Islands Travel & Hotels

Hawaii’s Kohala Coast Treasures Better Than Gold

Waikoloa Beach Marriott Resort, Lanai at Sunset

These have been difficult financial times for many with a challenging economic environment that has significantly affected and touched each of us. No, I’m not going to tell you I stumbled onto buried pirate booty on this trip. But I did find hidden treasures better than gold. In these stressful times we all have a tendency to return to the basic core elements of life for comfort, rejuvenation and peace of mind. In this landscape, we sustain ourselves by returning to our roots and the more meaningful and basic elements of living. These elements include a deeper appreciation for an authentic connection to our past, our collective culture and the natural beauty of this planet.

Kohala Coast Map

There is no better place to revitalize your life rhythm and rejuvenate your body and soul than Hawaii’s sun drenched (an average of 355 days of sunshine per year) Kohala Coast …the “Gold Coast.” It is a 20 mile stretch of coastal paradise on the Big Island of Hawaii and home to eight luxury hotels and four master planned resort communities. This is the “Big Island”…the youngest fiery island with active lava flowing daily into the Pacific Ocean…white and black sandy beaches…some perfectly idyllic crescents of sand with palm trees rustling over the bay and others with a mix of the soft sea and black lava forming tidal pools that give the word “tranquility” renewed meaning.

By blending the Kohala Coast’s culturally rich historic past with the conveniences and comforts of the modern world, the resorts have created a unique “sense of place.” You’ll find historic sites intermingled with beachside golf courses, hotels enhanced by the beauty of restored ancient fishponds, and walking paths once trod by the ancients. Many of the resorts have carefully incorporated new construction with sacred ancestral sites. This effort creates a feeling of harmony and peacefulness as the traveler senses the past while being in the present. It “centers” us as we take our place in this vast continuum of life.

The “Big Island” is a mixture of all of the best that real Hawaii offers. It is twice the size of all of the other Hawaiian Islands combined and offers double the variety of vacation experiences. In a short sampling of the extraordinary options that are the soul of this 4,000 square mile Island Paradise, you can:
• Helicopter into the center of a live volcano spewing lava and fire
• Snorkel and swim in the ocean with a pod of wild dolphins
• Take a luxurious black lava sauna or Watsu pool spa treatment
• Swim and body surf on white sandy beaches
• Wind-surf, canoe, ocean kayak or surf
• Dive off some of the best beaches and clearest water in the world
• Partake in a private and spiritual Lava Rock ceremony
• Go Zip-Lining through the stunningly beautiful tropical Albizia forest and waterfalls
• Join Danny Akaka, The Mauna Lani Bay Hotel & Bungalows Director of Cultural Affairs for a tour of the ancestral grounds and an introduction to its rich history
• Simply read a book stretched out on the white sands on pristine beaches
• Golf on world class seaside golf courses
• Be pampered in luxury at some of the leading resorts in the world and the list of experiences to be enjoyed is truly endless.

The enjoyment of Hawaii comes not only from the idyllic beauty but also something deeper; something harder to explain. A trip to the Big Island more than any other Hawaiian island, allows you to connect in a meaningful way with Hawaii’s spiritual heritage. Its history is compelling and will capture your imagination if you are open to it. No, I’m not suggesting you need a good textbook. I am saying that the opportunity for a deeper experience and connection to the island cultural heritage is waiting for you.

The cornerstone of Hawaiian history can be found on the Big Island of Hawaii and its Kohala Coast, The Gold Coast, as King Kamehameha the Great was born here in 1758. This King went on to unite the islands of Hawaii under his rule until he died in 1819. The island is significant as the landing spot for the earliest voyagers from Polynesia who claimed Hawaii for their own.

Like the difference between a ripe home grown tomato picked fresh out of your garden in August and a grocery store tomato in the dead of winter, Hawaii is deep and rich and diverse and full of flavor. You have a more authentic vacation and rejuvenate your physical well being and replenish your soul in a: REJUVECATION

Big Island Hawaiian for vacation and rejuvenation

The Big Island of Hawaii is a “sleeper” island since many Hawaiian visitors have not set foot here … instead venturing to Oahu and Maui….never knowing what they have missed. Those who have experienced it are intensely loyal and return again and again. Big Island residents and visitors include many notable personalities such as Kelsey Grammer, Cher, Meghan Fox, Bryan Austin Green, John Travolta , Leonardo Di Caprio, Wayne Newton, Robert Mondavi to name just a few. The list is long and these are only a few of the celebs who either have homes here or visit on a regular basis. These people can go anywhere in the world they choose, yet they “love love love” the Big Island. It speaks volumes about the special beauty and soul of this unique island paradise.

My exploration of the Gold Coast started with my introduction to Captain Mike Heinecke of Ribcraft Adventures in Hualalai on Kahuwai Bay. Captain Mike is a seasoned veteran of the Kohala Coast waters. He is officially a Alaka’ I Nalu which means “Waterman of the Kona Village and Hualala, Leader of the Waves and Hualalai Ocean Ambassador.” Ask him anything about these waters and he will tell you all! Captain Mike is an outstanding teacher and guide to the ocean. His knowledge runs as deep as the coastal currents.

This water adventure company can introduce you to the best of island water activities whether it be stand-up paddle boarding (the latest craze), kayaking, canoeing, wind surfing, deep sea diving, surfing, snorkeling with dolphins, diving with phosphorescent Manta Rays at night in Eel Cove, whale watching or searching for the holy grail of these waters…the Whale Shark. All is possible with Capt. Mike at the helm.

It was my lucky day as the pods of spinner dolphins were present in the bay and so my choice was an easy one….snorkeling with a herd of live spinner dolphins. Captain Mike successfully located a large pod of 300 to 400 spinner dolphins about a mile off the coastline. I eagerly donned my snorkeling gear and into the clear tropical blue waters I plunged. I encountered the most amazing and awe inspiring families of dolphins swimming within an arm’s distance….moms and their little babies, big adults and dolphins of all shapes and sizes cutting effortlessly through the clear waters. Once again I was given the rarest gift; to feel connected to an event greatly beyond myself. I felt it was a life affirming experience. It was that “centering” thing again where I was just a part of the planet’s continuum.

Four Seasons Resort Hualalai King’s Pond

From the electrifying dolphin swim my next stop was a tour of The Four Seasons Resort Hualalai and its infamous King’s Pond and a little lunch. The Four Seasons is a world class resort with a picture perfect setting in Hualalai with a timeless tropical beauty and warm island hospitality.
A recent $40,000,000 enhancement with new suites, a new restaurant and lovely finishing touches throughout the guest rooms and public space proves again why The Four Seasons was recently voted by Travel and Leisure Magazine as the #1 hotel in Hawaii and the #1 hotel spa in Hawaii. It is the Island’s first and only AAA Five Diamond and Forbes Five Star hotel.

Once you arrive on the property you are overwhelmed with the sincere hospitality and attentiveness from the staff. You immediately receive a refreshment pick me-up with a cold wash cloth for your face, mai-tai in a coconut cup and a skewer of fresh pineapple to refresh your palate and spirit. It’s a delightful way to simply say hello and welcome to Hawaii…Aloha. In your room you will find locally bottled water, an abundance of fresh fruits and an assortment of locally grown flowers. You receive a traditional ti-leaf amenity called a pu’olo, which is still used to wrap treasured ho’okupu, or gifts, offered as an expression of aloha to honored friends.

The word Aloha itself is the essence of Hawaii. In Hawaiian ALO means “space” or being in one’s space and HA is a connection and presence of spirit…so ALOHA means be in one’s presence…presence of Spirit or Force of nature.

The resort’s mantra is authenticity and its focus reflects a sense of culture, wellness and essential hospitality. You instantly feel at home in this stunning seaside tropical setting as seen from the room above.

Four Seasons Resort Hualalai Spa

One of the features of the Resort is the King’s Pond, a two million gallon lava rock aquarium inspired by historic anchialine fish ponds. The ancient fish ponds were part of the retreats and sanctuaries for the Royal Families, the Ancients, Kings and Chieftains alike. It is estimated that the ponds were created about 250 BC and used to raise fish to supplement fishing efforts. By incorporating sluice gates, the ponds had a continuous supply of fresh seawater. Over the centuries, the culture developed its spiritual and religious traditions around the relationship to the land and water. A spiritual magnetism for rest and relaxation was the cornerstone in the past and just as true today. As I walked around, I again felt connected in time and place to a culture I was experiencing for the first time.

The animals and fish found in these waters are found no other place in the world due to the unique habitat of the Kohala Coast. Preservation of the natural resources, unique wildlife and habitat is so important that Hualalai Resorts and the KIaupuleahu Historic District have their own Steward of the Living Aquatic Environment, Mr. David Chai as natural resource director.

Every tide pool, reef structure, lava field, flower bloom, plant life, coral reef, sandy beach, lava beach, ancient fishing pond and the wild life within is monitored closely by David and his team. There are four miles of Marine Preserve for which he is responsible and the end result is impressive with perfectly preserved beaches, enhanced native flora and fauna and even animals once nearly extinct brought back into these waters. Coral maintenance, water quality, monitoring marine abundance, managing and measuring the richness and diversity of marine life, preserving and making habitat healthier are just some of his duties. Nowhere is the local environment honored or respected more than along the Kohala Coast. It is a virtual scientific laboratory of marine exploration and preservation as well as an educational opportunity for the lucky visitor.

The Four Seasons’ emphasis on sustainability and local preservation for the marine environment has had an extended impact on other aspects of the resort. The philosophy carries into their food service operations. The resort offers a strong variety of restaurants and I sampled a lunch at the new Beach Tree Restaurant where I found this new trend very evident. The preparation and cuisine was casual yet elegant. I enjoyed a perfectly prepared locally caught grilled Opah with a light and healthy edamame corn tomato salsa fresca served on a bed of fresh locally grown field greens.

The recently opened Beach Tree Restaurant and Bar captures the pulse of the resort with its outdoor lounge and expansive deck and casual elegance. Boutique wines and imaginative cuisine against the fabulous ocean backdrop create an exquisite dining experience.

Waikoloa Beach Marriott Resort Guest Room

An Island Standard “Waikoloa Beach Marriott Resort & Dolphin Quest”
My Kohala Coast tour continued at the Waikoloa Beach Marriott which was hosted by Peter Thoene, Director of Marketing and one of the most charming and accommodating ambassadors of island hospitality. While the Kona Village featured its signature thatched bungalows and the Four Seasons emanated world class comfort and luxury, the Marriott Waikoloa Beach exuded a very homey and comfortable family feel. It was a nice mix of old and new as it is proximate to the Waikoloa shopping center and also features two of the finest golf courses on the Big Island.

Nestled into its beautiful natural surroundings, the Marriott resort faces Anaeho’omalu Bay Beach and its ancient fish ponds. This resort hotel features many authentic elements of old and new Hawaii such as the Big Island’s most popular Luau. The Royal Lu’au is a traditional festivity as guests gather at sunset and are treated to classical Polynesian entertainment featuring live music, traditional dances of the South Pacific and a banquet feast of epic proportions. Contemporary fare, classic Hawaiian selections and an open bar make this event an essential. A signature performance is the Samoan fire dance that is always a crowd pleaser. But many songs and dances, including authentic Hula, trace their origins to Tahiti, New Zealand and Samoa.

Lava is a central theme and deeply embedded into the culture of the Big Island and nowhere is this more evident than at the Marriott. The site itself features the ancient fish ponds carved into the lava foundation, which sit behind the guest swimming pool in the above picture.

Lava is also the main focus in a private Lava Rock Garden Ceremony led by Keikilani Curnan (Keiki), kumu hula instructor and resident “Steward of the Stones”. The hotel receives boxes of lava rock and sand that visitors have taken home as souvenirs. It is considered bad luck to take a rock or pebble of the island’s soul and a surprising number of items get returned. Keiki leads a ceremony to properly return these rocks to their island home. Permission is asked to place the lava rocks into the Hoaka Ho’omalu (protecting crescent), a large lava outcrop surrounded by native plants on the resort grounds.

Keiki performs cultural chants and songs to ask permission from Pele, the Goddess of Fire, and other native Gods and Goddesses to permit the stones to be reunited. The Big island core and soul is said to emanate from the lava at Mauna Kea and the other volcanoes as it is the Fire Island creation and the rocks are its children. As the ceremony ended, there was a feeling of peace and harmony as if all things were returned to their rightful places.
My next mission was to experience the world famous Dolphin Quest Encounter located in the heart of Hilton Waikoloa Village. While my earlier encounter with dolphins was snorkeling with them in the open ocean waters of the Kohala Coast, this version was in a large man made pool on the hotel grounds.

This venture allowed me to interact with ten resident Atlantic Bottlenose dolphins including the world renown, 26 year old Pele, named after the Hawaiian Goddess of Fire. Goddess Pele is said to reside in the Halemaumau crater at Hawaii’s Volcanoes National Park. Dolphin Quest invites you to join the dolphins in the lagoon for a play date where you can touch and interact with them. The dolphins are amazing. I highly recommend this shallow water interactive dolphin encounter for visitors of all ages.

Mauna Kea Beach Hotel Room

The Timeless Trailblazer “Mauna Kea Beach Hotel”
“Every great beach deserves a great hotel.” This was said by Laurance S. Rockefeller, who founded The Mauna Kea Beach Hotel in 1965. He knew the great beach at Kauna’oa also deserved spectacular golf and exceptional dining to accompany the most exclusive and expensive resort of its day. Four decades later, following a $150 million renovation, The Mauna Kea once again stands as a landmark of luxury on the Big Island’s golden Kohala Coast.

This was the resort, along with the Kona Village resort, that set the stage for the evolution of the Kohala Gold Coast.. In 1960 Hawaii’s Governor William Quinn saw a century old sugar cane economy fading and invited Laurance S. Rockefeller to scout the Big Island beachfront sites for resort potential and Mauna Kea Beach Hotel was the result.

In the hospitality world, the Mauna Kea has long exemplified the standard of luxury for Hawaii. It has graciously appointed guestrooms that artfully showcase Mr. Rockefeller’s signature “understated elegance” in a graceful fusion of modern features and fabulous style. With a timeless tradition of aloha, The Mauna Kea Beach Hotel has welcomed generations of guests to come and be inspired by the Big Island of Hawaii both past and present. Today’s guests are enchanted by the warm days, trade winds, azure blue sea and the perfect crescent shaped white sandy beach below the historic resort.

The Historic Mauna Kea Beach Hotel
My visit to the Mauna Kea began at one of Hawaii’s finest tennis facilities, the Seaside Tennis Club at Mauna Kea. There are eleven tennis courts carved out of an oceanfront lava flow with spectacular views of the ocean below. After an exhilarating (read: exhausting) round of tennis I took a refreshing dip in the ocean on the infamous Mauna Kea (also known as) Kauna’oa Beach…and it was invigorating. The Kauna’oa Beach is a near-perfect slice of powdery sand that leads to warm, azure waters all framed by graceful palms. The setting is stunning and it’s no surprise that Kauna’oa (pronounced cow na-oh ah) is arguably the island’s most picturesque beach.

Later that day, I attended the general manager’s hosted evening reception at the Manta & Pavilion Wine Bar. The wine bar has an innovative wine program and the GM reception was well attended. I enjoyed meeting Robert Mondavi and his wife who were in attendance as they have a residence nearby and often frequent Mauna Kea.

Chef Gomes – Mauna Kea Beach Hotel

The Manta Restaurant features the best in Hawaiian Regional Cuisine and is well known for its cuisine and wine pairing. Under the direction of the highly acclaimed Executive Chef George Gomes Jr., dinner at Manta is a special occasion every night of the week. Its dynamic new exhibition kitchen is the showcase of Chef Gomes artistry.

I enjoyed an outstanding dinner at Mantas with the Director of Sales Lani Cool and was treated to Chef Gomes unique presentations. The trio of featured selections was: a BBQ White Tuna (grilled albacore) with Secret Sauce, Crisp Cabbage Slaw and Umeboshi; followed by Roasted Organic Baby Beets with Creamy Goat Cheese Ranch, Spicy Walnuts and Baby Herb Salad; and last but not least an amazing Herb Grilled Wild Hawaiian Nairagi served with Seared Foie gras, Tomato candy, cabernet Sauce and Yazu Marmalad. This trio with its absolutely superb flavor and presentation made for a very memorable meal.

Danny Akaka, The Mauna Lani Bay Hotel & Bungalows Director of Cultural Affairs

The Mauna Lani Bay Hotel & Bungalows Cultural Historian Danny Akaka
After having an abundance of remarkable adventures on the Kohala Coast, there was one more memorable experience waiting for me… traveling to The Mauna Lani Bay Hotel & Bungalows and spending time with one of the Island’s beacons of prophecy and culture, steward of history and overall high priest of the Kohala Coast…Mr. Danny Akaka.

I am not alone in this opinion. When Hawaiian Airlines began service on November 17, 2010 with the inaugural flight to Tokyo’s Haneda Airport, the airlines requested the VIP presence of Danny Akaka. They wanted a blessing ceremony for the flight and for him to provide the deep spiritual meaning and support to their new venture.

I had the good fortune to spend the better part of an afternoon in the presence of this local prophet, wise man, historian and overall steward of the local spirit. I listened with intensity as he began to weave the cultural fabric of Hawaii with its history, spirit and ancestry. I was absolutely entranced as the stories gave me an appreciation of the soul of this Island and the sacred sites we strolled through. His business card says Director of Cultural Affairs, but his insight extends beyond his mere business title.

The beautiful 3,200 acre grounds and The Mauna Lani Bay Hotel & Bungalows opened in 1983 and among its earliest workforce was a young gardener by the name of Danny Akaka. Before long, The Mauna Lani Bay Hotel & Bungalows realized it had a real gem in Danny. His Degree in Hawaiian Studies helped prepare him but it was his sense of spirit and appreciation of history that led to his position evolving into what it is today.
He is well versed on all aspects of the island life. Hawaii has 11 of the 13 world climates from the high desert, tropical beaches and forests to the nearly 14,000 foot high snow capped peaks at Mauna Loa or Mauna Kea. This results in a powerful diversity of land and spirit that he captures eloquently in his many tales from the past and explanation of the present. The island itself is a blend of ancient and modern elements of life and Danny has a special perspective on it all. Danny is the keeper of local history; its legacy and legend.

The island word for reverence and respect is Hoano and all who greet Danny are overflowing with Hoano. On your visit to the Big Island you must make your way to The Mauna Lani Bay Hotel & Bungalows and track down some wisdom from the local prophet and steward of history. If you should be so lucky as to arrive on the Saturday closest to the full moon you must go to his “talk story.” This is the monthly cultural event led by Danny and it is steeped in culture and lore of the spirit and songs of the Big Islands and the Gold Kohala Coast. It is a special event you will always remember.
The Fairmont Orchid Hawaii

After my time with Danny Akaka strolling the Mauna Lani Fish ponds and learning of the deep spirit of  The Big Island, I ended my Kohala Coast tour with one final lava rock and roll moment. I enjoyed a refreshing Hot Stone Massage at The Fairmont Orchid, Hawaii. This luxuriating treatment in the world famous spa featured warmed lava stones and balancing aromatherapy oils that brought the energy of the Kohala Coast’s earth spirit to this unique massage. My sense of rejuvecation was now complete and my entire body was awakened and relaxed.

As all vacations must come to an end, it was with renewed energy that I returned to my life. I felt rich in a way that I could not have imagined. I have great memories that will carry me through until I visit again.

Written by Greg Nilan

Waikoloa Beach Marriott Resort & Spa

Mauna Kea Resort

Four Seasons Resort


Mauna Lani Bay Hotel

The Fairmont Orchid

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