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Sunday, November 9, 2003



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NANCY WILCOX / SPECIAL TO THE STAR-BULLETIN
A large white fiberglass couch overlooks the lily pond at Waianuhea, a bed-and-breakfast near Honokaa.


...from the stress of life,
electricity free, at a Big Isle
Bed and Breakfast


HAMAKUA, BIG ISLAND >> "Oh, by the way, this next bed-and-breakfast is off the grid." I'm dozing as my wife, Nancy, drives north from Hilo to our next vacation site, some place called Waianuhea, 2,500 feet above sea level near Honokaa.

"What grid?" I say.

"The power grid," she says. "Electrical power and telephone lines don't go up that far. I don't know how warm the showers will be, but I think you can pretty much forget checking e-mail or watching TV the next couple days."

Great. We're on the Big Island for a week after I had agreed to let Nancy make all the accommodation decisions. Now my words, "You decide when, where and for how long we'll stay," came back to haunt me.

Nancy loves B&Bs: the personal service, the easy familiarity between host and guests, and all that chatting. My mantra is, "Give me my room key, and don't talk to me until I check out."


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NANCY WILCOX / SPECIAL TO THE STAR-BULLETIN
The Malamalama room, one of five rooms in the complex, features plush furnishings.


This vacation would include five B&Bs from Volcano to Hilo to Honokaa to Holualoa to Captain Cook. Now it's day three, and we're heading to No. 3 for two days.

Waianuhea, Hawaiian for "fragrant mountain mist," is not easy to find, although owner-manager-host Carol Salisbury gave Nancy precise directions: Turn mauka off Highway 19 at Tex Drive-In in Honokaa.

The road winds, climbs and narrows, and soon we're driving through a forest through which I spy green pastures. It's quiet except for the breeze through the leaves and the sound of our tires.

I'm looking for something resembling a yurt, and guests in desperate need of a hot shower. But I do like the remoteness and the cooler climate up here.

After the last possible left turn and another couple hundred yards, there's a long, paved driveway rising over a grassy knoll and what I'm certain is a mirage: A beautiful two-story, gleaming white wooden house with a bluish corrugated roof surrounded by seven landscaped acres of fruit trees, a vegetable garden, a lily pond and a horse pasture.

"Is this Waia ... Waia ... whatever?" I say.

Craning our necks skyward, we spot the shimmering observatories atop Mauna Kea. Behind us, whitecaps smear the ocean.

I'm reminded of New Zealand, where we'd been driving for hours through a rainstorm along the rugged South Island coast and were desperate for accommodations when Nancy pulled out a guidebook.

"We're doomed," I said, thinking of the deluxe lakefront hotel we'd left in Queenstown.

"Here's something," Nancy says, "'Elegant but inviting.'"

"Oh sure, on this stretch of highway? I don't think so," I said.


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NANCY WILCOX / SPECIAL TO THE STAR-BULLETIN
The bathroom of the Malamalama room features a large soaking tub with an outside view.


Another 20 miles passed, and then Nancy spotted a small sign bearing the place's name. We turned down the muddy, one-lane road and around a small bend and were greeted by a world lodge sitting alongside a lovely river, near a pristine lake, just a mile's hike from a black sand beach where I would find nesting penguins from the Antarctic.

Staring at the Waianuhea sign, Nancy smirks. "Stick with me, kid," she said.

I GET MY second major surprise when I see several photovoltaic platforms, their metal coverings shimmering in the sun. The lodging's roof is filled with solar panels, and behind the office are satellite dishes for Internet, cell phone and TV service.

"Thank you, God," I say. "CNN, here I come."

There are not many places in Hawaii where I would expect to find such welcoming accommodations or high-powered equipment, much less in Ahualoa.

"Welcome to Waianuhea," Carol Salisbury says.

Salisbury is a cheerful, modest woman, though she's very proud of her Waianuhea. "Let's get you settled, and then I'll give you a brief tour," said Salisbury who was born in Honolulu but moved to Kona at age 3.

We sidestep her poi dog asleep on the porch to enter the magnificent living room with its white plank and beam ceiling, polished natural wood floors, a rock fireplace fronted by a sea-green marble bench and a custom Italian-made sofa. Two indigo leather chairs are in one corner, separated by a standing Tiffany-style lamp.


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NANCY WILCOX / SPECIAL TO THE STAR-BULLETIN
Linda sits in the Great Room, Waianuhea's party area with wrap-around glass windows and doors that open to a large lanai.


Furnishings, ornaments, artwork, even the lighting is fun, which we later discover matches Salisbury's personality and that of her partner Reed Santos.

Our room, the Malamalama room, is the largest in the house. A beautiful cherry sleigh king bed sits in the middle of the room, and there are also a plush armchair, a twin sleeper sofa and a flat-screen TV fed by the satellite dish, complete with easy-to-follow instructions. Each room comes with its own cell phone, and guests get 30 free minutes a day, including long distance.

The furnishings are deep green, and the walls are a lighter green topped by a sky blue ceiling. (The house bears more than 80 paint colors, all subtly blending together.)

The bath is done in white tile with blue-green rope tile trim and a large soaking tub, a glass-enclosed shower and separate water closet.

"Cancel all our other accommodations," I tell Nancy and fall on the bed.

To my right I see Mauna Kea, straight ahead the lily pond. Nancy reminds me that Carol, a former Honolulu stockbroker, is waiting to give us a tour.


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NANCY WILCOX / SPECIAL TO THE STAR-BULLETIN
Owners Reed Santos and Carol Salisbury took nearly two years to convert Waianuhea into a bed-and-breakfast.


WAIANUHEA, which turns a year old in November, took nearly two years to convert from its original run-down, one-story incarnation. "The Great Room" off the living room is definitely the party area with wrap-around glass windows and doors that open to a huge lanai. Colorful glass balloons hang from the ceiling.

"I want to die here," I say.

There are five bedrooms, including two queen bed rooms, two large king bed rooms and one full suite, with large soaking tubs in the king room baths. Gas and wood stoves are in the three larger rooms.

"It's big, it's beautiful, we got satellite everything and we're the only ones here," I tell Nancy just about the time another couple arrives. "Well, there goes that fantasy. God, they look like chatters."

Pete and Linda are also from Oahu. He works for the federal government; Linda is a former college teacher.

Pete and I eye each other carefully like aging lions and shake hands, squeezing just enough to try to exude dominance. We're about the same age but Pete has more hair. There's some small talk about how each of us found Waianuhea, and because both of us are holding cameras, we talk about lenses and the merits of digital vs. film formats. Nancy and Linda are sitting on the Italian couch chatting like long-lost friends.

But good fortune has blessed us with people with whom we have much in common philosophically and politically. Pete even laughs at my jokes.

The new friendship is pretty much sealed during the daily late-afternoon wine tasting where Carol showcases new selections every month, including gourmet hors d'oeuvres from Waimea. When Carol leaves, Pete and I bring out our own bottles of red and whites.

"Uh, what about dinner?" Nancy says.

We have reservations for a free meal at a high-end Waimea restaurant.

"You're going to leave us here alone?" Pete whines.

Nancy remembers the guest minikitchen stocked with gourmet microwave food, fresh veggies from the garden, beverages and deserts. The food prices are low.

"I suppose we could eat alone," Pete says.

We move outside to the lanai and see a burst of light slowly rising over Mauna Kea. It's the precursor to a full moon so big and seemingly so close that I want to grab it.

"You probably can't see that in Waimea," says Pete, sipping another glass of my wine.

"Do we really want to leave?" Nancy says. "We could switch the dinner reservations to tomorrow night."

I look at Pete. "Pour me some more wine and let's get cooking."


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NANCY WILCOX / SPECIAL TO THE STAR-BULLETIN
For breakfast, Reed Santos cooks thinly sliced Canadian bacon into the shape of bowls and poaches eggs in the middle.


BACK ON THE LANAI, I find myself chatting about anything and everything, each of us telling tidbits of our life stories under the magnificent moon, before what we thought was to be a brief session in the outdoor Jacuzzi. By midnight the wine had run out, Nancy and I were hoarse from laughing, our skin was puckered from the hot water and we were yawning.

After going to bed, I wake at about sunrise and decide to take a walk around the property after making some local coffee, dark and strong. The silence outside is more peaceful than I'm used to. It's a bit discomforting, but I resist the urge to retreat back to the house to surf the Internet or turn on CNN.

Instead, I sit by the lily pond on a large white fiberglass couch, hypnotized by the way the lily pads bob up and down. Then I hike the grassy mauka end of the property through newly planted fruit trees.

The grass is dry and cushiony, so I lie down and realize that it isn't as quiet as I thought. There are birds chirping, insects buzzing, a breeze humming through iron woods, a horse braying, a dragonfly's wings flapping.

When I get back to the dining room, Pete is hunched over his breakfast focusing a camera lens.

"I have never taken a picture of my breakfast before," he tells Linda and Nancy.

The Canadian bacon and egg dish was as visually pleasing as it was tasty. Reed had taken the superthin meat and cooked it in the shape of a bowl with the eggs poached in the middle. There was also a variety of cereals, fresh local fruit, juices, pastries and coffee set on a linen table cloth with matching napkins.

Later that morning, Nancy and I drove into Honokaa to play tourist. She took pictures of buildings and some of the locals before we headed on to the Waipio Valley lookout on some of Honokaa's meandering back roads.

We made it back to Waianuhea in time for wine hour, where we found Pete and Linda in the living room reading. Carol built a fire as clouds began to envelope the mountain and the temperature dropped a teeny bit. I put on socks to keep my feet warm, though I could still get away with wearing shorts and a T-shirt.

Again, the chatting runs on, and Nancy and I cancel our dinner reservations in favor of raiding the refrigerator with our new friends.

Reed and Carol greeted us the next morning with another spectacular breakfast. But the conversation wasn't as festive; it was checkout day.

We all push the checkout time, sitting in the living room drinking coffee, reliving the wonderful spontaneity of the last two days. None of us had known what Waianuhea would be like; who would have thought we wouldn't want to leave the place?

We exchanged phone numbers and e-mails and promised to get together back on Oahu.

Nancy had a smirk on her face when I got into the car to leave.

"Pretty good chatting for someone who doesn't like it," she said, smiling. "And you never did turn on the TV.

"Stick with me, kid."


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NANCY WILCOX / SPECIAL TO THE STAR-BULLETIN
Seven landscaped acres of fruit trees and a vegetable garden surround the two-story house.


Waianuhea

Where: 45-3503 Kahana Drive, or write P.O. Box 185, Honokaa, HI 96727

Call: 808-775-1118, toll-free 888-775-2577, fax 888-296-6302

Accommodations

A'ala
A'ala, meaning "sweet-smelling, royal," is graced with a hand-painted wrought-iron queen bed as its centerpiece. The ocean and pond can be viewed from A'ala's windows. This room has the distinction of having its own private entry stairway, as well as access from inside the house. The cost is $170 per night.

Olu'olu
This room, $190, is done in wall shades of soft bluish-green with rich blue Oriental rugs. Furnishings include a mission-style queen cherry bed and a blue armchair. Outside the window are hapu'u -- the tree fern's new shoots give the B&B its logo -- and a view of Mauna Kea's peak on clear mornings. The bath has a spacious shower.

Li'oli'o
Li'oli'o, $250, has a four-poster cherry king bed, two armchairs, gas fireplace and balcony that faces the ocean. One of the best features of the room is its bathroom with a soaking tub big enough for two and open shower. Li'oli'o is the most private room in the main house.

Malamalama
Malamalama, $290, is the largest room in the main house, a king junior suite complete with cherry sleigh bed, an armchair and twin sleeper sofa. The furnishings are shades of deep green, with walls are a lighter green topped by a sky blue ceiling. The bath is done in white tile with blue-green rope tile trim and features a large soaking tub, glass-enclosed shower and separate water closet. There are views from all windows: To the east is the lily pond, to the south is the top of Mauna Kea and to the north is the Pacific Ocean.

Kaulana Akea
Kaulana Akea, $350, is the full suite, located out of the main section of the house, ensuring privacy. It has a bedroom with a king bed and a living room with a queen sleeper sofa, making it ideal for a family or several adults traveling together. A wood-burning stove warms the suite on chilly nights. There is a private patio area with outdoor furniture.

Nearby Activities

Scenic tours
>> Waipio Valley: Gaze at the stunning panorama from the lookout or venture down into the valley with a tour, on foot or by four-wheel drive.

>> Laupahoehoe Point: Craggy rocks and breaking waves create a beautiful backdrop for picnicking or relaxing.

>> Akaka Falls: Near Hilo, this is the highest accessible waterfall on the island, with a circle walkway tour that takes you past two waterfalls and through a landscape of tropical plants.

>> Waimea: For shopping and enjoying its rolling hills of green.

Hiking
From Waianuhea, take off on foot on back country roads as well as more remote trails.

>> Kalopa State Park has great trails through forested areas.

>> Waipio is known as a destination for the hiking enthusiast. It is a steep road down to and up from the valley.

Shopping
>> Honokaa Town is known for its "junk" shops, where secondhand treasures and curiosities abound. An art gallery and clothing boutique round out the selection of stores.

>> Waimea, a bustling ranch town, holds a variety of shops and galleries, grocery stores and specialty stores.

>> Honomu is located near Akaka Falls and has several art galleries and collectors' shops as well as ginger ice cream.

>> Hilo has a wide selection of shopping from little boutiques to shopping mall stores, art galleries and map shops.

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