The spring weather in Hawaii is typically balmy, with rainbow-making showers here and there, and visitors are in good company: pods of migratory Pacific humpback whales still frolic alongside their calves through mid-April. Here’s a look at new or notable experiences on the four major islands.
SEE Amid all the losses during last year’s volcanic eruption in the remote Puna district, something spectacular was gained: a new black sand beach, lagoon (formerly a boat harbor) and thermal ponds at Isaac Hale Beach Park in Pohoiki. It’s a beautiful setting for marveling at the power of Pele. The drive there, from rural Highway 130 in Pahoa to jungly Highway 137 and then over a road carved out of the recent lava, is equally memorable.
DO Thought about trading the busy Bay Area for the island life? Novato native Marty Corrigan and partner Greg Colden did just that when they left Oakland in 2004 for a five-acre farm in Holualoa. Some of the cacao and coffee they grow makes it into bars of Kona Natural Soap, which Greg crafts on site and sells at Alii Gardens Marketplace. Call to schedule one of his informative, intimate tours held every Thursday. $10, 808.322.9111
EAT Raised on the coast of Brittany, Four Seasons Hualalai executive chef Thomas Bellec has a special appreciation for the Big Island’s marine resources, including salt and shellfish harvested at the resort. His custom Chef’s Table at Ulu Ocean Grill includes wine pairings for dishes such as oysters with lilikoi mignonette, shrimp carpaccio with dashi gelée, octopus terrine, glazed Keahole lobster with puffed rice, steamed Hawaiian snapper with silken tofu and Hilo corn and miso butterscotch pudding. $295, 808.325.8000
STAY Adventurers and romance seekers find an exotic haven in Mahinui Na Lani, a treehouse for two ($295) in lush Volcano. Owner and San Anselmo native Gail Armand also gives tips for visiting dramatically transformed Hawaii Volcanoes National Park nearby.
Guests at Mauna Kea Beach Hotel have easy access not only to one of Hawaii’s best beaches, but also to snorkeling with manta rays in the company of a leading researcher on the elusive creatures. James and Martina Wing take small groups out twice nightly Monday through Saturday ($110). From $595, 808.987.5580
Stay in a treehouse for two in the Big Island’s Mahinui Na Lani.
SEE The teeming reef life around Kaanapali’s Black Rock, or Puu Kekaa in Hawaiian, always puts on a colorful variety show for snorkelers, but in early spring, whales add their song to the underwater soundtrack. Not a swimmer? Head here to observe the daily torch lighting and cliff-diving ceremony at sunset.
DO You can also navigate around Black Rock on a six-person outrigger canoe, Boki Board raft or stand-up paddleboard. Book a 90-minute outing from Hale Huakai, Kaanapali Beach Hotel’s new water activities kiosk. Manager and culturally savvy waterman Kepa Naeole makes sure the friendly staff share his safety first, eco-conscious approach. Canoe snorkel tour, $97–$107; Boki Board snorkel tour, $69; SUP lesson, $87.
EAT Top Chef fan favorite Sheldon Simeon celebrates both his Filipino heritage and his Hilo upbringing at Lineage, his new restaurant in the Shops at Wailea. A dim sum–style cart offers a rainbow of island snacks, from boiled peanuts to star fruit dusted with li hing mui, while the small-plates menu puts an elegant spin on local favorites such as pork adobo, squid luau, katsu curry (with fried cauliflower) and huli huli chicken. Don’t miss the playful cocktails and desserts. 808.879.8800
STAY After a $26.5 million renovation, Sheraton Maui, a classic Kaanapali resort (built in 1963), is refreshed and ready for even the most discerning guests. Not only has the decor been upped, the malama (love for the land) can be seen throughout the property: reef-safe sunscreen is complimentary, and this is one of the first resorts in the state to ban plastic straws. For a special treat, check out the new signature facial using Ola, a small-batch Hawaiian skin care line.
For those who can never get enough spa time, the new “Wellness Suite” package at Fairmont Kea Lani provides one solution. The package includes spa-style bedding and an aromatherapy shower in an 860-square-foot one-bedroom suite, plus two treatments at Willow Stream Spa and daily use of its facilities, a Knesko gold- or diamond-infused facial mask, massage and stretching kit, daily fitness classes, breakfast buffet and more. From $869 per night (five-night minimum), 866.540.4456
The Sheraton Maui
SEE In this world so mad for ’gram-worthy moments, it’s a surprise Mauna Lahilahi (thin mountain), located north of Koolina Resort on Oahu’s wild west side, is not more popular. It is, after all, said to be the smallest mountain on the planet. Whether or not that’s true, this is a prominent geographic feature and, might we add, picture perfect.
DO The guides of Hawaii Forest and Trail have long set the standard for eco-minded, culturally sensitive excursions on the Big Island. Now they also explore Oahu on three new tours. Farm to Forest includes a west side uplands hike, community farm stop and lunch prepared with local produce. Birds and Wildlife on Oahu explores endangered bird habitats that range from a private forest reserve to the seaside, where Hawaiian monk seals and green sea turtles may also be spotted. Honolulu Heights features a hike up Diamond Head, a stop at Nuuanu Pali and a walk through Lyon Arboretum. $169–$200 (kids $144–$170)
EAT Last spring saw the completion of a multimillion-dollar renovation, inspired by sinuous waves and twinkling stars, of Hoku’s, the signature restaurant of the Kahala Hotel and Resort. Oahu native Eric Oto, chef de cuisine, continues to update the “global Hawaiian” menu seasonally. Look for his Kona kampachi carpaccio with moringa, a Filipino superfood green also known as kalamunguy. 808.739.8760
STAY At the Diamond Head end of Waikiki, Queen Kapiolani Hotel recently debuted a retro-chic renovation and a third-floor poolside restaurant and bar, Deck, which provides an all-day hangout with dazzling views. For more active types, the hotel has yoga on the beach, running tours and a Friday twilight “surf club” ($10–$15). From $179, 808.922.1941
At the other end of Waikiki (and affordability), the Ritz-Carlton Residences, Waikiki Beach, recently opened a second tower of elegantly appointed suites, from studios to three-bedrooms. Take in the views of Fort DeRussy and the ocean from the resort’s infinity-edge pools on the seventh and eighth floors. From $495, 808.922.8111
Views on the Hawaii Forest and Trail tour on Oahu.
SEE While the road and parks north of Hanalei Bay remain closed for repairs after last April’s flooding, trails in Waimea Canyon and Kokee state parks still offer spectacular vistas of the red-walled, tree-dotted canyon and the verdant, plunging valleys along the Napali coast. Marked overlooks with paved parking make it easy to appreciate the panoramas without hiking, too.
DO Organic farmers Doug and Genna Wolkon began growing medicinal plants and making teas on a four-acre plot in Kilauea in 2010. Since then their humble farm stand has blossomed into the Kauai Farmacy store, offering a “tea lanai” where visitors can sample elixirs made from ingredients such as mamaki, noni and pineapple sage with a view of the lush gardens and distant mountains. Delve deeper on twice-weekly two-hour farm tours ($55 adults, $10 ages 2–12). 808.828.6525
EAT For gourmet burgers, go to the Coconut Coast. In Wailua, Street Burger Kauai serves 17 varieties that include local grass-fed beef, Niihau Ranch lamb or house-made veggie patties. Kapaa’s Kenji Burger reflects Japanese influences with touches like ponzu aioli, chicken katsu and miso black cod. At Nom, also in Kapaa, try the taro burger or the “Hella Hottie” with fried egg, jalapeño jack cheese, pickled jalapeños and chile pepper ketchup. Street Burger Kauai: 808.212.1555; Kenji Burger: 808.320.3588; Nom: 808.635.5903.
STAY Ninini Point lighthouse, the green mountains fringing Kalapaki Bay and the Jack Nicklaus–designed Ocean Course at Hokuala create the beautiful backdrop to Timbers Kauai, a vacation club in Lihue with luxurious two- to four-bedroom condos and town homes available for rental. From $850 (two-night minimum), 844.815.9193
In Poipu, the equally sumptuous Lodge at Kukuiula is now part of Two Roads Hospitality, which joins the World of Hyatt program later this year (save those points). Guests in its one- to three-bedroom bungalows and cottages have access to the Club at Kukuiula’s otherwise exclusive spa, dining and golf course. From $883 (three-night minimum), 866.901.5204
Stay at TImbers Kauai and golf the Jack Nicklaus–designed Ocean Course at Hokuala.
This article originally appeared in Marin Magazine’s print edition with the headline: “Islands in the Spring”.
Travel and features writer Jeanne Cooper fell in love with Marin and the Bay Area as a graduate student at Stanford University. After 20 years as an editor and writer for the Washington Post, Boston Globe and San Francisco Chronicle, she began a freelance career that has taken her from the Austral Islands to Zimbabwe, with many visits to Hawaii in between. Her stories have appeared in numerous national and regional magazines, including Hemispheres, Sunset, San Francisco and Nob Hill Gazette, as well as Marin and Local Getaways. The author of several Frommer’s guidebooks, she now lives on the Big Island, where she’s active in animal rescue. She still enjoys exploring Northern California with her husband and friends.