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Wilting at Waianuhea

By Farrah Cane

I’m staring at the snow-dusted peaks of Mauna Kea on a lazy October morning. My inner monologue, far more ambitious than the physical me, thinks: that’s so close we could hike it. Except it’s a lazy October morning, and my legs are sore from riding horseback alongside the taro patches of Waipio Valley yesterday. It is decided: I can see the peaks just fine here from my bed in the Malamalama suite.

It doesn’t hurt that a glorious view of the shimmering Pacific from the suite’s oversized soaking tub is just a few steps away. If I crane my head just right from my early morning bubble bath, I might be able to see Maui from this perch on Hawai’i Island’s northeastern upcountry fringe-at the unparalleled Waianuhea Inn.

But again, why bother? I can easily feast my eyes on a darling duck pond without over-exerting any neck or shoulder muscles. the horizon is awash in the pink, purple and orange hues of sunrise, and it looks just fine without any other islands blocking the view.

We’re at Waianuhea to celebrate our anniversary, my husband and I. But also to see how “off-the-grid” translates into luxury. although we live comfortably in a remote jungle on this same isle, we’re eager to add some splashes of elegance into our own existence-and to see how the “experts” tout luxury.

Yet “off-the-grid” and “sustainable” aren’t the descriptors that jump to mind while you wandering the property, especially at the evening wine hour (which sometimes stretches into two) when our hosts break out a gorgeous sauvignon Blanc and trays of locally sourced pupu (more hamakua goat cheese, anyone?) circulate around the living room’s massive fireplace. how can a place so luxurious and soothing be unplugged?

Owner Carol Salisbury Culbertson stops by to greet guests, and I’m delighted to discover she’s the sister of writer graham salisbury, whose Kona-based novel Blue Skin of the Sea remains one of my favorites. they are descendants of some of the first missionary families to arrive in Hawai’i (Thurston and Andrews), but there’s nothing missionary about Waianuhea.

Meander about, and you’ll see that Carol’s taste in décor is decidedly eclectic, and it works. there are ultra-modern and colorful plastic chairs, a giant mural of a man’s profile hangs near the kitchen, stone Buddhas here and there, and a wooden spiral staircase that leads me downstairs to a massage room framed by a stunning lava rock wall. I find myself not thinking about the solar array and rooftop rainwater catchment systems as my therapist goes to work on my aching joints. My husband can take notes on all that. I’m entranced, and I don’t want to do my homework.

Back in the Malamalama suite, there is a high-definition television, but we don’t touch it. Instead we contemplate the wall-sized tapestry of a bare-chested green goddess amid a lotus pond. She doesn’t want us to hike Mauna Kea, in fact, she’s questioning the horseback ride. Just beyond the huge picture window, the cool upland mists are lifting off the treetops, and the clear summit with snow is revealed. I slide back under the covers, cocooned, and gaze at one of the Big Island’s most marvelous extremes – snow! We giggle that we’re snowed in and can’t leave, even though the temperature at this elevation is warm enough for shorts and slippers. I can smell the Long Ears coffee brewing (the Hamakua farm isn’t far from here) and finally it rouses us from bed to the breakfast table.

We are served a gourmet breakfast featuring farm-fresh eggs, dragon fruit and other locally grown delights. There is another couple at breakfast, and they are leaving soon to go scuba diving off Kona for the day. They want to know what we’re doing. We tell them, staying right here getting home-schooled. u

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