KAILUA-KONA, HAWAII, Sept.9, 2014 — The Royal Kona Resort dominates the landscape of Old Kona, situated beautifully on a rocky point of land at the very tip of Kailua Bay. A landmark in Kona since the 1970s, it was completely renovated in 2010.
Retaining its Diamond Head like visage, its fabulous views and location, the Royal Kona is a wonderful place to stay. Vibrant and centrally located, it has a thriving night life and an enchanted atmosphere.
It’s also surprisingly affordable, a stellar destination at the center of it all, yet far less expensive than the more remote resorts up the Kohala Coast.
Feel the essence of being in another place and time. This is the Hawaii of anyone’s dreams, a classic hotel with a Mad Men retro chic patina and an almost Ian Schrager type sensibility.
The lobby and the main bar area, Don’s Mai Tai Bar, is an open air architectural masterwork. The entire front end of the lower floor of the Alii Tower is exposed under 25 foot colonnades as the building comes to a rounded point over the pounding surf and rocky shoreline. It is truly magical.
The rooms in the Alii Tower have picture perfect views that sweep across Kailua Bay. They are comfortable, sleek, and very well appointed. A balcony overlooks the rocks, a glistening Pacific Ocean, and a panoramic vista of the Kona waterfront.
Beyond the perfectly shaped crescent bay lies the whole town of Kailua-Kona, giving way to the rising hills and rich volcanic slopes of Mt. Hualalai. Two other hotel towers, the Bay Tower and the Lagoon Tower, are spread out across the manicured tropical grounds of the 5 acre waterfront property.
The ocean side Don’s Mai Tai Bar is a steady stream of friendly hotel guests and local residents as the afternoons lead up to the usually spectacular Kona sunsets. The activity and palpable sense of time and location becomes a shared communal experience.
People ring the entire perimeter of the ellipse of tables overlooking the Pacific, each evening’s spectacle being a uniquely social and literally heavenly moment. Then it is over, and the crowd hangs out with casual splendor, dusk turning to amber glow as the local band plays on.
The principle restaurant, Don the Beachcomber’s, is a long time stalwart in Kona, with an impeccable location overlooking the rocks, the surf, and Kailua Bay. The interior has a soaring roofline in an impressive Polynesian space, but the real appeal is the seaside dining under flaming Tiki torches.
Tsunami prawns, fresh sashimi and seared ahi are a trio of tasty appetizers. Fresh caught Ono in a mango/papaya chutney is tender and delicious, and no one can go wrong with locally sourced Waimea filet mignon, broiled to perfection.
After dinner an outdoor wedding reception on an adjoining terrace provides an unexpected entertainment of fire dancers performing to a pulsing drum beat. Weddings are a regular occasion at the Royal Kona, with receptions held frequently on the terrace of the Bay Tower, and it is clear to see why.
A nightly luau is also held on a sprawling lawn at the base of the Lagoon Tower. A whole array of hula dancers and brilliantly performed Hawaiian music takes even something as touristy as a luau and makes it special.
The Royal Kona Resort is situated within walking distance of multiple historic and important locations that are at the heart of Kona and old Hawaii. The most important of these is Hulihee Palace, the Royal retreat of the Hawaiian monarchy whenever they were in Kona.
King Kamehameha III, who was born in nearby Keauhou, and King Kalakaua, the Merry Monarch who famously entertained Mark Twain, were frequent residents during their reign.
Built in 1838 by the Royal Governor of Kona, John Kuakini, Hulihee Palace is a remarkable example of the grandeur and cross-cultural sophistication of Old Hawaii.
Just across Alii Drive is the Mokuaikaua Church, the oldest Christian church in Hawaii, built by Governor Kuakini and the original missionaries in 1837 from lava rock and wood. The legacy of the Protestant missionaries set the stage for much of modern Hawaiian history. Mokuaikaua Church is the starting point for that massive evolution from traditional culture to European assimilation.
The inside of the church is stunning and unique, giant dark wooden beams suspending a cathedral like interior with a wrap-around balcony. It remains an active congregation and the spiritual and historical center of Old Kona.
Several hundred yards across Kailua Bay is the original site of the compound where Kamehameha the Great ruled the islands for the last 10 years of his life. A replica of his hale, or thatched house, stands on the grounds.
Down Alii Drive between Kona and Keauhou are numerous beaches and historical sites, including the birthplace of Kamehameha III. Just beyond Keauhou are the local towns of Kealekekua and Captain Cook, and the coffee growing region of Honaunau.
In the midst of all this is the Royal Kona Resort experience. Enjoy its unmatchable location, explore the inner reaches of Kailua-Kona, and embrace the legacy and casual beauty at the very heart of old Hawaii.
Rooms can be found online for as little as $125 a night.
Joel Berliner is a travel writer based in Los Angeles
All photos by Alison Reynolds
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