The Big Island's beloved Kona Village Resort reopens with fresh design by SF's Nicole Hollis
Kona Village, on Kahuwai Bay, has reopened following a property-wide rebuild. (Courtesy of Kona Village)

The Big Island's beloved Kona Village Resort reopens with fresh design by SF's Nicole Hollis


Try to imagine the colors of Hawaii and you'd probably visualize oceanic blues, verdant greens, and orchidaceous florals.

But as I gazed down from the Hawaiian Airlines flight approaching Kona, I was reminded that the predominant color on this part of the Big Island is black—the black of vast expanses of lava rock fields. En route to Kona Village, my driver Kurt explained there are two types of lava rock here: the smoother pahoehoe and the rougher variety natives call a'a.

Accommodations are standalone hales with thatched roofs.(Courtesy of Kona Village)

If the stark terrain of the Kona Coast of Hawaii differs from, say, the photogenic lushness of the north shore of Kauai, then the 81-acre Kona Village also offers something different from other resorts. There's a feeling of privacy and a connection to the native communities who lived here in centuries past. Oh—there are also four different variations of mai tai, one for each of the hotel's bars. But upon check-in, I didn't need to go in search of a drink, the mai tai was already mixed and waiting in my oceanfront bungalow.

When the resort first opened in the 1960s, the absence of televisions in the rooms was a point of distinction, reinforcing the idea that the place was to be enjoyed as a barefoot hideaway and a spot to connect with fellow travelers. (Ironically, or perhaps not, Steve Jobs was a regular guest.) In 2011, Kona Village was forced to close when a tsunami destroyed most of the property. Now, after an extensive rebuild, it has reopened under the management of Rosewood Hotels and Resorts, with fresh interiors by San Francisco designer Nicole Hollis. The Polynesian-style bungalows, called hales, have thoughtful touches like outdoor showers and local artwork. Guests might still go barefoot, but they're metaphorically well-heeled: The beachfront location on Kahuwai Bay that made it more vulnerable to the tsunami than the neighboring Four Seasons is also what makes the spot desirable, and room rates begin at $1,800 a night.

IInteriors throughout the property are by SF's Nicole Hollis. (Courtesy of Kona Village)

One morning I did the Seabob adventure, laying atop a motorized personal watercraft. My guide Pu' explained how the hand-grip speed control works, then we sped off, diving underwater to see aquatic life. Near the rocky peninsula he dove down and resurfaced excitedly, holding a Hebrew cone seashell he'd put there for safekeeping months before. He handed it to me with a warning not to touch the stinging end as the mollusk inside was still alive. Then he returned it to its ocean home.

Staff take seriously their role as guardians of the natural resources and are devoted to the history of the place. Another day I joined a tour of the property with the wise and engaging cultural manager, Kumu Welu, who wore a hat woven from pandanus leaves. She pointed out a few of the petroglyphs that abound here (a separate dedicated petroglyph tour is given on alternate days). As we passed a field of solar panels she explained that the resort is LEED-certified and that the thatched roofs of the bungalows are made from recycled materials. Archaeological evidence points to a generations-old village kitchen near the resort's own Kahuwai Cookhouse, which plucks many of its ingredients from resort's gardens that yield a bounty of kale, basil, arugula, lettuces, mangoes, avocados, ginger and bananas.

An infinity pool overlooking Kahuwai Bay is part of the renovated Kona Village.(Courtesy of Kona Village)

The burger I had at the cookhouse—made from steak ground in-house, with grilled onion baked into the charcoal-and-pumpkin-seed bun—was one of the two most memorable bites during my stay. The other was the French toast soaked in coconut milk with candied macadamia nuts served at breakfast at Moana restaurant. There are also apiaries to provide honey for the kitchen and bars.

About those mai tais: Bar manager Jason Strich (formerly of Manresa in Los Gatos) says "fresh is key" when differentiating his cocktail program from other hotels in the area. "Sourcing as much from the Big Island as possible... Everything we utilize in the cocktails is made in-house, on a daily basis." One of the mai tais on offer swaps in macadamia orgeat for the traditional almond.

At Talk Story bar, cocktails crafted with fresh-pressed juices and housemade ingredients are served a few steps from the ocean.(Courtesy of Kona Village)

The Asaya Spa is the cocoon-within-a-cocoon at this privileged retreat. The practitioner begins each treatment by proffering a few vials of scent, one by one, for a guest to take a deep inhale and choose their favorite for a massage or as shower scrub. It ends with a soak in an outdoor stone bathtub looking not at the ocean but at the mountains and lava rock beds characteristic of the Big Island, the youngest of the Hawaiian islands. That tub is a perfect vantage point from which to lay and ponder either the immensity of geologic time, or the specific coddled pleasure of this moment.

// Kona Village, A Rosewood Resort, Kailua-Kona (Hawaii),

A tranquil moment at the Asaya Spa.(Courtesy of Kona Village)

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