Mauna Kea Beach

Tranquility awaits guests at this Big Island resort

Dear Laurance Rockefeller:

You once said, “Every great beach deserves a great hotel.”

That’s so true of the Big Island’s beautiful Kauna’oa Bay and Mauna Kea Beach Hotel. It’s a perfect pairing of environment and architectural wonder.

That’s as it should be, because your intent in developing Mauna Kea Beach Hotel in the 1960s was to have a resort that conformed to its natural surroundings. With the unique open-air architecture and understated elegance, it was ahead of its time.

When the hotel opened in 1965, it was the first hotel on the Kohala Coast and the most expensive ever built at the time, at a cost of $15 million. In today’s market that would be a steal – the recent renovation of Mauna Kea, done to repair structural damages after an October 2006 earthquake, is a whopping $150 million.

But the true measure of a great resort is whether after 44 years the quality of the guest experience meets the test of time.

Granted, this exquisite retreat is not for the masses. By virtue of its exclusive location, high-quality amenities, legendary reputation and pricing – with rates ranging from $450 to $3,500 per night – it is an enclave for discerning (read that, “demanding”) guests.

You’ll be pleased to know, Mr. Rockefeller, that all the stylistic, warm Island touches are still there. Consistency is built into the hotel as much as fine design.

Most of your extraordinary 1,600 Asian-Oceanic museum art pieces are back in place. The entry to the building also is the same: Blue tile, suggesting the color of the ocean, leads to the atrium lobby that is aesthetically accented by bronze Buddha sculptures and brass chamlas tripod storage chests. These gleaming ceremonial vessels are considered a public sign of luxury and wealth in India.

Throughout the resort, owned and operated by Prince Resorts Hawaii, artwork and lush tropical landscaping continue to give the place a mesmerizing spirituality.

But it is the restyled guest rooms that set the tone for ultimate guest comfort and repose. Total room count has been reduced from 310 to 258 because of the enlarging of units in the main building. Deluxe guest rooms on the remodeled floors have been expanded to 550 square feet and have luxurious interior furnishings, upgraded bedding, ocean-view bathrooms and the latest in entertainment amenities.

My favorite room feature is the wall-less shower, where one stands under two water heads without the confinement of a slippery tub or stall. In the deluxe rooms, there’s a private lanai just outside the glass wall. Next to the shower area is a huge soaking tub. Along with the Frette linen, dual-basin counters and natural, organic L’Occitane toiletries, it seems like a personal spa.

Yet there is a full-service facility now at Mauna Kea that’s operated by the highly regarded Mandara Spa organization. Its renowned Balinese-inspired services include stimulating massage and aromatherapy. We especially recommend the Mandara Four-Hand Massage (50 minutes/$270). Two therapists work on you simultaneously in synchronicity and serene silence.

It’s a great way to revitalize after a hard day at the beach, winning the doubles match at the 11-court seaside tennis garden, or trying that amazing 272-yard drive directly over the ocean from the championship tee at No. 3 on the Mauna Kea Golf Course.

You aced it, Mr. Rockefeller, when you asked Robert Trent Jones Sr. to design the Mauna Kea Golf Course. He did a brilliant job on the original design four decades ago, and now his son, Rees Jones, has upgraded and redesigned the course to USGA standards. That includes new grass throughout, rebuilt bunkers – there are 99 of them now – and a new irrigation system. A newly constructed clubhouse features a pro shop and locker rooms, along with a restaurant for all resort guests.

Speaking of restaurants, we must not forget the splendid dining experiences at the Mauna Kea, led by Executive Chef George Gomes Jr. Gomes, whose mother and father once worked at Mauna Kea, directs five restaurants, including Manta & Pavilion Wine Bar, Copper Terrace, Hau Tree, Number 3, and Monettes. He also oversees the weekly Mauna Kea Luau on Tuesday, Clam-bake on the Beach on Saturday and Sunday Brunch at Manta.

The chef touts Kohala regional cuisine that uses locally produced ingredients found within a 15-mile radius of the resort. On the Manta menu are fresh items such as Ahualoa Goat Cheese Ravioli, Kona Baby Abalone, Maluhia Farm butter lettuce and Kahua Ranch Waygu beef.

Monettes is owned and operated by brothers Scott and Mark Monette of the award-winning Flagstaff House restaurant in Boulder, Colo. This contemporary new restaurant offers inventive American-French cuisine with Island influences, plus an extraordinary collection of 450 prestigious wines.

Well, sir, I think you get the idea. Yes, they’ve made some changes at your beloved Mauna Kea Beach Hotel, but the cherished traditions and classic ambiance remain in tact. That comes from the dedicated staff who bring the resort to life every day and personify what makes the Mauna Kea great.

We know you wouldn’t want it any other way.

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