The true meaning of 'ohana (family) awaits at this yoga retreat center set among black sand beaches, volcanoes, and pineapple-coconut ice cream.
I awoke on my first morning at Kalani retreat to the trumpeting sound of someone blowing into a conch shell—the kitchen staff’s way of announcing mealtime. Still a little jetlagged from long flights, layovers, and an evening van ride to reach the remote 120-acre campus on the southeastern coast of Hawaii Island (Big Island), I wandered along a stone path bordered by banana leaves toward the open-air dining lanai (veranda). The vibrant-green jungle landscape felt surreal. But my grogginess started to lift over a mug of dark-roast coffee from a local mill and a plate of organic eggs, amaranth, and pineapple and papaya grown on the property. I chatted with other guests and volunteers about the day’s big decisions: vinyasa yoga or Yin Yoga; lauhala (leaves) weaving or hula class; lomi lomi massage (a Hawaiian massage that employs broad strokes) by the pond or a hike to the black-sand beach.
A Retreat to Kalani Honua on Hawaii's Big Island
Founded in 1975 and originally named Kalani Honua—which means “harmony of heaven and earth”—Kalani is an educational nonprofit devoted to yoga, wellness, performing arts, nature, and Hawaiian culture. It started humbly as a single cabin constructed by co-founders Earnest Morgan and Richard Koob (professional dancers and loving partners who wanted to create a refuge for healing getaways), and has since grown to become the largest retreat center in Hawaii.
After breakfast, a dip in the pool, and a walk to The Point, an overlook near Kalani’s entrance that offers a view of sea spray spurting up lava-rock cliffs, I headed to the Earnest Morgan Arts Exuberance Center (EMAX), a 4,500-square-foot wooden-floored pavilion with colorful silks hanging from the rafters that double as décor when they aren’t being used to suspend students in aerial classes. Yin Yoga teacher Maura Starr Garland guided me through a slow-moving series of reclining postures with my feet elevated on props, as I took slow Ujjayi breaths in sync with the sound of the nearby ocean waves. It was my first of several trips to EMAX for a variety of classes, including a relaxing restorative yoga class with Garland and an invigorating vinyasa class with Jared Sam, a staff teacher who blends several styles (Kundalini, Ashtanga, Yin) into his teaching.
There’s something here for everyone: In addition to Kalani’s regular roster of 50 classes a week in yoga, performing arts, and Hawaiian culture, the campus frequently hosts retreats and events, including, each November, the Hawaii Yoga Festival. It’s a gathering that brings in world-class yoga teachers and also highlights local talent—the region is dubbed the “Yoga Coast” for its high number of yoga teachers.
In keeping with offering custom-fit escapes, Kalani’s accommodations range from lodges to treehouse rooms to artful, private eco-cottages with towering ceilings. And there are A-frames and 4 acres of campgrounds for the 150 volunteers who get free meals and classes in exchange for keeping the kitchen, housekeeping, permaculture, and horticulture departments humming. Many of the fruits (mangoes, plantains), veggies (purple sweet potatoes, zucchini), and herbs (Hawaiian chili peppers, curry leaves) served at the dining lanai are grown on the property, which is fitting since the area is an ancient agricultural zone with six heritage sites, including a stone heiau (temple) dedicated to Lono (the god of agricultural abundance).
Beyond serving as a place to enjoy all the delicious edible landscaping, the dining lanai is also an area to meet people from all over the world. The welcome packet that I received at check-in mentioned that all visitors are considered a member of Kalani’s extended ‘ohana (family), a statement that rang true each time I sat down for a shared meal at one of the long, wooden tables. Over breakfast, a friendly housekeeping volunteer kindly offered to show me the route to Kehena, a nearby black-sand beach formed by a 1950s lava flow. We followed a steep, winding trail and hopped along a series of jet-black boulders before dipping our feet in the Pacific. That day at lunch, I met Kalani co-founder Koob, who still lives on the property and can be found recruiting players for volleyball games—he added me to the list of guests and volunteers he’d be taking up the coast to tidal pools for snorkeling. True to his word, the next day found us gliding over multi-colored coral, vibrant tropical fish, and a sea turtle.
After my ocean adventures, I enjoyed a series of blissful body treatments, including a Watsu massage—a calming experience of getting whirled around in a salt-water pool—and a deep-tissue lomi lomi massage. I also took serene daily walks along trails that wend through the property, ate homemade pineapple-coconut ice cream, and lounged in hammocks. Before leaving, I enjoyed an afternoon la’au lapa’au (herbal medicine) nature tour with Lynda Saffery, a convivial local who came to Hawaii to surf 50 years ago and never returned to the mainland. Surrounded by the island’s lush, natural beauty, I understood why she’d opted to stay.
After five relaxing and playful days, I returned home to Longmont, Colorado, a little healthier in mind, body, and spirit. Now a member of the Kalani ‘ohana, I miss my extended family and long for a reunion at their healing home. (For more info, visit kalani.com.)
Hawaii Yoga Retreat Adventures
A few must-sees for your tropical itinerary:
VISIT A VOLCANO
About an hour’s drive northwest of the retreat, Hawai’i Volcanoes National Park is home to two active volcanoes and 150 miles of hiking trails. You can walk through a fern forest into a cavernous lava tube or stare at a steaming caldera (volcanic crater) while reading a placard about the legend of Pele, the Hawaiian fire goddess of the volcano (nps.gov/havo).
SIP LOCAL COFFEE
En route to Hawai’i Volcanoes National Park via the Volcano Highway, you’ll pass Hilo Coffee Mill. Stop in to sample a variety of rich brews from nearby farms at the tasting bar or buy a batch of beans (hilocoffeemill.com).
SWIM WITH TROPICAL FISH
If you head 7 miles up the coastal Kalapana-Kapoho Road (a left out of Kalani’s entrance), you’ll reach Wai’opae Tidepools Marine Life Conservation District, considered one of the best snorkeling spots in Hawaii. Snorkel and flipper rentals are available at Kalani.