Quietly, doing little, Recharges Soul at
Full Moon over Temple, June 2003".
rain is coming down in sheets over this lush valley on the lava-veined
Admittedly, this is not the sort of heaven pictured in brochures for Hawaiian resorts, where the skies are invariably sunny, the beach is at your doorstep, the rooms are luxurious and there's always something to do. Here at Wood Valley, there's no parasailing, no shopping malls, sightseeing cruises, golf courses or swim-up bars. In fact, there's no stimulation whatsoever - unless you find it stimulating to get so far away from it all that you may as well be in another world.
The Wood Valley retreat center on the Big Island is five miles north of Pahala, a former sugar plantation town about a two-hour drive from the Kona airport. I love driving the road south from Kona around Mauna Loa; the road passes South Point, sweetly moldering towns like Waiohinu and Naalehu, and the black sand beach at Punaluu before swinging north to Hawaii Volcanoes National Park.
The region is known as the Ka'u Desert due to the lava flows that have poured out of Mauna Loa and the currently active Kilauea crater to the north. But Wood Valley sits in the vast shadow of 13,677-foot Mauna Loa, which creates an area of stark contrasts, with black fingers of hardened lava licking between verdant pasturelands and macadamia nut groves. In 1868 an earthquake, followed by a tsunami and massive mudslides, erased the whole valley from the map. But it came back, so that Nechung Rinpoche, the grand lama of the Nechung Monastery in Lhasa, Tibet, and Dharamsala, India, could establish a temple here in 1973.
It occupies a graceful yellow, orange and green building with lotuses and elephants carved on the lintel, originally built as a Japanese mission serving immigrant field workers. Since the closing of the local sugar cane plant several years ago, the fields have all gone to seed. But in 1980 and 1994, the Dalai Lama visited Wood Valley, where peacocks parade and prayer flags flutter in the breeze.
The retreat center (with room for about 25 in quads, doubles and singles with bunk beds, priced from $35 to $75) is just below the temple. It has a communal kitchen, a meditation room often used for classes and workshops, and that wonderful wraparound porch. All the rooms are simply furnished but immaculately clean, with Indian wall hangings and thick comforters on the beds.
A Buddhist monk holds services in the mornings and evenings, but the retreat center is nonsectarian. One couple staying there at the time of my visit had come to the island just for bird-watching.
The green sand beach at South Point is about a 30-minute drive away, as smashing as the one in Hana but harder to reach (you have to walk three miles from the parking lot if you don't have a vehicle that can manage the dirt road). I also hiked on national park trails in the Ka'u Desert and picnicked on the path leading to the summit of Mauna Loa. But most of all, I sat still in Wood Valley.
On the Big Island, Wood Valley retreat center, P.O. Box 250, Pahala, HI 96777, tel. (808) 928-8539, fax (808) 928-6271; Internet http://www.nechung.org; e-mail email@example.com; $50 single, $75 double, dorm $35, a minimum of two nights encouraged
Nechung Dorje Drayang Ling is a 501(c)3 non-profit religious organization.