Serenely situated in the fragrant evergreens of the North Kohala coast, the Hawaii Island Retreat at Ahu Pohaku Hoomaluhia is a Big Island destination spa experience where ecofriendly practices aren't taken lightly.
"From the very beginning, we were committed to creating this as a sustainable facility," said Jeanne Sunderland, the retreat's co-owner and lead therapist. "It's always been important to us to show that sustainable living and gracious living are indeed compatible, because there are a lot of preconceptions that to be sustainable, you have to give up something. In truth, you just have to be smarter about how you do things."
Electricity for the retreat's impressively appointed eight-room lodge is provided entirely by 40 photovoltaic panels. A cleverly designed system of cross ventilation and ceiling fans keeps the building comfortable year-round. The on-site well supplies the necessary water, which is also heated with solar energy and then conserved with low-flow toilets and showerheads.
"It's where we are unconscious that we waste," Sunderland said. "But if you're mindful when you leave a room and you turn off the lights and the fans, or you try to use only the water that you need, it really makes a difference."
Much of the food prepared in the kitchen is grown in the 50-acre property's organic vegetable gardens and fruit orchards. Grass-fed cattle, sheep and goats provide meat and dairy products. There are free-range chickens for eggs; a local fisherman supplies fresh fish. Jeanne's husband and co-owner, Robert, has even begun work on an outdoor bread oven. And anything that can't be produced at the retreat itself comes from nearby farmers.
Many of the retreat's distinctive spa treatments also make use of indigenous plants grown at the property.
"This property was actually used for this very same purpose 100 years ago," Sunderland said. "There was a kahuna [priest] here who grew medicine plants, and people would come to him for healing, so it's just been waiting to do that again."
Sunderland, who's lived in the Kohala region for more than 30 years, began studying laau lapaau, the Hawaiian art of healing with native plants and herbs, in the late 1970s. She later pursued a massage therapy license and worked at spas in the Hyatt (now the Hilton Waikaloa Village) and the Ritz-Carlton at Mauna Lani (now the Fairmont Orchid Hawaii) for nearly 13 years.
During her time at the Ritz, Sunderland organized on-site health and wellness retreats, but before long, a dilemma became increasingly apparent.
"People would become distracted," Sunderland said. "Because with 1,000 people in the hotel, 30 to 40 people would sort of get lost in all that energy ... and instructors would come to me and say, 'I can't seem to hold people's attention.'"
Sunderland said developing the Hawaii Island Retreat started out as a solution to some of those larger hotel spa shortcomings as well as a desire to create an upscale experience where people could escape and focus.
"I think it was probably 10 years ago that Robert and I looked at each other and said, 'We can do this,'" Sunderland said. The Hawaii Island Retreat opened this spring.
Moments from the powerful surf and towering cliff faces of the Big Island's rugged north shore coastline, the lodge hosts up to 40 people and features an open-air, garden-side dining room; a yoga studio; a massage and therapy room; a saltwater pool; a sauna; a hot tub; a fitness room; a large, WiFi-equipped library and media center; and several outdoor spa bungalows.
Home to many culturally significant sites, including a ring of stones where King Kamehameha often held council with his closest advisers, the property is full of meandering hiking trails, lush vegetation and awe-inspiring ocean views.
Fantastic for couples looking for a romantic alternative to the Big Island's larger resort properties, and downright judicious for small weddings, conferences or executive getaways, the retreat's accommodations include second-floor suites, complete with spacious, private balconies, beginning at $400 a night. Ground-floor, gardenview rooms start at $275. A 10% commission is also available to agents.