There’s a reason why locals call the island of Hawaii “The Big Island” — it’s vast, mighty, and awe-inspiring. Five climate systems exist on Earth, and four of them thrive on the northern Hawaiian island, where various snowcapped, active volcanic ranges climax amongst acres of lush jungle, beachy shorelines, and arid desertscapes. It’s a natural harmony best appreciated beneath the endless sun at the Mauna Lani hotel with a Mai Tai at your side.
The Auberge-owned hotel sits on 3,200 acres of ancient Kalāhuipua‘a land on the island’s western coast, encircled by royal fishponds and natural lava plains. The Big Island’s five great mountains — many of them the tallest in the world from the ocean floor — form an infinite circle known as piko (meaning “where life begins”), which carries the Native Hawaiian peoples’ eternal spirits and is echoed throughout the halls of Mauna Lani.
The Mauna Lani is pure opulence on the beach, with luxuriously crisp guest rooms and private villas replete with organic materials, warm hardwoods, private plunge pools, and white-glove concierge service. There’s a collection of beachside pools with al fresco dining; glamping-sized wooden-slit cabanas and sun-soaked hālau daybeds; and two life-changing spas, one on-site and another in a country club-style villa surrounded by tennis and pickleball courts.
Architect firm Hart Howerton, whose properties span the Four Seasons in Santa Fe to Costa Smeralda in Sardinia, renovated the iconic property, which originally opened in the early ’80s, and designer Meyer Davis is responsible for its naturalistic decor.
Mauna Lani is rich with the culture of the island’s people. You feel it during the sunrise canoe ceremony — paddling out to sea at 6:30 AM to proclaim appreciation to the world — and at the Eva Parker Woods Cottage, a recreation of the land’s former owner’s guesthouse, which serves as a mini-museum for local artisans. Food, one of the most powerful cultural mediums, is bountiful. There are five beach-facing eateries, and this past Labor Day weekend the resort hosted its first Culinary Classic, featuring star chefs like Blue Ribbon’s Bruce and Eric Bromberg; Andrew Zimmern; Jonathan Waxman; and more in a three-day festival celebrating Hawaii’s unique agricultural heritage. But Canoe House is easily Mauna Lani’s — and perhaps the island’s — most delicious place to dine. The indoor-outdoor restaurant sits beneath heavy timber beams and features three-sided foldaway openings that retract for the perfect ocean view. It marries Japanese dishes with native ingredients and flavors for a sensorial experience. On the menu are favorites like pull-apart shokupan, poke-style kampachi sashimi, and Wagyu tataki topped with roasted jalapeño ponzu, and the chef ’s tasting menu is a must.