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A Big Island farm stay: Off-the-grid adventure in Hawaii

Brian J. Cantwell, The Seattle Times on

Published in Travel News

PAHOA, Hawaii -- Shortly after we'd settled into bed in our tiny cabin under the guava trees at remote I'olani Farm, I wondered if the coqui frogs crowding the woods around us would keep me awake. Their loud mating call, at roughly the same decibels as a lawnmower, sounded to me like "BO-PEEP, BO-PEEP."

The wakefulness question was soon rendered moot as the sky opened up with a rain that sounded like a platoon of Fred Astaires tap-dancing on the cabin's corrugated metal roof.

Just when we thought it couldn't get any more torrential, the rain let loose with a drowning, fire-hose kind of gushing, accented now and then by a guava dropping on our roof with a bazooka-like "KA-THUNK." My wife and I laughed -- kind of nervously. The downpour was just beyond the bug screens that comprised our walls, and only the roof's wide eaves kept the storm from splashing in on us.

"Good grief!" I shouted to the weather gods.

We were one with nature, as was our goal in spending a couple of nights at this off-the-grid organic fruit farm on the Kilauea volcano's lower slopes, a few miles outside of Pahoa and 45 minutes south of Hilo.

For the moment, we were just hoping that being united with nature wouldn't involve floating down the hill into the Pacific.


The big island of Hawaii has long been known as a place for adventure. With the arrival of evermore visitors and the continual widening of highways, adventure is more elusive than when we first visited in the 1980s and stayed with taro farmer Tom Araki in the secluded Waipio Valley, living by oil lamps and taking cold showers.

But we found adventure once again in 2017 -- on Airbnb.

There we happened upon a listing for I'olani Farm (, the 3-year-old labor of love of John and Ariel Douvris. When John's family sold his late grandfather's home in San Francisco, the proceeds enabled them to buy 20 acres of former sugar-cane farmland in the Puna District, where steam vents in the woods testify to the deeply brewing stews of red lava that occasionally break loose from uphill craters and cones and meander to the sea within a dozen miles or so along this coast.

After bulldozing a clearing among the old cane, vines and many trees that have grown up, the couple built a two-story house, a bathhouse with flush toilets and hot-water shower, and three one-room rental cabins ($59 a night when we stayed). They've also planted scores of tropical trees and fruit-bearing plants.


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