The Vibe: Frequented by a well-to-do crowd, many whom have families that have been returning generation after generation, there is definitely a sense of being “in-the-know” as a guest. It’s not unusual to see multi-generational families relaxing on the beach, CEO’s getting an early start on the golf course, and honeymooners relishing in the picture-perfect views. With its secluded location on Kauna’oa Bay beach, impeccable service and amenities, Mauna Kea embodies upscale and laid-back.
The Facts: Founded by American philanthropist and businessman Laurence S. Rockefeller in 1965, since the hotel opened it has been drawing in the likes of luxury-seeking travellers. Offering 252 guestrooms, including nine suites, the hotel is divided into two sections — the main tower and the beachfront wing. To maintain its luxury standards the hotel underwent a $150 million renovation and repair in 2009 and 2013, focusing on the guestroom interiors, which are bright, modern and complete with amenities you’d come to expect at a hotel of this caliber. Pay attention to the art sprinkled throughout the hotel. Rockefeller outdid himself with an extensive collection of more than 1,600 pieces of priceless Pacfic and Asian art he personally selected.
The Experience: As with all of the hotel’s in the area, it’s a winding driveway down from the highway to reach your final destination. Upon approaching the hotel, we were immediately greeted by the friendly faces who promptly took our luggage and parked the car (there is a surcharge for both self and valet). We were decorated in fresh flower leis and given a refreshing fruit juice as we checked in, getting escorted to our room and given a rundown of the room and property, which is always appreciated.
Booked into an Ocean View Deluxe, we were impressed with many of the details in the room, including the light controls on the nightstand (very helpful when it’s dark and you have no idea where the light switch is); the two private lanais, perfect for evening cocktails or morning coffee; the large bathroom with a huge tub and shower, not to mention the L’Occitane bath products. You’ll also find an espresso machine, entertainment centre with a flat-screen TV, a mini-fridge, and two large closets.
We tried almost all of the restaurants and was pleased with the food at every single one. A daily breakfast buffet is served at Manta & Pavilion Wine Bar, where you can sit on the terrace and take in the ocean views. The food selection is diverse and the staff extremely accommodating to dietary restrictions. They not only have an omlette station, but a Belgian waffle station (be warned, the intoxicating scent will lure you in).
For casual drinks and a bite, try the Kauna’oa Bar & Grill. We dined on sushi, which was phenomenal, and cocktails (don’t miss out on the Mai Tai). After a morning of relaxing on the beach, we grabbed lunch at the casual Hau Tree located beach side. Whether you want a burger or a salad with grilled chicken, they have a solid selection of healthy and delicious entrees. A refreshing non-alcoholic cocktail is their lemonade/ice-tea mixture we loved, but we heard the Ovaltine froth is a favourite of regulars.
When you want to work off those extra Mai Tais, definitely take advantage of the hotel’s 2,500 square-foot fitness centre. It has elliptical machines, treadmills and a huge weight area. Better yet, hit some balls on their award-winning 11-court Seaside Tennis Club. Not only is the view spectacular, they offer lessons, clinics and even have a ball machine available. We had a private lesson with Wayne Barnes, the hotel’s head tennis pro who was so friendly and gave a great lesson, balancing between the different levels of us two players (Court Fees are $25/day per person with lessons and rentals at an extra cost). After we sweated for an hour there was a jug of cold water with lemon and cool towels waiting for us in the shade.
The hotel also boasts an award-winning championship golf course (although we didn’t play), created by Robert Trent Jones, Sr. in the ’60s. With 36 holes, many of which are ocean-view, its a stunning course that both expert and beginner players can appreciate.
The highlight of the hotel has to be the beach it sits on. Kauna’oa Bay is a crescent shaped cove with white sand and calm crystal blue waters. Setting up with a lounge chair and umbrella is quite pleasant in itself — as the beach is so large you never feel crowded. If you’re feeling like having a little fun on the water you can do that too. There’s a beach pavilion offering rentals (nothing is complimentary), ranging from paddle boards to snorkeling masks and kayaks. We rented a paddle board and snorkel gear and recommend doing both in the bay. It’s calm enough to paddle board quite easily and snorkeling along the coastline offers some decent underwater action. Note that alcoholic beverages aren’t allowed on the beach, so don’t expect to see a lot of boozing and lounging.
Skip: The hotel offers complimentary shuttles to its neighbouring hotel, Hapuna Beach Prince Hotel, to expand your dining options. Unfortunately the atmosphere and options are just not up to par, in particular the Hakone Buffet, which claims to offer authentic Japanese cuisine, but is in-fact an odd mix of Asian foods, ranging from dim sum to Hawaiian dishes. At $54US/person you’ll feel ripped off.
Although we didn’t book ourselves in, the on-site spa is a bit disappointing. Located in the lower level of the hotel, it’s small, dark and overall feels like an afterthought.
Room to Book: You’ll never look at your own bathroom the same way after booking into a Deluxe Ocean View room in the Main Tower. The room has two separate balconies for relaxing — one off the main room and another off the bathroom. The oversized wall-less shower is beside the balcony, allowing you to open the door and take in the fresh ocean breezes. Not to mention the deep-soaker tub is positioned so you can view the ocean.
Insider Tip: On the way to the tennis courts is a Manta Ray viewing area. At night a light shines in the ocean near the shore luring in krill, the manta’s prey, with the hopes you’ll be able to spot one.
How to Get There: The Big Island has two main airports, the Kona International Airport (KOA) and the Hilo International Airport (ITO). From the Kona airport the drive is about 30 minutes and from the Hilo airport the drive is about 2 hours. Taxis can be expensive, and if you’re thinking you’d like to explore the area, renting a car is your best option.
Rooms start at $550/night
Where to Find:
Mauna Kea Beach Hotel
62 Mauna Kea Beach Drive
Kamuela, HI 96743