Nuy Cho Nuy Cho | March 22, 2021 | Lifestyle
The new Mauna Lani Auberge Resort is an unforgettable spiritual destination.
The pool and royal fishponds
A fixture on the Big Island resort scene for decades, Mauna Lani’s illustrious location is in the heavenly and picturesque northwest of the island. And over its two-year $200 million renovation, the sprawling property in Waimea got a complete makeover.
Though the main structure of the hotel remains largely untouched, leaving the best of its midcentury-modern lines, the new ambiance breathes fresh air. The lobby, marked by chestnut browns, is seemingly endless. A giant staircase in the middle leads to the ground level, which sprawls with open seating areas and a grassy lawn all the way to the ocean. Of particular note is that the resort sits on sacred land marked by royal fishponds and undulating lava plains.
The 333 rooms (Auberge’s largest property thus far) are now full of modern, upscale touches like textured wall hangings and minimalist yet inviting decor. I’m particularly struck by the location and the rich cultural history of the land. The property is exceedingly lucky to have Kahu Hanai (knowledge keeper) Danny Akaka presiding over the grounds.
An airy lounge on the ground level
Akaka has spent more than 35 years educating guests, visitors and locals on the unique story of the royal fishponds. (His family goes way back in Hawaiian history and his father was prominent U.S. Sen. Daniel Akaka Sr.) While taking me on a tour, Akaka explains that Mauna Lani, or Kalahuipua‘a, is significant because five major mountains—the Kohala Mountains, Mauna Kea, Mauna Loa, Hualālai and Haleakalā—surround the area in a complete circle. The fishponds here had been built for royalty and there remains a reigning mana and spiritual calm in the air.
The resort also houses the Mālama Honu program with marine biologist Pi‘i Laeha. Baby turtles are brought over from Sea Life Park and raised in a pond that mimics their natural living environment for a few years before they’re released annually on Turtle Independence Day (July 4) when they are the appropriate size. Outdoor activities at this scenic resort are a forte; the rigorous water sports offerings even include underwater rock carrying classes for surf fans. And you can check out the incredibly memorable Mauna Lani golf courses by Troon, which feature lava-rock holes, ocean views and breathtaking snow-laced mountain peaks.
One of the major highlights of the reopened Mauna Lani is restaurant CanoeHouse, led by Nobu alum chef Matt Raso. I first met chef Raso a few years ago and am delighted by his heightened sense of taste with Japanese cuisine and deepened understanding of how to work with delicate East Asian flavors. Now doing his own food entirely, chef Raso rises as a new culinary star. His New York strip, dry-rubbed with wagyu fat of all things, is by far one of the richest, most unctuous dishes you’ll ever have— guaranteed. Suites from $999 per night, aubergeresorts.com/maunalani
Photography by: Courtesy of Mauna Lani Auberge Resorts Collection