With her hair pulled back and her skin smelling like flowers, Auntie Nettie Tiffany leans towards me and tells me to put my forehead against hers. I close my eyes as she slowly draws her hands down my arms until she is gently clasping my palms. Whispering a Hawaiian blessing, she lets our energies flow between our two hearts, and then she pulls away, kisses each cheek, and turns to my partner to repeat the process.
I watch from a few steps away, but I have the urge to drop my eyes. This is a sacred moment, and though we are on the open-air grounds of Oahu’s Lanikuhonua Cultural Institute and a group of people swims in the ocean just below us, it feels intensely private. With her forehead to my partner’s, Tiffany asks in a soft tone how close he is with his mother.
“Not close enough,” he says.
“Call her,” she replies. “She is thinking of you.”
Tiffany is a kahu, or as she describes it, a sort of cultural shaman for the area and steward of the land. She lives on property at the Cultural Institute and acts as a keeper of this sacred place—a sort of messenger from one plane to another. From couples getting married, to newborn babies, she performs spiritual blessings that connect people to each other and to the earth. Before the neighbouring Four Seasons O‘ahu at Ko Olina opened its doors in May 2016, Tiffany blessed the property and the staff within it.
This Four Seasons, located in the luxury resort area of Ko Olina, is the first Oahu location for the high-end Canadian hotel brand (though sister islands Lanai, Maui, and the Big Island all have properties). Formerly the JW Marriott Ihilani Resort, the hotel underwent a significant US$250-million renovation before reopening as a Four Seasons. Pulling up to the front doors, the place admittedly appears modest—but stepping into the lobby (me with a white lei arrival gift, my partner with a necklace of kukui nuts) reveals this place’s instant magic. My breath is taken away by the 17-storey atrium with glass ceiling, which is surrounded by stretching white walls that give way to the guest rooms, each dotted with a glowing light.
After dropping bags in our impressive ninth-floor suite (complete with Bvlgari bath amenities and a stunning view of the ocean), we head downstairs to the poolside restaurant La Hiki Kitchen, indulging in fresh tuna tartare and juicy striploin steak with parmesan truffle fries and roasted vegetables du jour.
Culinary options abound at the resort, from the relaxing Hokulea café for coffee and a chocolate croissant; to Hawaiian-style beef tacos by the fabulous adults-only infinity pool; to the casual Waterman Bar & Grill, where I enjoy a chicken shawarma pita; to Mina’s Fish House, a concept created by celebrity chef Michael Mina, boasting the freshest seafood options including miso black cod with shishito peppers, nori emulsion, and garlic fried rice.
“We try as much as we can to buy local—we have a lot of great farming partners on the island,” says hotel executive chef Richard Polhemus, who oversees the entire culinary operation (meanwhile, his wife, Helen Hong, is executive pastry chef). He describes Hawaiian food as “very soulful,” and makes it a priority of his to be inventive with the food offerings at the property while remaining true to the traditions of significant cultural dishes. Also at the hotel (and veering away from Hawaiian plates) is the Italian-inspired Noe, where the pastas are handmade daily by Japanese-Italian chef Ryo Takatsuka and the meatballs are perfectly saucy.
Between all this eating, I manage to sneak in a chartered coastline yacht cruise and snorkel with Captain Bruce (which can be arranged through the Four Seasons), and also head to the hotel’s Naupaka Spa, where I am greeted with refreshing kombucha before a beautiful hot stone massage and a visit to the facility’s quiet fifth-floor rooftop pool. This, I believe, is true bliss.
Back at Lanikuhonua, Tiffany hands me two large green ti leaves that she used for part of our blessing and tells me to bring them home to Vancouver. “Keep them, even when they dry up,” she instructs. The idea is that one day, we are to bring these leaves back to this shore and put them into the ocean as an offering, and as a sign of respect for this deeply beautiful place. “You’ll be back,” she says with a smile. I can’t say when it will be, but I know with all my heart that she’s right.
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