A Love Letter to Nature and Hawaii – Mauna Lani

It may sound blasé, but I’ve visited Hawaii so many times, I don’t even think of it as a Destination! Poor me, you groan; I began taking the child who now works with me, from age 4 onward! Usually Kauai, but then the father of the child had business in Hawaii, so that translated to twice a year visits.

The number one lesson learned from growing up pale and blonde on the Santa Barbara beaches, is never sit in the sun, ever; so I do my best to avoid hot sunny surroundings, a dedicated hat room verifies my sun sensitivity!

A thick Save the Date wedding invitation at Mauna Lani in Hawaii, landed in the post box – mmm, I would never miss the celebration of two darling guys – one the stepson of my dear Catholic girl’s school friend. Six years of New York Thanksgivings, introduced me to this sweet, charming kid; now, old enough to marry.

As I am wont to do when I travel, geographic circles are drawn which lead me to research five-star hotels nearby. On the big island this was simple – Four Seasons Hualalai, would be my first stop. More on that later…that was work, of course!

My Auberge Mauna Lani rep is a gem, everyone loves her, she makes enormous efforts sharing her property and all the amazing amenities. Auberge, an esteemed brand in our black book, took over this property in 2020. On the Kohala coast of the Island of Hawaii, Mauna Lani has been a beloved resort since it opened in 1983. In 2018, it closed its doors to undergo a massive, $200 million renovation, reopening as Mauna Lani, Auberge Resorts Collection.

I’ve not stayed in the past, and from what I’ve read, Auberge planned to transform the older property. Among the many distinctive qualities of Mauna Lani is the exceptionally beautiful natural setting and iconic place in the history of Hawaii. Set on 32 oceanfront acres marked by Sacred Royal fishing ponds, natural lava plains, and lush tropical gardens bordered by pristine white-sand beaches. Mauna Lani offers the island’s premier location for relaxation, adventure and immersion in the authentic culture and traditions of Hawaii. A great respect for the ancient concept of aloha āina – love of the land – and a deep connection to land, sea and Hawaiian heritage informs every aspect of the resort’s physical and experiential transformation. This is not a marketing concept; the spirit pervades in every aspect of the resort.

Nestled along the dramatic Kohala Coast and in the piko, or center, of five great mountains, Mauna Lani is a sacred oasis where generations of families and friends have made memories together on soulful lands once cherished by the greatest of Hawaiian royalty. Walk this storied coastline, breathe the rejuvenating salt air and swim in the glassy waters, you feel the same mana, or spiritual energy, that first captivated legends like King Kamehameha I and Francis H. I’i Brown.

At check in, a manager shared they knew the hotel was not the most luxurious on the island, but they feel they have the friendliest staff, the most delicious dining, and the best beaches. The lobby is soaring and brings in the outside with massive plants, the design is open to the elements. Almost every room has a view of the ocean as the property is built in a long H shape.

My suite directly faced the ocean, that translates to terrace doors were never closed – I could see, hear, and smell the surf. Sunsets from my cozy nest were the perfect place at cocktail hour. The Wedding Boys planned many guest activities, allowing me to experience all the dining venues. I began each day on my 6th floor terrace aerie with brekkie in the company of a few feathered friends. What a sense of smell these birdies posses, on the railing within minutes of a food cover lifted with a Voila!

The friendly staff is amazing, the true spirit, the mana, or spiritual energy, was embraced by every staff member I encountered. Everyone loved their job, their coworkers, their Hawaiian heritage. A plethora of activities on and off property, including golf will keep everyone entertained.

My rep encouraged me to experience many resort activities, my first venture would be a dawn sunrise paddle in an authentic outrigger canoe. Outrigger canoeing is not only the official state team sport, but a rich historical reminder that to live in Hawaii is to know and respect the ocean. No other culture in history has such a strong and intertwined existence with the ocean. Dawn coffee delivered to my terrace; in darkness, I made my way to the beach to meet 8 other enthusiastic paddlers. The guys who run the Surf Shack are fun locals who grew up on the water, their warm enthusiasm is contagious. Paddle at your best ability, anyone can go along for the sunrise. I used to scull, and I love being on the water, this was a magical excursion – being one with the water and nature, gentle waves slapping the hull, whales on the horizon – and then we sit watching and waiting for the sun to slide up from the other side of the volcano. A conch shell horn announces the first rays, the paddle team share mystical history and their heritage – so beautiful, I signed up for the next morning paddle! Highly Recommend!

SPA. It may sound unusual to describe the spa as a Farm to Spa experience. Heal from within at the Auberge Spa, where treatments feature the regenerative benefits of Hawaii’s tried and true wellness methods, passed from one generation to the next. Lomi Lomi Massage was heavenly: a traditional Hawaiian healing massage, translates to “to knead, rub or soothe.” The ancient technique that some refer to as a “loving hands massage” marries an exclusive herbal oil blend and rhythmic strokes, melting tension and coaxing the transcendent feeling of mohala (blossoming, growth).

DINING – Oh my! HāLani is an indoor-outdoor space offering fresh fish, farm fresh fruit, sandwiches…an array of breakfast, lunch and casual dinner offerings. HāLani showcases ingredients caught and cultivated by fishermen and farmers throughout the island. Fish tacos were scrumptious! In the morning, guests were lined up to dine – secret- room service on your terrace is just as delicious!

I was overjoyed to join my friend’s family and the now married grooms, for a last night celebratory dinner at CanoeHouse. Japanese-inspired dishes crafted mindfully with diverse ingredients set the stage. Meandering early to order Champers on ice, I met a local woman at the bar – talk to strangers and never ignore resident suggestions! We ordered everything she suggested and could not have been more satiated. Among the salads, appetizers, entrees, served in a bountiful family style– we ripped apart the Shokupan pull apart bread…a Japanese bread filled with melted butter. Japanese Milk Bread Loaf is the delicious, soft, and fluffy white bread loaf that you eat in Japan. The combination of a golden-brown crust and soft white inside make it irresistible… infused with butter, who would not love?

The yummy menu, under the palms garden setting and the more than hospitable restaurant team translated to our table being the last to leave – no rush, stay if you like!

ACTIVITIES Golf. Drive, chip and putt along celebrated championship courses.Picturesque seascapes, undulating lava flows and saturated sunsets blend seamlessly to curate a golf experience steeped in spirit and soul. While the North and South Courses enjoy storied fairways admired by pros of the past and present, the Wikiwiki– meaning “fast”– Course offers a 9-hole game fit for the whole family. Putt and drive along the North Course as the sweet smells of Kiawe forests are carried by subtle trade winds, or brush the rugged coastline in pursuit of the South Course’s iconic Hole No. 15.

OCEAN Paddle, dive, snorkel, stand up paddle, surfing, an ocean paradise for water wizards! Paddle along the ocean’s surface or dive into a world of aquatic wonder. The resort is home to calm waters, with stretches of coral reef ecosystems and colorful marine life, this coastline holds boundless adventures for the curious. On Land Hiking, a long list of guided or solo activities.

There are many cultural activities to add, which will be accomplished in a separate Mauna Lani Love Letter. I moseyed between adult pool overlooking one of the many ancient Royal Ponds, to the sandy beach. One morning, Steven, pool major domo said: Ms. Books, you have a private Halau today…Please? He delivered me to the beach to my triple size day bed, nestled under a roof of palm fronds, an area with several chairs and two lounge chairs, a custom cooler filled with drinks… call your friends, this is yours all day!

I wasn’t prepared to adore this property as much as I did. Reading under rustling palm fronds, the faint sound of steel guitars and Hawaiian singing was extremely relaxing. To many, it looks as if I just vacation all over the world, but my personal perspective truly provides a reason to say Highly Recommend! #1 Resort on the Island of Hawai’i | Travel + Leisure 2022

Mauna Lani