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Where To Stay In Hawaii: Kauai And The Big Island

Hawaii’s distinct islands offer a slew of ways to explore pristine landscapes, luxuriate in serene spas, and recharge at stunning resorts.

The youngest island of them all, Hawaii Island (affectionately nicknamed the “Big Island”) was born half a million years ago and is formed from the activity of five volcanoes, also lending it its size. By contrast, Kauai is the oldest of the Hawaiian islands, dating back five million years.

Both offer a distinct experience; on the Big Island you’ll find hotels boasting spas, surf schools, charter boats and more. On Maui, rugged landscapes and cascading waterfalls call to nature lovers. This is how to navigate, and where to stay, on each.

Hawaii Island (also known as the Big Island)

Google nothing about the Big Island of Hawaii, and you might be surprised to land to a Mars-like landscape of dark lava rock. The Big Island alternates terrain from hot desert to tropical monsoon; its volcanic peaks, Mauna Kea and Mauna Loa receive snow, while the 45-kilometre stretch of Kohala coastline sees nothing but sunshine for more than 300 days a year. Here you’ll find sprawling golf resorts, beachside residences with state-of-the-art spas, and hotels offering surf lessons, boats to charter, and fine-dining restaurants.

Need a break from the sunshine? Rent a car and drive to the town of Waimea to explore vintage shops and locally-run cafés. Or, drive to the northernmost tip of the island, through the quaint town of Hawi, and discover the Pololū Valley hike and a black-sand beach. For truly unique expeditions, book a helicopter tour for a bird’s eye view of the island’s volcanoes, waterfalls, and diverse landscape – or charter a boat to track dolphins and discover deserted beaches.

Where to Stay on Hawaii Island

Best for active families: Four Seasons Resort Hualalai

Just a 15-minute-drive north of the airport, at Four Seasons Resort Hualalai the beach is minimal but the oceanfront property offers eight pools (one is even designed as a “swimmable aquarium” with more than 1,000 tropical fish), 249 guest rooms, and one of the best sushi and pan-Asian restaurants in the state, ‘Ulu Ocean Grill. A recent property-wide renovation added three new villas, each offering two stories with private pools, sea views, a contemporary Hawaiian ambiance, and up to 488 square metres of space. Families of all sizes and ages will love the range of activities including: the Bonga Perkins Wood Surfboard experience, a two-day adventure that invites guests to shape their own board to take home; a private catamaran charter aboard a 46-foot boat; and the Four Seasons Private Jet experience that also allows guests to experience the brand’s other resorts, on Oahu, Maui, and Lanai.

Best for low-key luxury: Rosewood Kona Village

Rosewood Kona Village originally opened in 1965 with a boho-chic vibe of no locks, TVs, or phones, but closed for nearly a decade after hurricane damage. Reopened by Rosewood Resorts in July 2023, the storied property received a full update costing upwards of $500 million, turning it into what is perhaps the most luxurious property in all of the Hawaiian islands. Home to 150 rooms over a sprawling 81 acres, expect chic accommodations designed by Nicole Hollis, complete with thatched roofs, private lanais, outdoor showers, and soaking tubs. Standard bungalows start at 56 square metres, while the larger accommodations include a 582-square-metre compound consisting of individual pavilions that make up the living, dining, and sleeping areas, and feature private pools, outdoor kitchens, and an oceanfront setting. There’s also an Asaya spa with open-air treatments, hot and cold plunges, an infrared sauna, and elite wellness concepts including pear 3D facial skin analysis and body composition testing. Two toes-in-the-sand bars help define the quiet luxury, and while there are no shortages of nearby hikes, golf courses, and exploring to do, the allure here is rest and relaxation.

Best for a short stay: The Mauna Lani

The Mauna Lani, an Auberge Resorts Collection, offers 333 guest rooms in its six-story structure (practically a skyscraper for the region). The five standalone villas, with their own entrance, Mokes, two bedrooms, living room, kitchen, private pool, and such proximity to the ocean that you can hear the crashing waves, allow for the most plush experience. If your time on the island is limited, the compact nature of this resort combined with beach proximity and authentic Hawaiian experiences mean that you can soak up the region without leaving the resort. It’s also home to what is perhaps the best restaurant in all of Hawaii: The CanoeHouse. Now helmed by chef Mark Libunao, it has been a hit since it opened in 1989. Don’t miss the mouthwatering Kahuku corn “ribs,” the beef and foie gras gyoza, the roasted head-on Kauai shrimp, or the garlic fried rice. Book in advance, and allow a few minutes ahead of your reservation to pop into Gwyneth Paltrow’s Goop boutique, just next door.

Best for beach lovers: Mauna Kea

The Rockefellers were some of the first to develop the Big Island, debuting the Mauna Kea resort in 1965, at the far north of the Kohala Coast. While the rooms might be a bit tired (a $180-million renovation is slated for 2024), anyone can visit and access the hotel’s beach, Kaunaʻoa (or Mauna Kea) considered the best on the island, and frequently a top ten in the world. Here, you’ll also find sister property The Westin Hapuna Prince, with a large, swimmable beach, as well as a range of room types – the residences feature sea views and up to four bedrooms.



Don’t expect extravagant shopping or dining on Kauai, but do expect a rugged natural landscape with authentic culture and independently-owned businesses that you rarely get to see throughout the other islands. While there is no shortage of glamorous places to stay throughout the Hawaiian islands, in Kauai, the true luxury is discovering its low-key charm. The smallest – and oldest – of the travelled Hawaiian islands has been the slowest to catch up to the luxury-scene, but things are changing.

Where To Stay on Kauai

Best for first time visitors: 1 Hotel Hanalei Bay

Sustainably-minded brand, 1 Hotels, spent years renovating this property, a former St. Regis, which sits on the island’s central north shore. New interiors from Nicole Hollis feature a neutral palette emphasising local woods and straw-covered lighting, and rooms come with sea views, filtered water, locally-sourced snacks, and showers that overlook the outdoors. The Jurassic Park–like setting boasts waterfalls that cascade from mountains, and picturesque, powder-sand beaches that beckon swimming and surfing below. In addition to a truly breathtaking location, the resort wows with a host of top-notch amenities. Dining doesn’t disappoint, with a range of options such as the locally-focused 1Kitchen, featuring ingredients from Kauai’s farmers and fishers; Japanese-inspired Welina Terrace with over 26 kinds of sake and Japanese whiskies; and a pair of poolside restaurants (family-friendly and adult-only). Included in every stay is unlimited access to a daily array of wellness classes, from beach boot camps to yoga and late-afternoon sound baths, while an energetic gym features an elite lineup of trainers. Borrow a complimentary Audi for the 15-minute drive to authentic beach town, Hanalei Bay, to explore local shops like Ohanalei Gallery, surf shacks and food trucks dishing out fish tacos and Thai food.

Best for total privacy: Kukui’ula

Hi`ilani Spa at Kukui’ula. Photo credit: David Livingston

Renting a villa on Kauai is a great way to relax and unwind. On the island’s south shore, Kukui’ula – a 1,010-acre development with plantation-style residences as well as a 1,670-square-metre health and fitness sanctuary – is where gurus like Taryn Toomey come to host retreats. There’s also a salt sauna, 34 fitness classes each week, and an on-site nutritionist who utilises the resort’s own farm for nutrient-dense menus. Or, enlist a villa rental company – Pure Kauai or Hawaii Life are great – to help you find your ideal short-term villa…or even long-term second home.

Lead image: Hawaii Island

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