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Mauna Lani Hotel & Bungalows

Visiting the Big Island of Hawaii is a once-in-lifetime experience for many people. Whether you are visiting for your only time or you are a Big Island regular, treat yourself to the Mauna Lani Resort, one of the grand dames of the hotel strip along the Kohala Coast, north of the Kona airport.

My husband, Bob, and I attended a special Hawaiian healing conference called “Ke Kumu ‘O Mauna Lani” hosted by the hotel. This second annual special event brings together Hawaiian elders and masters of hula (dance), mele (song), storytelling, basket weaving, and Hawaiian spirituality. Joining the local kapuna (respected elders) were healers from every tradition from western medicine to laughter medicine.




Petroglyphs testify to the presence
of the ancient Hawaiians.


But first, let me tell you about this amazing hotel.

Mauna Lani — Mountain of Heaven

The Mauna Lani Resort encompasses an area called Kalahuipua’a, which means the Day of the Pig Family, and offers many colorful, and contradictory, stories about how the spot got its name. But piggy this place is not. Kalahuipua’a has always been a royal resort, a place where the ali’i could rest and restore their bodies, hearts, minds and spirits.

This oasis of ponds, shrouded by vegetation, borders lava fields and the life-giving sea. Through a program of enlightened stewardship, the Mauna Lani Report is protecting, preserving, and bringing life to the many cultural, natural and historic sites.

The hotel complements the royal water gardens with an elegant entrance and open-air atrium. Be sure to check out the ponds in the atrium and on either of the lower level entrances. As you stroll around “your” royal gardens, notice the wonderful variety of fish, shown in a spectacular setting. The Mauna Lani sponsors a honu (sea turtle) hatch and release program. If you are here on July 4th, you can be part of Turtle Independence Day, when the hotel releases this year’s turtles into the wild.




The Atrium at Mauna Lani Resort.

Check-in at the Reception Desk is a divine dose of aloha. You’ll receive a fresh flower lei and a glass of guava juice. Delish.

BTW, drink as much water as you can and salt your food more than normal. The breezes feel wonderful because you are sweating like crazy and don’t know it. Kidney stones are common here, and will quite frankly ruin your vacation. You can also limit dehydration by drinking alcohol and caffeinated drinks in moderation.

Our room was one of the 90% of the rooms that have an ocean view. The other 10% have a spectacular view of Mauna Kea, especially beautiful in winter, when it is capped in snow. Our room sported a comfy bed, entertaining local TV, and a bathroom that struck me as European in flavor. The toilet was in a separate room, and the shower/tub was tucked into a cozy corner. Marble floors kept our tootsies nice and cool.


The new guest rooms.

The hotel offers you a refrigerator but no mini-bar. There is a small general store on the grounds, and I think the hotel staff use this as a ploy to force you to get outside and enjoy the natural beauty. Pretty sneaky, you guys.

Of course, the Mauna Lani faces one of the most beautiful white sand beaches on the Big Island. Like all Hawaiian beaches, this one is open to the public and accessible through the state park entrance. But since you are a hotel guest, you’ll just stroll from your room to take in the snorkeling and to see the honu.




Catching dinner.

Great Sushi and Seaside Dining

The hotel provides many wonderful eating establishments, and we decided on sushi since we wanted a light dinner. The fish was exceptionally fresh and the flight of Japanese sakes was an education in itself.

During the conference, we ate lunches at the Ocean Grill, poolside. All the food is incredibly fresh. I highly recommend the salads, and the fries are out of this world. If you are on a low-carb diet, the kitchen can make any sandwich into a salad by leaving off the bread. Just ask.

Ke Kumu — History and Tradition Kept Alive

Throughout history, island people revered and cherished the nourishing spirit of the grounds of the Mauna Lani. Known then as Kalahuipua’a, one could only come to this land by an invitation from the ali’i, the Hawaiian royalty. With the rich history of spiritual healing, the Mauna Lani serves as a natural venue for their annual conference on Hawaiian healing and spirituality, “Ke Kumu ‘O Mauna Lani” or Ke Kumu for short.

Each year, the Mauna Lani invites guests to learn about Hawaiian and world healing at Ke Kumu (which means “the source”), an event that creates unique Hawaiian experiences and personal interaction with Hawaiian masters and lifestyle experts from around the world. Both kama’aina (locals) and visitors sample the festivities, workshops, interactive seminars, and spa cuisine.

Sylvia: Quiet Powerhouse of Ke Kumu




The Outdoor Hale Spa at Mauna Lani.

Just a few years ago Sylvia Sepielli couldn’t imagine that she’d be hosting healing seminars. Sylvia is an internationally recognized spa designer and operator, and she designed the sumptuous spa at the Mauna Lani. She’s always invited her friends in the healing world to visit her spas and teach her staff and guests. Eventually, someone suggested that she get all her friends together and put on a conference.




The Flower Chakra Bath.

That was the beginning of Ke Kumu o Mauna Lani. Ke Kumu brings together progressive medical doctors, authors, spiritual guides, experts in Hawaiian plants, hula and weaving masters — all working on different aspects of healing the whole person.

This diminutive, soft-spoken powerhouse is surprised to find herself at the center  of an integral healing program. She rattles off a long list of names, including Danny Kaniela Akaka, who have helped her bring Ke Kumu to life, and who will help develop it into the future.




Resident historian, Danny
Kaniela Akaka.

Staff Historian and Cultural Director

Co-conspirator in the creation of Ke Kumu is Danny Kaniela Akaka, Mauna Lani’s resident Hawaiian historian, cultural director, and kahu (spiritual leader). Danny is a living link to ancient Hawaii, and well worth your time to get to know. As part of his degree in Hawaiian studies, he lived with the last family to live on the Mauna Lani lands before the hotel was built. Danny lived in the old Hawaiian way with this family, learned to speak fluent Hawaiian, and developed a kindly way of delivering the Hawaiian message.

Danny’s office is at the Eva Parker Woods cottage, on the other side of the royal fishponds. With a view of the beach and pools, it’s better than any corner office.






Eva Parker Woods cottage.

He will be happy to explain the history and legends of the Mauna Lani lands and spiritual healing on the Big Island. Get ready to hear about why the lands are so special and sacred (hint: It sits at the center of five volcanoes — Kohala, Mauna Kea, Mauna Loa, Hualalai, and Haleakala, on Maui). You’ll learn the symbolism of the calabash basket, and different techniques for ho’oponopono (“ho’o” means “to cause” and “pono” means “spiritual and physical balance and harmony”). The Hawaiians have dozens of rituals and ways of restoring the body, mind and spirit back to balance, and Danny joyfully shares those with you.




Spiritual healing during Ke Kumu.

Like Sylvia, Danny has a wide circle of friends in the healing world, and they all bring the Hawaiian sensibility and culture to their work and teachings. In 2003, Sylvia and Danny decided to bring them all together for the first Ke Kumu event. The three-day teachings-from-the-masters conference was so popular, that it has become a regular annual event.

Ke Kumu — “The Source, The Teachers”

Our weekend started off with a traditional Hawaiian purification ceremony. We gathered on the beach and Danny Kaniela Akaka explained that Hawaiians would often immerse themselves in the ocean to purify their thoughts and spirits before beginning on an arduous journey or task. He offered a Hawaiian prayer for the weekend, and blew the conch shell in the four cardinal directions. About 50 of us dared to brave the early morning ceremony and attempted to release our worries into the ocean.




Master hula dancer,
Kaualoku Aiu tells stories.

Afterward, master hula dancer Kaualoku Aiu told us stories, and we watched performances of traditional hula, while master weaver Sam Kama demonstrated how to make the kinds of baskets he has on display at the Library of Congress in Washington, DC. During the conference we also learned about lomilomi, the ancient Hawaiian art of massage from Margaret Machado; the healing properties of Hawaiian plants from master Butch Richards; and the protocol and spiritual aspects of Hawaiian healing and chanting from John Ka’imikaua.

Other speakers throughout the conference included Dr. Bertice Berry (www.berticeberry.com), sociologist, author, lecturer and educator; Robert Heiman, founder of the Epicuren medical spa and salon treatments and creator of a inner knowledge process called SAIOE www.epicuren.com/symposium05.htm as well as noted Hawaiian mythology expert Linda Ching and Tai Chi master Rafael Anteby. Mauna Lani staff physician Dr. William Cervantes discussed non-surgical methods for skin rejuvenation, and hotel fitness coach Tim Powers led us through morning exercises.

One highlight of the conference was Dr. Lori Arviso Alvord, who is the first woman Navajo surgeon and Associate Dean of Student and Multicultural Affairs at Dartmouth Medical School. She talked at length about the need of the medical establishment to honor and incorporate patients’ spiritual needs into their overall medical treatment.




Gathering for Twilight Talk-Story.

Twilight Talk-Story

Even if you can’t get to the Mauna Lani next year for Ke Kumu, be sure to plan your trip around the full moon. Each month on the Saturday closest to the full moon, the Mauna Lani hosts an evening of Hawaiian stories, hula, music and fun, called “Twilight.” This event is not advertised, and is open to anyone, so you’re likely to mingle with local folks with lawn chairs, coolers and big hearts. Watching the moonrise over Mauna Kea is a sight you will never forget.

The Mauna Lani Spa

The Mauna Lani Spa offers a unique Hawaiian sense of space with nearby ancient Hawaiian fishponds, petroglyph fields, and Hawaiian preservation sites. Reflecting the resort’s commitment to preserve the cultural and spiritual environment, the spa is built among lava tubes and designed in a way that both takes advantage of, a honors, the natural habitat.




The incredible Watsu Pool.


The spa features healing gardens and Hale Nahenahe relaxation pavilion. The centerpiece of the spa is the Kahi Kikaha (the place of soaring), which is a 1,000 square foot watsu pool. Watsu is an aquatic bodywork technique that incorporates the best of shiatsu massage in a warm salt-water pool. I’ve have a number of watsu treatments over the years and can best describe them as flying in water. You must try it.




The  Lava Sauna.

Another unique treatment at the Mauna Lani Spa is the outdoor lava sauna. I was led through a labyrinth of outdoor treatment rooms to the sauna, which was a like a large dry hot tub made of lava. I put the 15 spf sunscreen on my face and the lava and clay mud over my body as instructed and sat on the provided towel, so I wouldn’t burn my hiney. After 20 minutes, I rinsed in the fabulous rain-forest style shower, my skin all aglow.

Then I retreated to the air-conditioned indoors for a traditional Hawaiian lomilomi massage. Robert, my massage therapist, is reputed to be the best at the spa. He started the massage in the traditional way, with a Hawaiian spirituality healing prayer. Lomilomi is not a deep muscle massage, but focuses instead on long strokes covering large muscle groups, and is designed to get your energy moving gently. Elegant and restful.




The Royal Shark Pools.

Hawaiian Spirituality: One Taste

The Mauna Lani Hotel and the royal fish ponds and retreat, Kalahuipua’a, sit in a basin, ringed by five spiritually important mountains — Mauna Kea, Mauna Loa, Hualalai, Kohala, which are all on the Big Island, and Haleakala, which is on Maui, just across the water from the hotel. These mountains are a source of great power in the Hawaiian belief system, and the tops of these mountains are where the gods live. It’s a bit like having five Mount Olympuses in the neighborhood, or a bunch of pyramids made by God.

These mountains are revered as holy places that, in ancient times, could be climbed only at certain times of year, and special preparations and rituals had to be made before ascending. Because of the reverence for the mountains, Hawaiian spirituality objects to the telescopes that sit on Mauna Kea.




Kalahuipua’a —
The royal retreat grounds.

The royal retreat grounds, Kalahuipua’a, were for “ali’i” — royalty and high priests. Here Hawaiian leaders would rest from work and travel, fish from holy ponds, and rejuvenate their spirits with healing and worship. Today, guests and kama ‘aina (locals) can connect with God and nature to be healed. In Hawaiian, the word is “ho’okupu,” which means to cause to grow and connect with God and the land or “‘aina.”

Another key symbol of Hawaiian spirituality is the “calabash” bowl, which is a small basket woven from coconut fronds. Hawaiian spirituality imagines that each one of our worries is a stone that we carry around in our calabash, and that we must continually empty our basket of stones. If we don’t take time to release our stones, we feel a sense of heavy burden, a great weight of distrust, lack of love, and troubles. We can restore ourselves to harmony and health by emptying our bowls.




The ocean sweeps
away your troubles.


One way to empty our metaphorical bowls is to dance the hula. Much, much more than just beautiful hand and hip motions, dancing the hula is a reinactment of the most important spiritual stories. Where many religions collect their stories in writings and books, such as the Bible, Hawaiian spirituality teaches and remembers through dance and song.

Another way to empty the calabash bowl is to walk into the ocean and let the sea carry your worries away. Ancient Hawaiians often prepared for important activities such as travel, fishing, hunting, marriage, etc., by taking a ritual swim. This ritual bathing is common to many religions.

Hawaiian spirituality teaches that everything has a meaning, and we must learn how to experience those messages.

Often the stories are simple because Hawaiians know that if a child can understand the stories, an adult can, too. By keeping the messages simple, people are encouraged to feel and experience their own spirituality, rather than thinking about it too much. At the heart of it all is always a love for God, “Akua” in Hawaiian, and an understanding that everything is God.

By Cymber Quinn, Jetsetters Magazine Hawaii Correspondent.