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"Sitting Quietly, doing little, Recharges Soul at
Big Island Buddhist Retreat"

by Susan Spano
Los Angeles Times, Travel Section, July 18, 1999

 

Full Moon over Temple, June 2003".

 Full Moon over Temple, June 2003".

 

The rain is coming down in sheets over this lush valley on the lava-veined
flank of the Mauna Loa volcano.  I am sitting on a screened-in porch,
listening to it pelt against the tin roof of the Buddhist retreat center
where I am staying.  Eucalyptus trees do the hula in the wind, a mosquito
circles my foot but doesn't land, and every so often one of the peacocks up
at the temple shrieks like a tormented soul in hell.  Meanwhile, I have a
good book and a cup of tea, and am about as close to heaven on Earth as I'm
likely to get.

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 nechung@aloha.net; $50 single, $75 double,
dorm $35, a minimum of two nights encouraged

 

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