The Hawaiian people take great pride in their language and the naming of places are carefully crafted to contain great meaning or thought. As a child name it translates as ‘sacred one from Heaven’ but as a place name it means ‘Heavenly Splendor’. The Ihilani I’ve just stayed at lives up to its name as well as a tradition that goes back over 20 years when it was the only hotel here at the West end of the island.
Built by a Japanese developer on a semi-circular constructed lagoon beach–which now number four with other newer hotels and accommodation complexes–Ihilani Resort and Spa of the Marriott group has retained its grace, style, comfort and pristine surrounds that made it so special when I stayed here the first year of its opening. He had a strong vision of growth and a special nature of hotel. I fondly remember the four storey Christmase tree in its cavernous lobby, mingling the scents of fir balsam with the wafting breezes of pikake and plumeria.
Back then it was more of a Japanese destination resort with few gweilos (Caucasian) which gave it a wonderful point of difference from the Waikiki hotels as well as its quiet, uncrowded pool and beach. Even with the construction of the Aulani Disney resort next door, there was no invasion of rug rats here, keeping its adult ambience to the max. It also seemed that the kids that did make it here were well behaved and under their parents’ watchful eyes and discipline because it is an upmarket destination. I loved being here for the clam and serenity as well as casual elegance.
I was here for the last night of the Hawaiia Food and Wine Festival in Ko’olina, about 30 miles from Waikiki where the previous three events were at The Modern, Halekulani and Hawaii Convention Center roof. This was a world apart, Ihilani was truly a heavenly gift to the event.
The Marriott chefs excelled in their offerings as the hosting hotel but there were close to 15 other international stars and local up-and-comers, each offering a specialty dish (some two) for the passing crowds to graze. There was a bounty of wine vendors giving out free samples from their vineyards and a few cocktail options but eating alfresco on the beach below and behind the stage and tents while watching the sun languidly set among the palms.
The VIP tables were arranged on the beach with a perfect view of the sunset and the killer light jazz and covers band entertaining. They were on plywood to make for easy seating while other bar tye tables were assembled in the non-VIP areas as well as the cooking stations which made the evening less exhausting to stand and walk than the year before when the first Ihilani event happened.
Roy and Alan, the rock star chefs and promoters seemed relaxed and happy last night with three events sold out including a $1000 a guest seven chef feasting and this one probably hit 95% sold so it looks like Ko’olina will once again host closing night in 2014. The finale for me, who stayed from 5pm VIP opening to 7:30 when I retreated to my suite overlooking the proceedings was the 8:50 fireworks display over the lagoon fronting the beach. I was on the 20th floor, perilously close to one of four shooting stations and the extravaganza went on for ten minutes–a lifetime in fireworks world–and there were no shortages of color bursts, bang, rockets, whistles, crackles, loud explosions, massive fiery chrysanthemums and other pyrotechnical wizardry. I could just feel the heat from some of the explosions and the concussions since I was just under the height of them and they were close to the balcony. The second best fireworks I’ve had next to being at the Mayor’s compound in Sydney.
But the best delight was seeing strange figures swimming n the hotel’s massive reefwater pond complex. I knew what they were but also knew that they would best be photographed in the early morning light. Sure enough, a four shot iced latte jacked me enough to wander around the ponds and capture shots of baby hammerhead sharks as well as three sizes and types of sting rays or leopard rays.
They were like infants splashing and frolicking in the pool–happy, exuberant and playful–such posers. Of course there was one idiot with his wife and pramchild who just had to go up to the water to try and pet one of the sting rays. In my best booming Aussie mate’s voice I startled him with, “Oi Mate, you know Steve Irwin tried that and died from his woumd to the heart. You might only need your arm amputated if you’re lucky. Think of your kid.” With that he jerked his arm back just as it got wet, retreated to the pram and mumbled a thanks.