Reclined on a beach on the Garden Isle of Kaua’i, one could easily be forgiven for thinking they’ve reached the ultimate state of relaxation. Kaua’i is a great place for both spa junkies and first-time spa goers, not only because of the wealth of local botanicals, but also because the intense sun at these latitudes makes indoor activities healthier and more comfortable during the middle of the day.
Enter the Anara Spa at the Grand Hyatt Kaua’i. We had a chance to peek in on a visit some years ago and the outdoor lava rock showers and open air (yet still private) wet areas for men and women certainly appealed; on a return visit we were lucky enough to sample some of the services offered. As if Kaua’i herself weren’t relaxing enough, a stroll through the tradewind-cooled breezeways of the plantation-style building give an extra few moments to disconnect from the rest of the world and reset your senses in this almost otherworldly space – and we’re not even to the spa yet.
The spa menu reads like an ode to the Garden Isle and those who love her, featuring body treatments well-stocked in local minerals and botanicals for men, women, couples, and hapai(expecting) mothers, as well as more popular treatments such as lomilomi and hot stone massages, all designed around the central objective of lokahi (harmony). A warm Aloha from the staff and a speedy checkin process put you into the spa’s lap pool and further into the wet areas which each have their own whirlpool, spa amenities and wet and dry steam. Although not a huge mega spa, the intimate spaces still feel private, as only a few other spa-goers wander about in a similar trancelike state. Chocolate chips, almonds, and granola along with melon and cucumber water are set out for the munchers, in addition to local periodicals and similarly entrancing coverage of a local surf competition on the flat-screen television. A quick rinse in the lava rock showers serves as a subtle appetizer to the upcoming treatment.
Traditional treatment rooms line the exterior of the spa around the perimeter of the co-ed lap pool, but our Kaua’i Clay treatment today (part of the “Hawaiian Escapes” line of 110 minute packages offered by the spa) will take place in one of the garden hales (pronounced hah-lay; wood and grass huts with private garden shower). But first, there’s a large communal garden hale set with comfortable chairs and ceiling fans surrounded by a wall of tropical foliage. More ice water is available, and on the morning of our visit we were delighted to find house-made macaroons, coconut carrot bread and stone fruit bars available under glass before our treatment (a good idea for most, as the chemical changes in the muscle tissues brought about by body treatments are best experienced after a light collation).
A friendly attendant appeared to provide the first portion of the treatment right there in the large hale, a large round copper foot bath filled with the utterly correct temperature of hot water to which was added aromatic crystals of ginger and other bold fragrances which could be scrubbed along the bottom of the foot bath to exfoliate. A scented cold towel was offered for the face and eyes for greater relaxation, and the purple orchid on the tray was subtle but much-appreciated detail. The attendant was also prepared to outfit each guest with a memory bracelet of woven grass with a wooden bead which would absorb the lotions used during the treatment, serving as a fragrant souvenir.
Once settled onto the treatment table (which has a surprising number of adjustable points for comfort) in our own hale, it almost took a few seconds to stop focusing on the comforting sound of running water and tropical birds in the surrounding garden to listen to the attendant quietly describe the locally-grown ‘awa root powder (which, throughout the Pacific, is drunk as the slightly numbing beverage known by the plant’s Marquesan name kava) being dusted over the skin to ease anxiety and insomnia. ‘Awa is quite literally Kaua’i’s perfect botanical—a thirsty understory crop that requires plenty of rainfall and not too much sunlight. The ‘awa is then polished over the body with coconut oil and warm stones in a treatment that seems to harmonize both the flora and mineral of the island beneath us to wrest the mind and body into nirvana.
As the tingling from the ‘awa begins to subside with the application of Kaua’i clay to detoxify and balance, the mind wanders from the green growth of Kaua’i to the source of all the island’s gifts – the ‘aina (land), and wai (water). Rising from the sea alongside Ni’ihau some five million years ago, Kaua’i is the oldest of the eight major islands in the Hawaiian archipelago, and the height to which the volcanic cone rose was high enough to capture the moisture in the prevailing oceanic winds, making it the most lush and vegetated. Cool, misty upland rain known as Ki’o-wao (pronounced “Ti’o-Vao” in the local Kaua’i dialect), associated specifically with the foggy highlands of Mt. Wai’ale’ale trickles downslope, first through volcanic rock and onipa’a (onward) to the softer sediment of the island’s West side (newer lava flows make the basins of the South and East more firm) to form the malleable, purifying volcanic clay.
A sunny interlude in the private lava rock garden shower to wash away the ‘awa and clay wrap provides an opportunity to enjoy the fragrance of some lovely plumeria growing overhead, then it’s back to the hale for a relaxing massage using lotion made from maile vine harvested in the upland area of Koke’e. Maile, which has shiny, delicately fragrant leaves, is significant in the practice of hula, for the goddess Laka, who oversees those learning hula, is also invoked as the goddess of maile. Specifically, the maile of Koke’e is known as maile lau li’i and was celebrated in chants for its small, fine leaves and strong, lingering fragrance.
By the end of our treatment, it seemed time had vanished, along with any lingering anxiety we’d brought with us from the Mainland. Another whirlpool and garden shower later and we found ourselves bidding warmest Aloha to the friendly counter staff and inhaling the aroma of our memory bracelet, ready to venture out and discover more of our favorite island, the world’s best place.
Open daily for hotel guests and non-guests alike. Full hair and nail salon in addition to spa services. Massages from $160. Packages from $250. The Kaua’i Clay Treatment is $350. Call 808-742-1234 for reservations or visit the Anara Spa Website. Mahalo nui loa and our Warmest Aloha to Grand Hyatt Kaua’i for providing spa services in preparation for this article.