Areas where fishponds existed and potable water could be easily obtained were the primary areas of settlement – ie, on the South Kohala Coast (south to north) ʻAnaehoʻomalu, Kalāhuipua‘a, Puakō, Hāpuna, Kauna‘oa, Waiʻulaʻula, Mauʻumae, Waikuʻi, ‘Ōhai‘ula, Kikiakoʻi and Pelekāne.
In general, permanent residences were taken up in the coastal region of South Kohala by ca. 600. Between 900 and 1500, there was a gradual increase in population, with steady trends in residency through AD 1778. By 1800, many of the remote area residences were abandoned, a few residents at ʻAnaehoʻomalu, several families at Puakō, and the strongest population at Kawaihae. (Maly)
The primary traditional narratives which describe events and the occurrence of place names throughout the region of South Kohala date from around the middle-1600s.
Then, Lonoikamakahiki (Lono) was the Mōʻi (Chief) of Hawai‘i. He was a descendant of Pili (a high chief from Tahiti from the 13th century.) Lono was son of Keawenuiaumi and grandson of ʻUmi (and great grandson of Līloa.)
During Lono’s reign, his elder brother Kanaloakua‘ana attempted to rebel and take control of Hawai‘i. The rebel forces were situated at: “the land called ʻAnaehoʻomalu, near the boundaries of Kohala and Kona. … The next day Lono marched down and met the rebels at the place called Wailea … Lono won the battle, and the rebel chiefs fled northward (to Kaunaʻoa.)”
The rebels said, “Let the (next) battle be at Kaunooa (Kaunaʻoa) where there is plenty of sand, and let it be fought there, so that when Lonoikamakahiki reaches the spot we would be in possession of the sand, so that whilst rubbing their eyes the rocks will fly and victory will be ours.” (Fornander; Maly)
After Lonoikamakahiki became victorious at the battle of Kaunaʻoa he consulted his kahuna (priests) as to what steps best to take in order to lead to later victory. The priests noted “Pay no heed to Kohala ….” (Fornander)
Fast forward a few centuries … the beach at Kaunaʻoa still has plenty of sand and a 1960 helicopter tour, with Governor Bill Quinn and RockResorts head Laurence Rockefeller on board, was scouting for beachfront sites for a possible resort use to help turn around the fledgling State’s troubled sugar-based economy.
From the air, Rockefeller saw a crescent-shaped beach at the edge of an arid moonscape of lava (Lindsey; NY Times) – he liked what he saw, and noted “Every great beach deserves a great hotel.” (Blair, PBN)
They stopped at Kaunaʻoa; Rockefeller asked if he could go in for a swim. From the water, he looked upslope at the towering summit of Mauna Kea and was inspired to create a great hotel that reflected the spirit of the place.
Laurance Spelman Rockefeller (May 26, 1910 – July 11, 2004) was fourth child of John Davison Rockefeller, Jr and Abigail Greene “Abby” Aldrich. His siblings were Abby, John III, Nelson, Winthrop and David. He was grandson of John D Rockefeller Sr and heir along with them to the fortune of Standard Oil.
Started in the mid-1950s, Rockefeller’s RockResorts opened resort hotels in zones of comparative wilderness that catered to the new traveling upper middle class seeking to reconnect with nature in gracious and controlled surroundings. (Skidmore, Owing & Merrill)
A pioneering venture capitalist who used his family’s oil fortune to underwrite aviation start-ups and other bold enterprises, Rockefeller’s primary motivation as a resort developer in the 1950s and 60s was the preservation of one-of-a-kind sites. (McCallen)
Rockefeller negotiated a 99-year lease from Parker Ranch land from the cattle ranch owner Richard Smart. Smart reportedly noted, “It’s on land the cows don’t like but the tourists love – hot and barren.” (Andersen) (Eventually, exclusive development rights and later fee simple acquisition of 1,800-acres were made.)
Following his business strategy of “experting” (hiring the best person for the job,) he contracted Belt Collins, site planners and engineers; Skidmore Owings Merrill, building architects’ Davis Allen, interior designer; and Robert Trent Jones, golf course architect.
He called his resort the Mauna Kea Beach Hotel; when it opened on July 24, 1965, the Mauna Kea was the most expensive hotel ever built at the time, at $15-million. It initially had 154 guestrooms; in 1968, the Beachfront wing was added, giving the resort a total of 310-guest rooms.
The Mauna Kea Golf Course debuted with a televised “Big 3” match between Jack Nicklaus, Arnold Palmer and Gary Player. The course’s 3rd hole over the water remains in the top lists of memorable golf holes.
Rockefeller added a 1,600-piece collection of museum-quality Asian and Oceanic art and artifacts throughout the hotel and grounds. Among them are 18th-century gilt bronze Thai Buddhist disciples, ancient Japanese tonsu chests and New Guinea and Solomon Islands drums.
A 17th-century pink-granite Indian Buddha rests on a platform at the top of a long flight of stairs, his folded hands invariably holding a flower, the traditional offering. (Porter)
In each guestroom, there is a book detailing the collection. According to Don Aanavi, art history professor at the University of Hawaii, “Rarely does one find such a large collection of significant art works in a resort hotel.”
Back then, the “exorbitant” room rates started at $43, including breakfast and dinner in the Pavilion, which featured rotating menus of international cuisines.
True to Rockefeller’s initial remarks that a “great beach deserves a great hotel,” when it opened, the Mauna Kea Beach Hotel was praised by travel writers and critics worldwide. The luxury resort hotel was named one of the “three greatest hotels in the world” by Esquire magazine (the other two were the Plaza in New York and the Gritti Palace in Venice.)
There were also enthusiastic reviews from House & Garden, Time and Fortune (Fortune called it one of “10 best buildings of 1966;) In 1967, it was presented with an honors award by the American Institute of Architects (AIA.)
A decade later, AIA placed the Mauna Kea in the top 150 of its America’s Favorite Architecture list. Twelve years after opening, it was still described as “the best resort hotel in America.” The accolades continue today. (Lots of information from Prince Resorts.)