Puako, Hawaii

Photo: Auberge Resorts Collection

The beach can wait. So can the spa, the pool, and those addictive fruity cocktails. For once, you’re not focused on a resort’s luxurious amenities. At least not yet. You want to start this trip by immersing yourself in Hawaiian culture.

Mauna Lani makes it easy. You’re surrounded by local customs as soon as you walk through the resort’s huge lobby. Cedar floors lead through the open-air space that’s flooded with sunlight. Its centerpiece is a wooden outrigger canoe. Hale ‘I‘ike lies at the other end. The House of Knowledge feels like both a living room with a semicircle couch and a museum with local artifacts. Danny Akaka, Mauna Lani’s Kahu Hānai, is eager to tell stories. Many of them took place on this very land.

Auberge Resorts Collection opened its first Hawaiian resort last January. Mauna Lani wasn’t a new property, though. A beloved hotel sat on the Big Island’s Kohala Coast for more than three decades. Families, who returned year after year, were sad when it closed in 2018 for more than a year. The gorgeous renovations were worth the wait. Plus the resort’s historic core, an ancient fishpond called Na Loko l’a O Kalahuipua’a, was left untouched.

Photo: Auberge Resorts Collection

Mauna Lani means “mountain reaching heaven” in Hawaiian. It’s name starts to make sense when you reach the resort’s dramatic driveway. It winds through black lava plains and around swaying coconut palms. Nanuku Inlet’s water sparkles up ahead. While tall mountains—large shield volcanoes, really—tower in the background.

Your time with Danny lasts much longer than you anticipate. But you love every minute with him. He teaches you about early Hawaiian fish farmers, King Kamehameha, and cowboys who lived on the northwest coast of the Big Island. He tells you about the nearby Puakō Petroglyph Archeological Preserve, where 1,200 designs were carved into rocks. He encourages you to join the resort’s coconut-frond weaving class, ukulele lesson, and live hula show. Then he mentions the turtle sanctuary and, surprisingly, Surf Shack. That’s where you can learn how to paddle an OC2 outrigger canoe.

You certainly have a full stay, or at least a full day, ahead of you. Don’t worry, a rum-filled Mauna Lago will be awaiting you at Hā Bar when the sun starts to set. It’s the most magical time of the day on this west-facing property. Hau’Oli Maoli Oe. Happiness towards you, as Hawaiians say.

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