Hotel review

Mauna Kea Beach Resort in Hawaii — Hotel Reviews

AAs my plane from Honolulu to the island of Hawaii flew over stunningly beautiful water – a lone sailboat far below, waves meeting multicolored sand – I was filled with anticipation, ready to savor new tastes and dive into the ocean waves for a Mauna Kea Beach Hotel review. Back home in Austin, I had sought summer bliss with visits to museums, water parks, and air-conditioned restaurants, but I was ready for the thrill of exploring a place I had never seen before.

The historic Mauna Kea property combines natural beauty and luxury with a rare collection of ocean art, award-winning architectural design, innovative spa services, and chef-designed menus with locally sourced ingredients. It seemed like the perfect place to take a break from the ordinary and return to August Texas renewed and inspired.

Outside Kona International Airport, I got into an Uber. My driver had just moved with his wife and child from Massachusetts (where he ran a cell phone store) to Hawaii, and said he had never been happier. We drove through valleys of chocolate-colored volcanic rock, towards the golden coast of Kohala.

The Mauna Key Beach Hotel lobby features a sunken garden. (Courtesy)

At first glance

I had packed beach clothes and a fabulous hat, ready for the magic. But I was surprised at how much rapidly I relaxed: a deep calm came over me as soon as I entered the station. The open-air lobby is set above a sunken garden. Cantilevered hallways extend above, leading to three-tiered guest floors. I’ve always loved mid-century modernism but the juxtaposition of clean lines and a wild, lush setting was breathtaking.

It was as if the architects had built a perfect frame through which to view the beach and the cliffs…and had designed a tree house where guests could climb inside and have peace and peace of mind to savor with all the senses the piercing natural beauty, a vast landscape of lava rock, sea and ranch with a clear view of the summit of the Mauna Kea volcano.

I heard waves crashing and smelled plumeria flowers. I walked through indigo floor tiles to see the beach, which has been called the most beautiful in the world (and not just by me).

Mauna Kea Beach Hotel
The Mauna Kea Beach Hotel and the adjoining Westin Hapuna Beach Hotel feature two 18-hole championship golf courses.

An Overview of the Mauna Kea Beach Hotel

Each of the 252 rooms at Hotel Mauna Kea features one or more private verandas (balconies), luxurious Frette linens, and L’Occitane toiletries.

Located on 1,839 acres, Mauna Kea Beach Hotel and the adjoining Westin Hapuna Beach Hotel feature two 18-hole championship golf courses, an 11-court beachfront tennis club and an array of beach activities. The Mauna Kea Golf Course was the first course built on the island. I was able to stay at both beautiful properties and guests share all facilities.

Manta Restaurant at the Mauna Kea Beach Hotel.

The story

In 1959, shortly after Hawaii became the fiftieth US state, environmentalist and venture capitalist Laurance S. Rockefeller visited the Hawaiian Islands. Upon arriving in Kauna’oa Bay, he dove into the waves and decided he had found the place to build the first resort on the island of Hawaii. 1960s photo shoots have the same feel as the current station: I wouldn’t have been surprised to see Don Draper from Mad Men settle into a chair next to me and sip a martini by the pool.

Mauna Kea
The oldest and most striking piece is a five-foot-three-inch pink granite Buddha, from a 7th century temple in southern India, located under a Bodhi tree. (Courtesy of Marriott)

Art

Mauna Kea offers weekly guided tours of the on-site art collection. Rockefeller and Davis Allen collected nearly 1,000 pieces of Asian and Oceanic art in 1965. The art is located throughout the resort’s living areas, not hidden behind glass. The oldest and most striking piece is a five-foot-three-inch pink granite Buddha, from a 7th century temple in southern India, located under a Bodhi tree. Other notable pieces include two bronze dogs from a Thai temple and a rare collection of Hawaiian kapa (pounded tree bark) cloth, printed in the 1960s by famed kapa maker Malia Solomon especially for Mauna Kea.

Mauna Key Beach Hotel
Mauna Kea was built in 1965 and designed by legendary architect Edward Charles Bassett. (Courtesy)

architecture

Mauna Kea was built in 1965 and designed by legendary architect Edward Charles Bassett of Skidmore, Owings and Merrill. Like the volcano for which it is named, the building itself curves, reflecting the shape of the terrain. In addition, the structure incorporates lava rock. Following an earthquake, the station completed a $150 million restoration.

recommended reading

Mr Mauna Kea is a gem of a memoir written by Adi W. Kohler, the station’s beloved general manager for more than thirty years, before his death at age 83. The station has created a library dedicated to “Mr. Mauna Kea”, is where I found this book. It’s a charming insight into the resort’s early days and offers an insider’s view of its style and charm.

Mauna Key Beach Hotel
Between Mauna Kea and Westin Hapuna resorts, the Ala Kahakai National Historic Trail is a rugged 2.4 mile trail with beautiful views.

Activities

Kauna’oa Bay is a haven for manta rays along the coast. Guests can participate in a Manta Ray Swimming in the Moonlight. The educational experience is led by local experts who describe manta habitats and their impact on ocean life. This life-changing experience is the only one of its kind on the island that offers shore entry, which means participants approach the mantas directly from shore while walking through the ocean.

Between the Mauna Kea and Westin Hapuna resorts, the Ala Kahakai National Historic Trail is a 2.4 mile rugged path with beautiful views…and you can hop in a golf cart for a backtrack!

Meridia Hawaii
The Mediterranean restaurant Meridia overlooks Hapuna Beach. (Courtesy)

The kitchen

Meridia Mediterranean restaurant overlooks Hapuna Beach. My grilled octopus (with a Big Island fiddlehead fern salad) was gorgeous, followed by a Big Island braised short rib and hot churros (to remind me of home), served with caramel, chocolate and with coconut (to remind me that I was not at home).

Island and island-inspired cuisine, as well as an award-winning wine list, are featured at Manta kitchen. I started with lobster tempura and chose the mahi mahi encrusted with macadamia nuts for my starter and “Manta’s Souffle” for dessert, a chocolate dream that I was told was a station favorite. Live jazz and views of divers looking for manta rays for a memorable night.

Mauna Kea Fredrico’s signature cocktail and any desired tropical cocktail (or mocktail) can be served at the casual beach-side restaurant High tree.

One evening I ate delicious late-night sushi accompanied by live music at copper bar.

Spa Westin Mandara
The Westin Mandara Spa offers a combination of Balinese and Hawaiian-inspired therapies. (Courtesy of Westin)

spa day

I was lucky enough to enjoy a traditional Hawaiian lomi-lomi massage at Spa Westin Mandarawhich features long soft strokes to lull guests into peace.

Races

Between the Mauna Kea Beach Hotel and the Westin Hapuna Beach Resort, there are thirteen wonderful (and walkable) stores. My favorites are the Mauna Kea Beach Shopwhere you can buy everything from napkins and bucket hats to drinking glasses with the iconic orange plumeria flower logo, and the pop-up mana housewhich is full of unique treasures from local artisans.

The lottery ticket

Maybe it was the trade winds, the dark purple lei that was placed around my neck. Maybe it was the way the evening light fell over the aquamarine bay, or the outdoor walk – lit by firelight – to my plush bedroom, but I completely fell in love with Mauna Kea Beach Resort, and I now understand the parents and children who have returned again and again, for generations, to Mauna Kea.

I hope to win the Powerball jackpot and become one of those people.


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