On Hawaii’s peaceful Garden Isle, pleasure and wellness is a natural combination at Pure Kauai.
A trail of plum-tinged blossoms leads from the villa threshold across the deeply grained wood floor, stopping in front of a set of wide doors that open to the sea. A mile or so from where I stand at Pure Kauai, the green, softened cliffs of the coast near Hanalei dominate the horizon, sweeping down into the deep, magical blue of the Pacific.
Nicknamed the Garden Isle, Kauai has somehow managed to escape the sprawl and busyness of Maui and Oahu, maintaining the serenity that’s become synonymous with a tropical vacation.
For the past several weeks, my husband, James Rawsthorne, and I have been working an average of sixteen hours a day filming a documentary here in Hawaii. Now we’re on a different island quest waiting to see if the Pure Kauai program, which promises an unparalleled customized vacation experience, can provide the mind-body rejuvenation we so desperately crave.
Our hopes are high as we recall a Hawaiian saying we’ve recently learned: E ho ‘ala kou kino a ho ‘olu i ka pa mai a ka wahi (Let your spirit be refreshed in nature’s embrace).
Lodging & Programs
Our Pure Kauai experience begins the moment we arrive at the airport. Bryce Toney, our personal host, greets us with fragrant leis and an abundance of aloha at the entrance to baggage claim. Transportation is just one of the many services provided by Pure Kauai, and after quickly collecting our luggage, Toney drives us across the island to the villa where we’ll spend the next several days. Along the way, he entertains us with tales of the island’s history, places of particular interest, and local legends.
Accommodations fall into three categories, ranging from cottages and luxury homes to an island estate that’s large enough to hold a corporate retreat or family reunion. Prices begin at about $3,000 to $5,000 per person for a five-night stay, depending upon the level of lodging and the number and types of activities chosen. When booking your stay, owner-director Phil Jones will set up a custom itinerary based on the information you provide in a detailed online questionnaire. Vacation themes, all intended to aid in personal transformation, include Awakening, Couples, Fat Burner, Luxury, Family, and Spa. Jones also extends an invitation to build your own custom retreat.
Our arrival is celebrated with an in-suite massage. Ashley Jones, Phil’s wife, is our therapist. Within seconds, her skilled hands have discovered the exact locations within the lumpy topography of my back and shoulders that are crying out for attention. And in roughly the same amount of time, I become aware that she isn’t here just to smooth out a few knots, but to facilitate a true healing experience.
The evidence of long weeks of lugging camera and sound equipment across lava-strewn beaches and through seasonal downpours slowly dissipates from my body. Through a small opening in the lanai doors, the temperamental trade winds whistle inside and swirl across my arms and face, and I realize it’s the exact soundtrack my soul needs. When it’s time to climb off the table and let James have his turn, I’m so relaxed I have difficulty standing upright. His experience nearly parallels mine, and I marvel that Ashley has that much positive energy to share.
We’ve opted to have Pure Kauai’s private chefs prepare our meals. Chefs Morgan Bowen and Bradford Lundquist take turns creating sumptuous breakfasts and dinners for us in the villa’s cozy wood and stone trimmed kitchen. For several years, Bowen and Lundquist shared duties as co-head chefs at California’s esteemed Esalen Institute. They later ran Bruno’s, a popular restaurant in Buerpoesconiedo, Mexico. While simultaneously grilling shrimp and concocting a fragrant sauce, Lundquist tells us his previous restaurant was named after a notorious tiger shark that had developed a knack for knocking surfers off their boards along a stretch of the Mexican coast. In turn, the shark which never actually harmed any of the surfers he harassed was called Bruno in honor of a particularly ill-humored traffic cop in Acapulco.
Unless requested otherwise, Pure Kauai’s meals loosely follow a Zone plan. During our stay, we enjoy a variety of seafood, Asian-inspired dishes, and an abundance of locally grown fruits and vegetables. When Lundquist uses the term “epic tasting” to describe the food portion of our vacation, he gets no argument from either of us.
“I think food is sun energy,” he explains. “Our bodies have to replenish their source of fuel daily, and providing our bodies with the highest quality fuel is the only thing that really makes sense.”
Both men credit their mentor, master chef Joseph Schultz of Santa Cruz, for teaching them to be adventurous in the kitchen. Pure Kauai has afforded Bowen and Lundquist the opportunity to help guests embark on food journeys, explore different flavor combinations, and experiment with new choices. They’re also happy to make copies of recipes available to guests, and they don’t mind being observed or answering questions about preparation while they cook.
Private yoga, I’ve decided, is a true luxury. Instead of instructor Carrie Johnson’s attention being dispersed throughout a room filled with other people seeking perfect form in Warrior Pose, her attention is all on me. A bit narcissistic, but at least I’m willing to recognize that a step forward, perhaps, on my personal path to enlightenment.
Pure Kauai has a number of professional yoga teachers on staff who are available for private classes. Any level of skill can be accommodated as well as any style. Sessions can be held indoors in your living space, or outside beneath the Hawaiian sun. Unable to resist the sound of the waves pounding ashore just outside, I choose to take my class on the lawn that slopes down to the sea.
During the course of the morning, I’m impressed to find out that in her spare time, Johnson also does environmental research for the Hanalei Wetlands Hui (which translates to group or family). Obviously, her commitment to well-being is comprehensive in nature. When I ask her to describe her personal philosophy regarding the benefits of the private yoga option, she’s ready with an answer.
“Having a one-on-one session with someone allows me to really check in with him or her and determine exactly what they need,” she says. “Some guests might be inclined to overdo their practice while on vacation, and I try to guide them toward a gentler, more restorative session that leaves them ready to go out and hike, surf, or engage in another very physical activity.”
Besides yoga and private dining, the staff at Pure Kauai are happy to arrange most any island-related activity you can think of from Hawaiian blessings and hula lessons to snorkeling, kiteboarding, outrigger canoeing, surfing, hiking, slack key guitar lessons, and Snuba diving (a new underwater cross between snorkeling and scuba diving).
Though we’ve scheduled a couples surfing lesson for early afternoon, it has to be canceled due to high winds and rough seas. I don’t tell James, but the story of Bruno the grumpy Mexican shark has left me feeling relieved about the cancellation. Instead, we spend the afternoon exploring the area around the villa on foot, managing to straggle in, weary and hungry, just as Lundquist arrives to prepare our evening meal a lemongrass-based chicken soup, followed by Tumis, an Indonesian dish of mixed vegetables. While he’s chopping herbs, he tells us that in Indonesia, the common way to ask someone whether or not they’ve eaten is to ask, “Have you had rice?”
Following breakfast the next morning, guide Noli Hoye arrives to take us on a guided hike at Maha’ulepu Beach. Being Rocky Mountain residents, James and I are avid hikers used to impressive vistas, but the scenery we see today is staggering in its beauty. Hoye knows the paths less traveled on this island and is happy to share her secrets. She takes us along the quiet coastline to dramatic cliff outlooks and lush inland paths. When a sudden, vast plume of water suddenly erupts from the rocks along the side of one path, she tells us how hollow tubes that formed within the cooling lava lead from the rocks to the ocean. As the waves crash toward the shore, water is forced inland along the tubes, causing the beautiful and dramatic displays.
There’s quite a selection of hikes that can be scheduled for half or full days, with varying levels of intensity. Some are perfect of couples who’d rather stroll than climb, others are suited for hard-core athletes, and some are perfect for families with children. Picnic lunches are provided, and there are many opportunities throughout the day to relax and swim.
During our leisurely lunch, Hoye reveals that she also works for a local environmental organization called GMO-Free Hawaii, whose purpose is to monitor and expose the amount of genetic engineering of food crops that’s taking place in the islands. She also hosts a radio show on the same topic. Both James and I are deeply impressed that Phil Jones has pulled together a team of people who contribute their skills to important environmental issues.
For our last afternoon on Kauai, we’ve decided on a helicopter tour of the island with Heli USA. It’s my first time in one and James who flies small planes for fun smiles reassuringly as I grip his arm, threatening to cut off the circulation. It turns out to be great fun, and I quickly lose count of the stunning waterfalls, red dirt cliffs, and perfect beaches below us. It occurs to me that the old Elvis film, Blue Hawaii, may have been misnamed: I have never seen so many shades of lush, verdant green collected in one spot. When our pilot points out a place directly below us that was used as the initial landing spot in Jurassic Park, I have a momentary thought that finding a Tyrannosaurus this afternoon isn’t exactly at the top of my list. I’d much rather see a whale, but we’re here a few weeks too early in the migration season for that to be likely.
We’re expecting Toney to meet us back at our villa for the return trip to the airport today, and are surprised to find Phil Jones waiting instead. As we head down the lovely road leading to Lihue, he tells us about his motivation for creating Pure Kauai. The former proprietor of a California-based ski vacation company and a veteran visitor to places like the Ashram and resorts throughout the world, Jones says he was determined to develop a vacation option for people searching for a personal, health-oriented holiday that emphasized seasonal, fresh foods, wellness, and a close encounter with Kauai’s natural beauty.
“I’d been involved in martial arts for a long time,” he explains, “and was very interested in how food affects us on all levels well-being, performance, mood.” An extended fast led, he tells us, to “a moment of absolute clarity and euphoria,” during which the name Pure Kauai came to him. The result of that moment is what James and I have been privileged to experience for the past several days. One, I’m happy to say, that’s left us both relaxed, refreshed, and even more deeply in love with Hawaii.
For more information, visit PureKauai.com, or contact owner Phil Jones at (808) 639-8265.
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