King Kamehameha the Great was born here, on Hawaii’s northern tip. Captain James Cook, credited with putting paradise on the European map, met his end at Kealakekua Bay, in the west. Snow falls on the slopes of Mauna Kea and lava spills from the Earth’s molten core, courtesy of Madame Pele, the Fire Goddess. Hotels, some luxurious mega resorts and others laid back hidden treasures, welcome you to this island of contrasts and natural beauty. (ref 1)
Kailua-Kona – A King’s Seaside Home
First time visitors to the Big Island of Hawaii usually fly into Kona International Airport. The first glimpse of the black lava fields and sparse vegetation is usually a surprise. Yet, as you drive out of the airport and head toward Kailua-Kona pockets of green start popping up along the roadway. By the time you get to Alii Drive, you are surrounded by shops, restaurants, art galleries and historic structures. The most well known hotel in Kailua-Kona is the King Kamehameha’s Kona Beach Hotel. Named for the Hawaiian king that united the islands, the hotel is built on grounds that once served as the monarch’s seaside home. Wander the grounds past the Ahu’ena Heiau, built to honor the god of peace, Lono. The temple is on Hawaii’s National Historic Register. Spend the night in a comfortable room, dine in splendor at the onsite Island Breeze Hawaiian Lu’au or work on your tan at the property’s postage stamp beach. Immerse yourself in the culture of old Hawaii and learn about a treasured king that lived not that long ago.
Waikoloa and Kohala – Luxury Personified
Take a left hand turn onto Queen Kaahumanu Highway (Route 19) and you will be traveling through those lava fields a bit longer. The first real hint of civilization is a thatched hut to the left of the highway. This is the entrance to Kona Village Resort, a Polynesian style property that offers you the chance to stay in your own thatched hale, or house. Continue up Highway 19 and soon you will find the distinctive green and white patterns of golf greens contrasting with the black lava. This is Waikoloa, home to the mega resort Hilton Waikoloa Village and its two adjacent golf courses. Take a canal boat or a tram to your room in one of three distinctive towers. Swim with the dolphins at the hotel’s Dolphin Quest lagoon. Head north, past more golf courses and resorts until you get to the hotel that started it all, the Mauna Kea Beach. Built by Laurance S. Rockefeller in 1965 on the curved sands of Kauna’oa Beach, this iconic grand lady of the Kohala Coast received a $150 million facelift in 2008 and is once again welcoming guests to live in luxury.
Hilo – Nostalgic Hawaii
As much as the Waikoloa and Kohala coasts have embraced the modern mega resort, Hilo has resolutely clung to its past. Downtown Hilo is 10 blocks long and lined with restored mid-20th century buildings housing cafes, art galleries and museums. It is home to the University of Hawaii at Hilo, the island’s largest airport and a major shipping port. Most hotels are clustered around curved Banyan Drive that fronts Hilo Bay. Take a stroll from tree to tree and discover that each was planted by a famous person. Plaques list Amelia Earhart, Richard M. Nixon (before he was President) and Cecil B Demille as some of the green thumbed celebrities. Uncle Billy’s Hilo Bay Hotel is an example of the low-keyed, Polynesian styled properties found on this side of Hawaii. Fronting Hilo Bay, the property offers hotel rooms and studio kitchenette suites with views of the tropical gardens or the ocean.
Waimea – Paniolo Country
Cattle are not native to the Hawaiian Islands. Those that roam the Parker Ranch near Waimea carry the genes of five animals presented to King Kamehameha by Captain George Vancouver in 1793. John Parker was a sailor who fell in love with the islands and then with a Hawaiian princess. He started a dynasty and a cattle ranch that is still one of the largest in the United States. Though that dynasty ended in 1992 with the death of Richard Smart, the ranch continues on and operates as a trust benefiting the town of Waimea. Ride a sure-footed paniolo (cowboy) pony through acres of grasslands that blanket the slopes of Mauna Kea. If you are in town for the July 4th holiday, catch the annual Independence Weekend Rodeo and Horse Races at the ranch’s arena. Hotels in the area are suitably rustic. One is the Waimea Country Lodge, managed by Castle Resorts. Sitting at the 2,500 foot level of Mauna Kea, the 21 room property is surrounded by the wide open spaces of Waimea Park. Walk the two blocks into town for a meal at the low keyed Hawaiian Style Café or the more upscale Merriman’s Restaurant.
- Hawaii’s Big Island: Hawaii’s Land of Adventure
- King Kamehameha’s Kona Beach Hotel: Experience Our Kona Beach Hotel In Hawaii
- Hilton Waikoloa Village: A Once In A Lifetime Getaway
- Mauna Kea Beach Hotel: History of the Mauna Kea
- Sites Hilo Town
- Hawaii’s Big Island: History of Paniolo: Ranching on Hawaii’s Big Island
- Hawaii’s Big Island
- King Kamehameha’s Kona Beach Hotel: Contact Our Kona Oceanfront Hotel
- Kona Village Resort: Driving Directions
- Hilton Waikoloa Village: Contact Us
- Mauna Kea Beach Hotel: Contact Us
- Uncle Billy’s Hawaiian Family Hotels: Hilo Bay
- Castle Resorts and Hotels: Waimea Country Lodge (Big Island, Hawaii): Quick Facts
- Parker Ranch: Discover Parker Ranch
- Kona Skies image by Rick Chesler from Fotolia.com