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Spas: Curative Measures

Photo by Don Riddle

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With its abundance of beach resorts and wellness retreats, Hawaii has become a haven for spa-goers. But unlike other popular spa destinations, such as Italy and Japan, the Hawaiian Islands have no real spa culture to speak of, and few traditional spa practices from which to draw. So when the Four Seasons Resort Hualalai on the Big Island set out to update its spa, the property consulted k¯upuna, or local elders, for insight into Hawaii’s ancient healing practices. “We wanted a spa that would reflect the local culture and heritage,” says spa director Karen Cosgrove. “But we didn’t want to force something that wasn’t there.”

The elders recommended incorporating native herbs and other plants used in traditional healing practices. Based on these recommendations—and with the help of spa consultant Sylvia Sepielli—the Four Seasons developed an apothecary station as the centerpiece of its newly renovated spa.

Completed in August, the spa was part of a $40 million improvement of this popular golf and beach resort outside Kona. A new reception area leads to the spa’s apothecary station, which contains more than 20 large glass jars filled with ingredients ranging from crushed macadamia nuts and pukaki flowers to volcanic mud and spirulina. A spa concierge helps guests decide which of the ingredients would be most appropriate for their mud wraps and hot-stone massages.

Mahuaola, one of the spa menu’s more novel treatments, incorporates ti leaves, which ancient Hawaiians used to regulate body temperature and offer protection and good luck. Mahuaola treatments take place on a secluded section of the resort’s beach, oftentimes in the company of sea turtles. After cleaning their clients with seawater, therapists wrap them in warm towels and direct them to a sunken bed in the sand that has been lined with ti leaves. While in the wrap, guests receive scalp and foot massages as the leaves draw toxins and heat from the body, reducing inflammation. The Mahuaola concludes with a dip in the ocean and tea service in front of a private beach fire.

Most treatments at Hualalai are inside the 28,000-square-foot spa. Twice the size of the previous space, the spa now features new locker rooms, a beauty salon, four outdoor air-conditioned hales (bungalows), and one couple’s hale with its own Japanese cedar soaking tub. A lush relaxation garden filled with indigenous plants serves as the spa’s waiting room, where therapists meet guests with pretreatment therapies, such as light shoulder massages or foot rituals. The therapists encourage guests to walk over river stones in the garden’s stream (for an impromptu reflexology treatment) and across the stream’s sandy bank, which gently exfoliates the feet.

For more strenuous activities, guests can head to the Four Seasons’ fitness center, adjacent to the spa. The facility offers everything from cardio equipment and a Pilates studio to a sand volleyball court, a lap pool, tennis courts, a rock climbing wall, and a half-court for basketball.

The Four Seasons’ spa and fitness center together offer programs such as might be found at a destination spa, including nutritional counseling, fitness evaluations, chiropractic services, and acupuncture. Guests can stick to their healthy routines no matter where they eat at the resort, as each of the three restaurants at the Four Seasons serves spa cuisine that incorporates local ingredients.


Four Seasons Resort Hualalai at Historic Ka’upulehu, 808.325.8000, www.fourseasons.com

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