Hawaii's Booming Big Island: Luxury Living At Its Best

Vacation News » Vacation & Leisure Real Estate Edition | By Scott Kauffman | October 3, 2008 1:10 AM ET

(KONA-KOHALA COAST, HI) - When the late Laurance Rockefeller opened Mauna Kea Beach Hotel on Hawaii's Big Island in 1965, the hotelier had a dreamy desolate location for his famed Robert Trent Jones Sr.-designed golf course. In subsequent years, the renowned resort became the standard bearer for luxurious hospitality and great volcanic golf--Hawaiian style.

Of course, since Rockefeller first put the Big Island's Kona-Kohala Coast on the map, numerous resorts have helped make Hawaii's "Gold Coast" one of the world's leading tourist destinations. Now, the treasured coast that stretches from the Kona International Airport 25 miles north to Mauna Kea has become one of the most luxurious places to live.

And two of the priciest places on the planet are Kuki'o and Four Seasons Resort Hualalai.  Kuki'o, a 1,100-acre exclusive private club community developed by Scottsdale-based Discovery Land Company, was the first private equity golf and beach club developed on the Big Island and costs $250,000 to be a member. Among the club's compelling amenities are the separate private members beach clubhouse and dining pavilion and Hawaii's only Tom Fazio-designed courses--a 10-hole short course near the beach club and the upland 18-hole layout.

More than two-thirds of Kukio's 375 custom estate residences and cottages have been sold with lot prices ranging from $1 million to more than $15 million (two 1-acre oceanfront homesites sold for $20 million apiece and computer mogul Michael Dell reportedly acquired three 1-acre oceanfront lots for $10 million each before building his 30,000-plus square-foot home).

A property equally as luxurious in its lifestyle is the adjacent Four Seasons Resort Hualalai. Noted for being the host course of the prestigious PGA Champion Tour's MasterCard Championship, Hualalai has taken its renowned resort to a whole new level with the opening of the private Hualalai Club.

Perhaps the most notable new addition to the 865-acre master-planned resort-style development is the recently opened Tom Weiskopf-designed Ke'olu golf course (Jack Nicklaus designed the resort course). Hualalai's other private amenities are the magnificent Hualalai Sports Club & Spa, a laid-back open-air Canoe Club facility, residential concierge service and a 14,000-square-foot clubhouse highlighted by celebrity chef Alan Wong's Hualalai Grille (club costs $200,000 to join).

Hualalai senior executive Jeremy Sosner says the main appeal to Hualalai's new private lifestyle is the unique blend of a "traditional classic resort" with the "amenities and exclusivity of a top private club."

"The buyers in our market belong to a number of private clubs so they're used to having the private experience," says Sosner, whose real estate offerings range from condominium villas that start at $2.5 million, custom homesites from $2 million and estate homes that exceed $20 million. "They want their 7 p.m. sunset seat at the restaurant when they want it, and they like playing hassle-free golf. But they also enjoy the energy of the resort."

Between the two exclusive resort-style communities, where limited 1-acre oceanfront parcels start at $10 million, there are numerous business tycoons that own vacation homes such as Dell, Charles Schwab, Cisco CEO John Chambers and George Roberts of Kohlberg Kravis Roberts fame, to name a few.

Not far away, Discovery Land Company is trying to duplicate its Kuki'o magic with the new Kohanaiki Golf & Ocean Club. Located about five minutes south of the Kona Airport, Kohanaiki is a private club community featuring 400 finished luxury homes and 94 custom homesites spread across a Rees Jones-designed course and 450 acres of Kailua-Kona oceanfront property.

Back up the Kohala Coast, Mauna Kea Resort is redefining itself, literally and figuratively, after an earthquake damaged the resort in December 2006. The resort is scheduled to reopen this December, after owner Prince Resorts Hawaii completes a $150 million renovation project. Another major change is the sweeping tee-to-green restoration and modernization of the classic Mauna Kea course under the watch of U.S. Open Doctor Rees Jones.

Meanwhile, a Hawaii-based group is still offering a rare slice of this resort life with a new residential enclave called Wai'ula'ula at Mauna Kea Resort. Actually located "mauka," or toward the mountains, from Mauna Kea Beach Hotel, Wai'ula'ula features 102 upscale condominium homes set amidst Mauna Kea's sister resort, the modern Hapuna Beach Prince Hotel and its Arnold Palmer-designed course.

Surrounding Hapuna's 11th and 14th holes, Wai'ula'ula is a gated development that emphasizes lush environmentally sensitive tropical landscaping (the golf course is a member of Audubon International), low-density buildings and open sightlines that afford residents unique unobstructed 180-degree vistas of the Pacific Ocean and Kohala Coast. Prices start at $1.45 million for the sold out Ridge homes (2,100-square-foot quadplex units), $2.4 million for Villa units (2,500-square-foot duplexes with garage and pools) and $3.4 million for single-family estate homes with separate pools, spas and spacious two-car garages.

Among the many amenities associated with Wai'ula'ula are special privileges at  Mauna Kea Resort, including easy access to Mauna Kea's famous white sand beach, world-class courses, tennis and fitness centers, spas, nine restaurants, hotel facilities, and a full slate of "concierge" residential services overseen by a security team formerly associated with Hawaii's governor.

For those not interested in mingling with Mauna Kea guests, Wai'ula'ula has its own on-site luxury amenity center called Hale Ikena, which features a fitness center, swimming and sitting pools and an area fitted with a full kitchen to entertain guests.

This lifestyle, and the relatively affordable entry prices by Big Island standards, is what brought Ed Miklas and his wife, Janet, to the community more than a year ago. A self-described golf nut, Miklas, 77, previously had a vacation home for four years in the Villages at nearby Mauna Lani Resort but he says there's no comparison to the Wai'ula'ula lifestyle.

"At Mauna Kea you don't have that closed in feeling," says Miklas, a native of Milwaukee who has made Hawaii his regular vacation home since the mid-to-late '90s. "The density is very low here, whereas Mauna Lani everything is just jacked in. Also, we had limited (ocean) views (at Mauna Lani). Here, we have great views from two different sides--you can see the mountains and the golf course--so the aesthetics and views are much more exquisite."

Throw in the high-desert climate of the Kona-Kohala Coast and the unique lifestyle of the Big Island--perhaps the only place on the planet where one can visit a live volcano, snow ski and sunbathe all in the same day--and the Big Island is the happening place to be when it comes to the Hawaiian lifestyle.

"What I like about (the Big Island) is it's such a diverse climate and the views are beautiful," Miklas says. "Another thing is the island is still not as crowded as Maui and Oahu. And there's not as much rain. I like to compare it to the Palm Springs of Hawaii."

Real Estate Listings Showcase

This website uses cookies to improve user experience. By using our website you consent in accordance with our Cookie Policy. Read More