Monday, February 6, 2023 Feb 6, 2023
53° F Dallas, TX


By D Magazine |

“E alu” means “to relax,” and the Big Island is the perfect refuge in which to do it. You have to. Once the sun sets, so do your entertainment options. As Hank, the Maui cabbie, told us: “If you think Maui’s laid-back, the Big Island’s dead.” We won’t go so far as that, but we do agree that you should leave your dancing shoes at home Go to bed early. The day begins at dawn with golf, deep-sea fishing, windsurfing, snorkeling and scuba diving. And that’s all before lunch.

KONA-The sprawling Kohala coast of the Big Island is, quite simply, a kaleidoscope. A kaleidoscope of terrain, of weather, of people. Within a 20-mile radius, acres of black lava rock transform into West Texas prairie (complete with Kiawe trees). Then the terrain turns into lush, tropical mountains with dramatic waterfalls and fertile valleys. Driving north from Kona, the lone Highway 19 is the only thing that cuts through the expansive lava fields that dominate the area. More than one observer has likened the black, rocky terrain to that of the moon. There are no billboards (or any signs of civilization) in sight save for the messages spelled out in small white rocks along the roadside. Most of the messages are in English. A few are in Hawaiian; we even spotted one in Japanese. It’s graffiti Hawaiian style.

The Kona Village, a tightly secured resort area, is the first stop on the long, flat highway. Here, guests stay in thatched-roof huts. There’re no elevators, no air-conditioning and no outside pressures. The next intersection is 10 miles north. The Sheraton Waikoloa and the town of Waikoloa are here. Kenai Helicopters base their Big Island operation at the helipad at the Sheraton. Their Kohala Coast trip is a spectacular history lesson in 50 minutes. Blasting off with Fly Like An Eagle in the headphones, our pilot winged over the coastline, then plunged deep into the mountain valleys. Whales often appear off the coast. Our pilot attempted to bring us closer to their playground, but the sound of the chopper’s blades frightened them to the deep.

The term “resort destination ” was defined on the Big Island 21 years ago in four words: Mauna Kea Beach Hotel. The MKBH is the house that Rockefeller built on an almost inaccessible strip of the Kohala Coast. At that time, the hotel was only accessible by car or helicopter from Hilo, 70 miles away.

The bay that fronts the property is one reason why the Mauna Kea is featured in the book Dream Resorts. It is a sheltered cove with a magnificent wide beach for body surfing. But the Mauna Kea is also known for its dry-land activities. Rated as one of the “50 Great Tennis Resorts in America” by Tennis Magazine, the MKBH has recently revamped nine tennis courts and added four more (and plans call for a video room to watch your backhand).

The resort also has its own stables in Waimea, 12 miles from the hotel, for guided trail rides over the scenic Parker Ranch uplands. But don’t get too close to a wild boar: There’s year-round game hunting here.

THE BIG ISLAND inspires developers to do very ambitious things: A Japanese businessman followed Rockefeller’s lead two years ago and built another luxury resort on the Kohala Coast. But just building the 350-room Mauna Lai resort was too easy. The master plan was based on an archaeological study done by the Bishop Museum, and it was then carved out of the ancient Mauna Loa lava fields. What nature hadn’t provided for, Noboru Gotoh did. The man-made beach is glistening white against the aqua waves, and an amazing 92 percent of all the resort’s rooms are on the ocean or have a view of it.

Oriental touches abound in the spacious Mauna Lani, and sacred fish ponds have been preserved and incorporated into the resort’s design. The hotel’s Third Floor is of the same high quality as its sister restaurant in Waikiki. Like the Mauna Kea, it offers exceptional tennis facilities and outdoor excursions.

AND YET ANOTHER developer is scheduled to break lava in mid-1985 when Honolulu’s Christopher Hemmeter moves to the Waikoloa Resort in Kohala with a 1,260-room luxury Hyatt Regency. The Waikoloa Resort is the largest master-planned resort community in Hawaii-and, with the addition of the Hyatt, the most grandiose. Plans for the resort hotel call for, among other things, a mile-long water transportation system, with guests being ferried to their rooms in gondolas. (An interesting note: The Bass Brothers of Fort Worth are also among the investors in the $360 million project.) With all this development on the coast, locals are beginning to refer to it as “The Kohala Gold Coast.”