In the second installment of our guest author series, Cheri Ellefson takes us on an LGBTQ Getaway to Kalani Oceanside Retreat on the big island of Hawaii. Check out the other posts in this series here.
Situated on 120 acres of beautiful, organic and preserved heritage property, Kalani Oceanside Retreat is the real deal. A hidden oasis nestled within a lush rainforest, this resort offers amenities found at high-end luxury spas. If that’s not allure enough, it’s also one of the most welcoming vacation destinations in the world for queer women.
Kalani feels like an island unto itself: you may never want to leave the property for the nearby, unspoiled black sand beaches. But watching a Hawaiian sunset over the Pacific is worth the short walk across the Big Island’s most scenic coastal road—known as Red Road to locals—but don’t forget your flashlight.
Light pollution is minimal on the entire island thanks nearby Mauna Kea, which houses the world’s largest observatory for optical astronomy. It offers the clearest, most breathtaking view of the evening stars that I have ever witnessed.
The point is: Hawaii gets very, very dark after sunset. So dark, in fact, that I nearly ran into a wild boar grazing in front of my private cottage.
Though I knew Kalani to be eco-friendly, I didn’t expect boars.
The resort is also Hawaii’s largest retreat center that offers tailored programs for the gay, lesbian, and transgender communities. Director Emeritus Richard Koob founded Kalani in the mid-1970s with his late partner Earnest Morgan.Meaning ‘harmony of heaven and earth,’ the two envisioned Kalani as a place of well-being, education, and diversity.
Queer women serve in key management, staff, and volunteer roles. Kalani offers women’s circles, wellness classes, workshops, and retreats, which cater exclusively to queer women.
At the time of my own personal retreat at Kalani, I didn’t belong to any queer community. Out to friends and family less than a year, I still felt awkward and unsure about my new identity. Traveling 100% of the time location independent also made meeting other queer women a bit of a challenge. Finding a lesbian-inclusive place like Kalani made me feel accepted in a place where I didn’t know a soul. It was easy to let me guard down and relax.
The massage didn’t hurt either.
Or the restorative yoga classes.
The guided meditation left me in a such a state of zen I didn’t even feel sad when it was time to say goodbye.
Well, a little sad.
The delicious, local and sustainable fish and produce enjoyed with the other guests made me feel like I was staying in a community among friends, not at a luxury resort. Guests dine al fresco, surrounded by dim lighting for a warm, comfortable experience. Traveling solo, I never felt alone. Long tables are set up for conversation, and I met other global travelers like myself, of whom I still keep in contact with today.
When I did finally pull myself away from the yoga classes and the clothing-optional heated pool, I ventured to Kehena Beach, a stunning black sand beach that is a popular viewing spot for whale sightings and dolphin-playing. You don’t have to swim far to be circled by pods of friendly spinner dolphins, but waves are so dangerous here it’s risky.
Only a few miles away via Red Road is the famous Sea View Farmer’s Market. I bought a bright yellow hammock (where I would hoist this hammock I had no idea) and tasted local Hawaiian fare.
If meditation, playing with dolphins or massages doesn’t tickle your fancy, Kalani offers a variety of daily free activities, such as beginner to advanced Ukulele and Hula lessons.
Itching to step out of your comfort zone and try something new? Gather up the courage, because there’s no better to experience Improv or Open Mic Nights than among supportive friends. I personally opted to test my not-so-graceful coordination with Qi Gong in the mornings: a traditional Chinese practice of slow movements that aim to cultivate balance, or rather, to balance your chi, or your life energy. Used to high-intensity, Cross-fit-style routines, this slower paced ‘dance with nature’ brought welcomed peace.
Kalani for me wasn’t just a vacation or a quick getaway. The retreat staff foster a sincere sense of ’Ohana’ or ‘extended family,’ a popular Hawaiian phrase in the Puna district of the Big Island. Whether traveling solo or coupled, you’ll leave feeling like part of a family.
One big, happy queer family that accepts you for you. I felt that Kalani cared about my spiritual and personal journey. I didn’t know until then just how important it was to my own well-being that I feel comfortable.
I found unexpected relief in their acceptance—something I had not fully experienced from members of my own family. Of course the massage, meditation and ocean views helped me feel relaxed and at home as well. It was the perfect combination: genuine acceptance in the midst of paradise.
Note: The author received no compensation from Kalani Oceanside Retreat for this post.