Few days to Kohala Coast Hawaii
If you only have a few days to spend on the Big Island of Hawaii, the Kohala Coast is most likely where you’d want to be. Just north of Kona International Airport on the coastal Queen Kaahumanu Highway, it is home to long stretches of pristine white sand beaches, luscious green landscapes and ash-black lava rock caves. From here, you can even see Maui rising at the end of the horizon. The Kohala Coast is close enough to the Big Island’s artsy villages, plunging waterfalls, valley lookout points, black sand beaches and a one-of-a-kind petroglyph preserve that it makes it the perfect place to check in, unpack and unwind in between each sun-kissed adventure. These are just a few reasons why the Kohala Coast has become an enclave for Hawaii’s top-notch beachfront resorts. But don’t expect to have to put up with a pretentious or stuffy ambiance. Even the finest hotels & resorts have adopted the region’s love for laidback luxury. And, according to the Hawaii Tourism Authority, the coast gets less than 22 cm of rain each year. If you’re planning a trip to the Hawaii this year, here are four of the best hotels on the island:
Four Seasons at Hualalai
Sure, most resorts in the area will have amazing ocean views, picture-perfect pools and first-rate service, but only one has an exclusive snorkeling pond carved out of natural lava rock. Four Seasons at Hualalai’s on-site King’s Pond is filled with over 75 different species of tropical fish, including one fearless but friendly spotted eagle ray. This all-natural pond is open to all guests and snorkeling gear is provided at no extra cost. Located closest to the Kona airport, the Four Seasons is a winding collection of two-story bungalows and one-story villa suites, either oceanfront or poolside. All guest rooms have a private lanai to soak in the Pacific and the resort’s stunning green landscaping. On the top floor of the bungalows, the rooms get splendid views and fresh breezes from the ocean; meanwhile the guest rooms on the garden level come with a lava rock-walled outdoor shower. Besides the King’s Pond mentioned above, the hotel offers four additional pools. The main Beach Tree Pool with a wooden deck and crisp white towels and umbrellas, the family Sea Shell facility, an Olympic-sized lap pool near the sports club and an ocean enclave carved out of beachfront property. The adults-only, saltwater Palm Grove Pool offers a swim up bar where playful bartenders serve fresh cocktails, signature mojitos and Mai Tais until sunset.
For dinner, sit at the oceanfront Beach Tree and catch the sunset while browsing over the meticulous menu featuring Mediterranean and California-inspired dishes. Sushi and seafood aficionados should try the tiki torch-lit ULU Ocean Grill with a fancier vibe and the wine list to match. The wonderfully eclectic menu features lobster pad thai, wood oven-roasted miso-glazed kampachi and Dungeness crab fritters dipped in celery-mustard aioli.
For a quick jaunt, head to Makalawena Beach and Manini’owali Beach, both local favorites in the nearby Kekaha Kai State Park. The water at these secluded coves is so crystal-clear you’ll think for an instance you’re swimming in gin.
A short drive north from the Four Seasons is the elegant and contemporary Fairmont Orchid resort. Because it’s all about the first impression, the open-air lobby gives incoming guests an expansive view of the pool, the Pacific Ocean and the rest of the resort grounds shaded by soaring palm trees. Walking around the resort, you’ll be serenaded by trickling waterfalls lining the path. In the afternoon, the green sea turtles swim up to the beach to soak up the radiant sun. Not far from the large pool is an oceanfront lagoon, for your best chance to swim safely in the sea. The aqua-colored locale is protected from the surf by a barrier of black lava rocks, making it the ideal body of water for a sheltered, peaceful swim. You can rent equipment from a nearby beach shack to go snorkeling or stand-up paddle boarding. There is even a floating yoga (flo-yo) session practiced on an anchored paddleboard in the calmness of the ocean. Or spend the day lounging in your private beachside cabana instead. When the sun goes down, get lost in bushes behind the pool where you’ll find a tucked-away heated whirlpool.
The Fairmont just recently renovated the 45 guest rooms on the 6th floor of the North Tower and named it the Gold Floor. This hotel-within-a-hotel concept offers a private reception desk, complimentary breakfast, afternoon hors d’oeuvres (sushi), high tea, valet parking, high-speed Internet and an honor bar with Domaine Carneros Champagne. All the rooms on this Gold Floor have a private lanai and marble bathrooms, and it’s where you’ll find the property’s Presidential Suite.
For a short excursion, next door to the Fairmont is the Puako Petroglyph Archaeological Preserve. The outdoor historic site has thousands of centuries-old carvings etched into the lava rock field. Think of them as native Hawaiian graffiti art.
Mauna Kea Beach Hotel
Fifteen minutes north of the Fairmont Orchid is the Mauna Kea Beach Hotel. Financed by a Rockefeller who believed every great beach deserved a great beach hotel, this resort was once the most expensive ever built. Half a century after it first opened, the recently-redesigned Mauna Kea remains an icon of Hawaiian-luxury meets stylish old-Hollywood influences. The hotel has made its key feature, the Kauna‘oa Beach, even more striking by placing cloud-white umbrellas across the deep beige sand, as bold orange towels cover the padded chaise lounges. And don’t be surprised if on windy days the ocean waves flood inland and reach your chaise lounge to make this truly an oceanfront resort. Poolside, it’s easy to see how the Mauna Kea is still doused with California cool. The sparkling blue pool is lined with palm trees, and sunset orange towels add the perfect balance for an Instagram moment. For more picture-perfect activities, the seaside tennis club offers a brisk pastime surrounded by endless ocean blues.
The property is eight-stories high, and deluxe ocean view rooms on the top floor have a wide-sweeping lanai with views onto the cove-like, sun-kissed beach and the tropical greenery. Inside the expansive white bathroom, past the bathtub and the open shower, there’s a smaller private lanai. Every Tuesday and Friday to give guests a taste of Hawaiian culture, the Mauna Kea hosts a quaint sunset luau near the ocean. Make a reservation for this buffet-style dinner and performances, including steel guitar players, Polynesian dancers and a hunky fire-breather.
Hapuna Beach Prince Hotel
Next door to the Mauna Kea Beach Hotel is sister property Hapuna Beach Prince Hotel, the second phase of Rockefeller’s Big Island fantasy resort. This resort is home to one of the best reasons to visit the Kohala Coast: Hapuna Beach, a natural white sand destination is considered one of the best beaches in all of Hawaii. Fortunately for guests, you can stay at the Hapuna Beach Prince and be just a few bare-footed steps away from all the sand-and-sun glory. Spend the afternoon out by the beach basking underneath a vivid blue umbrella or take a stroll all the way to the public section of Hapuna Beach for some quality people-watching. Towards the evening, head up to the al fresco Coast Grill where you can catch a blood-orange sunset as you enjoy the restaurant’s signature Seafood Trio dish, consisting of grilled Maha Mahi, sautéed ahi and seared Ono with wasabi sweet chili aioli.
The large resort itself, however, has seen better days. Its grandiose presence has lost a little bit of its luster since it opened in 1994. But that’s not necessarily a bad thing depending on the type of luxury you seek. It also has reciprocal resort privileges with the Mauna Kea Beach Hotel such as a shuttle that goes back and forth between the two properties. For a half-day trip, drive north half an hour to Hawi, a charming town with art galleries and handcraft boutiques housed in abandoned sugar plantation buildings. The Bamboo Restaurant and Gallery is a locals’ favorite, serving all things passion fruit, like margaritas, mojitos and martinis. Continue on your adventures around the coast through winding roads, tropical scenery and one-road bridges to literally the end of the road: the Pololu Valley Lookout and its black sand beach.