In the Mauna Kea Beach Hotel’s boutique, I purchased a few postcards with aerial photos of the hotel and its broad sweep of private beach. It occurred to me that this image, frequently used to promote the property, makes the building look like a bland and boxy eyesore. The ingeniousness of the design of Skidmore, Owings & Merrill, one of the world’s most renowned architectural firms, doesn’t reveal itself until you experience it firsthand. Soaring structural columns, carefully painted to match the hue of the beach, support an airy lobby that focuses attention out toward the sea, an effect enhanced by the sapphire-blue tile floors. The delightful indoor-outdoor feel of the design now looks familiar, but it was the Mauna Kea that started the trend.
Museum-quality Asian sculptures stand throughout the hotel, including two 18th-century Thai bronze Buddhist disciples praying at the hotel’s entrance, brass chamlas (round storage chests) from India, and Abelam ritual masks from New Guinea. An impressive pair of bronze koi from Japan flank the entrance to the ocean-view Manta restaurant, where we enjoyed a dinner of Hamakua mushrooms and asparagus with local corn polenta, and blackened ahi tuna with avocado and shiitake over jasmine rice with kabocha squash. Just behind it, a dramatic staircase leads to a seventh-century granite Buddha sculpture from India, backdropped by a mature Bodhi tree. Hawaiian craftsmanship is also given its due. Along the hallways lining the atrium of the original building, intricate quilts glow with color from behind their frames and rare kapa cloths display intriguing geometric patterns. Those with any interest in art should take the 90-minute tour of the collection’s highlights, led by the knowledgeable and charming Patti Cook each Saturday morning.
We stayed this time in the newer Beachfront Wing, and I found our Beachfront Room to be in excellent condition with a bright and cheerful décor. I appreciated the iPod dock and espresso machine and I very much liked the bath, which had a composite quartz countertop, bright lighting and a soaking tub connected to the walk-in shower. But the room’s best feature was its seaview terrazzo-floored terrace, furnished with a table and two cushioned armchairs with ottomans. What a delight it was to awake each morning and sip an espresso, watching the palm-fringed beach brighten in the newly risen sun.
The beach, supplied with numerous loungers and umbrellas, remains as enticing as ever, though it can become competitive when the hotel is full. I was especially excited to see the return of the Copper Bar, a soaring indoor/outdoor space occupied by a restaurant when I last visited. We loved relaxing here over refreshing Mauna Kea Mule cocktails, mixed with house-made ginger beer and local vodka distilled from sugar cane, as we took in the sublime views of the coast.
Beautifully maintained grounds; the extraordinary collection of art; the one-of-a-kind building; the idyllic setting.
The main pool is slightly too small for a resort of this size.
An excellent tour of the hotel and its art collection is offered every Saturday morning.