Posts Tagged ‘Kealakekua Bay’

Manini Beach

Karen and Ron Repan are residents of Kealakekua Bay on the “Big Island” of Hawaii and are the owners of the charming and rustic Bali Tree Cottage. Popular on Airbnb, Karen and Ron enjoy renting out their cottage and meeting people from all over the world. Last year, my husband and I traveled to Hawaii and experienced this secluded slice of paradise. Little did we know that two years earlier on March 11, 2011, the residents of Kealakekua Bay were affected by a destructive tsunami brought on by the devastating 8.9 earthquake and tsunami that struck Japan.

In an interview with Karen, she recounts her experience with the tsunami and the effect it had on the community.

Karen, as someone who has lived all over the world, what drew you and Ron to Kealakekua Bay?

Hawaii has the most temperate climate we have found. No extreme hot or cold weather. 83 degrees max, 72 low!  After living in Seattle, we were ready to move somewhere where we did not have to wear lots of clothes and heat or cool our home.

Plus, we love the ocean, especially one that we can swim in year round.

When the earthquake and tsunami struck Japan, was there immediate concern that Hawaii would be next?  If so, how did you and Ron prepare for the possibility of a tsunami?

We followed it on the news and heard it would hit around 5:00am. We didn’t really think we would be so impacted because the last evacuation we had for a potential tsunami was not necessary.

We were actually here when the first wave hit and could tell it was in our lower back yard! We got our elderly dogs in the truck and were able to get away south towards the City of Refuge. It was still really dark.

Had moved some cars to higher ground, but really did not do much else.  [We] will now heed any sirens and have great respect for what the ocean can do!

I can’t even fathom what that must have been like for you!  When my husband and I came to visit last year, it was hard to believe that your idyllic community was ravaged by a tsunami…but it became all too real when you gave us a tour of the area and pointed out an empty lot where a house used to be.  What did you discover upon your return home?

We were all shell shocked!  Very depressed for several months.  Did not want to go into the ocean for 6 months!

We had some very good friends up the hill that came with two of his visiting cousins that helped us clean up all the debris. Their moral support and hard work made all the difference!  None of our near neighbors realized what disaster we had in our backyard and concentrated on cleaning up Manini beach.

Thank goodness for John Farquhar and his two Canadian cousins!

TsunamiThe Repan’s backyard after the tsunami.
Photo credit: Karen Repan

TsunamiThe Repan’s backyard after the tsunami.
Photo credit: Karen Repan

TsunamiThe twisted and empty remains of a home’s foundation.
Photo credit: Karen Repan

TsunamiAlong the near shore is a home that was swept into the bay
(only their grey roof is visible).  Photo credit: John Farquhar

I’m glad your good friend John and his cousins were there for you during this difficult time!  Was the “Bali Tree Cottage” affected too?

Yes!  It got knocked off its’ foundation and moved 4 feet until it hit the ficus tree. A folded mattress was supporting one edge and the tree rooted supported the other edges.

TsunamiInside the Bali Tree Cottage.  Photo Credit: Karen Repan

TsunamiThe Bali Tree Cottage was knocked off its foundation.
Photo Credit: John Farquhar

TsunamiThe Bali Tree Cottage.  Photo Credit: John Farquhar

Oh wow!  You would never know it seeing how it looks today!  Were you renting it out at the time, or was this before you listed it on Airbnb?

It was before we added electricity and water to it. Had just finished building it!

Bali Tree CottageCurrent photo of The Bali Tree Cottage (2013)

From what I remember, your property is inland by about 1/2 block, and at that distance, the water brought so much destruction to your backyard!  How was the area closer to the shore effected, and how did you eventually get comfortable going back into the ocean?

We were absolutely appalled what the force of those waves did to Manini Beach. Several beautiful trees washed out to sea. We normally have an annual community beach clean up the Sat before the Tsunami but it was raining so we cancelled.  All the picnic tables we would have re-painted were washed out to sea!  It took quite awhile to see the positive things – more sand, new space to put a community garden….

So many fish were lost and huge heads of coral were turned upside down. But the ocean is healing, and the coral is coming back. Just felt different about the ocean knowing how destructive it could be.

TsunamiPhoto Credit: Karen Repan

The Manini Beach I saw was a slice of paradise complete with sand, coral and lava rocks. Is it my understanding that the tsunami pretty much relandscaped the beach into what it is today?

Yes. There was just coral and lava – no sand.  And the entrance to the water got carved out so we gained about 10 feet of chanel.  In the corner where the community garden is was just a jumble of night blooming cirus.

We lost a beautiful autograph tree and a big shade tree near the entrance gate.

IMG_0422Current Photo of Manini Beach (2013)

Manini BeachCurrent Photo of Manini Beach (2013)

By some miracle, no one lost their lives, but from photos I’ve seen, lots of personal property was damaged and destroyed. What kind of outreach did the community as a whole experience from others?

We saw in the papers that all agencies that offered help would be in one location on a certain day. Most people thought FEMA would step in and help but there was not enough damage for them to offer any help.

We went to check out what resources were available and signed up for a 2% loan from Small Business Administration.  Did not see many people there taking advantage of all the great programs available from various agencies including Red Cross.

TsunamiPhoto Credit: Karen Repan

TsunamiPhoto Credit: John Farquhar

TsunamiPhoto Credit: John Farquhar

TsunamiPhoto Credit: Karen Repan

TsunamiPhoto Credit: Karen Repan

Tsunami Photo Credit: Karen Repan

TsunamiPhoto Credit: Karen Repan

TsunamiPhoto Credit: John Farquhar

TsunamiPhoto Credit: John Farquhar

TsunamiPhoto Credit: Karen Repan

TsunamiPhoto Credit: Karen Repan

TsunamiPhoto Credit: Karen Repan

TsunamiPhoto Credit: Karen Repan

Have the people of Kealakekua Bay grown closer as a community since the tsunami?

Our little community has had many trials – An arson that burnt down a new house, a 6.5 earthquake, and then another house fire (not arson).  It brings all of us closer as we band together to help others.  It is amazing how people not from this area came to support us!

Today, Karen and Ron enjoy renting out their wonderful Bali Tree Cottage to vacationers near and far, traveling to exotic destinations and taking in gorgeous sunsets on the renewed Manini Beach.

Manini BeachParadise renewed.





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Last year, after spending 5 blissful days on the beautiful island of Maui, my husband and I boarded the Mokulele Express, and for one hour, we lazily dreamed of what awaited us on the Big Island of Hawaii.

You see…on our Hawaiian vacation, we wanted to experience something other than a typical hotel room.  We searched for something unlike anything we’ve experienced before, and so may I introduce…the enchanting Bali Tree Cottage in Captain Cook, Hawaii.

Bali Tree Cottage

A 12 year labor of love for long time residents, Ron and Karen Repan, the delightful Bali Tree Cottage combines rustic charm with modern conveniences blending the best of outdoor with indoor.  A true glamping experience!

Bali Tree Cottage

Arriving at 4:00pm, Karen met us at the entrance of the driveway leading to the cottage.  Her hospitality was genuine and abundant!  After settling into our new accommodations, Karen suggested we take a less than two minute walk over to the gorgeous Manini Beach Park overlooking the Kealakekua Bay.  She gave us a brief tour and history of the area (post to come!), and upon our return, the sound of relaxing Hawaiian music filled the air.  Ron, Karen’s sweet husband, had turned on the cd player in the cottage and stood on the porch welcoming us with a warm smile and two glasses of vino!

We felt like family!


Staying in the house next door, the Repans always respected our privacy and were just a few steps away if we had any questions or just wanted to say hello.

Curious about the origin of this open air cottage, Ron and Karen entertained us with the story of how it came about.

“Ron loves beautiful things.” Karen said, smiling his way.

Never experiencing Bali but loving the architecture and feel of Thailand, Ron expected to see many outdoor Bali-style cottages or huts upon moving to Hawaii, but he couldn’t find a single one…and so began his 12 year labor of love.

Visiting several antique shops through the years, he invested in gorgeous Balinese hand carved teak panels with intricate details, many which were left in the jungle for possibly over a hundred years.

Ron spoke enthusiastically about the panel on the front of the cottage.  “This panel is worth $12,000, but I got it for $6,000.  It took five men to lift it.  This wood doesn’t interest termites – it’s too heavy.”

Bali Tree Cottage

Nothing was overlooked in the Bali Tree Cottage.

On the balcony you will find a full service kitchen stocked with just about everything you need. A refrigerator, freezer, oven, sink, towels and dishes were all available for our use.  Just be sure to clean up after yourself…or the ants will!  A variety of spices, sauces and condiments are available to add to any dish you make.  There’s also a BBQ located in the garden that came in handy for preparing our steaks one evening.

Outdoor KitchenOutdoor kitchen

When you’re ready to enjoy that meal, choose from the lovely outdoor garden dining area or cozy up indoors.

Outdoor Dining

Bali Tree Cottage - Dining Room

Relaxing is something that comes easily here.  Rock back and forth into a peaceful state to the sound of the ocean waves on a comfortable rocking chair or on the garden hammock. Or enjoy some time reading, listening to the radio or just spending quality time with whoever you choose to in the thoughtfully eclectic living area (ficus tree included!)

Relaxing Porch

Bali Tree CottageLiving area

A unique sleeping experience awaits you in this four-poster bed with net draping.  Recycled metal for the roof keeps the raindrops and tree nuts at bay.  A decorative double vanity opposite the bed has a basket full of soaps, sun screen and heavy duty bug repellent (which was greatly needed and appreciated!)

Bali Tree Cottage - Bedroom

Double VanityDouble vanity in bedroom

Bali Tree Cottage

From the bedroom, exit through large wooden doors and wash the day away in the refreshing outdoor shower. Complete with soap, shampoo, conditioner, lotions, towels and therapeutic rocks to stimulate the shiatsu zones in your feet, your main job is to simply enjoy.  The sound of vibrant birdsong and rustling breezes comes into high definition as you become mesmerized by the truly special ambiance.  A definite highlight of our stay!

Shower HeavenOutdoor shower area

Outdoor Shower

Ron’s passion for surfing is also apparent in his large collection of surfboards inside the cottage and outside in the garden.

Surfboard Collection

Being a former surfer himself, Ron would also buy broken surfboards off of their owners for around $20, and he would have them sign it for his collection.  Some were designed by the best artists of the era while others are just beautiful to look at.

A special surfboard known as “Da Bomb” hangs from the bedroom ceiling.  Hand built on a warship in the Gulf War, Ron found this surfboard in a shop in Hawaii.  Just hanging in the surf shop for 5 years, Ron asked the store owner if he could buy it off of him, but the shop owner wasn’t receptive to his request, so Ron suggested they flip a coin.

Heads, the shop owner keeps it, and tails, Ron buys it off of him.  It landed on tails.

Although not shown here, a female on the back of the board is a copy of the one on the nose of the B-29 “Enola Gay.”

"Da Bomb" “Da-Bomb” (the gray one pictured here)

The outside of the cottage is as intricate and methodically thought out as the inside!

Step out of the cottage and into a wonderland filled with everything to delight the senses!  Lose track of time by simply getting lost in the lush garden and decorative elements including paper lanterns, tiki torches, stringed lights and surf boards.

Bali Tree Cottage

Surfboard Collection

Enchanting YardBackyard paradise

Pathway to Cottage


Beautiful Flowers


Various diverse plants decorate the landscape making you feel worlds away.

“Let me show you the sensitivity plant.”  On a table was what looked like an everyday fern.  “Now touch the leaves.”  I did as Ron instructed, and the leaflets folded in as if protecting themselves from predators.

The next plant Ron showed me had a more threatening way of protecting itself.  It was called the serenity plant.  Coming out of the trunk were dozens of razor sharp thorns.  “Touch the point very softly.”  And as I suspected, this plant was no joke.

A large ficus tree is an integral part of the cottage.  Intertwining in and out of the living room, you truly feel like you are camping in the jungle.

Ficus Tree

We quickly learned that combining both the indoors and outdoors meant that we would be sharing our lodging with visitors of all kinds.

“Now don’t be afraid.  That’s only a kane spider.  They’re gentle and shy…and they don’t bite.”

I stared at this thin, branch-like spider that fell on the table right in front of me.  Ron ensured me that I could pick it up and it wouldn’t harm me.  “It’s like holding a tarantula.”

These experiences had become an expected part of our lives for 3 fun-filled days here at the cottage, and we started to look forward to meeting our new four and six-legged friends (minus the mosquitoes!)

Peek-a-boo GeckoThis gecko loved the camera!

GeckoHe enjoyed hanging out with us in the outdoor kitchen.

IMG_0228Not sure who this little guy was, but what a unique looking creature!

Purry the CatPurry, the Repan’s sweet kitty, was always a welcomed guest!

There were so many things I loved about our stay at the Bali Tree Cottage.  From the vibrant birdsong greeting us in the morning, to the outdoor shower experience, to the unique ambiance of the cottage, to the simple act of relaxing.

IMG_0395Manini Beach Park

The list can go on forever, but what I enjoyed most was the warm hospitality from our wonderful hosts, Karen and Ron, who made us feel like family and ensured we had a memorable time. Whether it be enjoying each others company while watching a glorious sunset…or sharing stories…or Ron supplying me with treats for my solo walk to the nearby Keii beach…or bringing us delicious coffee one morning while we were enjoying an early morning sunrise…or Karen stopping by to say “Good Morning” with her darling dog Chloe and offering recommendations on places to visit. These heartwarming acts of kindness played a large part in shaping our trip into the wonderful experience that we will cherish forever.

Upon asking Karen what she thinks draws travelers to the Bali Tree Cottage and Kealakekua Bay year after year, she replied,

As to our success with Airbnb, I think the fact that we are here onsite to check people in and help them with any questions really helps.  I don’t know of any other vacation rentals in the bay that have onsite owners.  Also, because of all our great reviews, we are #1 to come up on site!!  We really want to share the Aloha of this Island!

Karen, our wonderful hostessAnd Aloha they did share!
One last photo with Karen before leaving the cottage.  We missed Ron 😦

If staying in an open air, Balinese style cottage experience in beautiful Captain Cook, Hawaii is something that sounds like fun (and it is!), check out this jewel on, and contact Karen and Ron to book your stay!

I guarantee it’ll be an experience you’ll cherish forever!







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