Kohala / Hawi Town: a local utopia

My favorite place and what makes it so special

Community planning is big for environmentalists around the world. With thousands of ecovillages and intentional communities around the world redefining what it means to live together and how to live together, there is a paradigm shift rising to transform the consumption-based, resource-extracting and individualistic lifestyles many have adopted in westernized places. In the near or far future, I hope to explore and live in these communities that focus on mindfulness and sustainability, and to continue to find people who understand the interwoven nature of the social, environmental and economic impacts of our everyday lifestyle choices and habits.

For me, the Big Island of Hawaiʻi is a near utopia, and Kohala especially epitomizes much of what I wish to see more of in urban and suburban areas. As a rural town, Kohala is serene. There is no humming of buildings or busy highways to block nature’s music and no artificial lights to dilute the night sky from shining bright. It is the norm to grow your own food and barter fruits, vegetables and other goods with your neighbors. On the streets or at the farmer’s market, residents catch up and its clear that everyone knows each other. The town is home to small, localized versions of everything, and nearly every place is unique, humble and has a friendly smile waiting inside.

The Sweet Potato Kitchen in Hawi town is the epitome of a local hole in the wall restaurant – except that it’s in between two walls! The restaurant that boasts being organic, vegan, non-gmo and locally sourced has quaint seating right in the alley between two buildings and is colorfully painted. The friendly owner comes out to talk story and tell us all about the teas I’ve never heard of and the list of ingredients they are out of and the many specials not shown on the menu. With seating for only about a dozen people, every customer gets special attention and the flexible nature of the menu and the ability to ask as many questions as you want made this meal out adventurous and intriguing. The food served is colorful and made with love from high-quality, local and organic ingredients – such a treat! Having worked at restaurants for 2+ years, its often said that dining out “is all about the experience,” and the Sweet Potato Kitchen gave us one to be remembered.


The couple we stayed with built their home out of reused and recycled materials, and the home had no hookup to electricity. As the sun went down, we each put on head lamps for light and cut herbs and vegetables from their farm. Even the water used from washing dishes went straight into a bucket that went to feed their plants, and when you needed to go to the bathroom, you could choose your favorite tree in the orchard to “fertilize” 🙂 (doing this really makes one question the practice of flushing our waste with gallons of fresh water and bleached paper everyday – a widely accepted, modern mystery).


Living in Honolulu, even the beach in Kohala was breathtaking. Without a single other person in sight, we swam in beautiful, pristine water on a perfect day. For the sunset, we walked up the road and stumbled upon a picturesque pasture of vast, bright green hills that I only thought existed in the movies or on a canvas. And, without electronics to distract us, we talked story and played board games instead of watching TV or getting lost in text messages and social media. As in most rural areas, the amount of stars you can see at night without light pollution is breathtaking. In the mornings, we woke up with the sun, and the ducks and the goats on the farm were the only alarm clock we needed.




As a disclaimer, I haven’t traveled to nearly as many places as I would like to, but thus far, Kohala has been the most inspirational place for a community-based, sustainable town with people who get it. Practices and choices that seem so obvious are so far removed from how many of us live today. To simplify our lives, love our neighbors, and live with nature are concepts we know are important and ones we often talk about, yet we tend not to practice.

As someone who just moved to a studio in Waikiki with no lanai or land to grow food on, I know there are barriers to overcome in seeking the type of community I talk about. But, no matter what your circumstance, each of us has the ability to get closer to this lifestyle and to practice behaviors we know will make our minds, bodies and souls both healthier and happier. Even living in the busiest place of all the Hawaiian islands, I have found two impressive gardens started by neighbors on my street alone, and I see lanais all over Waikiki overflowing with plants. In the early mornings, I take walks along the shore for my daily dose of nature and love seeing all the early risers surfing and swimming in the ocean or just reading a book along the coast.

Wherever you are, you can find your own forms of simplification, community building and environmental living. We can all move beyond the rhetoric of sustainability and green living, and just live in the ways we are able and willing to and in ways that allow more and more of us to be truly free and genuinely happy. Kohala, to me, is so special because it has taught me to question consumption and live in ways that transcend our addiction to wasteful, materialistic lifestyles that destroy our environment, hurt our relationships with ourselves and other, and fail to nourish our souls. As a peaceful community living in abundance and simplicity, Kohala has inspired me to seek locally-based solutions wherever I go, and I hope you find some inspiration, too 🙂



Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s