I had never been to the Hawaii Island Retreat Center and therefore didn’t know what to expect. With just a few glossy promotional images to rely on, I put my trust in David who assured me that all was good. Yet, to my surprise, the stunning, rural setting and uniqueness of the property far exceeded my expectations. Overall, the HIRC turned out to be an exceptional contrast to the pricey, massive commercial resorts on the Big Island. Situated on the North Kohola Coast, two miles of Hwy 270 outside of Hawi, The Hawaii Island Retreat Center is owned and managed by Jeanne Sunderland and Robert Watkins who spent years building this impressive oasis with the help of their two children. Jeanne said that she and her husband purchased the 50 acres with a vision of creating a sustainable farm and retreat center. It then took over 10 years to draw up plans, acquire permits and then start construction. The center is powered by its own windmills, solar panels and water provided by natural springs. Jeanne and Robert have a congenial staff of talented people who keep up the vast facility, gardens and animals.
All of the food that is eaten at the center is grown on the property. Free roaming goats and chickens provide fresh goat milk, cheese and eggs. In addition, large steer, cattle and wild pigs scampering about, however since meat is not served, I think they are just guest who love living on the land! Jeanne also said that she is hosting a program that supports organic gardening. An abundant variety of fruits and vegetables are served daily–including, mangos, papayas, lychee nuts, bananas, pineapples, avocados, eggplants, lettuce and other greens. Exotic flowers were growing everywhere, from plumeria to flora I’d never seen. The main house has a “Colonial Plantation” feel, with open verandas, dining and living rooms. Even “Yurt Village” was stylish and equipped with bathrooms. I really enjoyed staying in my yurt in a remote location near the pool and hearing the natural wonders in the darkness of night–rain, birds and other wild animals. A resounding chorus of chirping birds and crowing roosters would wake me up at sunrise.
We ate our meals in a richly painted red airy dining room decorated with beautiful antiques and paintings. The table was always set impressively with white linen table cloths for dinner. “Mo” our chef from Morocco would whip up tasteful vegetarian meals with flair. Jeanne gave us a tour one evening and told us about the amazing history of the site also called “Ahu Pohaku Ho’maluhia” (Place of Healing Stones) due to the culturally relevant ancient stones dotting the property: the primeval stone circle where Hawaiian Chiefs once congregated and held council; the magical fertility rock that women from near and far would come to sit on as part of ritual in hope of bearing a child; and the stone amphitheater for hula performances and concerts held long ago. There were also the mystery of two old massive stones that found their way down a hill to line up perfectly. These legends dated back centuries and Jeanne allows traditional Hawaiian ceremonies to be held among the revered stones. It is possible to stay at HIRC for many reasons: yoga, silent and meditation retreats, writers and artists also make extended visits to work on projects. There were even a pair of young newlyweds on their honey moon who joined us for dinner occasionally. With 50 acres of idyllic tranquility available, it is possible to lodge at the center for days and not leave–everything you need is right there.