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Growing up, my best friend was Hawaiian. Somehow, that made me an expert on the archipelago. I knew about the near-mythical monarch King Kamehameha. I could pronounce the state fish: Humuhumunukunukuapua’a. I had even mastered the Polynesian performance art of “swinging poi balls.” (Go ahead, Google it). To top it off, my favorite film in 1987 was North Shore, starring Nia Peeples and real surfers.Despite my undeniable expertise, the shocking truths, I really didn’t know much. I didn’t know about the island air—a blend of ginger, plumeria, and tuberose, mixed with sea, salt, and sand. I had never tasted a strawberry guava, ripe off the branch and warmed by the sun. Nor had I paddled in a turquoise bay, beside a sea turtle, an eagle ray, or a dolphin. There are few places on earth where one can magically commune with nature, and the Big Island of Hawaii is one. Friends and I settled into the Four Seasons Hualalai, a romantic collection of Polynesian-style bungalows, perched quietly and seamlessly along the Kona coast. An hour in, we high-tailed it to the Spa, an outdoor oasis alive with orchids, butterflies, and fern. I opted for the Hulalai Scrub. My therapist, Dani, custom-blended native herbs, essences, muds, minerals, salts, and oils in the apothecary…and then scrubbed and kneaded my body into soft, silky oblivion. Steamed, Vichyed, and smelling like coconut, we headed Gumby-like to the Beach Tree restaurant, a short hula from the spa. Courtesy of Chef Mastrascusa, we dined like gluttons on the mango gazpacho, organic greens, crispy fish “minutas,” and darkchocolate bon-bons. That night, sliding doors open—waves churning, breeze blowing and crickets chirping—a seaside symphony rocked us to sleep.

Next up, a five-hour hike through Kohala Valley. Adios, bon-bons! Mike Field, our guide and local artist, drove us to the trailhead at Pololu Point, where, he says, “the air is possibly the sweetest and purest on earth” because of its position at the tip-top of the chain. I practiced my yoga-breathing as we marveled at vistas, hiked through switchbacks and into lush valleys. We marooned ourselves on Pololu’s black-sand beach and enjoyed the hike’s harvest, a bounty of strawberry guavas. On the way back, we stopped in charming Hawi, once a booming sugar village. Here we cruised shops, perused island art, and toured the Plantation House, built in 1887, and now a bed and breakfast. Muscles flexed, we lathered in SPF and journeyed by boat to a sleepy emerald cove. I snorkeled to the depths, and ogled rainbow fish, poked sea anemones and swam beside a giant honu (sea turtle)—the most magical moment of the trip. If it weren’t for my frustratingly foggy mask, and the fact that my friend Molly had fallen off and bumped her head on the paddle-board (she’s fine), I might have actually morphed into Daryl Hannah in Splash.

Change of plans. That afternoon, we met friends at Kuki’o Golf Course and had an impromptu lesson with worldclass swing coach Hank Haney. Yes, of Tiger Woods fame. Here’s what I learned: “Head down. Eyes on the ball. Firm grip.” And nope, he didn’t have me intertwine the pinky…just overlap.

The next day, we toured Pearl Harbor and hit the decks of Battleship Missouri, site of the World War II memorial. I saluted my grandfather, an Air Force pilot, and lamented that I hadn’t asked him more questions before he passed.

That night, we dined at sushi spot Sasabune, and toasted our Island adventure. Hawaii is known as a place to drink a Mai Tai, enjoy a nice dinner, and sunbathe. And it is that, but more. It’s wild and authentic, a place where you can explore volcanoes, sacred valleys, the spellbinding mythology of the land…and yourself.

Plan a visit. If you’re lucky you just might return with a more confident swing off the tee, aloha in your soul, and mosquito bites everywhere else.