Born from a fiery volcano six million years ago, Kauai is the oldest of the Hawaiian Islands. From the moment you step off the plane in Lihue, the Pacific’s balmy, plumeria-scented trade winds immediately wrap you in the charm and mystery that inspired centuries-old legends and drawn visitors for decades. From its golden beaches to its lapis waters and emerald mountains swelling with swaying palms, Kauai beckons you to explore the treasures of “The Garden Island.”
Kauai is a land of secrets. I was lucky to find one of its best kept secrets on a recent visit – in the form of a hotel; the stylish and luxurious Ko`a Kea Hotel & Resort, located on picturesque Poipu Beach. This famed area on the island’s south side is dotted with the sprawling resorts for which Hawaii is known. While resorts are not without their perks, I was looking for a more intimate experience for this trip. Thus, I was drawn to Ko`a Kea.
I arrived at the resort at nightfall. Tiki Torches flickered in the warm air, illuminating the beachfront property and dancing off the hotel’s free-form pool and lava rock hot tub. As I was escorted to my room, I could hear the sounds of crashing waves just steps from the property. Daylight could not come soon enough!
One of my favorite parts of vacation is the ability to forget the alarm. The next morning, I woke peacefully as a single ray of sunlight slipped through the drapes and onto my pillow. I leisurely climbed out of bed, making my way to the lanai. As I pulled back the curtains, I was greeted with a view of the Pacific Ocean that took my breath away.
As the morning sunlight flooded in, I turned and saw my room come to life. Vibrant splashes of turquoise, crimson and coral were offset by the simple, clean tones of mahogany-colored woods and warm neutrals. The sea-inspired decor including tall glass candle holders with sand and starfish, and beautiful white coral, for which the hotel takes its name (koa kea means “white coral” in Hawaiian), created a sense of place that was distinctly chic and tropical.
This aesthetic carries throughout the hotel, whose interior spaces were designed by Anita Brooks. Known for her work with Red Rock Hotel & Casino in Las Vegas, Brooks crafted Koa Kea into a coastal refuge inspired by the spirit and landscape of Hawaii. Guests are immediately immersed in the life aquatic, as Brooks blended flavors of earth and sea to transform the boutique property into a strikingly modern hotel with a playful, yet sophisticated atmosphere.
Koa Kea offers various room categories, and none of them disappoint. The top category, aside from the suites, is the ocean front room, which I booked early since there are only a few. It was certainly worth it. These rooms offer uninterrupted views of the Pacific Ocean and provide the perfect vantage point for watching surfers and paddle boarders glide through the crashing waves.
My first stop from the room was the resort’s Red Salt restaurant, which is aptly named for the island’s uniquely colored salt. Since it was vacation, I indulged in what was arguable the best Eggs Benedict I have ever tasted, complete with a pancetta hash and topped with a decadent, yet airy, chive hollandaise. Another morning, I ordered the sinfully delicious Lemon-Pineapple Soufflé Pancakes, which are a house specialty and well worth the splurge.
After breakfast, I reserved a chair by the pool for an afternoon of sunbathing. Since the resort is an intimate property without designated programs or areas for children, the majority of the other guests were couples, girlfriends and, of course, honeymooners. Again, another reason why I was drawn to Ko`a Kea. The resort’s adult-tailored sophistication eliminates the worry of being splashed by a rogue cannonball into the pool.
Kauai’s top draw is its endless array of land and sea activities. The options are endless, from scuba diving, kayaking and surfing, to hiking the dramatic landscape of the Napali Coast and Waimea Canyon, commonly referred to as the “Grand Canyon of the Pacific.” Or, if you want to stay close to home base like I did, you can venture to the beach just steps from the property for a surfing lesson, snorkeling or paddle boarding. You may also stumble upon some very relaxed monk seals sunbathing on the sand.
Thanks to a vigorous afternoon surfing lesson courtesy of Koa Kea’s own resident pro surfer, Chris Kauwe, I worked up a healthy appetite. Remembering how much I enjoyed breakfast, I could not wait to sample dinner that evening at Red Salt. I was told by numerous guests and locals that the restaurant serves some of the island’s best contemporary Hawaiian-inspired cuisine, set against a backdrop of shimmering ocean and pool views.
At dinner that evening, I was delighted by Red Salt’s creative approach to the traditional Hawaiian Poke dish with the chef’s signature Red Salt Poke, an ahi/ono sashimi atop cucumber ribbons with a ginger soy reduction. Other favorites include the Madagascar Vanilla Bean Seared Mahi with forbidden black rice and an avocado ginger salsa with mango vinaigrette, as well as The Red Salt Burger – a Wagyu sirloin burger topped with a butter poached Kona lobster tail.
You can’t visit Kauai without indulging in the island’s ultra-fresh fish, and Koa Kea is just the place to do so. Thankfully, you can find the hotel’s resident sushi chef serving fresh, colorful, daily-caught fish in the lounge. Each roll and piece of sashimi is prepared in a delightful way, elevating each dish to the next level. Pair it with a signature sake martini, and you’ve got a recipe for purely Hawaiian culinary perfection.
Kauai is a lush playground for nature lovers and Ko`a Kea is the destination. Time stands still at this special hideaway treasure, and it’s difficult to tear yourself away to go home. If you’re planning a honeymoon or a romantic retreat, don’t miss this gem along Kauai’s storied south shore.
For more information, please visit www.koakea.com