On the recommendation of J's friend Chris, we spent our final days in Hawai'i at Puakea Ranch. Set in the northern tip of the Big Island in paniolo country (that's Hawaiian for cowboy), it's a fully restored, historic ranch - complete with horses, goats, chickens, a friendly pig named Pele (after the Hawaiian volcano goddess), an organic vegetable garden, a swimming hole and a couple of amiable dogs - that just happens to also have stunning views of the Pacific.
Tucked behind a beautiful floral hedge with a swing beckoning enticingly from the lovely old tree out front, the James Cottage was our home away from home (only a million times nicer than our actual home, so).
While signs throughout warned us that the ranch is "rustic" and to temper our expectations accordingly, the accommodations were luxe and I felt very pampered.
I mean, sure, the bathroom was outside (a private courtyard with our own hot tub and ocean views separated the bathroom from our cottage), but with beautiful river rock floors and high-end fixtures (that waterfall shower head was much appreciated after long days of hiking and exploring) it was anything but an outhouse (even if I did find a cute little frog in there one night).
Yes, that is a beautiful orchid plant hanging out on top of the towel rack (and those towels were so nice and fluffy).
Is it weird that I took so many photos of the bathroom? The room itself was also pretty sweet - very comfortable and luxurious, with a canopied bed, loads of natural light and a full, well-stocked kitchen. And everything was so much cleaner than you might think when you hear the word ranch.
Not pictured: the reading nook with overstuffed leather armchair, snuggly blanket and good light.
Every possible need was thought of and taken care of - beach towels and a beach blanket in a basket under the window, facial wipes to remove make-up with in the bathroom, a grill on the porch and a little basket in the kitchen for collecting fresh eggs and produce from the garden.
We used it several times: first for some chard and fresh herbs from the garden directly behind our cottage, and again for just-laid eggs from the coop that was just across the way.
If you didn't feel like venturing into the garden, you could also find treats in the farm stand - a couple of papayas and what turned out to be macadamia nuts when we checked.
But the garden was just so charming, and with so many things ripe for the picking, how could you resist?
The ranch was fairly secluded, and while we were there, only one other cottage was occupied - the aptly named Miles Away, we never ran into them. But it wasn't lonely: there were plenty of animal friends, including one horse who saw us driving out one day and trotted over to poke her nose through the open car window.
And if it ever got too hot out, there was the local swimming hole - named Jay's Pond - to cool down in.
The phrases "swimming hole" and "pond" might conjure up something a little murky or overgrown, but that's definitely not what we found.
With shallow steps leading into the pool and no one else around, it made for the perfect place to enjoy a refreshing beverage and little late afternoon snack (the best: we picked up some poke on our way to the ranch and ate it with crackers).
Like everything else, the height of luxury and peaceful relaxation. We so very much enjoyed our stay, and it was the perfect cap to end a really perfect trip. Mahalo.