The Kohala Coast is a historic region, and its resort developments deserve considerable credit for restoring and preserving sights on their property. They make it possible to surround yourself with the ultimate in refined luxury and leisure recreation while still experiencing much of the true temper of the Big Island. There are abundant ancient heiaus, royal fishponds, and well-preserved petroglyphs scattered throughout the region. (Check out my itinerary detailing them.) An ocean of folded black lava is interrupted only by emerald fairways, pink bougainvillea, tufts of billowy golden grasses, and white coral rocks arranged as graffiti.
Hawaiian royalty played here, so it seems only fitting that we do, too.
There are four distinct, entirely separate coastal resort areas, including Ka‘upulehu, which is officially in the North Kona district but has more in common with Waikoloa, Mauna Lani, and Mauna Kea than with Kailua-Kona (which is in the South Kona district). These spots share some of the most predictable weather in Hawai‘i — it’s almost always sunny, dry, and moderate in temperature. While these areas are not far from one another or the coastal highway, the configuration of the shore and lava fields make them secluded hideaways, each barely visible to another or to passing motorists. In fact, you may find yourself saying incredulously, “We’re staying where?” when all you see is miles of moonscape lava.
If you can’t afford to stay here, make lunch, dinner, or golf reservations and allow some time to wander the public areas. The resorts are attractions in and of themselves. Each is an oasis, really, in what some might describe as a barren wasteland, a load of lava lobbed over the volcano’s edge by the angry goddess Pele. (Mount Hualalai’s last eruption took place in 1800–01.) For the record, I could spend weeks on end amid this seeming “barren wasteland” and still find beauty and drama on a daily basis. It challenges expectations and conventional definitions.
From south to north:
When Ka‘upulehu opened in 1996, the Four Seasons Resort Hualalai raised the bar for elegance and service along the coast.
Waikoloa, with golf courses and shopping, constitutes South Kohala’s headquarters. Waikoloa attracts major conventions in addition to independent travelers. The Hilton and Marriott are here. Turn mauka (towards the mountain) from the main highway to reach the little Waikoloa Village. Turn makai to reach the waterfront resort area.
Mauna Lani and Mauna Kea are the most impressively refined of the four areas and have a few similarities. Both enjoy a pair of dramatically beautiful golf courses, created at enormous cost out of the lava bedrock and two of the most enticing beaches in Hawai‘i. Neither is overdeveloped in any way. Each has a couple of grand hotels, along with some elegant condominiums.