KAILUA-KONA, Hawaii, May 30, 2013 — The Royal Kona Resort in Kailua-Kona is the Hawaii of anyone’s dreams, a classic hotel with a Mad Men retro chic patina.
The lobby and the main bar area, Don’s Mai Tai Bar, are open-air architectural masterworks. The front end of the lower floor of the centerpiece of the hotel, the Alii Tower, is exposed under 25-foot colonnades as the building comes to a rounded point over the pounding surf and rocky shoreline.
The Royal Kona Resort dominates the landscape of Old Kona. Situated beautifully on a rocky point of land at the very tip of Kailua Bay, the property is a Kona landmark.
Royal Kona Resort was renovated in 2010. The rooms in the Alii Tower have picture perfect views that sweep across Kailua Bay. They are sleek, and stylishly appointed, with fine linens, plush beds, wifi, and an art deco feel to the furniture. Each room has balconies overlooking the rocks, a glistening Pacific Ocean, and a panoramic vista of the Kona waterfront. Beyond the crescent bay lies the town of Kailua-Kona, giving way to the rising hills and rich volcanic slopes of Mt. Hualalai.
The neighboring Bay Tower sits even closer to Kailua Bay and the water’s edge, while the Lagoon Tower has sweeping views of the Pacific looking south to Kealekekua.
The ocean side Don’s Mai Tai Bar is a steady stream of friendly hotel guests and local residents. As the afternoons lead up to the usually spectacular Kona sunsets the activity and palpable sense of time and location becomes a shared experience. People ring the perimeter of the ellipse of tables overlooking the Pacific, each evening’s spectacle being a shared heavenly moment. Then it is over, and the crowd hangs out with casual splendor, dusk turning to amber glow as the local band plays on.
The principle restaurant, Don the Beachcomber’s, is a long time stalwart in Kona, with an impeccable location overlooking the rocks, the surf, and Kailua Bay. The interior has a soaring roofline in an impressive Polynesian space, but the real appeal is the seaside dining under flaming Tiki torches.
Tsunami prawns, fresh sashimi and seared ahi are a trio of tasty appetizers. Fresh caught Ono in mango-papaya chutney is tender, and no one can go wrong with locally-sourced Waimea filet mignon, broiled to perfection.
A nightly luau is also held on a sprawling lawn at the base of the Lagoon Tower. Talented hula dancers and brilliantly performed Hawaiian music takes something as touristy as a luau and makes it special.
The Royal Kona Resort is situated within walking distance of multiple historic and important locations that are at the heart of Kona and old Hawaii. The most important of these is Hulihee Palace, the Royal retreat of the Hawaiian monarchy whenever they were in Kona.
King Kamehameha III, who was born in nearby Keauhou, and King Kalakaua, the Merry Monarch who famously entertained Mark Twain, were frequent residents during their reign. Built in 1838 by the Royal Governor of Kona, John Kuakini, Hulihee Palace is a remarkable example of the grandeur and cross-cultural sophistication of Old Hawaii.
Just across Alii Drive is the Mokuaikaua Church, the oldest Christian church in Hawaii, built by Governor Kuakini and the original missionaries in 1837 from lava rock and wood. The legacy of the Protestant missionaries set the stage for much of modern Hawaiian history. Mokuaikaua Church is the starting point for that massive evolution from traditional culture to European assimilation. The inside of the church has dark wooden beams with a wrap-around balcony. It remains an active congregation and the spiritual and historical center of Old Kona.
Several hundred yards across Kailua Bay, or walking distance from Hulihee Palace, is the original site of the compound where Kamehameha the Great ruled the islands for the last 10 years of his life. A replica of his hale, or thatched house, stands on the grounds, which are just behind Kailua Pier.
Down Alii Drive between Kona and Keauhou are numerous beaches and historical sites, including the birthplace of Kamehameha III. Just beyond Keauhou are the local towns of Kealekekua and Captain Cook, and the coffee growing region of Honaunau. These unspoiled outposts have changed little in 40 years, filled with quirky shops, world class coffee farms, and family businesses, including Teshima’s Restaurant, whose 103 year old owner still greets customers at lunch.
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