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In March 2011, when Japan’s 8.9-magnitude earthquake hurled a tsunami toward the shores of Hawaii, the staff at Four Seasons Resort Hualalai at Historic Kaupulehu had to act fast. The oceanfront Big Island resort was at 72 percent capacity and, to orchestrate an effective evacuation, its employees had no choice but to set their anxieties aside.
“What you learn in a crisis is that, as long as you are providing clear and consistent direction and you remain calm, everyone else will stay calm too,” Ciro Tacinelli Jr., director of marketing for the resort, told me during a recent visit.
Guests were escorted to Keolu Clubhouse, a private club located uphill, within the Hualalai development. With several pavilions, a pool and a restaurant, the clubhouse was about as luxurious as an evacuation site can get.
“We brought rollaway beds, pillows and blankets. And, when everyone was settled, we passed out milk and cookies. It was a nice way to tuck-in our guests for the evening,” said Tacinelli.
Damage to the resort was assessed the following morning, and it was determined that the resort would have to close for repairs. While there was no significant structural damage to the property, 12 guestrooms and suites as well as the Beach Tree restaurant and kitchen suffered water damage. The staff — all of whom remained paid with tips and benefits throughout the closure — banded together to empty and clean the pools, catch and release marine life, remove debris and sand from the property and relandscape the grounds.
“Basically, we gave the entire resort a deep cleaning,” said Tacinelli. “The six-week closure gave us the opportunity to make a lot of upgrades that we had planned for future dates.”
Overall enhancements include greener lawns of seashore paspalum grass, new beach furniture, additional oceanfront seating at the Zagat-rated Pahu Ia restaurant, enhanced views from some guestrooms and suites and the addition of outdoor patios and lawns to certain accommodations. All of these upgrades came in addition to a $40 million renovation completed in late 2009, which significantly expanded the spa and added a restaurant as well as 20 oceanview suites.
For me, the adults-only pool area, Palm Grove — featuring a Jacuzzi and a 40-foot, infinity-edge pool, surrounded by basalt planking and Brazilian hardwood — is the crown jewel of the property’s most recent enhancements. The Palm Grove swim-up bar impressed me with handcrafted shave-ice cocktails such as the wave rider (organic vodka, fresh basil, pineapple juice, muddled raspberries and coconut syrup) and the pineapple margarita. As of press time, the Four Seasons Resort Hualalai is the only hotel on the Big Island offering these playful libations, but I have no doubt that this trend will catch on very soon.
Although I spent little time indoors, I stayed in a Prime Oceanfront Room that overlooked both the Pacific Ocean and Kings Pond, a seawater pool teeming with approximately 3,000 tropical fish. Set close to the beach, Oceanfront Rooms feature furnished lanais, walk-in closets, 42-inch, flat-screen televisions and granite bathrooms with soaking tubs large enough for two. Standard guestrooms on the lower level also feature an outdoor, lava rock shower surrounded by tropical flowers and foliage.
On the bed at turndown, guests will find a copy of the weekly activities schedule, which is definitely worth a perusal. Those looking to immerse themselves in Hawaiiana can take complimentary hula or ukulele lessons at the on-site Kaupulehu Cultural Center, where they will also find historical books, Hawaiian artifacts and original paintings by local artists. The less-active set can attend the daily turtle talk led by a marine biologist. With a cocktail in hand, guests will cruise the beach and learn about the green sea turtles that frequently bask on the resort’s beaches. There are also tennis and basketball courts, a rock-climbing wall, an 18-hole Jack Nicklaus-designed golf course, a touch tank and a number of water activities to keep the whole family busy. However, my favorite resort “activity” was nursing a cocktail during sunset, hoping to catch one of Hawaii’s trademark green flashes.
Arguably, the best place to watch the sunset is in an oversized lounge chair in the open-air Beach Tree restaurant. Here, guests can listen to nightly live music, watch a hula performance or sip on a glass of the restaurant’s eponymous red wine, bottled exclusively for the restaurant by master vintner Jim Clendenen.
Beach Tree serves impeccable Italian- and Californian-inspired cuisine, sourcing approximately 75 percent of its ingredients from the Big Island. The roasted beet salad is a prime example of its farm-to-table fare, featuring watercress grown in Waimea, goat cheese made in Puna, macadamia nuts harvested from South Point and tri-color beets picked off the Hamakua Coast. Diners should try the truffle ricotta flat bread or the mascarpone, prosciutto and arugula pizza — both are baked to perfection in Beach Tree’s wood-fired brick oven.
“What’s great about Beach Tree is that you can share a glass of wine with your significant other while you watch the kids play bocce ball or run around on the new lawn,” said Tacinelli. “The resort is intentionally built in a way that you can enjoy activities as a family or spend some alone time in our more private enclaves around the property.”
Four Seasons Resort Hualalai at Historic Kaupulehu