The Halekulani, Honolulu
The Halekulani, perhaps Hawaii's most iconic hotel, has been welcoming guests for more than a century. On the famed Waikiki beach strip, the historic hotel commands a plum beachfront position and oozes style and grace. Order a Mai Tai and wander through the open courtyards, lush gardens and swaying palms where former Miss Hawaii winners perform the hula nightly under a magnificent century-old kiawe tree. I could easily picture actor Clarke Gable, who stayed at the hotel in the post-war years, leaning on a doorway smoking a cigar.
The original Halekulani began in 1907 as a beachfront home with just five bungalows owned by Robert Lewers. The fishermen of the area would bring their canoes onto the beach in front of the property to rest. The welcome they received was always warm and friendly, so the locals named the location "house befitting heaven" or Halekulani.
A decade later Juliet and Clifford Kimball bought the hotel, expanded it, and established it as a stylish resort for wealthy holidaymakers. Almost 100 years on, it's a 453-room resort on two hectares of prime Waikiki beachfront, cocooned from the surrounding bustle of sprawling tourist hotels, shops and restaurants. While the Halekulani has beachfront access, it's a slim strip of sand directly in front of the hotel. What it lacks in terms of sandy real estate, it makes up for with views of Diamond Head and the Pacific Ocean, which can be seen from most guest rooms. From the Halekulani you can browse the shops along the touristy Kalakaua Avenue and stroll the 3.2-kilometre stretch of the famous Waikiki Beach.
The Halekulani is made up of five low density buildings ranging from two to 17 storeys. It's a reasonable sized hotel, but feels boutique. Guests arrive at a porte-cochere, and are directed through to an airy, floral filled reception. At the heart of the hotel is the orchid mosaic pool fashioned from 1.2 million South African glass tiles. Neat rows of white terry towelling covered sun loungers face the pool where guests are waited on by attendants. Overhead are swaying palm trees. There are also three restaurants, three cocktail lounges, SpaHalekulani with a Polynesian treatment menu, fitness room, business centre, bakery, florist, meeting and banquet rooms.
My oceanfront room is a generous place of calm and understated elegance in the hotel's signature "seven shades of white" colour scheme, with a large lanai overlooking the ocean, all the way to Diamond Head. There's a king-size bed and underfoot is plush carpeting. The all-white bathroom has a Kohler deep soaking tub, separate shower, and marble vanity. On arrival, guests are welcomed with a fruit plate and chocolates, scattered with purple orchids; at night small gifts are left on your pillow during the turndown service. There are also three premium suites – the Halekulani suite designed by Vera Wang, Orchid and Diamond Head suites.
The Halekulani has three well-regarded restaurants, including its formal fine diner La Mer, serving modern French cuisine from a Michelin-star chef, with ocean and garden views. Due to our short stay we didn't get to try any of the restaurants; however, we did enjoy cocktails and canapes on the verandah at Lewers Lounge at sunset, which was pretty special.
Bills Hawaii (Australian chef Bill Grainger's Waikiki outpost) is a two-minute walk from the Halekulani for good coffee and breakfast. Koko Head Cafe is a short taxi ride away for an interesting brunch menu and all day dumplings. There's good shopping just outside the hotel or head nearby to the gigantic Ala Moana Centre. Take a 15-minute walk to the sprawling Kapiolani Park for people-watching and beach yoga. At night, book a table at the Pig and the Lady, a hip restaurant in China Town, serving lip-smacking Vietnamese fusion dishes and lush cocktails.
The Halekulani lives up to its reputation as one of Hawaii's most acclaimed and luxurious hotels with elegant rooms, beautiful views and impeccable service. It was so hard to leave.
2199 Kalia Rd, Honolulu. Rooms start from $US540, or $US585 (Sunrise package) including breakfast for two in either Orchids or House Without a Key. Tel (808) 923- 2311. See halekulani.com
A Mai Tai on the lush lawns, and the flawless service.
The Halekulani's small beach area made it near impossible to swim during high tide.
Sheriden Rhodes was a guest of Hawaii Tourism Oceania