KOHALA RESORTS The great resorts of Hawaii's Kohala Coast cater mostly to couples and families and certain well-heeled corporate and professional groups. They don't, as a rule, see many favorite foursomes from the mainland. This is not Myrtle Beach by any means. Hawaii is too far away for that, and too expensive, and too alluring for the wives--or the husbands, for that matter. That said, the gangs of four I know might prefer staying at the Four Seasons Resort at Hualalai, if only because this would give them privileges on the golf course.
MAUNA KEA BEACH HOTEL, 1 Mauna Kea Beach Drive, Kohala Coast; 800-882-6060. Rooms: Start at $350.
HAPUNA BEACH PRINCE HOTEL, 62-100 Kauna'oa Drive, Kohala Coast; 800-882-6060. Rooms: Start at $350.
Almost immediately after opening in 1964, the Mauna Kea Beach Hotel acquired its reputation as perhaps the finest such resort in the world, thanks to its wonderful setting, incomparable crescent beach, and the Aloha spirit of the place. Now under different ownership, no longer a Rock Resort, and with stern competition right on the Kohala Coast, much less elsewhere, the resort still earns honor after honor. The expansive, shaded grass beach behind the expansive sand beach might be the touch of touches. Laurance Rockefeller believed that the rooms should be simple because the resort experience should be outdoors. Before the recent renovation they didn't even have televisions. Fair enough--no, wonderfully enough--but times do change, and there's no doubt that these rooms are not nearly as large or as extravagantly appointed as the abodes elsewhere. The new Hapuna Beach Prince Hotel next door to the Mauna Kea is a very fine hotel with a much better swimming pool than the Mauna Kea, but with nothing like the quiet, elegant simplicity.
BAY HOTEL AND BUNGALOWS, 68-1400 Mauna Lani Drive, Kohala Coast; 800-367-2323 (Bay Hotel); 800-628-7815 (Bungalows). Rooms: Start at $355; villas at $550; bungalows at $4,000.
THE ORCHID AT MAUNA LANI, 1 North Kaniku Drive, Kohala Coast; 800-325-3589. Rooms: Start at $385.
Five miles to the south of Mauna Kea and almost as venerable is Mauna Lani, which has two first-rate properties. The Bay Hotel has a similar feeling to the Mauna Kea Beach Hotel, on a larger scale, with the well-preserved Kalahuipuaa fish ponds from ancient times and the famous beachfront bungalows from modern times; each of the bungalows has a private swimming pool, butler, chef and thousands-a-night tab. The Orchid is newer than its neighbor, snazzier, more European, top-drawer. Guests have playing privileges on the Mauni Lani Resort courses.
THE FOUR SEASONS RESORT, 100 Ka'upulehu Drive, Kailua-Kona; 800-340-5662. Rooms: Start at $475.
KONA VILLAGE RESORT, Queen Kaahumanu Hwy., Kailua-Kona; 800-367-5290. Rooms: Start at $480.
Just four years old, the Four Seasons Resort is already famous and justifiably so--Mauna Kea and the Mauna Lani may have all the tradition on the Big Island, but Hualalai now has a lot of the buzz. The Four Seasons folks have taken a barren, flat expanse of lava and created an amazing resort around their two-story bungalow accommodations, with four swimming pools--maybe more, you lose count--a swank sports club and spa, eye-catching architecture, a nice beach (though nothing like the Mauna Kea's, let's get that straight) and beautiful young couples and their kids. Next to it is Kona Village, the smallest resort on the coast, by far. It's also the ultimate hideaway: tennis, but no golf, although guests are allowed one round at Hualalai next door.
HILTON WAIKOLOA VILLAGE, 425 Waikoloa Beach Drive, Waikoloa; 800-445-8667. Rooms: Start at $310.
OUTRIGGER WAIKOLOA BEACH RESORT (formerly the Royal Waikoloan), 69-275 Waikoloa Beach Drive, Waikoloa; 800-688-7444. Rooms: Start at $265.
Waikoloa is admittedly the least tony of the resorts, although the setting on the coastline, about midway between the northernmost Mauna Kea and the southernmost Hualalai, is as good as it gets. About three times as big and garish as the other hotels, the Hilton Waikoloa Village is a family affair and about as distant from old Hawaii as you can get--or would want to. But the kids will love the tram and the boats that ply the canals between buildings. The frugal foursome might prefer to stay at the Outrigger Waikoloa Beach Resort, the least expensive venue on the coast.