Hawaii Island immersion at the Fairmont Orchid

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An outrigger canoe outing, one of the cultural programming offerings at the Fairmont Orchid.
An outrigger canoe outing, one of the cultural programming offerings at the Fairmont Orchid.

It was my first morning on the Island of Hawaii, and thanks to the three-hour time difference I was working with, waking for a 6 a.m. canoe outing was no sweat.

Arriving in a new place at night can be disorienting, and the sunrise excursion with one of the Fairmont Orchid's Hui Holokai ambassadors, Elijah Smith, would prove an ideal way to get my bearings.

Smith offered a brief lesson on proper paddling technique before we pushed the canoe into the water and hopped in. We paddled for roughly 50 yards, and Smith started on his history of Hawaii Island. He pointed out the volcanoes in the distance -- Kohala, Mauna Kea, Mauna Loa, Hualailai -- that form the Island and demarcate its distinct climatic zones. I learned of the importance of Mauna Kea, a place considered to be home to Hawaiian deities. 

We kept paddling, learning more about outrigger canoes and the much larger versions that carried modern Hawaiians' ancestors across the Pacific from Polynesia. By now, the sun had climbed over Mauna Kea and was making it easy to see the fish and reef beneath us. Smith performed a ceremony to welcome and express appreciation for a new day, blowing a conch shell and reciting a chant.

After the quick geography lesson, introduction to the history of human settlement and the soothing morning ceremony, it was time to go explore all that the property had to offer.

The 540-room Fairmont Orchid has been updating its facilities and programming in a step-by-step approach. In the spring, new cultural activities were announced along with the appointment of the property's first director of Hawaiian culture, Kaiulani Blankenfeld.

The Fairmont Orchid's cultural programming currently features sunrise and sunset canoe excursions, beach and historical hikes that visit petroglyph sites, a traditional fishing excursion and a daily conch shell-blowing and torch-lighting ceremony at sunset.

Signature restaurant Brown's Beach House serves up Hawaii regional cuisine in a seaside setting with excellent sunset vistas. Diners can choose menu items that take advantage of local products, such as Kona lobster with Parmesan risotto and the Kau coffee venison. 

The 32-acre, oceanfront property features thoughtful touches for guests to discover and enjoy, such as a quiet reflection area where a posted sign asks visitors to stay off their phones. Instead of a fixed location, the Spa Without Walls offers a range of locations for treatments, including eight private areas adjacent to a waterfall, six that are oceanside and four indoor rooms, in addition to sauna and steam facilities.

Rooms have either resort, partial-ocean or ocean views, and all come with private balconies. The 522-square-foot standard rooms each feature a desk, flat-screen TV with media hub and iPod adapter, Keurig coffeemaker, a small refrigerator and a spacious bathroom with separate shower and bathtub. 

The resort also offers Fairmont Gold, 45 rooms and suites on the top floor of the North Tower with exclusive access to a lounge where a special breakfast and evening appetizers are served daily.

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