HAWAII – In the five centuries before the first British ship arrived in the Hawaiian Islands, the Big Island’s royal family – the “ali’i” – treasured the spectacular coastal site that they called Kalahuipua’a,” on what is now known as Mauna Lani Bay.
A rich menu of natural resources – the bay’s white sand beaches, hidden caves, groves of palms, fresh-water springs and lava-rock pools – made the site an ideal place to build a series of interconnected fish ponds, the primary source of protein in the Hawaiians’ daily diet. Convenient for a temporary settlement, it also provided a cool spot for a summer retreat.
Today, the Mauna Lani Bay Hotel & Bungalows occupies 29 of the site’s original 3,200 private acres, with 1,800 acres designated as a historic park and preserve. Which is probably why the guests of the Mauna Lani Bay Hotel discover that there’s much more here than the typical beach vacation. The hotel offers cultural tours of the site, or you can conduct your own self-guided tour.
If you wander along the beach toward the south, beyond the lobby lounge and the hotel’s three restaurants, past the inviting open-air bar and the swimming pool, you’ll discover 1,800 acres of the original site, now a historic park and preserve, mostly on private property, where archaeologists have unearthed artifacts dating back to 1200 A.D.
Within a few steps you’ll step from the present into the past, to a place where one of the South Pacific’s unique cultures flourished. After you’ve down-shifted to island time, napped in the shade of a palm tree and helped the kids build sand castles, find out why the Hawaiians loved this place.
To unlock the site’s hidden secrets, ask the concierge for the self-guided tour map and guide entitled “The View Into The Past.” Printed in sepia ink on wheat-colored paper it opens doors to the past. Look for signs to the coastal path, following it south past rugged lava flows and sandy inlets, where endangered green turtles haul out to sun themselves.
Along the way a fork in the trail passes 15 acres of spring-fed ponds which the Hawaiians depended on for drinking and cooking, and the salt-water lagoons in which they raised and harvested local fish. Another fork turns inland to a dense flow of lava and a group of shelter caves and tool-making sites.
Another fork turns onto the Loop Trail through a more recent feature, the botanical garden planted with native Hawaiian plants and trees by Francis H. I’i Brown, the property’s last owner and a descendant of royalty. Though the jaunt doesn’t venture far from the hotel, you’ll find you’ve slipped back through the years to another very different time.
FAST FACTS: Guests of the Mauna Lani Bay Hotel & Bungalows have direct access to the trails that start near the hotel. But there is no public parking at the hotel. Non-hotel visitors can park in a public lot off the highway, south of the hotel, where signs indicate the Historic Access Trail. It’s a half-mile walk from this point to the beach.
The Mauna Lani Bay Hotel & Bungalows is on Mauna Lani Drive, on the Big Island’s Kohala Coast, three miles north of Kona International Airport. For more, go to www.maunalani.com, or call (808)885-1473.
(c) The Syndicator, by Anne Z. Cooke. Photos by Steve Haggerty/ColorWorld.