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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

Electricity comes from solar panels. Water comes from catchment off the roofs, with a treatment system for drinking water. It's pure pioneering, 21st-century Hawaiian style.

We'd been advised that four-wheel drive wouldn't be a bad idea for navigating the farm's narrow, mile-long dirt, rock and mud-puddle driveway. But our rented Hyundai sedan did fine if we took it slowly and didn't pause in puddles.

We arrived amid a steady rain. Maui-born John, 34, outside working in his shirt sleeves, greeted us with a big umbrella as the rain sluiced off his long hair, curled up in a man-bun above his deeply tanned face. He launched into an energetic story of how they came to be here and what they've planted. A chef for 10 years, he previously worked in Switzerland, Australia, Maui, the Greek Islands, New Zealand, India and Thailand (where he met his wife, another American traveler).

For a chef, having a tropical farm where he can grow anything he likes is a dream, John professed, though all the things he manages "can make you a little insane at times," he added with a grin.

He showed us the facilities, including a shelf at the bathhouse where we could charge phones. Daytime charging is encouraged -- solar, remember? -- and we were surprised to see we had cell service; AT&T 4G is best, we were told.

Otherwise, there are no AC power plugs. The cabins come with solar fairy-lights and a rechargeable electric lantern. Looking for a low-tech vacation? Here's your unplugged paradise.


That combination of a chef host and a burgeoning tropical garden make I'olani Farm a dream for diners, too. Sign up for dinner (a screaming bargain at $25 a person) and breakfast (ditto, at $15) and you'll enjoy the garden's bounty -- whatever is ripe and ready to eat. All dishes are vegetarian.

By candlelight on the screened lanai of the main house, with slack-key guitar music piped in via Pandora, John started us with a platter of salad with feathered slices of giant, tree-ripened avocado along with lettuce, carrot, radish, peppery nasturtium flowers and a scattering of sweet poha berries, like a miniature yellow tomato, native to Peru. It was all grown a few steps away.

The main dish was Pad Kee Mao noodles with Thai basil, mildly spiced (at our request) with green onion, and dressed with wingbeans (native to the Philippines), pumpkin flowers, Okinawa spinach, Thai pink egg tomatoes and macadamia nuts. Sides included chips of breadfruit ("ulu," to Hawaiians) fried in coconut oil, with a small bowl of green papaya salad flavored with Kafir lime. Dessert was warm-from-the-oven banana bread made from berry bananas, also grown on the farm.

If good food isn't nurturing enough, you can supplement that with private yoga or healing treatments that are Ariel's specialty.


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