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.
- 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
- Reservation Options:
- TripAdvisor is proud to partner with Travel Republic (UK) and Evoline ltd so you can book your Kalani reservations with confidence. We help millions of travellers each month to find the perfect hotel for both holiday and business trips, always with the best discounts and special offers.
- Also Known As:
- Kalani Oceanside Retreat Pahoa
- Kalani Oceanside Retreat Hotel Pahoa
- Kalani Hawaii/Pahoa