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SPECIAL HAWAII ISSUE

Three Island Hideouts

On Kauai, Maui and Big Island, small, quiet, little-known refuges for getting away from it all.

July 18, 1999|SUSAN SPANO | TIMES TRAVEL WRITER

PAHALA, Hawaii — 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 para-sailing, 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.

That's what I set out looking for when I went to Hawaii a few weeks ago: otherworldly places to stay that are way off the beaten track, with a beach in striking distance, quiet nights, blooming ginger and a few creature comforts, such as running water and clean sheets.

The trip was a success because I found three that appealed: an exquisite (but expensive) cottage on the north shore of Kauai; an inexpensive treehouse in a kukui nut tree on Maui's Hana coast (where I had watermelon for dinner because I couldn't get the propane stove to work); and, on the Big Island, the magical--and very cheap--retreat in Wood Valley (where the rain almost never lets up). With no night life and few restaurants nearby, these spots aren't for everyone, and each one had its drawbacks. But all three had at least some features that made them a little bit of heaven to me.

Chic Kauai Cottage

I spent just one night at Hideaway II, about a 30-minute drive north of the airport on Kauai beneath the Kilauea Lighthouse, partly because it costs $325 a night (generally with a four-night minimum stay required, and a $100 cleaning fee to boot). So I rented snorkeling gear and bought groceries along the way, planning to stay put once I arrived, eking every last moment of pleasure I could out of the place.

It is the newest of three cottages (the other two are Hideaway I and the Owner's Cottage, but the latter isn't generally rented out) situated on 11 acres overlooking the northeast coast of Kauai. They were built by Michele Hughes, a professional developer and designer who owns vast tracts on the island and has created award-winning vacation homes for millionaires in Aspen. The cottage is about 10 miles east of Princeville, in an area known as Kauapea, where Sylvester Stallone and other celebrities have getaway places amid pastures and sea cliffs, yielding to one of the island's most stunning, unspoiled sandy coasts.

Secret Beach, as it's known, is not only long but wide, fringed with ironwood trees and abutted by cliffs that ooze fresh water in little rivulets and falls. Most of the land contiguous to it is privately owned, which makes getting to the beach somewhat hard (by law, all Hawaiian beaches are public, but access isn't always easy).

Outsiders who venture down a path from Kalihiwai Road have in the past tended to be nude bathers (an illegal recreation in Hawaii, and homeowners nearby have hired a guard to enforce the law). Hideaway II guests have four different beach accesses, including a path that follows the base of a carefully manicured gorge, and another that takes the high ground atop the ridge, with a rope strung between stanchions to help you make it down. So Hideaway II isn't for the infirm, but Secret Beach is an unmitigated joy, with a soft sand floor and dollops of lava rock way out in the surf, powerful waves, dolphins swimming by and the proud beacon to the east on Kilauea Point.

When I arrived, Michele Hughes was just putting the final landscaping touches on Hideaway II and laying flagstones around the hot tub. Made of local coral and stone, the cottage sits on the crown of a hill, its gently sloping tiled roof suggesting a teahouse in an Oriental garden. There is a patio on three sides, providing views of the ocean and the fabled cliffs of Na Pali from a chaise longue.

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