Hawaii Island’s First Resort

It was while swimming in the turquoise waters of Kauna‘oa Bay, surrounded by a wide landscape of lava rock and ranchland with clear views of the Mauna Kea summit, that American conservationist and venture capitalist Laurance S. Rockefeller decided to build Hawaii Island’s first resort. His inspiration to capture the spirit of this special place and ensure the hotel conformed to, rather than intruded upon, these beautiful natural surroundings, became today’s Mauna Kea Beach Hotel.

1960: Experimenting on the beach

Rockefeller’s original concept was a cluster of individual cottages along the beach, with no televisions or air-conditioning to interfere with the natural environment of the Kohala Coast. Architects Skidmore Owings Merrill produced a dome-shaped model that was almost washed out by a tropical storm, so a single-building design was next refined by lead architect Charles Bassett. Air-conditioning proved to be crucial in the warm, nearly always sunny South Kohala climate. But from 1965 to 1995, the hotel operated contentedly without guestroom televisions as Rockefeller had always intended.

1964Golf First

In 1964, a year before the hotel was ready to receive guests, Mauna Kea Golf Course opened and became Hawaii Island’s first course. Designed by Robert Trent Jones, who had pioneered a technique to create soil from lava rock, the course debuted with a televised “Big 3” match between Jack Nicklaus, Arnold Palmer and Gary Player.

1965: Great beginnings

When it opened in July 1965 with 154 guestrooms after a $15 million build-out, Mauna Kea Beach Hotel was the most expensive hotel ever built. Praised by travel writers and critics worldwide, it was named one of the “three greatest hotels in the world” by Esquire magazine, one of the “10 best buildings of 1966” by Fortune, and presented with an honors award by the American Institute of Architects in 1967. What were viewed as exorbitant room rates started at $43 per night, including breakfast and dinner in the Pavilion, which featured international cuisine.

1968: The New Wing

A new Beachfront Wing was added in 1968, designed by Honolulu architects Wimberly, Whisenand, Allison, Tong and Goo, with interior design by Phyllis Brownlee. Original paintings by John Young were commissioned for the guestrooms, and the Batik restaurant and Lounge was also added.

1994-95: A Sister Property

Mauna Kea Beach Hotel closed for renovation in 1994, a few months before the opening of adjacent Hapuna Beach Prince Hotel that August. Designed by Beachfront Wing architects Wimberly Allison Tong and Goo, Hapuna delivered a contemporary resort experience at the other end of the Mauna Kea Resort property, featuring all ocean-facing rooms, meeting and business facilities, and an exclusive villa. Mauna Kea Beach Hotel reopened in December 1995 and the two hotels in tandem comprised a world-class resort and residential experience on the beautiful Kohala Coast.

2008: Next Generation

Following a damaging earthquake in October 2006 and an unprecedented two year, $150 million renovation, Mauna Kea Beach Hotel reopened in December 2008. In classic Mauna Kea style, the hotel continues to welcome generations of guests to reconnect with life’s most authentic pleasures.

2015: Marriott’s Autograph Collection

Mauna Kea Beach Hotel became Hawaii’s first Autograph Collection Hotel through a marketing partnership. The Autograph Collection is an ensemble of strikingly independent hotels across the country. Each destination has been selected for its quality, bold originality, rich character and uncommon details.

2016: Historic Hotel

Mauna Kea Beach Hotel was inducted as a member of Historic Hotels of America. HHA is the official program of the National Trust for Historic Preservation, which recognizes and celebrates the finest historic hotels across America.

Photo of a Rocky Beach on the Ala Kahakai Trail.

Outdoor exploration will never go “out of style” on the Island of Hawaii, a year-round, 4,000-square-mile adventurer’s paradise. There are countless ways to survey the most biodiverse island on the planet, including guided hikes, horseback rides, and cycling tours. While most travelers choose Mauna Kea Beach Hotel for its private beach, island cuisines, and casual sophistication, it’s important to remember that there’s so much natural beauty within steps of our ocean-view suites. One of Mauna Kea’s oft-forgotten features is its instant access to the Ala Kahakai Trail. This 175-mile-long path wraps around the island’s western rim from ʻUpolu Point to Hawaii Volcanoes National Park.

The Ala Kahakai Trail

Volunteers preserve the Ala Kahakai Trail, including Mauna Kea Beach Hotel’s staff, as the pathway runs along the resort’s edge to our sister property, The Westin Hapuna Beach Resort, a newly-renovated retreat. Preservation began in 2000 when it became transparent that the coast’s ecosystem needed to be protected and preserved. The 175-mile-long hike is home to countless ancient Hawaiian sites, as well as over 200 different ahupuaʻa subdivisions. 

Labeling this landscape as biodiverse wouldn’t do it justice, as its ecosystems range from lush rain forests to dry shrublands and volcanic ruins. Some of the Ala Kahakai Trail’s most photographed features include hidden caves, lava forms, and anchialine pools, often filled with endangered fish. Geologists, botanists, and zoologists alike label the Ala Kahakai Trail as the earth’s most spellbinding “living classroom.”

Kauna‘oa Bay to Hapuna Beach

Photo of Mauna Kea Beach Hotel in the Distance from the Ala Kahakai Trail.As mentioned above, the Mauna Kea Beach Hotel team has, on several occasions, helped clean up the trail that runs from Kauna‘oa Bay (often referred to as “Mauna Kea Beach”) to the Hapuna Beach State Recreation Area. If you didn’t know that this stretch of the Ala Kahakai Trail existed, you would probably miss it altogether. Its exclusivity is incredibly enticing for those looking for an oceanfront stroll far away from crowds of tourists.

The Ala Kahakai Trail starts near Mauna Kea Golf Course’s 11th hole, a visual delight in and of itself. It meanders along a rocky, sandy shoreline past several private estates, all of which peer toward beautiful Kaunaʻoa Point. Much of the journey features pitch-black volcanic rock before eventually spilling onto white-sand shores of Hapuna Beach State Park, fronting The Westin Hapuna Beach Resort. It’s worth reiterating that over 50 percent of the Ala Kahakai Trail runs through private property, so please be extra respectful of the land. Take nothing but pictures; leave nothing but footprints.

To learn more about this long-preserved pathway, please visit Ala Kahakai’s website.

Where to Stay on the “Big Island” | Mauna Kea Beach Hotel

Aerial View of Mauna Kea's Beach, Just Steps from the Ala Kahakai Trail.Mauna Kea Beach Hotel remains a four-season beacon of light for travelers looking for an extended break from busy schedules and stressful workplaces. The dream of Hawaii is real here on the picturesque Kohala Coast. On-site luxuries include private beach access, a world-class golf course (a Robert Trent Jones Sr. marvel), unobstructed Pacific Ocean views, and Beach Club admission. There’s never been a better time to take advantage of our many special offers, many of which are trailer-made for winter escapes.

To book a long-awaited wintertime getaway to the Island of Hawaii, please check availability online (or call us directly at 1-877-880-6524).

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