HAWAIIAN TOWN HILO — A HOTPOT OF NATURAL BEAUTY — NOT ONLY HOUSES ONE OF THE MOST INTRIGUING WATERFALLS AROUND THE WORLD BUT ALSO A RESORT, WHICH ABSOLUTELY MESMERISES NATURE LOVERS.
If you arrive here on a moonless night, you can hear the water before you can see it rushing to seek its lowest point, as water always does. At irst, it sounds like a hose that’s been left on, but as you try to track down the source, it begins to sound like a horrendous water main break.
Suddenly it appears seemingly out of nowhere: Kulaniapia Falls, an aquatic masterpiece that tumbles over itself on its 120-foot drop to the pool below. For years, vegetation hid these falls. Once that greenery was cut away, the cascade became the centerpiece of the soundtrack for the Inn at Kulaniapia Falls.
This is a different kind of resort, unlike the usual ones. It’s the gardens illed with bamboo and orchids, the early morning sun glinting off Hilo Bay below, the feeling of being free from artiice as you stroll down a country lane lined with macadamia nut trees.
BOUGHT SIGHT UNSEEN
In the early 1990s, Lenny Sutton bought the 22 acres sight unseen that are now home to the inn.
“It had good ‘mana,’ “he said, using a term that often refers to an energy or power that can result in good.
How the resort came to be what it is today is a tale of a lot of hard work and little bit of luck.
Sutton, his wife, Jane, and their children moved here because the place had, a real estate, potential, but it took vision to see what that was.
The inn began its hospitality life as a fourroom bed-and-breakfast. “We raised our kids there,” Sutton said. It’s also a 24/7 commitment, no weekends, no holidays.
Today, the inn comprises the Residence (four rooms) and Harmony House (five rooms), Jade Cottage (two rooms) and the Pagoda House (four rooms and has a kitchen). There are glamping tents up the road at the 20-acre farm. Breakfast is part of the package at the inn.
Those things are fairly recent additions. In 2015, Sutton was of retirement age and perhaps ready for a not-seven-days-a-week job, so he put the place on the market.
Enter Christophe Bisciglia, whose mile-aminute mind had plowed mostly fertile land in the tech industry. Now he was ready for what he called a “legacy asset” that enabled him to be part of and contribute to a local and larger community.
He didn’t want to buy the inn outright. Instead, he wanted to partner with Sutton as he learned a new industry. In the end, as it often does, life gave Sutton what he needed -a partner to ease his burdens.
Bisciglia wanted to create new revenue streams by introducing adventures — hikes in a nearby lava tube, stargazing, and rappelling and ziplining the falls — for the guests.
To do so, he needed someone who could train a staff to guide the guests.
Enter Dave Black, a Maui resident and a Utah native. He had decades of outdoors experience as part of credentials.
Black was interested, but his motivation wasn’t money. He wanted to ind a way to honor his son Darby, a military veteran who served in Afghanistan and Iraq and suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder so severe that in 2015 he killed himself.
Darby Black is part of a deadly pattern. In 2010, about 22 vets a day killed themselves, according to an estimate in a 2012 Department of Veterans Affairs study.
That is how Brian, Lee, Christian and Jim, under the leadership of Dave Black, came to be at the Inn at Kulaniapia in August, the second group of a still developing program for vets scarred by war. Airfare, lodging, meals and activities are provided.
LAVA TUBE HIKE
The vets would do the same things as the other guests but in their own group. They let me join them on a lava tube hike at Kazumura Cave in Pahoa, about 25 miles from the inn.
Ethan Hodek, then an inn staffer, led the group through a small opening into the cave, which was formed at least 500 years ago. Some of the mile or so, the hike is along smooth lava and sometimes sharp.
Sometimesweneededtocrouch,andsometimes the ceiling was 30 feet tall. The path was wide and then it was narrow.
We stopped at one point, turned off our flashlights and helmet lamps, and held our hands in front of our faces. It was the blackest black I’ve ever experienced.
There was light _ not at the end of the tunnel, which goes on for more than 40 miles _ but at a “skylight,” an opening through which roots from Ohia trees dripped and, based on bones found, animals apparently fell.
HodekandBlackhadurgedustostayhydrated. I was more focused on staying upright.
With help, I made it up the inal ladder and out. I spent the rest of the day swaddled in ice packs.
The next morning, I ran into Jim, who was a paratrooper in Vietnam and has two artiicial hips, two bad knees and two fused ankles. He noticed I was limping and asked why I hadn’t turned back. I said I couldn’t lose face, not in front of this group.
He told me, not unkindly, that I should never let anyone’s opinion determine my course of action. Of course not, I said, but it was also my job.
He smiled slightly and nodded.
I took a safer position on the breakfast terrace as the group prepared to rappel the falls. (Few guests have failed to complete the rappel, and one of those was an octogenarian, Bisciglia told me.) These guys weren’t going to chicken out. One by one they made their way down, as though they did so every day.
Part two was to have been zip lining from the falls to the pond, but the forecast called for thunderstorms. Mission aborted. The rain started coming down in sheets.
For two hours, the guests told of broken relationships, depression, often despair and usually enormous confusion. Sometimes they had to walk away from the conversation.
Most of them had lost friends, some of whom died in combat; others by their own hand.
The next day on the farm, they planted trees to honor their fallen comrades. Holes were dug, and words were summoned to remember their friends.
Earth patted back into place, rain now gently falling, the men turned and walked away to begin a new chapter in their journeys back.