This Hawaiian resort encapsulates the Aloha spirit

May 29, 2024

When I was a child, I was a huge fan of the show “Reading Rainbow." In it, LeVar Burton introduced cool topics like dinosaurs and Egyptian mummies, often visiting locations relative to the topics.  While I found every episode interesting, one that stuck with me aired in 1985 when I was 8 years old. It was titled Hill of Fire, and Burton traveled to Volcanoes National Park. In the background, Mount Kīlauea was erupting, spewing lava into the air. Burton stood near the glowing orange as it flowed into the ocean, miles away from the actual eruption. Ever since then, I’ve wanted to visit Hawaii’s Big Island and see the volcanoes in person.  I just needed the perfect excuse to go do it. 

Then one day, my Top 20 arrived with an offer I couldn't refuse. 

My trip planning nearly always begins with, “Where are we going to stay?” While I have been to Hawaii many times (including my Oahu wedding in 2011), I had never been to the Big Island, so I wanted to make sure I selected an ideal place for us to spend time. Enter Travelzoo’s Fairmont Orchid deal. The oceanfront oasis sits on 32 impeccably manicured acres, has an expansive pool, a golf course on one side, its own beach with lounge chairs, upscale and laid-back dining options—and scenery unlike almost anywhere else.

Paradise found 

Once we touched down at Kona International Airport and picked up our rental car, we were on our way to a new slice of heaven. The terrain as you leave the airport is best described as otherworldly. It feels like it could be a different planet with the black rock, some of it jagged and some of it smooth and slick with the ocean roiling in the distance. Upon arrival at Fairmont Orchid, we received a lei greeting and warm welcome from the front desk receptionist who informed us that even though we had arrived before check-in hours, our room was ready. En route, we loved how the resort landscaping feels like you're wandering through a tropical jungle. There are waterfalls, brightly hued flowers and lush grass along the paved paths to the different areas. 

We had a Partial Ocean View Room including a balcony with views of the golf course, the resort grounds and the ocean. Inside, this room delivered in a big way regarding my requirements. I am all about a nice bathroom and buttery-soft linens on a hotel bed. This feels particularly crucial on a Hawaii vacation since I like to soak in a tub after doing a lot of walking and the time change can sometimes make it challenging to sleep. This hotel ticked every box. When it comes to food, there is nothing we like more than an in-room breakfast. In this case, we took the room service dining outdoors to the balcony and were met with a rainbow to accompany our tasty meal.

Soak it in  

Something I particularly loved about the resort is that you didn’t have to leave it to experience what Hawaii is all about: outdoor time at the expansive pool, a daybed on the beach, Hawaiian food, Kona coffee, lava-flow cocktails as well as a lot of Aloha vibes. After we had settled in, we had a meal at the oceanside Hale Kai Restaurant. With my feet in the sand, I ate the most delicious coconut shrimp I’ve ever tasted, and my husband and I shared a salad and dessert.

Each morning of our vacation, I would stop by Brown’s Deli for a local coffee and an açai bowl or macadamia nut sticky bun. We had dinner one evening at the AAA 4-Diamond-rated Brown’s Beach House. For this spot, reservations are highly recommended because it can fill up quickly. Beautifully presented dishes like tempura ahi, Ka’u coffee venison and cheddar ulu mashed potatoes are almost too pretty to eat (but trust me, you’ll find a way).  

One afternoon, we rented a daybed at nearby Pauoa Bay Beach for an additional fee. The sand of this beach is steps from the hotel and is along a private lagoon. It was well worth it. The daybeds are available from 8 a.m. – 5 p.m. and include fresh fruit, mochi ice cream, local chips, juice and bottled water for two people. Attendants come around asking if you want to place any food or drink orders and provide chilled towels and cold mist sprays. I’m not particularly fond of swimming in the ocean, but my husband loves to be out on the water. He rented a kayak and from our daybed, I could see him paddling out there.

If you prefer, daybed rentals are also available at the pool which is an impressive space. It sprawls 10,000 square feet and has what feels like an infinite amount of lounge chairs and umbrellas, making it easier to find a spot to spread out for the day. We spent part of a day there and ordered lunch to eat poolside. 

When I heard that the spa at this resort was called the Spa Without Walls, I was intrigued. Surely, it’s not all outdoors? It turns out, it is! (There are a few indoor treatment rooms, but to stay true to the intent of the space, I recommend doing an outdoor treatment.) Treatments are provided in thatched hales (huts) near streams and waterfalls, all with the sound of local birds in the background. Another option is to book an oceanfront cabana where you can hear the breeze and the Pacific’s waves while receiving a therapeutic massage or facial. I was concerned I would be overly hot during the treatment, but I was comfortable and at ease. My husband said the massage he received was one of the best he’s ever had.  

Check out the surrounds  

In addition to visiting Volcanoes National Park, other aims of this trip were to find excellent Kona coffee, a mouthwatering burger and some souvenirs. We found all three easily within the first 24 hours. With a stop at Kings’ Shops near Waikoloa Village, you can browse the general store, upscale shopping like Tiffany & Co. and Michael Kors, plus local surf and jewelry shops.

As you continue to head south on Queen Ka’ahumanu Highway, there are scenic overlooks for perfect photo ops. There are also several areas featuring petroglyphs and trailheads. Our main purpose for continuing along this highway was to reach Kona Mountain Coffee. I’m admittedly a coffee snob and can honestly say I’ve never had better coffee. We purchased fresh cups, baked goods, bags of beans to take home and (of course) chocolate. The farming operation for this coffee is local and the rich volcanic soil covers the 100 acres where the coffee trees grow with the coffee cherries, only being harvested at peak times, making for a premium blend.

For our burger fix, we stopped by Island Ono Loa Grill, where everything is made-to-order. It's always a good sign when a restaurant is packed and that was the case even at 8 p.m. on a weeknight. I got the goat cheese with macadamia-nut pesto local-beef burger, and my husband opted for the bacon local-beef cheeseburger. My husband isn't typically a fan of goat cheese, but he devoured the last couple bites of my burger and loved it. It's understandable why this spot was busy and well-rated; we would frequent it if we were locals. 

Dream fulfilled   

As you'll most likely spend so much time at the resort, there's no need to rent a car since it's more cost-effective to use public transportation or the airport shuttles. Plus, the Fairmont Orchid provides a complimentary shuttle to the local Mauna Lani area. That said, if you do want to go further out, there is a rental car counter at the resort. We needed a rental car to finally see the main reason for this trip of a lifetime: Volcanoes National Park.  

The magic of the Hawaiian Islands was born from the fiery creativity of volcanoes. Two of the most active volcanoes in the world, Kīlauea and Mauna Loa, continue to shape this tropical paradise. Mauna Loa, the largest mountain on Earth, is a marvel to behold. Visiting the area, you recognize the awe-inspiring power of nature given the island chain keeps growing, both above and below the surface.   

If you’ve not been to the park previously, stopping at the Kīlauea Visitor Center to speak to a park ranger and obtain a map is a wise idea. Certain areas in the park don't have much of a cell signal (or any cell signal), so having a paper map was integral. The first place we went to was Kīlauea. Even when it’s not erupting, it’s always smoldering and steaming just below the surface even a mile or more from the center of the volcano. The vastness of this space is indescribable. We hiked up as high as the trail would allow us, to look down into the expanse.

The park is divided into three zones. You could spend multiple days there, but as we only had one, we decided to focus our time on the Kīlauea side which is the furthest east, and follow along the Chain of Craters Road. We stopped at several points along the way, advised by locals we’d met there and using our paper map; this included a spot that echoed loudly when you shouted into the canyon.

Our final stop for the day was Hōlei Sea Arch. Plan for a walk because parking is scarce, but it's worth it. Once at the viewing area, you can stand on the rocks and see in the distance the void that’s been worn through the rocks creating a thin gap where the sea flows freely and the waves crash and leap into the air. Looking back in the other direction, you spot an oasis of sorts with a grouping of palm trees. We stayed until the sun was starting to dip in the sky, and then made our way back to the resort, driving a different route than we’d taken to get to the park, so that we could see more of the island. There were several areas along the drive with ocean vistas that were breathtaking.  
This trip to the Big Island was one of my favorites we’ve had to the Hawaiian Islands. It met my dreaming-child expectations, and the opportunity to relax at a luxury resort like the Fairmont Orchid enhanced the experience even more. A return trip to visit additional zones of the national park crosses my mind weekly. Time to start planning! 

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