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Excursions: Hualālai Resort, Hawaii

The sea, skies, and mountains create a dramatic backdrop for a luxury resort with a casual vibe

Written by Amy Elbert

As sunset nears, guests at Hualālai’s Beach Tree Bar on Hawaii’s Big Island await the famous “green flash”—that moment when the sinking sun creates a splash of green on the horizon. Cheers erupt and cameras click as the sun disappears, and everyone settles down for drinks and dinner at the oceanfront restaurant. 

Magical moments happen daily at Hualālai at Historic Ka‘ūpūlehu, a residential luxury resort on the Kona-Kohala Coast, seven miles from Kailua-Kona International Airport. For starters, there’s the nearly perfect weather. Protected by volcanic mountains, the northwest coast of Hawaii’s largest island is sunny and in the 80s most every day. (The daily high temperature varies by only about six degrees during the year.)

Resort guests feed fish in the spring-fed, lava-lined pool that is managed by marine experts.

There’s the stunning natural beauty: This corner of the island is a fascinating geological mix of rugged lava fields (Kilauea, on the opposite side of the island, has been erupting since 1983), spring-fed ponds, and sandy beaches. What makes Hualālai Resort particularly enriching, however, is the developer’s commitment to preserving the ecosystem and the cultural heritage of the area.  There is a quiet, small-town feel to much of the resort, which abounds with opportunities to learn about the coastal marine, plant, and bird life.

You can watch Hawaiian green sea turtles amble onto the beach—but don’t touch. Staff specialists at the resort advise that the turtles are surprisingly sensitive despite those thick shells. Instead, sign up for a supervised turtle-tagging program. Marine study is only one of the offerings. 

Residential villas with infinity swimming pools are scattered throughout the resort. 

There are two golf courses (one designed by Jack Nicklaus), tennis courts, five swimming pools, and ocean activities such as outrigger paddling, craft boat adventures, paddleboarding, and snorkeling (you might find yourself swimming with dolphins). 

The Cultural Center brings ancient Hawaiian traditions to life with lessons in feather art, hula dancing, lei-making, shell crafts, and playing the ukulele. Move beyond “aloha,” and learn the Hawaiian alphabet and how to pronounce some common words and phrases.  

Hiking trails offer different views of the terrain, and photo buffs can learn how to capture the beauty on a four-hour hike with a professional nature photographer.

The resort has several award-winning dining spots, from casual to elegant, and 75 percent of the food served is locally produced, including organic produce from nearby Waimea and seafood freshly caught in the ocean and area fish ponds.

At the Hualālai Grille, an American steak house that overlooks the 18th green of the Hualālai Golf Course, Chef James Ebreo serves prime steaks, Kurobuta pork, fish, and chicken with island-infused flavors.

At the Seaside Luxe boutique, shoppers can score designer clothing by Missoni, Emilio Pucci, and Stella McCartney, as well as unique jewelry by Los Angeles-based designer Kimberly McDonald. 

Pergola-shaded terraces and mini waterfalls create a relaxing spa setting.

The palm-tree-shaded Hualālai Spa is a delightful indulgence with potions and massages only Hawaiians could dream up. How about a macadamia nut scrub or a Polynesian coconut scrub and wrap? 

Black lava salt, crushed macadamia nuts, and other Hawaiian ingredients are used in the spa’s many massage and body treatments.

Condominiums, villa residences, and homes are available for rent on the property, which is laid out to create neighborhoods reminiscent of Hawaii’s ancient coastal villages. There also is the 243-room beachfront Four Seasons Resort Hualālai. 

Structures throughout the resort are built to complement the environment, with low profiles (nothing taller than a palm tree), cedar shingle roofs, and expansive wood decks and lanais. Sliding doors that virtually eliminate walls connect the interiors to the outdoors so you can enjoy the island breezes, mountain and sea views, and star-studded night skies.  

Homes at Hualālai Resort Condos, as well as villas with multiple bedrooms and baths, are available to rent or buy. Sliding glass doors make walls virtually disappear and cater to the relaxed indoor-outdoor lifestyle of the island. Robert Kildow, director of residential sales at Hualālai Realty, says guests often fall in love with the resort after a vacation or business trip, eventually building or buying a custom home there. “This is a very special part of the planet,” he says.

A Hawaiian lanai is an ideal space for enjoying sunsets and ocean breezes. 

Getting There: The resort of Hualālai is located at 100 Ka‘upulehu Drive, just15 minutes north of the Kailua-Kona International Airport off the makai (toward the ocean) side of the Queen Kaahumanu Highway. Many airlines offer daily nonstop service from Los Angeles and San Francisco to the Kailua-Kona airport. For resort details, visit hualalairesort.com.

Hibiscus Peche Cocktail from the Hualālai Grille

  • 1 1/2 ounces Absolut Hibiskus vodka
  • 3/4 ounce Stirrings Peach Liqueur
  • 3/4ounce house-made sweet and sour mix (or Rose’s Sweet & Sour mix)
  • Splash of orange juice
  • Drizzle of pomegranate or cranberry juice

All photos courtesy of Hualālai Resort