The island of Hawaii has long been a favorite of mine, with its relaxed pace, numerous archaeological sites and remarkably diverse landscapes, ranging from lush tropical forests and parched lava fields to the sometimes-snowy mountain peak of Mauna Kea, topped with astronomical observatories. And although Oahu and Maui have larger airports, it is still possible to fly nonstop to the Big Island from the U.S. mainland. Kona’s airport is almost charming, with its indoor-outdoor Polynesian-style architecture.
It wouldn’t be difficult to spend an entire vacation just on the Big Island. In Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, on the southeast side of the island, Kilauea continues to erupt with varying degrees of intensity, and it is often possible to see glowing-red molten lava. On the southwest coast, Pu‘uhonua o Hōnaunau National Historical Park is a former royal compound and one of the most sacred sites to native Hawaiians. Heading north, past the town of Kailua-Kona, the black lava fields dotted with desiccated scrub tufts could stand in for Tolkien’s Mordor. But the reliably dry climate led to the development of a string of beach resorts, three of which we have long recommended: the Four Seasons Hualalai, Mauna Kea Beach Hotel and Mauna Lani.
Of these, the one receiving the most attention this year has been Mauna Lani, which reopened last autumn following a $200 million overhaul by Auberge Resorts Collection. The property needed refreshing — only the news of this renovation had stopped us from rescinding our recommendation. I felt surprised to see Auberge take on such a large hotel, with 333 rooms, but considering the company’s admirable track record and effusive reviews in the travel press, I had every expectation that the resort would be the new star of the Big Island.