Story & Photos by Marcus Maraih - Visit Marcus Maraih on Google
I admittedly came upon The Kahala Hotel & Resort for the first time not from some prestigious editorial invite to tour the property nor was I in attendance at one of many weddings held on its gorgeous and gazebo laden grounds. Instead I simply stumbled upon this 5 star resort by accident.
Let's strip the glamor factor even further by admitting that the discovery started while on The Bus - Honolulu's public transit system. I was on an impromptu tour of the coastal shores passed the base of Diamond Head after realizing that over the years I had never bothered to venture along this small portion of Oahu, always opting to hit Kamehameha Highway as fast as possible when en route to and through the windward side of the island. I hopped off the #14 as soon as the Kahala Avenue real estate cleared, allowing me to see the ocean via the window provided by Wai'Alae Beach Park. The park is nothing spectacular but the clear waters beckoned and so off I went. Within seconds of landing on the narrow strip of sandy shore I saw a tiny, palm tree crowned island too perfectly sculpted to be made by nature, and it wasn't. The "Keep Off" sign was the next giveaway and the matching bookend peninsula found in the near horizon sealed the deal that I instead came upon a purposeful slice of paradise. This did nothing to waiver my curiosity and instead sparked my interest even further.
After nodding a silent "congratulations" to two separate bride and groom couples being photographed along the grassy shore front I continued towards the bright white exterior of the resort recreation area where children darted out past lounge chairs and the kiddie pool as if the ocean was closing soon.
I strolled passed the "Resort Guests Only" sign with an entitled swagger felt by those of us with a 25 cent business card in our wallets reading "Travel Editor" as if to say "I dare you to question my presence here. I'll have this place at zero capacity with one swift paragraph!". No hapless threats were needed as all on site staff smiled at everyone passing by their line of vision. And what a vision the exterior of this resort was. The grounds were impossibly green, meticulously manicured, and the palm tree strung hammocks barely swayed in the calm breeze caressing the ocean view suites of The Kahala. Inside the recreation area I discovered shallow person-made ponds that served as home to indigenous fish, sea turtles and a manta ray fixed in one still position, oblivious to the fact that it was there to entertain onlookers. A lagoon spread out across the remaining portion of the resort’s play pen where I was startled by a basketball being shot out of the water. I inspected the area for rambunctious tots in floaties and was instead surprised to find the ocean’s most darling mammals doing what they, dolphins, do best – playing. Another wedding party was being frozen in time in front of a waterfall pressed against the backlot of The Kahala Resort’s outdoors and after one last admiring glance I made my way inside.
Everything within the bottom entrance appeared as expected - luxury, class, and all the above. The spiral staircase led up to the lobby where enormous dim lit chandeliers dripped glimmering lava glass from the ceiling. Lobby stationary was encased within a painstakingly carved wooden box, presented as if it was a gift for visiting royalty. Fresh flowers complemented the ornate decor and the walls that climbed into the interior sky appeared to be a beacon of possibilities. I was impressed. I regained my senses, but before I dismissed the surface of The Kahala Resort as just another big box resort making its mark on Oahu I discovered a little more importance than expected.
A massive Hawaiian flag adorned the corridor and led me further to a darkened hall where a too-many-to-count collection of autographed photos lined the wall in an endless succession that made me feel that if I was to walk down this path it would only extend into infinity like a scene from the Twilight Zone. I inspected the framed pictures and realized that this place had a long history to back up its pretty exterior. I’m accustomed to seeing the faces of visiting celebrities proudly on display at many luxury resorts, and The Kahala had more than you could imagine. What was even more striking were the ones you don’t recognize from the silver screen. Since 1964, figures like Charles Lindberg, Joe DiMaggio, Luciano Pavarotti, Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Phillip, Emperor Hirohito and Empress Nagako of Japan, Leopold III (former king of Belgium), the Sultan of Brunei and every imaginable U.S. President have rested their heads on the Frette designed Egyptian cotton pillow cases of The Kahala. This resort is not only a get-away for the rich and famous, but for the worldly and relevant as well.
After working up quite the appetite I afforded myself a signature item at Plumeria Beach House, one of five on-site dining destinations. The Kahala Burger - built from certified angus ground beef with fried egg, white cheddar, guacamole, bacon and onions - blew away my preconception that you can’t find a good burger at an upscale restaurant. I made my way back through the lobby and passing by the outside concierge desk I was waived an “Aloha! See you on your return!”. After a gracious “Mahalo” I smirked to myself and made my way back to The Bus stop, thankfully located out of sight.
End Note – Two months later I would return to The Kahala Hotel & Resort for a two night stay and of course the previously uncharted rooms and level of service exceeded expectations. I am a firm believer that Hawaii’s truest beauty comes first from its people and the land. But places like The Kahala also stand as a symbol of Hawaiian paradise in itself and serves to complement the natural allure of the islands for those seeking Aloha, even if it comes with a hefty price tag.