While touring the youngest of hawaii’s eight main islands, I sometimes felt as if I were on another planet. That certainly was the case when hot volcanic smog from one of the world’s most active volcanos brushed against my face—and even more so when I peered inside. Known as The Big Island, Hawai’i offers diverse natural features, from lava-carved tunnels in the middle of a rainforest to snow-capped mountains. But what truly sets it apart is its black lava terrain and black-sand beaches.
All told, Hawai’i covers about 4,000 square miles—less than half the size of Dallas-Fort Worth. Even if you’re staying at the most lavish of resorts (my friend and I bunked at the Four Seasons Resort Hualalai), you’ll want to make time to go exploring. We did so in a soft-top, bright-yellow Jeep Wrangler, which added to the sense of adventure. Although it is a bit shorter to cut across the island, taking the scenic route along the water is the only way to go. Be sure to stop on the Kona Coast for whale watching and coffee, check out the farmer’s markets in Hilo, and visit Hawai’i Volcanoes National Park. You’ll also want to make time to stargaze at the sacred Mauna Kea summit.
Tracey Doi’s Travel Tips
Tracey Doi and her husband were rerouted to Hawai’i for their honeymoon after a hurricane hit one of the other islands; they’ve made regular visits there ever since. While life can sometimes get hectic for Toyota’s chief financial officer, the Kohala Coast is the perfect place to slow down and relax, Doi says. Her husband is an avid golfer and frequents Mauna Kea, Mauna Lani, and Hapuna; his favorite is Hualalai in Kailua. Doi enjoys the island fare, including fresh poke at Umekes, garlic furikake chicken at Broke da Mouth, and assorted rice balls at The Feeding Leaf. But the best discoveries are found beneath the surface, she says. “If you love snorkeling, ask the locals for the best places to go,” Doi advises. “We have seen schools of yellow tang, parrotfish, peacock bass, butterflyfish, and a couple of friendly turtles. The colorful coral, sea urchins, and variety of fish are stunning. It is a whole other world.”
Surrounded by palms, giant ferns, and red and yellow hibiscus, the Four Seasons Resort Hualalai sits on 865 acres and includes a half-mile-long secluded beach. The recently renovated property exudes the kind of luxury for which the brand is known; fresh tropical juice and an Oshibori towel offered at check-in give a hint of what’s in store. Amenities include a gym with outdoor equipment and a lap pool, garden spa, and perks like complimentary frozen grapes by any of the seven pools.
Golfers will want to make time for the 18-hole, Jack Nicklaus-designed Hualalai course. Play starts in a lush oasis and meanders across bright-green fairways set against black lava then heads to the ocean for the final holes.
The resort is also known for its signature saltwater aquarium pool, a snorkeling pond that’s home to more than 4,000 fish and Kainalu, a 17-year-old eagle ray that survived a tsunami that filled the pond with sand. Other activities abound, from weaving classes and triathlon training to a blacksmithing experience on a secluded coffee farm. In between it all, you’ll want to take some time for a relaxing ocean swim, where you may encounter a giant sea turtle.
At the Four Seasons Resort Hualalai, you’ll also enjoy delectable food. My favorite was the beachfront ‘Ulu Ocean Grill, where I enjoyed a scallop carpaccio and Kona Abalone Rockefeller, an exquisite dish with pork guanciale, spinach, and a fennel-pollen crust. Other dining options include Beach Tree Bar and Lounge (Californian with Italian influence), Hualalai Grille (American steakhouse), and ‘Ulu Sushi Lounge, which features fresh, local fish.
Before heading back to the mainland, I island-hopped and spent some time at the Hyatt Regency Resort and Spa on Maui. If you have a chance to go, be sure to experience the rooftop sky-gazing and book a snorkeling tour with nonprofit PacWhale Eco-Adventures.