A Place to Reconnect

Nature serves as healer at the Big Islandís eco-friendly Hawaii Island Retreat
By: Marty Wentzel
Hawaii Island Retreat is spread across 50 acres in North Kohala. // © 2010 Hawaii Island Retreat
Hawaii Island Retreat is spread across 50 acres in North Kohala. // © 2010 Hawaii Island Retreat

The Details

Hawaii Island Retreat

Room rates, which include breakfast for two, range from $275 to $450 per night, with yurts priced from $150 per night.

Commission: 10 percent.
During Jeanne Sunderland's many years as a spa director and therapist at Kohala Coast resorts, people often asked her to recommend retreats on Hawaii's Big Island. Unable to provide an answer, she and her husband, Dr. Robert Watkins, finally decided to create their own.

The result is Hawaii Island Retreat, the manifestation of the couple's longstanding passion for the island's natural and spiritual gifts. Showcasing Sunderland's extensive background in massage and Watkinsí green thumb -- the doctor doubles as a gardener -- the alluring oasis spreads across 50 acres in North Kohala. 

Open since April 2009, Hawaii Island Retreat includes an elegant main building with nine luxurious guestrooms, five freestanding yurts and a full-service spa, all embraced by lush tropical landscaping. On the ocean side of the property, a perfectly placed hammock provides dramatic views from the top of a bluff. Flanked by conservation land, it is a peaceful getaway for retreats for up to 50 people.

While the word "retreat" implies a place for groups, Hawaii Island Retreat is equally valuable for individuals looking to get away or to spend quality time with their partner.

"Our intention is to provide an environment of comfort and beauty where people can reconnect with themselves and others without being sidetracked by the outside climate," Sunderland said. "When adding meditation, yoga or massage to the visit, it enhances the opportunity to be still and turn off the chatter. In this busy pressured world, people come here frazzled and leave in peace."

Hawaii Island Retreat provides a sense of serenity from the moment clients walk through the front doors. Nature calls the shots, and the wind, trees, earth, sky and stars play central roles in the guest's experience. The sounds of rustling leaves and the lull of the surf flow through its open spaces and courtyards. All the senses are stimulated, from the flavors of just-picked home-grown produce to the scent of night-blooming jasmine.

The main building is reminiscent of a classic turn-of-the-century Hawaiian estate. Most of the guestrooms measure 400 square feet, and all have beautiful hardwood floors and big bathrooms with soaking tubs and walk-in showers. To help guests unplug and unwind, all accommodations are soundproof and have no televisions or phones. There is Wi-Fi everywhere except in the guestrooms.  

The yurts at Hawaii Island Retreat provide a simpler, more economical alternative to the accommodations found in the main building. Set in an ironwood grove, they are outfitted with a bathroom and sink, and there's a separate facility for showers. Yurt guests have access to all the resources of the main building, from its open-air living room to the library and theater room.

No matter which accommodations they choose, clients should be sure to take time to join Sunderland on her Legends and Lore walking tour of the property, during which she shares stories of the area and points out cultural and historic sites.

Hawaii Island Retreat's menu of spa services underscores Sunderlandís belief in the healing power of nature. In her oils, scrubs and spa products, she uses plants with medicinal qualities cultivated in her garden and around the island. Clients who book body treatments during their stay can enjoy them inside or outdoors. A freestanding spa building for pre- and post-treatment relaxation looks out to an infinity-edge swimming pool, notable for its silky saline water and azure hue.

Hawaii Island Retreat serves as a model of sustainability. It produces its own electricity courtesy of solar and wind power. Its Cordon Bleu-trained chef works extensively with ingredients grown on-property like tomatoes, lettuces, eggplant, asparagus, chard, poha berries, peppers and bananas. Fresh organic eggs are provided by resident chickens, and Sunderland milks her herd of Nubian goats in order to make cheese and yogurt. All guests gets a recyclable water bottle and a card with advice on living in harmony with the land.

"We are setting an example of sustainable living," said Sunderland. "We help people see how they can be more resourceful back home."
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