Anyone planning a visit to the Big Island of Hawaii needs to consider staying at the Mauna Kea Beach Hotel. It is one of the finest properties at which I've had the pleasure of staying. Everything about the place is first class.
From the moment you arrive, the level of personal service is amazing. Guests are greeted at the entrance with a lei (flowers for the ladies, kukui nut for the men) and escorted to the open air lobby which overlooks a perfect white sand crescent beach.
Unlike most check-in counters where guest stand to await room keys and directions, you'll be invited to sit down across from one of the three check-in desks. While you wait, cool washcloths are brought to refresh you and fresh juice is offered. Once check-in is complete, you will escorted to your room getting a mini tour of the property along the way.
The rooms are spacious (at least in the beachfront wing), and the bathrooms are stocked with L'Occitane products.
It's hard to find enough superlatives to describe the beach. I'll just let the picture speak for itself.
At each end of the beach are rocky areas perfect for snorkeling. Coral, fish, and other assorted marine life abound just offshore. Look for the sea urchins and a sea cucumber (right center) in this picture from the reef at the northern end of the beach.
One cool thing about this part of the reef is that at night the hotel turns on floodlights that attract plankton. The plankton attract fish and the fish attract huge manta rays. Watching them "fly" through the water is a fun way to spend a little time after dark.
Another awesome feature of the Mauna Kea is the Asian and Pacific Island art collection. Almost everywhere you look there is another statue. Some are wooden other are stone. All are amazing. I believe a weekly tour is offered just to see the artwork (Saturdays at 10am, I think).
One drawback to the private location is a lack of affordable dining options. The resort has several fine restaurants and an evening shuttle is available to takes guests to the Hapuna Prince Resort next door. Leaving the property means heading south along highway 19 for about 10-15 minutes or driving a couple miles to the north to the small unincorporated community of Kawaihae. In addition to the handful of restaurants, there is a daily farmers' market in Kawaihae. At the hotel, half a papaya will cost about $7.50. At the farmers' market a whole papaya is just $1. I also suggest having breakfast at the Aloha Deli. While not open for dinner or on weekends, it's a great place for an inexpensive breakfast or lunch. Four could eat for the price a buffet breakfast at the Mauna Kea. There is no lack of great food and drink on site. Like everything else here, it's expensive. Try the signature cocktail, the Fredrico, or have a lava flow (pina colada poured over a strawberry puree). There's something wonderful about sitting under a cabana at the beach, sipping a frozen cocktail, and not caring a bit about the troubles of everyday life.
Oh, and don't forget to watch the sunset. Some nights the sun sinks into the clouds on the horizon. Others it just disappears into the ocean. Watch it from your balcony or from right out on the beach. You can't go wrong either way.