Om’s Sweet Home

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Finding a Spiritual Connection in Hawi

Sometimes, you need more than a vacation. You need a retreat. The dictionary defines this as a departure, to pull away or retire. In Hawi on the Big Island, you’ll find an oasis perched on a cliff overlooking the Pacific that is indeed the perfect place to retire from the world.

Hawai’i Island Retreat at Ahu Pohaku Ho’omaluhia is exactly what its name describes. Owner and creator Jeanne Sunderland explains, “‘ahu’ means ‘gathering place’ or ‘altar’; ‘pohaku’ means ‘great stones’ (there are great healing stones on the property) and ‘ho’omaluhia’ means ‘bringing forth peacefulness.'”

That peacefulness permeates every room, treatment, even blade of grass at the retreat.

Built like a manse to accommodate the most persnickety of luxury seekers, the suites are appointed with turn-of-the-century Hawaiian furniture, spacious bathroom with soaking tub and separate shower. Guests can gaze upon the garden, ocean or valley from their own private balcony.

Hawai’i Island Retreat’s rooms are designed as “guest sanctuaries,” and you won’t find modern distractions. “We don’t have TVs, Internet access or telephones in the room,” Sunderland points out. “But our guests want things that way. They want to get away from those interruptions when they’re with us.” For those who can’t totally disconnect, phones are available in a common area, TVs are in the media room and Internet access is available on the lanai.

Nowhere is the understated opulence of this place more apparent than in the Golden Penthouse. Also known as the honeymoon suite, this romantic room overlooking the ocean takes up the entire third floor and features a claw-foot tub-the perfect place to daydream over the Pacific.

Sunderland recalls the day she first stepped foot on the land on which her retreat now stands. She’d been studying under la’au lapa’au master Tommy Soloman, who brought her to this mysterious spot one day. “We came in from the ocean on his fishing boat,” she reminisces. “After walking around, he showed me a canoe house, which he said was Kamehameha’s canoe house. I asked him, ‘why are you bringing me here?’ He said, ‘I was told to bring you here.'”

Decades later, Sunderland opened her Hawai’i Island Retreat on that very same land. The power that she felt there distinctly spoke to her, and when it came time to share her knowledge of healing, she knew that was the ideal spot to do so.

With respect to the surroundings, she and her husband, Dr. Robert Watkins, cleared the land by hand. They, along with their son Damien, have made sure that everything at the retreat is sustainable. “We all talk about being sustainable … none of us realize what that’s going to take,” Sunderland says. “Thank goodness we have Damien, because he takes care of all that. The retreat is completely off the grid: We produce our own electricity, have our own well, raise our own meat, raise milk goats. Our produce comes from our organic gardens and orchards.”

Rejuvination is the purpose of this place, and while spiritual healing can come from just being somewhere serene, Hawai’i Island Retreat can help gently prod the process along.

Spa treatments have been a part of the retreat from Day One, as many guests come for the classes and treatments. Because of this it made sense to add a separate spa complex called Maluhia Spa. Here, guests can luxuriate in open-air hales overlooking a valley of ironwood trees, go for a refreshing dip in a saltwater-purified infinity pool or work on their cardio at the spa/exercise pavilion. Eco-friendly locker rooms are appointed with organic shower products, reverse-osmosis drinking water and solar hot water.

The retreat follows three treatment pathways to well-being: Ho’oku’u focuses on cleansing, soothing and detoxifying; ku’ulani hones in on harmonizing, balancing through couples massage, while kuakino is the “path of transformation for body mind and spirit.” The spa menu is divided along these lines.

Services include couples massage, facials and the decadent bath rituals. Many of the treatments use elixirs developed within the Hawai’i Island Retreat. These also are available for sale, so guests can take home some of their spa experience.

Of course, with a focus on wellness, it stands to reason that the retreat’s cuisine would follow suit.

All meals are sourced from the land. “We do still buy rice, because it’s hard to get away from rice,” she adds with a laugh. “But we’re producing amaranth.”

The menus read like a dream-come-true for those who’ve always wished they could dine on healthful, delicious foods.

Breakfast might feature granola and yogurt, fresh fruit (think seasonal mango, banana, papaya, oranges, starfruit) along with fresh eggs and garden greens. Lunch is a light yet satisfying meal of a salad, soup du jour or curried chicken breast. A sample dinner might include curry squash soup, garam marsala spiced baked chicken and a dessert of coconut crème brulee, as an example.

Chef Mo Elebkkaoui works constantly to keep the menu fresh, and often ventures off-property to find new and different dishes to interpret in his kitchen. Guests can take a bit of the knowledge home with them by taking a spa cooking class.

The retreat has become a beautiful home away from home for many repeat guests. In fact, the two-day minimum stay was instituted only after past visitors had told Sunderland that anything less would rob someone of the true beauty of the retreat. Sunderland’s creation is the perfect place to “pull away” from the rest of the world: Whether it’s to serve as home base while you explore the little nooks and crannies of North Kohala or a respite to detoxify your life from modern day concerns.

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