KALAHUIPUA’A, KOHALA COAST, HAWAII, June 4, 2014 – The Mauna Lani Bay Hotel and Bungalows is a space age tropical dream in a stunning ocean side oasis. It sits like a gleaming white edifice on a sweeping peninsula of land surrounded by one of the most glorious stretches of the Kohala Coast. With world class dining, an impeccable location, and brilliant architecture, it becomes a destination unto itself in the search for the ultimate intimate Hawaiian getaway.
Now celebrating its 31st anniversary, the Mauna Lani was built in 1983 on sacred grounds reserved for the Hawaiian alii. It is surrounded by a string of ancient fish ponds that were the feeding grounds of native Hawaiians for hundreds of years.
This exquisite seaside area, known as Kalahuipua’a, was passed from descendants of John Parker of the famed Parker Ranch to a descendant of Hawaiian royalty, Francis H. I’i Brown. Brown oversaw the preservation and restoration of these remarkable, unique and still functional fishponds and the surrounding lands.
The hotel itself is an architectural marvel. Enter through gleaming koi ponds filled with a ravenously orange parade of dancing koi fish. A sweeping 7 story open air atrium filled with massive tropical plantings and a meandering stream extends the full length of the hotel.
At ocean side a flying wing of 84 rooms rises like a giant arrowhead shaped obelisk with 180 degree views of the ocean and the Kohala Coast around it. The visual effect is mesmerizing.
The Deluxe Ocean Front rooms on the 5th and 6th floor all have awesome balconies with ridiculously amazing views of the Pacific. Elegantly furnished, these 84 ocean front rooms are without question the best places to stay in the hotel itself. Private ocean side bungalows, with their own pools overlooking a golf fairway, provide spacious ultra-luxurious accommodations for the well-heeled.
The ocean front is a soft curving beach on a point of land on Mauna Lani Bay lined with hammocks swung between palm trees. It is an idyllic moment in paradise, swaying to the breeze while suspended yards from the Pacific Ocean.
Sunrise and twilight are truly magical. Much time is spent simply gazing from the balcony at the beauty all around, punctuated by pounding ocean waves as palm trees rustle in silhouette below.
Two spectacular 18-hole championship golf courses make the Mauna Lani a golfer’s delight. The iconic 15th hole on the South Course is a renowned open ocean of fairway between tee-off and green. A superb clubhouse restaurant, Huli Sue’s, is a great place for a casual lunch.
Dinner at the ocean side Canoe House is a revelation of fine dining and haute cuisine under the steady and very original hand of Chef de Cuisine Allen Hess. Colossal shrimp on a bed of crunchy refried taro, mochi, and mexican kim chi is brilliant, innovative and delicious. Goat taco on pressed manapua buns with daikon salsa is simply exquisite, a completely original signature dish combining a local Filipino staple with a kind of kalua goat barbecue.
Seared Ono is almost an Ono sashimi, and a fabulous grilled Kampachi explodes with delicate flavors. Working alongside Executive Chef Clayton Arakawa, Chef Hess has taken Hawaiian Regional Cuisine to new heights, creating a genuinely outstanding destination restaurant that is defiantly innovative. A true gem.
A wonderful surprise is the appearance of Grammy award winning guitarist Charles Brotman performing Hawaiian slack key guitar throughout dinner, as he does every weekend. The founder of legendary Palm Records, and an internationally recognized musician and producer, Charles is frequently referred to as the Eric Clapton of the slack key guitar.
The Bay Terrace is a lovely outdoor space for breakfast, but also gives the Canoe House a run for its money at dinner, specializing in sushi and seafood. Uni sashimi and Kona clams are delightful, Waimea skirt steak is fantastic, and fresh caught lobster in a black bean sauce is an especially amazing taste sensation.
A combo performs Hawaiian music on the grass nearby while Michelle Kaulu Amaral dances an intricate authentic hula. The sky is ablaze with a million stars. Breathe in the night air of paradise and embrace the dream that is Kalahuipua’a.
Joel Berliner is a travel writer based in Los Angeles.
All photos by Alison Reynolds