Off the Beaten Path

February 1, 2013 | By Allison Schaefers

Light hits the blue-green waters off Kawehewehe lighting the natural sand-filled channel like a beacon to another horizon.

Native Hawaiians considered this stretch of ocean fronting the Halekulani Hotel, which in Hawaiian means “house befitting heaven,” as a sacred, healing place. Hawai‘i’s ali‘i (royalty) and others came to these Waikiki waters, where a bubbling fresh water spring met the ocean, to literally wash away their worries.

Wearing a seaweed lei, they would wade into Kawehewehe, which means “the removal.” Basking in the beauty of this place, they would ask forgiveness for past sins.

Once they had cleansed away any blockages to good health and spiritual well being, they would leave the lei behind and walk into a world paved with second chances.

Visitors to Waikiki today are unlikely to see Native Hawaiians practicing this private healing ritual. However, each week associates at SpaHalekulani make a pilgrimage to Kawehewehe to cleanse the rocks and shells used in their treatments and offer a Hawaiian prayer that all who visit will find healing and renewal.

SpaHalekulani, which touts itself as the first spa anywhere to fully explore the healing cultures of Polynesia, has crafted a treatment inspired by the history of Kawehewehe. This journey, called Waianuhea, seeks to make guests one with the ‘aina or land under Halekulani and its healing waters.

Waianuhea begins with SpaHalekulani’s signature foot pounding ritual, which stimulates circulation in the feet, and is followed by a salt-water footbath. The staff developed this tradition, which is unique to Halekulani, to welcome guests, says SpaHalekulani Director Kamala Nayeli.

“They consider aloha unconditional love and that’s what they do every day,” Nayeli says. “Their intention is to restore balance and harmony so that person can go back into their life and be all that they can be.”

Safiyia Om, a creative healer, is one of the spa associates performing the ritual using bundles of coconut sticks from surrounding trees. The synchronized pounding, which resembles a hula dance, celebrates the land and all of its creatures.

“It’s about connecting guests to the land and the sea,” Om says.

Waianuhea is completed with a Hawaiian lomi-inspired massage that uses shells that have been washed in Kawehewehe to assist in clearing blocked life force or as Native Hawaiians called it, mana. Upon completion, guests leave their troubles on the table.

Since Hawai‘i’s beaches are open to all, you don’t have to be a Halekulani guest to visit Kawehewehe. And, you don’t have to visit SpaHalekulani to take your own spiritual journey. Either way, you’ll be blessed.

Many visitors to Hawai’i go back home with stories of what they gained be it a head full of memories, a camera full of beautiful photos or a suitcase filled with local crafts.

While Hawai‘i has much to offer, Kawehewehe is a reminder that sometimes the greatest gift that we take from Hawai‘i is the ability to leave it all behind.

Did You Know?

SpaHalekulani was ranked the No. 2 Best Resort Spa in North America by Conde Nast Traveler. It has also earned the coveted Forbes Travel Guide Four Star Rating, the highest honor bestowed upon any spa by this guide. SpaHalekulani is the only spa on O‘ahu that is a member of Accredited Leading Spas, a prestigious hotel affiliation. Sixty-minute treatments start at $140. Waianuhea retails for $420. For more information call (808) 931-5322 or visit