For 2,000 years, the Hawaiian island of Kauai has been a place of healing. As the home of Hawaii’s most sacred hula altars, the island has long been a pilgrimage site for those seeking rejuvenation and those practicing massage and other therapies that promise to soothe the body and mind. “Kauai is the oldest island—6 million years old—with the oldest genealogy,” says Leilani Petranek, an expert on Hawaiian history, culture, and hula, the ancient religious dance ritual that originally was performed to give thanks to Hawaii’s gods and honor its chieftains. “[Kauai] was born of the heavens, which is why it has so much mana,” she says, referring to the place’s renown in Hawaiian culture as a center of powerful natural forces and moral authority. At one time, she adds, access to the island required an invitation from a hula master. This is, of course, no longer the case, but one company can provide convenient entrée to all of the island’s offerings, recreational as well as spiritual and cultural.
Pure Kauai, a service that designs custom vacations, will arrange every aspect of an island visit—from accommodations in a private residence to the menus prepared by a personal chef to activity-laden itineraries. A day could begin with a helicopter tour of the breathtaking Na Pali coast, followed by a surfing lesson at famed Hanalei Bay and snorkeling with sea turtles at Tunnels Beach. A day of yoga, Pilates, and in-residence spa treatments or a hike up the coast to a waterfall with a return helicopter flight also are among the possibilities.
“The north shore of Kauai is a low-key place that is great for adventurous people who like natural beauty,” says Phil Jones, Pure Kauai’s burly blond owner. “People come for relaxation, healing, and the practitioners who work here.” One of those practitioners is Jones’ wife, Ashley, a statuesque 6-foot-1-inch blonde massage therapist who grew up on the island. Her unusual technique, learned at a local school, involves intensive body work and what she refers to as “awareness” work, which relates to psychotherapy. The discipline combines deep tissue and Lomi Lomi massage methods that incorporate circular as well as long and firm motions with “lots of spirituality,” she says, noting that traditional practitioners used to chant prayers while working in an attempt to communicate with their ancestors. “The work goes deeper,” she says. “It’s not just physical, but also emotional.”
Ashley’s colleague, Ocean Wind, is an earth mother, as her name suggests, with 20 years’ experience as a therapist and an intuitive ability to sense your physical and emotional trouble spots. A massage with Ocean can be moving and at times even a little eerie. While working forcefully on my tense shoulders and abdomen, she makes sage comments about the energy she senses from me and relays simple but comforting anecdotes that seemingly, almost bizarrely, relate to my angst. I start to wonder if she can read my mind. At one point, she climbs on the table to massage the back of my body with her knees—an ancient Hawaiian technique that she often teaches to visiting couples.
Ocean and the other members of Pure Kauai’s staff are enthusiastic about sharing their knowledge and experience—an exchange that expresses what locals refer to as the “aloha spirit.” According to Petranek, the original meaning of “aloha” extended beyond a casual greeting: “Alo” translates to space and “ha” to breath. “The expression initially meant come share my space, my breath,” she explains. “People used to place their faces very close to share breath, accepting and embracing each other’s spirits and cultures. It conveys tenderness, kindness, taking care of people—that’s our gift.”
Kauai’s breathtaking Na Pali coast has attracted therapeutic practitioners for thousands of years.