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The "New" Mauna Kea Beach Hotel
by John Rosenberg

 
My wife and I recently returned from ten days at the “new” Mauna Kea Beach Hotel, located on the Kohala Coast of the Island of Hawaii. I say the “new” Mauna Kea, because the hotel reopened earlier this year after a $150 million repair and renovation. The hotel had been closed due to structural damage caused by the 2006 Hawaiian earthquake.

A little history of this property may be helpful. It was originally built in 1965 as a RockResort, a group of premier resorts financed by Laurance S. Rockefeller. Rockefeller had already created a series of resorts such as the Grand Teton Lodge, Caneel Bay on St. John in the U.S. Virgin Islands, Dorado Beach Hotel and Golf Club and Little Dix Bay. Mauna Kea was designed by Edward Charles Bassett of Skidmore, Owings and Merrill, and received numerous AIA awards and honors. The Rock Resort group was eventually sold, with the original hotel companies being dispersed. Ultimately, the Mauna Kea was purchased by the Prince Hotel group from Japan, who currently operate it.



According to local lore, Laurance Rockefeller did a helicopter fly over of the Big Island with the Governor of Hawaii, looking for a spot for his resort. When he spotted the white sand crescent beach at Kuana’oa bay on the then deserted Kohala Coast, he demanded that the helicopter land so he could take a swim. The Mauna Kea Beach Hotel soon followed.

The natural white sand beach is the main focal point and attraction of the hotel. There is a whole array of available beach services, such as chaise lounges and umbrellas, cabanas, and thick orange beach towels. These are attended to by an affable and efficient beach staff. On the beach is the Hau Tree where you can catch a casual lunch or dinner plus cocktails of course. My wife’s favorite drink was the Lava Flow, made with vanilla ice cream, rum, strawberries, coconut syrup, blended into a smoothie. There is a casual clubhouse restaurant called Number 3, which overlooks the first tee and driving range of the 18-hole championship golf course, and where you can have lunch and be served their signature popovers.



 
There is also fine dining at the hotel. Monettes is a contemporary new restaurant serving American French cuisine for dinner. Manta & Pavilion Wine Bar is open for breakfast and dinner, with the hotel’s famous Brunch Buffet being served on Sundays. On Tuesday nights there is an available luau, which includes an authentic imu roast pig ceremony and Hawaii native entertainment. Meals at the Mauna Kea are expensive, but then again, food has always been pricey in Hawaii. If you want more modestly priced fare, there are a number of small local restaurants within a ten minute drive from the hotel. We can recommend the Harbor Grill, Café Pesto or Seafood Bar at Kawaihae Harbor, Bamboo at Hawi Town, and Merriman’s at Waimea.


 

At sunset, don’t miss having a cocktail or two, together with pupus, at the Copper Terrace, an open air lounge and bar. There you can watch the sun set, hear Hawaii music performed and danced by local artists, and sit by a cozy firepit. Other amenities at the hotel include a 11-court seaside tennis club, a new 2,500 square foot fitness center, a new golf clubhouse and pro shop, a business center where internet access and printing is available, plus much more.

All in all, this is a wonderful resort hotel. But it is the beach that makes this place so special. It is highly recommended for a splurge.


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