Go on a journey with me to the north of the Big Island of Hawaii. We’re not going camping or hosteling. We’re not heading to a large resort with a major brand name. We’re not heading to a B&B and or some locally owned hotel.
Imagine a home where the American South meets old world Europe and an African colonial mansion?
Enter Hawaii Island Retreat.
When you drive up to the Hawaii Island Retreat and see the inspiring plantation-like structure from another time, you might be surprised to see it in all its grandeur since you just spent ten minutes on a dusty unpaved road to get to it, tucked away off the main drag with barely a sign to let you know its there.
The eco-boutique retreat has 16 rooms including guest rooms and yurts, which are in a separate part of the property. Designed as a model of sustainability and elegant earth-friendly living, this 50-acre piece of heaven is owned and operated by husband and wife team Jeanne Sunderland and Robert Watkins.
A labor of love, they have created a piece of bliss on Hawaii’s Big Island. The rooms are tastefully decorated, mostly by Jeanne who says she has no interior design background. She listened to what was needed for each room and seeing them today, they all seem to work somehow. I was lucky to be there in a four day lull before they were expecting a big group, so could view most of the rooms and each one has its own distinctive personality.
Most of the paintings are gifts or works of arts they had picked up on their travels around the world in their twenties – same goes for the carpets. Says Jeanne, “I let the art dictate the color of the room and what went in it.”
When I asked what obstacles they had to overcome to get to where they are now, I was surprised by the answer. As they began their “development process,” the community was concerned that they were building a large resort like the ones on the commercial coast, vis a vis what they were creating: a sustainable retreat committed to organic, holistic and integrative living. Like many ventures of this magnitude, its difficult to put into a box with a category and that makes getting appropriate permits more difficult and strenuous than they should be.
Yet building proceeded and glorious rooms went up, as did a kitchen, a dining room, a sitting room, a pool, hot tub, a spa, yoga center, yurts and more. Quite possibly my favorite room is called the Crimson room, which has red walls, a wide open bathroom and balcony that overlooks wooded trees and beyond them, the ocean.
The Crimson room is on the second floor, a ten second walk to a public area below, which also overlooks the stunning trees in the back of the property.
My second favorite room is the “blue room” — not sure it is called that officially — but its most definitely blue and faces the front of the property. I love its airiness, bright light and openness as well as the adorable day bed opposite the main bed.
The blue room patio in the late afternoon:
A few more rooms for fun….I don’t know if you have noticed the gorgeous hardwood floors yet?
The yurts sit beyond the pool and spa area towards the front of the property. They are simpler than the classic guest rooms, yet tend to be popular with yogis and naturalists who are clamoring for a more remote getaway “feel.” The yoga room, pool and outside massage tables are only seconds away.
Meet the Hawaii Island Retreat pool which is next to the yoga room:
Below is the dining room which is in the main building. Their chef Mo, originally from Morocco, has a great sense of humor and proudly storms out of the kitchen in the early AM with a special treat for you. They grow a number of delicious tropical fruit, spices and vegetables on the property, such as Clove, Cinnamon, Nutmeg, Mango, Lychee, Orange, Grapefruit, Starfruit, Lemons, Limes, Avocado, Mangostein, Coffee, Papaya, Pineapple, Banana, Beets, Tomatoes, Tomatillos, Poha Berries, Sweet Potatos, Taro, Artichokes, Green Beans, Peas and more.
Since they have so many fruit trees on the property, you never know what you’re going to get for breakfast on a given day. They just picked a bunch of lychees off the tree so I was fortunate to get a huge bowl of them which I devoured within ten minutes. If you’ve never had a fresh lychee off the tree, and you’re a foodie, act quickly. It’s up there in the dark chocolate category as far as sensual food goes and like Guinness tastes different in Ireland than it does anywhere else in the world, lychees off the tree will change the way you think about fruit period. End of story. Yum!
Their system addresses acute pain and most people who go for regular massages have muscular pain from overuse or sitting and walking incorrectly. Neurolink uses the latest scientific research at a cellular level to address the causes not the symptoms. Their belief is that only by addressing your health at a cell level can you achieve optimum sustainability.
Get a massage with Jeanne if you can – her ability to listen and keep you present and connected through the process together with her acute intuition is magical.
(see my write up on two top spa experiences you must try).
Below is your view when you opt for a massage outside, which is easy to do more often than not since the weather is so moderate regardless of what time of year it is.
After a massage, take a walk through the gardens and grounds. They have YlangYlang, Cinnamon Gardenia, Pakalan (Chempaka), Ti, Night Blooming Jasmine, Palms, and Lawai, Jade, Simpaka, Gardenias, Ginger, Temple Flowers, Hybiscus, Jasmine, Waterlilies and Lotus, just to get you started. If you’re not relaxed by now, my only suggestion is to extend your stay until you are. The place is a retreat for those wishing to escape and for those who don’t know they’re wishing to escape, but show up and suddenly are whisked away by the natural beauty and serenity of the place. If only I had more time…
Thoughtful architectural design and sustainable engineering mixed with fine touches such as the organic bamboo robes, teas and herbal oils transforms the place into a tropical and luxurious paradise. Even though the rooms are gorgeous, the main building is stunning, the chef is awesome, the pool is divine, and the flowers and gardens are intoxicating, the real magic is in Jeanne and Robert’s authenticity and passion. I didn’t get to spend as much time with Robert as I did with Jeanne, as he was off to the Lychee grove at the same time I had to go into town for a meeting. (my serious loss).
Jeanne is a treasure to spend time with; we talked about sustainability and reflected on how many places have ‘gone’ eco-friendly because they think they should or because its a great marketing bullet point that will sell more rooms.
When you think about sustainable design from the wrong place, it shows. Jeanne thinks about sustainable architecture as an integral way of ‘being and living’ – “everything around you becomes ‘it’ because you think, live and breathe that way.”
Certainly listening to the ‘universe’ and her inner soul has been instrumental in the success of the Hawaii Island Retreat. She is highly intuitive, which is something I felt the moment I met her. Within minutes, she knew that I needed some solitude time. Little did she realize at the time that I had been running from place to place and had not had an hour to just chill in over a week.
Chill time in a place with this kind of beauty and serenity means inspiration to write. Writers and artists get that, but unless you’ve been to that ‘zone’, you won’t understand just how important time in a place like this is to churn out your best writing or ‘art.’
And so, we chilled for an hour or so on the balcony, although it felt like an eternity since I had a large hovering forest facing me and her soothing voice layered on top of it, telling me story after story. I could have listened to her for hours although we didn’t have that kind of time. I had a dinner to get to and notes to read about what I was doing the next day, so there was no chill time for this writer, not at this very special place anyway which I hope to return to one day with a laptop, binoculars, a camera, a pair of flip flops, a sarong and not a whole lot else.
But return I will, for with the spirit of the trees, the flowers, the plants and the soil, comes the spirit of Jeanne and Robert and their connection to people and the world around them. And this, my friends, is a rare combination and why you should seek them out, spend a little time in North Kohala and unplug. Stare at the trees, bask in the tropical sun, listen to the sounds of the night and just “be.” Trust me, it’s a perfect place to just “be.”
For more posts on Hawaii, check out this section. To experience nature, botanical gardens and rainforest by segway, check out this post. For photos on the Hawaii Volcanoes National Park. For more on Hawaii and food/wine only, go here. For Hawaii and lodging, here. For more on Hawaii and arts, go here. For horseback riding and the eclectic energy around Cowboys of Hawaii, check out this fabulous post with great photos of Parker Ranch.