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Aspen Times Weekly Voyages edition: Kahala Resort, Hawaii

Linda HayesAspen Times WeeklyAspen, CO Colorado

Honolulu, aptly referred to as “The Heart of Hawaii,” never ceases to amaze me. In Waikiki, tourists perusing the chic designer shops along Kalakaua Avenue, the city’s version of Rodeo Drive, contrast sharply with the casual beach culture just a block away. Beyond that, a burgeoning cultural community (everything from world-class museums to nationally recognized restaurants that feature Hawaii Regional Cuisine) mixes with high-rise office buildings and a busy seaport. Verdant inland peaks rise in the distance. Although I often stay at one of the landmark hotels – The Royal Hawaiian or Halekulani, for instance – that dot Waikiki’s famous, two-mile stretch of beach, this time I’m returning to a place of which I’m particularly fond, the historic Kahala Hotel & Resort, located about 10 minutes away in Kahala, the island’s most exclusive residential neighborhood. And this time, rather than with my husband, I’m traveling with a friend, Aggie, who loves Honolulu and The Kahala as much as I do.Aggie and I arrive midmorning on a perfect Honolulu day. The Kahala’s Grand Lobby is just as we remembered it, the picture of classic Hawaiian elegance with Thai-teak parquet floors, stunning lava-glass chandeliers dangling from the high ceilings and lava-rock walls studded with cascading orchids. All things mainland begin to drift away on the balmy breeze as we drift off to our rooms.Notable for the long list of celebrity guests who have escaped to the luxury and privacy of the oceanside hotel since its opening in 1964, when former Honolulu Advertiser columnist Eddie Sherman referred to it as “The Ka-hollywood,” a stay at The Kahala can impart a host of different experiences.Book a room on the Dolphin Lagoon, and your time there will be enhanced by the resident dolphins’ playful squeals and splashes. High corner rooms in the tower facing to mauka, or “toward the mountains” in Hawaiian, and over the Waialae Country Club often feature views of eye-popping rainbows. And rooms facing to makai, or “toward the sea,” well, you get the picture. (Note these terms. They’ll come in handy when the taxi driver you call after a trip into Waikiki asks whether he should pick you up on the makai or mauka side of the street.)

– Free –

Our goal of spending as much time at The Kahala’s private cove of a beach as possible made our packing simple. Bathing suits, board shorts, flip-flops, or “slippers” if you’re a local, sun hats and lots of tanning cream. (Should you overdo it in the sun, the luscious Kahala Spa offers a healing cold stone and Ti leaf massage.)When we weren’t putting our chaise lounges to good use or chatting with the friendly beach boys from Hans Hedemann Surf Adventures, who were there to offer good-humored advice about handling the resort’s fleet of stand-up paddleboards and sea kayaks, we were in the water.One morning, we took a private stand-up-paddleboard yoga class with Matt Meko, an easygoing instructor from the resort’s CHI Health & Energy Fitness Center. After anchoring our boards so we wouldn’t drift away, we spent an hour practicing down-dogs and triangle pose and even headstands with little ripples lapping at our boards. Matt explained that the ocean was our kumu, or teacher, and it was moving and changing all the time. Our job was to keep our vibrations calm. We didn’t fall off once.



Dolphins are tough to ignore. Passing over the little bridges that cross The Kahala’s Dolphin Lagoon, a centerpoint of the resort, we were instantly charmed by the antics of Hoku, Kolohe, Liho, Lono and Nainoa, the five male Atlantic bottle-nose dolphins who call the natural, 26,000-square-foot lagoon (aka “the bachelor pad”) home.Run by Dolphin Quest Oahu, the official Dolphin Experience includes various encounters (not shows), during which you get to swim, touch (never push, pull or ride) and play with the dolphins. But the most fun is simply watching the trainers, who consider themselves part of the dolphin family, go through their daily routines – feeding, training and caring for the gentle creatures. A simple whistle or hand signal will send Hoku, who was born at The Kahala and whose name means “star,” spinning, diving and generally hamming it up with his buds. Watching, we were reminded of our retrievers, Hurley and Vino, back home.

Feeding time for Aggie and me was entertaining, as well. Lunch was typically balancing salads from the Seaside Grill, served up in bento boxes, on our knees at the beach. Pupus such as spicy ahi poke, fish tacos and edamame tossed with red Hawaiian salt (with Mai Tais and Kona microbrews, of course) at the Plumeria Beach House bar were perfect sunset-watching fare.But breakfast was our thing, specifically the vast “Rise & Shine” buffet on the Plumeria lanai, during which plates were piled high with custom-made omelets, Portuguese sausage, macadamia-nut muffins, juicy papaya and my favorite, crisp waffles with coconut syrup and sweet butter. Throw in a Bloody Mary made with Hawaiian vodka and sea salt, and we were more than ready to tackle the day (or, more likely, the beach chairs).



Our stay coming to a close, Aggie and I had added yet another layer of experiences to our mutual visits to Honolulu and The Kahala. Charmed by the ubiquitous spirit of aloha, one thing had become clear – we might call the mountains of Colorado home, but we were Hawaiian Island girls at heart.

Linda Hayes lives in landlocked Old Snowmass, where she keeps a closet full of “aloha” wear ready to pack at a moment’s notice.


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