Big Island

Big Island Living – From Mauna Kea Resort to Volcano House

This isn’t a post about real estate listings at Mauna Kea Resort or Volcano on the Big Island. It’s actually more like a review you might find on TripAdvisor or Yelp, so if you are only interested in market reports and not hotel and restaurant reviews, feel free to skip this one.

But here’s a cool part of the Big Island lifestyle for those of you thinking about buying a home on the Island. As one of my Facebook friends put it, “We can vacation in Hawaii without taking a long flight to get here.”

Hapuna Prince at Mauna Kea Resort ocean view

View of beach and ocean from Hapuna Prince at Mauna Kea Resort

Oceanfront Suite: Hapuna Prince at the Mauna Kea Resort

The Hapuna Prince is sometimes thought of as the poor sister to the venerable Mauna Kea Beach Hotel. Both are owned by Prince and guests have access to the restaurants at both locations, although getting from one to the other inconveniently requires a short drive along the highway as the resort has two separate entrances. We were drawn by a mind-blowing kama’aina special to try a 1,200 sq. ft. oceanfront suite at the Hapuna…and we were not disappointed.

Despite having only a 30-minute “trip” to arrive at our destination, we were too exhausted to contemplate anything more than a caipirinha by the pool followed by dinner at the Terrace Grill. My drink was correctly made by a bartender who talked story as he muddled the lime, and the pour of Leblon was generous.

The Terrace Grill is not usually a destination restaurant for folks staying on the Kohala Coast, but perhaps it should be. The 4-course monthly special menu was devised around locally grown eggplant. Bottom line: we enjoyed the eggplant dishes and my husband’s Filet Mignon so much we returned our second evening on property so he could have the eggplant all to himself. When was the last time you had a dessert of eggplant cake with cilantro ice cream and pineapple-poi sauce?

Rather than use the spa facilities at the Hapuna Prince, we chose to drive 10 minutes to Blue Dragon Bodyworks. If you’ve watched our agent video you know Pam and I are fans of the Blue Dragon restaurant for the 3 D’s (dining, drinking and dancing). But I’d never tried their day spa. I had a 90-minute facial while my husband had a massage. Suffice it to say that I’ve now booked a series (and please do not comment that based upon viewing the video it is clear I needed the facial…or at least the mini-vacation!).

Volcano House Hotel Reopens

My first visit to Volcano House was back in the 80’s, when Mauna Loa was erupting and I checked in after three days’ hike to the summit and back. The room and the food were spartan, but after three days on lava it was heaven. Newly renovated by Aqua Hotels group, Volcano House was heavenly even after only a leisurely three-hour drive from the Coast.

The room might have been a let-down as it is roughly the size of the Hapuna suite’s bathroom…except that the afternoon was crystal clear and the view from the second floor crater-view room literally took my breath away. I mean, I can see the ocean all day long as I drive clients around.

View of Halema'uma'u from Volcano House hotel

View of Halema’uma’u Crater eruption from newly renovated Volcano House hotel

Watching an actual volcanic eruption? Not an every day view. It only glows red at night, but even the plumes of steam have the endless fascination of a campfire. Hard to sleep when you can watch a volcano from bed (a brand new, firm king size bed with linens nice enough my husband had to inquire whether we could buy a set for home) on a full-moon night.

Booked on a “pardon our dust” special, we’d been warned the restaurants would not be ready until June…so our great lucky surprise was to find at check-in that Uncle George’s lounge and the main restaurant had just opened for business. We reserved for dinner and headed across the street to the hula platform near the Volcano Art Center.

If you happen to stay on a Friday night when kahiko hula is offered, be sure to attend. You face the dancers, but the dancers face the eruption…offering their dance and chant directly to Pele. If you have only seen hula in the context of a resort show, this short program is a perfect introduction to the art, spiritual foundation, and discipline of the cultural practice.

Back to the restaurant. We favor restaurants that feature local island ingredients, prepared in ways that are both simple and innovative, because locally produced or gathered food has more taste and energy than even the highest quality ingredients shipped in. The Volcano House restaurant holds its own with any of the Kohala Coast chefs in its devotion to local food.

My husband NEVER orders chicken as a main course, but when he saw a Hilo-raised chicken on the menu he couldn’t resist. We’d eaten a big lunch on the drive over so I opted for a simple Johnson Farms vegetable stir-fry with taro cake. We do a lot of stir-fry from our garden, and this was the best we’d ever had in a restaurant.

In fact, the food was so good that we cancelled the reservation we’d made elsewhere for the following evening in order to return to sample more of the menu! The following night we had the Kuahiwi Ranch steak of the day and the lamb, both Big Island raised and both fork tender and beautifully presented.

Big Island Lamb Dish at Volcano House restaurant

Big Island lamb rubbed with Hilo-coffee on top of Hamakua sweet potato mash with macadamia green beans..sorry for the fuzzy photo, did I mention the decent wine list?

By our second day, Uncle George’s lounge had been discovered by day hikers. Bar menu favorites include the sliders with wild boar bacon and sweet potato fries and the island-style guacamole served with house-made chips. I enjoyed  a glass of prosecco while my husband experimented with the beers: two dozen choices by the bottle and a half-dozen by the glass, with a heavy emphasis on Hawaii brews.

Back to Work…

If you want to live the Hawaii lifestyle instead of just sampling it on vacation, I would be happy to help you with resort beachfront properties…or to refer you to one of my Hilo office colleagues if rainforest life is calling you.

A hui hou,

Beth Thoma Robinson R(B)
Direct: 808.443.4588

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