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“If you know what to expect, one of the happiest places you can stay”
Review of Kalani

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Kalani
Ranked #1 of 11 Speciality Lodging in Pahoa
GreenLeadersPlatinum level
Reviewed 23 June 2013

Rather than write a “like/dislike” review, I thought I’d try to write a something that reconciles the many different reviews that have come before. Based on these I really didn’t know what to expect and now having spent a week there I think the key to liking Kalani is going there with the right expectations.

To give context to my review, before coming to Kalani I stayed at the Mauni Lani, so I knows and likes my 5-star resorts!

So begin, I think you have to rate Kalani based on two different scales. First, as a lodging/hosting center for a retreat, it’s full on 5-stars all the way. When I was younger I practiced martial arts and my dojo traveled all over the country for seminars and events, and we stayed in campgrounds, college dorms, you name it. If you compare to other places where retreats are held, I don’t think you’d ever stay anywhere nicer than this. If you are thinking of hosting an event, seriously consider Kalani, the quality compared to other similar places is outstanding.

Second, as a “hotel” in the sense of “I’m taking a vacation and looking for a place to stay,” then I’d rate Kalani a solid 3-stars* and I think that’s a GREAT thing with one exception – if you are expecting a 5-star resort. Then you will be disappointed.

*3-stars is because I was staying in one of the older rooms where while everything was impeccably clean and functional (huge room, huge bed!) the furnishings were also "well-worn- shabby" (not shabby-chic). You can opt to stay in new rooms that have glass on the windows and maybe nicer furnishings and then I expect it might be more a 4-star rating, but since I didn’t stay there I can’t attest to that.

The reasons I think it’s great that Kalani is 3-stars are as follows. First, to have a 5-star resort in the remote rainforest would be a huge use of resources (natural and human). No doubt someone will create one, but when they do, like the Mauni Lani (ML), it will only be available to the wealthy. What I liked about Kalani was the range of people I met there. At ML everyone was affluent, which if you want to be surrounded only be people like you, then it’s a great place. To be honest, everyone there was affluent except for several wedding parties which from how they behaved were more trailer trash who really didn’t care about other guests, so even at 5-star places you have your issues…

At Kalani, despite what other reviews imply, everyone is not a new-age hippie dropout. I met nurses, social workers, teachers, mechanics, carpenters, therapists, army soldiers, music/event organizers, you name it. People in their 20s through 50s and 60s volunteer, live, or vacation there. If Kalani were 5-star, everyone would be the same white-bread “sameness” you get at the other resorts. And face it, most people WANT to go on vacation with other people like them. So if “like you” is wanting to meet people of all backgrounds and interests, then this is a wonderful place to be, if you want to be more insular in your surroundings (not a bad thing, just know what you want!) then this is not for you.

The yoga studio and classes are top notch, and pools and hot-tubs are well kept, there is volleyball on site and snorkeling and a few beach options nearby (though it is not the “beachy” part of the island). The Kehana beach is quite a climb down the sharp rocks to get to, has rough surf, and is clothing optional. It is a beautiful black sand beach but for me, I came, I saw, I left and it wasn't a huge draw after seeing it once. Ocean lovers probably will be more into it though.

As noted my room was huge and clean, with an expanse of windows that opened out on the trees and horses. It rained every night and that was great to hear (it is LOUD with the frogs or the rain so if that stuff bothers you, take that into account) -- I never had an issue with bugs other than some small ants in my bathroom that had no interest in my stuff, but when I stayed at the ML I also had ants in my room which did get into my stuff, so there are bugs in Hawaii everywhere. The bathroom was clean and functional, but not the kind of place you’d say “wow, I want to take a bath and relax here”. Because there is so much rain, there is a pervasive “dampness” to everything in the room – but to have a/c to not have dampness and prevent mold if you have closed windows would be a huge resource investment and make the place very expensive and thus not open as many different types of people. Also as others note, you hear EVERY sound other guests make – walking, using the bathroom, showering, talking, alarm clock ringing, etc. I was lucky and had quiet neighbors, but again, if this is an issue for you, get an isolated bungalow rather than a room next to others.

As to the food, it is healthy and delicious, and they strive to make vegan and gluten free options (you will LOVE this kitchen compared to most if you have those restrictions). Now, this is not a hotel, and I found the food good, but not hotel-quality, and while you always have the option of the salad bar (or fruit bar for breakfast), for main dishes you get a choice of 1-3 items plus 1-3 side dishes that were made that night. I might or might not have liked what was offered, but I never went hungry given the options. I will say the desserts are amazing -- I never had a bad one the entire time I was there. Whoever their pastry chef is – well done! 5-star desserts for sure.

The place is run primarily by volunteers so it’s a mixed bag of you who get. Mostly everyone I dealt with was really really kind and nice. When I was at ML, one of the bartenders was a complete jerk. So again, you won’t get 100% of people anywhere being 100% perfect 100% of the time, but mostly everyone here embraced the positive vibe of the community.

Now, as to the “warnings” – yes you must be comfortable with nudity as the pool (and nearby beach) is clothing optional. About 50-75% of the people were nude any time I was there, but lots of people weren’t -- as long as you are comfortable being clothed around naked people, you’ll be fine. Also be comfortable with the fact that there are families there who are comfortable raising their kids around nudity. If you don’t like the idea of seeing other people’s kids being “exposed” to adult nudity, this is also likely not the place for you. To be fair, this place is NOT teeming with children at all (thank god!!!), but what little there are, you need to be comfortable with. Note Nudity DOES NOT EQUAL sexuality. Frankly there is no greater buzz-kill than seeing “real” naked bodies (except to feel better about your own), so don’t get the idea this is some naked sex-fest. Far from it…

As far as it being a gay resort, I don’t think I saw one gay PDA the entire time I was there. I doubt I would even have thought about it being a “gay place” other than from having read reviews suggesting it. Sure there are gay denizens (usually the ones who DO look good naked at the pool, BTW!) but where the heck aren’t there? If you are thinking this is some eternal Pride Parade resort, it’s not. I’d say there were far more single women than anything else, at least while I was there. There were also hetero men and couples, so I found it to be very mixed.

Overall, Kalani was an awesome experience because of the beauty of the grounds, the great people who live/volunteer/stay there, and the tolerance and happiness that abounds. The people range from new age hippies to blue-collar workmen, to highly educated white-collar types . The facilities are 5-star/3-star depending on what you are there for, and if you want things pristine/perfect, this is not for you. But if you don’t mind 3-star hotel caliber to get everything else that goes with it, you’ll really find it a memorable and enjoyable experience.

One of the resident volunteers I met is a hospice nurse and when I commented on how tough a job that is she said that was why she came to Kalani. In that line of work you realize quickly that life is about living and enjoying, Kalani is about the best place you can do that.

Room Tip: If you can afford it, get a newer room with glassed windows, but the other rooms are still a good wa...
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  • Stayed: June 2013, travelled solo
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34  Thank snarkyinla
This review is the subjective opinion of a TripAdvisor member and not of TripAdvisor LLC
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Reviewed 17 May 2013

I loved Kalani. The staff were awesome and made me feel very welcome. The food was excellent. The vibe was very new-age and welcoming -- no bigots or haters there, that's for sure. It's not for everyone -- if you like 5-star hotels with infinity pools and all-inclusive stuff, Kalani isn't for you. But, if you like to really connect with people and experience REAL Hawaii, this is the place to be.

Kalani is located in Puna, the most remote region on the island. As such, the pace is slower, but I loved it. Puna is the wet side of the island, so it's on average much more beautiful and rainforest-y than the Kona side. It is also, of course, wetter, but it's still sunny plenty, at least for my tastes. There aren't near as many nice beaches as on the Kona side, but what beaches do exist are pretty sweet if your adventurous. Kahena Beach is, hands down, one of the coolest beaches I've ever been to anywhere, and I've been all over Hawaii and the Caribbean. If you're into laid-back people, drum circles, and just being able to let it all hang out, Kahena is unsurpassed.

Stayed: February 2013, travelled on business
5  Thank CaptainKory
This review is the subjective opinion of a TripAdvisor member and not of TripAdvisor LLC
Reviewed 25 April 2013

I really want to give this review five stars, but I feel that I cannot. Let me start the review with why I want to give it five stars. The grounds are beautiful. I have traveled to other places on the Big Island and they do not match Kalani for its beauty. So many (most but not all) of the people working there, most volunteers I think, are so kind and nice. The gentleman who checked me in was such a help with his quiet and friendly demeanor. He was so eager and happy to assist me and was able to answer my many questions. The kitchen staff was also friendly, and the house keepers were quick to provide me with the extra things I asked for. I really appreciated all of these people. The grounds keeper, a happy man named Barcus gave a great tour of the property and knew everything about every tree. He was very interesting.

At night you see so many stars. A volcano just down the road gives a rare chance to see actual lava flowing into the ocean, which is incredible. My room was was wonderfully comfortable, and near to to the kitchen, so not far to walk for food. I really enjoyed the shell they blow to start each meal. This is so authentically Hawaiian. The yoga classes too, are very good, with many to choose from each week.

Those are why I liked Kalani so much. But I can not give it five stars, and here is why. There were many nice people, but some were very rude. One lady at the gift shop called Hale Aloha was very rude to a visitor who walked in from the road. I couldn't believe it. Also at Hale Aloha at night, I watch as some locals to the area (I think) told a guest they must leave their table so they can use it to play poker. I couldn't believe it. The guest was there first. Nobody did anything to make the guest feel better and she left upset. Why do they let locals come in and do that?

Kalani is a good place. It has a few problems, but maybe every place does. All in all, I recommend it.

  • Stayed: December 2012, travelled solo
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12  Thank Ginger F
This review is the subjective opinion of a TripAdvisor member and not of TripAdvisor LLC
Reviewed 9 April 2013

On the energetically supercharged land called Kalani, I attended the Presence of mind and Body retreat. This is just one of the special retreats offered throughout the year at Kalani. The Intentional Community of Kalani itself is quite unique. Nearly everyone who works there does so as a volunteer, in return for their labor they are rewarded with a beautiful, quiet and lush tropical setting and they, as well as guests, are fed very well in the Dining Hale (house in Hawaiian) 3 meals a day with the "eat as much as you like" atmosphere fully appreciated. The room amenities vary greatly upon the level of experience you desire, anything from campground to cottages. You will not find a TV in most of the rooms and some are dormitory style and share a bathroom, but this is part of the Kalani experience. Situated close to Pahoa, Kalani is about a 50 minute drive from Hilo airport and I highly recommend a car to explore all of what the Big Island can offer to you. Kalani does have a shuttle service to and from the airport, for a modest fee. Just a word of caution, the pool and hot tub area are clothing optional and that option is exercised quite frequently. There are also clothing optional beaches close to the resort if you want to explore them. All staff are very helpful and there are two areas that serve as gift/shops/reception areas and are staffed by very friendly workers. The chorus of Coki frogs during the night can take a while to get used to, but I found them pleasant enough to lull me to sleep.

Stayed: April 2013, travelled solo
2  Thank Raymond W
This review is the subjective opinion of a TripAdvisor member and not of TripAdvisor LLC
Reviewed 18 February 2013

Pro
- Beautiful spacious land. The stars at night are amazing. The sounds of crickets and frogs at night are just beautiful.
- Friendly & helpful staffs ( except one person who is hot tempered , and rude on phone. He has bad service mind & made customer feel unwelcome )
- Opportunity to meet creative people & attend workshops.
- Excursions are excellent. Warm hospitality !

Con
-The big buddha statue facing the clothing optional pool with nude people in the area is considered inappropriate & very disrespectful in Buddhism.
I'm a buddhist by birth and lived in Buddhist country and can tell you that this can upset many Buddhists. In Buddhism we respect Buddha and put the buddha images /statue only in sacred space e.g. in the temple or the place of goodness - high above our head or in the place that doesn't promote nudity / sensory provocation/lust . If you have ever travelled to Buddhist countries you will see many temples do not even allow tourists to wear shorts or wear clothes that expose too much skin. The core of Buddhism is to let go of emotions/ lust which are provoked by perceptions/senses. I understand that this is Hawaii and the person who put the buddha image may not have the knowledge or full understanding of Buddhism. I also understand that people in Hawaii are big heart and opened mind to suggestion . So, I hope this is a constructive suggestion. May be you want to consider doing something about it.

- Food is kind of overrated. Veggies , Fruits and Yogurt are very fresh and delicious but the main courses need improvement. I think grill cheese ( cheese was not melty) , mac & cheese and cold ham sandwich are more like fast-food and not so healthy. The very good dish I like is Tuna but was served just once in a while.

- This place needs more male energy to create a balance. There are mostly women & non straight people.

- Public bathrooms for campers & food scraping area need improvement. They don't look clean.

  • Stayed: February 2013, travelled with friends
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7  Thank yochikoh h
This review is the subjective opinion of a TripAdvisor member and not of TripAdvisor LLC
Reviewed 13 February 2013

this was my second visit to Kalani; first time I went for a week, this time for two, and if I can swing it, next year it will be three. I was staying in the loft that has two suites, full kitchen and living room and a balcony. And filled with art; counters, floors and bathrooms are hand-painted and original paintings on the walls. The time that I spent inside was filled with beauty, just like the time spent outside. I second AKfolks description, everything was amazing; food, watsu, yoga classes, nature, but by far, the most amazing are the people who choose to work and to visit there. I've never been so immersed in love and being so embraced by every single person I met there. The energy in and of Kalani is magic, it heels, restores and renews in every sense. I am fully intent in making this an annual pilgrimage. The only wish I have is that yoga retreats were 7+ days instead of 5.

  • Stayed: December 2012, travelled solo
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2  Thank G_Z_10
This review is the subjective opinion of a TripAdvisor member and not of TripAdvisor LLC
Reviewed 7 February 2013

My first visit to Kalani and definitely not my last. I really needed a warm, beautiful, nurturing environment and Kalani exceeded my expectations.

The rooms: I stayed in Tree House room 12--it was great. Clean, and spacious. Screens on 2 sides overlooking a field. Rooms vary in size, but overall I would warn you that the walls are thin, and noise will travel. Overall it wasn't a big problem. The coqui (spelling?) frogs are loud, but I really liked the noise and you can use earplugs to help dampen down the sound. My room had a nice bathroom and I didn't consider it as "rustic" as some.

The grounds: Gorgeous. I highly recommend a Monday walk about with Barcus the horticulturalist in charge--we spent about 3&1/2 hrs walking the property and I could've spent longer. Learned about Kalani's aquaculture project as well.

The food: REALLY GOOD. Fresh, delicious, vegetarian options, great granola, great salad bar, great desserts in the evening. I never felt deprived.

Activities: I didn't come with a group, so I did the "Kalani experience" package. I got to choose from at least 2 yoga/dance classes a day. I took classes in Hawaiian language, hula, and even an improv class. Ecstatic dance was a unique experience and people from the community will often come to participate in Kalani activities. I would definitely recommend a watsu treatment with Sara Joy. There is a wonderful geothermally heated pool and tide pools for snorkeling within a short driving distance. I definitely would recommend renting a car to give you more options. Yes, pool is clothing optional, but I kept my suit on and felt quite comfortable around the naked folks.

People: I think this is truly the best part of the Kalani experience. Staff and guests are great folks, I found people to be overall warm and friendly. If you are a bit shy, I think people are friendly enough to draw you out or leave you in peace. Seating on the dining lanai is sort of "assigned" if you're with a group, but I found no trouble socializing with other guests/staff at mealtimes (and I would infiltrate a neighboring class' table at times). I met some special people with whom I'll definitely be keeping in touch.

Room Tip: I really liked Tree House 12--might even be better on the upper floor above that room (less noise?).
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  • Stayed: January 2013, travelled solo
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4  Thank AKfolks
This review is the subjective opinion of a TripAdvisor member and not of TripAdvisor LLC
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Additional Information about Kalani

Address: 12-6860 Kalapana Kapoho Beach Rd, Box 4500, Pahoa, Island of Hawaii, HI 96778-8019
Region: United States > Hawaii > Island of Hawaii > Pahoa
Amenities:
Beach Fitness Centre with Gym / Workout Room Free High Speed Internet ( WiFi ) Free Parking Restaurant Spa Suites Swimming Pool Wheelchair access
Hotel Style:
Ranked #1 of 11 Speciality Lodging in Pahoa
Price Range: £53 - £142 (Based on Average Rates for a Standard Room)
Hotel Class:2.5 star — Kalani 2.5*
Number of rooms: 65
Official Description (provided by the hotel):
Kalani is the largest retreat center in the state of Hawaii, nestled on the yoga coast in one of Hawaii's largest conservation areas for over 35 years. We feature more than 40 classes a week, including our renowned yoga and meditation programming, Hawaiian culture classes, and dance (hula, modern, and aerial.)Our location on the Big Island of Hawaii is 5 minutes from Kehena Beach, a clothing-optional black sand beach where wild-spinner dolphins frequently swim; 15 miles from spectacular lava-viewing; and nestled in luscious rainforest, which helps feed our organic kitchens with abundant fruit and vegetables. Kalani is known as a power spot - Shiva Rea calls Kalani "one of the most potent and nurturing retreat centers in the world." Kalani is a 501(c)(3) charity. Your stay here will support the preservation of Hawaiian culture, transformation, and within the poorest district in Hawaii. ... more   less 
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Also Known As:
Kalani Oceanside Retreat Pahoa
Kalani Oceanside Retreat Hotel Pahoa
Kalani Hawaii/Pahoa

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