Our 50th State celebrates Its golden anniversary, yet remains worlds away.
After flying for roughly six hours over thousands of miles of clear-blue ocean, it’s hard to believe that a passport stamp isn’t required to leave the airport. And as this year marks Hawai’i’s 50th anniversary as the 50th state, visitors are welcomed even more graciously with new and improved accommodations and an endless supply of water-filled activities. From standup paddle boarding and outrigger canoes on the Big Island (the newest island) to kayaking the rugged Na Pali Coast on Kauai (the oldest)—there’s no better time to head to paradise.
Close to a dozen self-contained, luxury resorts dot the entire 20-mile stretch north of the airport known as the Kohala Coast. And this year marks the unveiling of two resorts—the Four Seasons Hualalai and the Mauna Kea—which bookmark the southern and northern borders, respectively, and each underwent massive multi-million dollar renovations.
FOUR SEASONS HUALALAI
For everything luxurious (think: six beachside pools offering well-timed poolside Evian spritzers, five ocean-view restaurants and bars on top of world-class golf and tennis), without being stuffy, a stay at the Four Seasons Hualalai means that you probably won’t need a rental car since just about everything is at your fingertips. The property, which opened in 1996 on the very southern edge of the Kohala Coast, just completed an 18-month-long, $40-million dollar enhancement in August—most significantly resulting in 20 new suites and more than doubling the size of the spa to include outdoor treatments.
In addition to extra room for the spa, now there are four open-air couples’ rooms with private plunge pools and outdoor showers and two wet rooms for Vischy showers. The Four Seasons Hualalai also enhanced their menu of treatments to include an Apothecary, where you can custom blend about five of nearly 40 mostly indigenous local products—including black lava salt, Maui turbinado sugar, bamboo jade salt, spirulina and volcanic mud—as well as aromatherapy oils like coconut lemongrass and a juniper/lavender/grapeseed blend for a body scrub or wrap, or both.
EAT + DRINK
After a day at the spa, a few Mai Tais at the open-air, second-story Lava Lounge will hit the spot. That, or take a scenic stroll along the ocean-side path to the lanai at the Residents’ Beach House near the 18th tee box for Maui View Margaritas made with mango, banana and coconut and a surf-and-turf steak and Ahi combo.
After basking poolside for a few days, it might be time to step off property for a change of scenery. Luckily, just a ten-minute walk down the beach is neighboring Kona Village (one of the first resorts on the coast from the ‘60s, back when supplies had to be flown in from the Mainland)—that’s like a hammock-filled, Gilligan Island-inspired version of a luxe resort. The Kona Ocean Adventures activity shack situated on the edge of Kahuwai Bay is your entry to all things water sports. This is the spot to rent kayaks and snorkeling gear, or sign up to go scuba diving or take stand-up paddleboard lessons. Further down the coast by car at the Fairmont Orchid, you can try outrigger canoe, just ask for Umi.
MAUNA KEA HOTEL
About twenty miles north of the Four Seasons Hualalai, the Mauna Kea Beach Hotel, founded by Laurance S. Rockefeller in 1965, was condemned in 2006 following the Kiholo earthquake and celebrated its grand reopening on March of 2009. The $150 million renovation restored this historic landmark to its former glory on what is often considered the Kohala Coast’s best beach. As a result, the bright, balcony-front rooms were upgraded with bathrooms that rival the size of the bedroom, studded with a deep soaking tub, waterfall shower and a lounge chair on the balcony attached to the bathroom.
EAT + DRINK
The indoor-outdoor main restaurant, Manta and Pavilion Wine Bar offers sweeping ocean views for breakfast and dinner. They also host the “Enomatic Wine Experience,” where you can dispense one-ounce pours of 48 wines spanning the globe. Another, slightly more upscale dining option is steps away at Monettes, the Big Island outpost of the Flagstaff House Restaurant in Boulder, Colorado. This is where you’ll find the likes of Golden Osetra caviar and Rougie Farms foie gras as well as cigars to light up in the cellar.
This northernmost resort locale puts you within easy driving distance to Pololu Valley, where you can hike a quick 20-minutes to a black-sand beach. For greener options, Mauna Kea Golf Course offers 36 holes of championship golf, equipped with hybrid Bermuda grass and state-of-the-art irrigation, and most importantly, fairways offering up stunning coastal views.
Moving from the newest island to the oldest, The Big Island’s meandering lava-studded coast gives way to Kauai’s massive cliffs. On the northwest shore of the island known as the Garden Isle, the rugged Na Pali, meaning “the cliffs,” is only accessible via foot, helicopter or boat. And this is an island where you might consider trying all three.
For a small, boutique hotel experience, the Koa Kea, which opened in April and boasts luxurious featherbed-topped beds, is a great pick. But for more of a resort feel, try the freshly renovated Grand Hyatt, which has a new, bigger spa to rub away the inevitable kinks that come along with miles of hiking or, potentially, eight hours of paddling. And with a 6am meeting time in Poipu for the Na Pali Coast Kayak, a stay on the southern part of the island makes the most sense.
If you consider kayaking down the rugged coast a day well spent, you’re in good hands with Outfitters Kauai. Along the drive up to the launch site north of Princeville by the Maniniholo Dry Cave, you’ll have the opportunity to stop for snacks and stock up on post-kayak beverages to store in the van cooler. The tandem kayaks require an element of teamwork and the guides make sure that all skill levels balance each other out so the group stays together throughout the 16-mile paddle. Even thought the end point is nearly in sight from the beginning, expect eight hours of paddling if the winds aren’t with you. Throughout the trip, the tour meanders along the coast and into and out of caves and waterfalls, with a scenic lunch stop on the beach for sandwiches (and if you catch them on a good day, homemade chocolate-chip brownies).
The charm of Kauai is its low-key nature, which also applies to the dining scene. Chains like Roy’s or Keoki’s Paradise and Bamboo Bar and Café (owned by the same group who owns Duke’s) are reliable choices for burgers and stir-fry in Poipu. Further up, en route to Princeville, sushi-lovers flock to Kintaro on the eastern side of the island. Finally, those in the know go for something very island-style casual, namely the Ahi Nori Wrap (with a side of avocado) at Mermaid Café in Kapaa.
The Four Seasons, Hualalai, 72-100 Ka`upulehu Drive, Kailua-Kona, Hawaii, (808) 325-8000, fourseasons.com/hualalai.
Mauna Kea Beach Hotel, 62-100 Mauna Kea Beach Drive, Kohala Coast, Hawaii, (866) 977-4589, princeresortshawaii.com/mauna-kea-beach-hotel.
Kona Ocean Adventures at Kona Village, Queen Ka'ahumanu Highway, Kailua-Kona, Hawaii, (808) 557-5339, konavillage.com.
Ko'a Kea Hotel, 2251 Poipu Rd, Koloa, HI, (808) 742-1344, koakea.com.
Grand Hyatt Kauai Resort and Spa, 1571 Poipu Road, Koloa Kauai, HI, (808) 742-1234, kauai.hyatt.com.
Outfitters Kauai, 2827A Poipu Road, Poipu Beach, Kauai, Hawaii, (888) 742-9887, outfitterskauai.com.
Roy’s, 2360 Kiahuna Plantation Dr, Koloa, HI, (808) 742-5000, roysrestaurant.com.
Keoki’s Paradise, 2360 Kiahuna Plantation Dr., Koloa, HI, (808) 742-7534, keokisparadise.com.
Kintaro, 4-370 Kuhio Hwy, Kapaa, HI, (808) 822-3341
Mermaids Cafe, 4-1384 Kuhio Hwy # B1, Kapaa, HI, (808) 821-2026