Mauna Kea Beach Hotel
This legendary luxury hotel makes its home on the sunny Kohala Coast.
For many visitors to Hawaii, the hotel experience is often used as a base camp for days spent discovering lush, tropical locales. But at Mauna Kea Beach Hotel on Hawaii's Big Island, you'll never want — or need — to leave the grounds. That's because everything that makes Hawaii so appealing, from striking natural beauty to warm Aloha spirit, can be found right on the property. Guests can snorkel just off a secluded white sand beach, view manta rays in their natural environment, play a round of golf in an oceanfront setting or explore one of the world's largest private collections of island art ... then top it all off with sunset Mai Tais at the Copper Bar.
Named for nearby "White Mountain," this tastefully lavish hotel opened in July 1965 and has been renovated over time. While it's relatively young compared to many of America's grand hotels, it is undeniably historic. It was the vision of philanthropist and conservationist Laurance S. Rockefeller, who saw the potential of a rugged patch of black lava in an inaccessible area during a time when the Big Island was not a thriving tourist destination. Not only was he determined to respect the natural terrain, he hired a historian to ensure that the project did not destroy any sacred or archaeologically significant sites. His revolutionary approach blended the resort into the landscape rather than reshaping the landscape to suit the resort's needs. Not only does his legacy of respect for the spirit and culture of the islands live on at the Mauna Kea, its effects can be felt at resorts throughout Hawaii.
The Mauna Kea has been fully restored to emphasize its original blend of mid-century modern Western and subtle Eastern elements — the design drew on the work of Frank Lloyd Wright and Japanese shibumi-style structures. The property is infused with a mesmerizing spirituality, which can be credited in part to the natural setting and in part to the magnificent décor. The hotel houses approximately 1,600 pieces of museum-quality art and artifacts from India, Southeast Asia, China, Japan, Melanesia and Polynesia. Because the majority are not encased, they lend the feeling of being in a very tastefully appointed estate. As you wander the grounds (or take a tour), you may encounter a 7th-century granite Buddha, or notice a bronze ceremonial drum being used as an occasional table. Hallways serve as galleries, as you'll discover on the 5th, 6th and 7th-floor corridors, with their displays of hand-beaten tapa cloth textiles and Hawaiian quilt collection specially commissioned by Rockefeller.
When it comes to recreation, you'll find that the Mauna Kea is as skilled at indulging the body as it is at nurturing the spirit. The beachfront lawn hosts morning yoga, while Kauna'oa Bay invites guests to swim, snorkel, scuba dive, sail, paddleboard and kayak; you can even head out for a day of whale watching (seasonal) or deep sea fishing. There is a 2,500 square-foot fitness center with 43 Life Fitness exercise machines, as well as the Mauna Kea Spa by Mandara and the Seaside Tennis Club. Among the club's many features are 11 shoreline tennis courts and private and group lessons offered by pros Hector Mendoza, Dan Klug, Wayne Barnes and Craig Pautler, the hotel's director of tennis. Another notable draw is the 18-hole Robert Trent Jones, Sr.-designed golf course, which was originally inaugurated with match play between Arnold Palmer, Gary Player and Jack Nicklaus; its dramatic Third Hole — where Pacific inlet waters crash against the rocky shoreline — alone is worth a game.
One of the most relaxing aspects of this hotel is its 252 guest rooms and suites, which have been gracefully restored with preservation in mind. Rather than being given a new look, the accommodations were allowed to retain their original simple elegance. Natural wood interiors frame private lanais, and an open-air design brings the outdoors in. The rooms are comfy in a laid-back, residential way and well stocked with thoughtful amenities. Some feature ocean-view baths. Condo and villa rentals are also available, popular with families and vacationers seeking a little more privacy.
No mention of the Mauna Kea would be complete without noting its dining venues — Number 3, Manta & Pavilion Wine Bar, the Copper Bar and Hau Tree — where the dishes are influenced by the Hawaii Regional Cuisine movement and sustainability; ingredients are locally sourced and the season greatly influences the menus. Not to be missed are the Tuesday and Friday night luaus, oceanfront events featuring a pig cooked in an imu (underground oven) and Hawaiian music and dance, as well as the Saturday night clambake.
The Mauna Kea Beach Hotel is part of the Mauna Kea Resort, which also includes the Hapuna Beach Prince Hotel — guests enjoy reciprocal privileges (including access to the Hapuna's full-service spa) at both. It is a place that reveres the island's deeply spiritual side while indulging holiday-goers' more decadent desires. From the moment you are greeted with a fragrant lei and warm "aloha," you will understand why this hotel has been welcoming guests time and again for generations.