A Hawaiian legend reborn: Kona Village, a Rosewood Resort
Kona Village, a Rosewood Resort provided TPG with a complimentary three-night stay so that we could get an inside look at the hotel and its amenities. The opinions expressed below are entirely those of the author and weren’t subject to review by the hotel or any external entity.
There truly is a Hawaiian resort for everyone — from romantic luxury hotels to family-friendly beach getaways — but one of the most iconic (and yet new again) is Kona Village, a Rosewood Resort.
Although ancient Hawaiians inhabited the area for centuries until 1939, the resort’s modern story began back in 1965 when Texas oilman and explorer, Johnno Jackson, and his wife Helen, sailed their schooner, New Moon, into tranquil Kahuwai Bay along the Island of Hawaii’s northwest coast.
By the following year, the pair had opened a rustic, Polynesian-themed hotel called Kona Village on the spot with 50 freestanding hales, or thatch-roofed huts, sprinkled around 81 beachfront acres of obsidian-black lava fields (the result of an 1801 eruption of nearby Hualalai), freshwater lagoons and towering palm groves.
As the hotel was expanded and renovated over the decades that followed, loyal guests would return year after year and generation after generation to enjoy this paradisiacal playground with family and friends. In short order, Kona Village became a legend, one much-loved by visitors from around the world.
In March 2011, however, Kona Village was ravaged by a tsunami caused by the earthquake off Japan’s coast and languished in a ruinous state for several years. After a seven-year rebuild under the aegis of real estate development firm Kennedy Wilson, Hawaii-raised Greg Warner of Warner Walker Architects and decor by designer Nicole Hollis, Kona Village reopened as a Rosewood in July 2023.
The result is a luxury hotel with plenty of contemporary updates, such as 100% solar power and a fabulous island-inspired spa, that also stays true to the casual aloha spirit of the original resort.
Kona Village has loomed large in my own memory since I attended my first luau there as a 6-year-old back in the 1980s. My impressions of the tiki torch-lit paths, the pounding surf and the traditional South Pacific structures stayed with me ever since. So I was eager to experience the new incarnation of Kona Village for myself.
As have many so-called “legacy guests,” who have returned to the hotel since its reopening to rediscover this nearly-lost classic. And while it’s true that the current Rosewood-level price point might put the hotel over budget for some of the resort’s longtime visitors, if a stay here is within reach, it’s well worth a visit.
Kona Village, a Rosewood Resort is in Kailua-Kona, a 10-minute drive from Hawaii’s Ellison Onizuka Kona International Airport at Keahole (KOA). Taxis, which are available curbside, and ride-hailing services will charge around $30 and up depending on the type of vehicle. The hotel’s concierge can also arrange transfers for anywhere from $158-$325 each way, depending on the type of vehicle.
If you are staying for several days and planning to explore other parts of the island, such as Volcanoes National Park, or even just to venture along the coast for various activities or a meal out, you will probably be better off renting a car. Self-parking is free, and valet costs $40 per night.
Kona Village, a Rosewood Resort is not part of any of the major hotel chains’ loyalty programs. However, the hotel does participate in Amex Fine Hotels + Resorts. That means if you have The Platinum Card® from American Express or The Business Platinum Card® from American Express and book through AmexTravel.com, you will be eligible for perks like upgrades based on availability, a $100 on-property credit to use during your stay for things like meals or spa services, complimentary daily breakfast for two and guaranteed 4 p.m. late checkout.
Unfortunately, the hotel is not currently a member of other credit card travel portals’ curated luxury listings, like the Capital One Premier Collection or Chase’s Luxury Hotel & Resort Collection (though you can make standard bookings through those and other portals, just without any value-added perks).
Rates at Kona Village, a Rosewood Resort start at $1,695 per night for a garden-view king hale.
- Spacious, secluded hales with ocean and lagoon views that feel like your own little piece of paradise.
- Photogenic infinity pools with options for both families and adults and plenty of seating and daybeds.
- Delicious menus are provisioned with ingredients from local farms and waters.
- Intriguing cultural activities, including a tour of centuries-old petroglyphs on the property’s whorling lava flows.
- A tranquil spa offering a range of locally-inspired body and skin treatments, including a pohaku hot-stone massage.
- Nightly rates are high, even for luxury lodgings in Hawaii, and on-property prices for food and beverages can add up quickly.
- Points redemption options are limited since the hotel does not participate in a major loyalty program.
- Although the fast and free Wi-Fi lets you stream whatever you’d like on your own devices, some travelers might miss the convenience of a large flat-screen TV, which accommodations lack.
- The hotel has all the required accessibility features, but its sprawling layout and coral-gravel paths might prove challenging for some travelers.
Kona Village does indeed feel like a little village where, from the moment you step out of your car toward the open-air lobby, accepting a welcome orchid lei and an ice-cold mai tai, you’re part of the ohana, or family.
The staff, who are mostly local, will stop whatever they happen to be doing to help with anything you need, or just to give you a friendly wave and smile as you pass by on your complimentary loaner bike. Servers in the restaurants and bars will know your breakfast order and drink preference by your second day and are happy to share tips on the best local swimming spots, hikes and eateries.
The size of the resort, all 81 acres of it, means that even at capacity, you won’t feel crowded. All the hales are stand-alone and set apart from one another, ranging from one-bedroom villas designed for romantic sojourns to four-bedroom compounds that are great for extended families, so you’ll find all types of (high-spending) travelers vacationing here.
And is it any wonder? With the crash of the surf, the rustle of swaying palms, the scent of blooming plumeria and the jagged lava-rock formations that striate the property, this truly does feel like the best of Hawaii.
Kona Village, a Rosewood Resort has just 150 hales in a variety of categories and settings, so your experience will be shaped by the backdrop you select. Those of the one-bedroom variety, for instance, include Garden View, Mountain View, Lagoon View, Ocean View, Ocean Front, Beach Front, Tree Top and Ocean Front Legacy, the last with their distinctively shaped roofs and lava-rock bluff-top perches.
All, however, have naturally inspired interiors designed by Nicole Hollis and expansive lanais that add up to 850 square feet of combined indoor-outdoor space. My Beach Front hale was at the southern edge of the property, a solid 10-minute walk from reception and the resort’s main restaurants.
With a pared-down aesthetic, the main room had sustainably sourced Douglas fir-timbered floors, walls and a peaked ceiling. Unobtrusive island-allusive paintings dotted the walls here and there for a touch of color.
The king-size bed — with a subtly textured headboard, satiny white sheets and sets of plugs and USB-A ports to either side — faced a small sitting area composed of a gray-upholstered love seat, a wood and wicker chair and a low, stone-topped coffee table.
There was also a sideboard serving as the minibar with a Nespresso machine, a cocktail kit, and plenty of local snacks and spirits, including Hamaku macadamia nuts, Manoa chocolate bars, Kuleana rum and complimentary Mananalu metal-bottled water.
Beyond, sliding glass doors led out to the lanai, which had a wide daybed and a round table for four overlooking a lush lawn, plus an overhead fan for when the Pacific breezes weren’t enough to keep things cool.
Closet space was at a premium between the narrow wooden work desk, but sufficient for light-packing travelers, and held a traditional woven palm fan and a loaner beach bag.
Behind this, the bathroom was a stark contrast (in a good way) to the rest of the room, with counters, floor tiles and a dramatic freestanding bathtub all made from smooth black basalt — a nod to the surrounding lava fields of Hualalai.
There were two sinks and a single large mirror between them with full-size bottles of soap and lotion.
A water closet with a sliding door held the toilet.
The enormous glassed-in walk-in shower had overhead, wall-mounted and handheld shower heads. A shelf held full-size Wild Orchard rosemary-basil-mint bath products, while the tub had a loofah, a bar of soap, bath salts and a relaxation pillow.
The most inviting part, however, had to be the outdoor shower, just beckoning guests to luxuriate under its steady stream as birds and butterflies flitted overhead in the afternoon sun.
The original Kona Village hales did not have air conditioning or televisions, and while these iterations have the former, you won’t find any screens here, so prepare to unplug. However, the Wi-Fi is complimentary and works well and quickly throughout the grounds, so you can stay connected as necessary.
Housekeeping serviced the room during the morning and again for turndown service while I was out at dinner, remaking the bed if I’d mussed it, replacing any used towels, and generally keeping the space spotless. Then, all I had to do was place a provided coconut on the bench in my entryway to signify that I did not want to be disturbed to enjoy all the privacy I wanted.
Food and drink
With two restaurants, three bars, a cafe and round-the-clock room service, there are plenty of dining and drinking options at Kona Village, a Rosewood Resort.
The hotel’s signature restaurant is the open-air Moana, which means ocean in Hawaiian. It is adjacent to the reception area and the main, family-friendlier pool.
Open for breakfast and dinner, Moana serves updated takes on Hawaiian and Pacific Rim cuisine. The breakfast menu includes mouthwatering specialties like caramelized banana and macadamia-nut pancakes ($25) washed down with Kona coffee ($8), of course.
Dinner is a slightly more formal affair (though flip flops are still welcome), where you can sample delicacies like Hawaiian sweet shrimp with coconut milk, ginger, lemon, seaweed and sweet potato chips ($25); and crispy soft-shell crab with ancho chile, black garlic, charred eggplant, parsnip and green tomatillo chutney ($27); along with specialty cocktails and an extensive selection of mostly U.S. and European wines, all set to the strains of live music drifting over from Talk Story Bar.
Be sure to look up while dining here to admire artist Kaili Chun’s dramatic mobile, Pe’a, which resembles the sails of ancient Polynesian mariners and is made from invasive Albizia wood.
Kahuwai Cookhouse and Market
The resort’s other main restaurant is the Kahuwai Cookhouse, an ode to Hawaii’s paniolo, or cowboy, culture. It’s more casual than Moana, with seating areas where you can even put your toes in the sand. It serves lunch and dinner, though guests can grab coffee, smoothies and pastries from its cafe and market in the morning.
The regular dinner menu at Kahuwai Cookhouse includes specialties like crispy pork-belly fritters with Big Island avocado and blue-corn chips ($27); luscious Kona kampachi ceviche with tangy fermented guajillo sauce, Granny Smith apples, roasted corn and green onion ($31); and various kiawe wood-grilled meats like bone-in short ribs ($54) and meaty ahi tuna with tsirita sauce and charred eggplant ($58).
There are also kid-friendly favorites on the keiki menu, including chicken tenders with fries or fruit ($22) and macaroni and cheese ($20). The wine list is not as comprehensive as Moana’s, but it’s well-curated, including glasses that range from $20-$40, and there are signature cocktails like the smoky Old-Fashioned with bourbon, amaro and caramelized Kona coffee ($24).
Kahuwai Cookhouse also hosts various specialty events, including Paniolo Night on Thursdays where, for $250 per adult and $90 per child, you can have your fill from a selection of fresh-caught fish and seafood, made-to-order grilled meats including succulent local steaks, a salad bar and downhome classics like a hearty loco moko (burger atop white rice), as well as unlimited beer, glasses of wines and specialty cocktails. The hotel also hosts a traditional luau on Wednesdays.
Shipwreck Bar and Talk Story Bar
In addition to a poolside bar adjacent to Moana, where you can enjoy drinks and light bites like poke bowls ($16-$25), the resort is home to two oceanfront watering holes.
The first, Shipwreck Bar, has to be one of the most distinctive cocktail lounges in Hawaii. Johnno and Helen Jackson’s yacht, New Moon, actually sank, but they had it dragged up onto the beach and converted into a bar, which has been reconstructed at the resort using scraps from the original that were recovered after the tsunami.
You should prioritize a strong sunset mai tai with a dark rum floater ($27) here, though there are also snacks to enjoy poolside, like a hearts of palm salad with kombu-cured tomato and cucumber ($26).
Talk Story Bar is a place of legend at Kona Village, where folks would come to meet and mull over their experiences in the evenings as the tiki torches were lit after the nightly conch-blowing ceremony. These days, that spirit of conviviality is still going strong … as are the libations, which include a colorful Blue Hawaii with vodka, local rum, blue curacao and pineapple ($24) and a heady take on a Vieux Carré called The Offering with bourbon, cognac and Carpano Antico vermouth ($26).
The hotel offers 24-hour room service. I placed a late lunch order at around 2:30 p.m. on the day of my arrival, and a delicious turkey club wrap with purple potato chips ($30) arrived at my hale within 20 minutes.
Amenities and service
Whether you want to while away your days by the pool, relax with a rejuvenating spa treatment, delve into the area’s history or get your pulse pounding with any number of land and water activities, the Rosewood Kona Village has you covered.
Pools and beach
Like much of this stretch of the Island of Hawaii, there’s not a huge swath of swimmable beach. However, Kona Village does have both an off-the-beaten-path black-sand beach between some of its oceanfront hales that you can swim or snorkel at (along with the public) and a little spit of sand in front of Moana and the water activities center that’s good for a paddle in the gentle surf.
The hotel also has two large pools with dispensers for sunblock and water near each. The larger Moana Pool has an infinity edge that blurs into the Pacific beyond. It is surrounded by orange-cushioned loungers and daybeds, which are available on a first-come-first-serve basis. There are also Jacuzzis and a shallow kids splash pool, making it popular with families.
The quieter Shipwreck Pool is on the other side of the Kahuwai Cookhouse from reception and Moana. It, too, has an infinity edge and an embedded hot tub and is surrounded by both lounge chairs and cabana-like daybeds. But you don’t have to rent these, just get there early and request an empty one, and the staff will be happy to set it up with cushion covers, extra towels and ice buckets with complimentary bottles of water.
Just below the infinity edge, there’s also a lap pool. In front of that is a sandy strip with umbrella-shaded lounge chairs.
Art enthusiasts should enjoy Kaili Chun’s sculpture of hand-hammered fish-like shapes along the wall to the restrooms entitled ‘Opelu.
Although relaxation might be the order of the day on a Hawaiian vacation, guests can explore the dramatic coastline with activities courtesy of the Kilo Kai ocean center.
There’s no better way to start the day than with a guided outrigger canoe paddle at sunrise ($75 per person), especially during the whale-watching season from December to April. You can also book a more private outrigger sail for 60-90 minutes, or simply borrow snorkeling gear to explore the area’s coral reefs.
Rosewood’s proprietary spa concept, which is meant to promote alignment between the mind, body and spirit, is called Asaya. The outpost at Kona Village is one of the brand’s most distinctive thanks to its dramatic location right in one of the area’s boulder-strewn lava fields.
In fact, guests take a wooden walkway over the jagged rocks and past a fire spout to reach the men’s and women’s locker areas, which have outdoor showers and pools as well as saunas and steam rooms.
There’s also a coed lounge area with soothing teas and healthy house-made snacks looking out toward Hualalai and a salon in the main building for any glow-ups you might need during your stay.
The treatments are locally inspired and include the Ho’oli Cocoon, which starts with a sea sponge lymphatic energizer before a lomi-lomi massage performed with hot lava stones ($650). Skin treatments feature Dr. Barbara Sturm products and include the signature Sturm Glow facial ($275-$395) with a gentle massage and exfoliation, then a hydrating masque and eye gel so you look positively glowing (and less wrinkled) after a few days in the sun.
Next door to the spa, the fitness center includes a complete set of Technogym weight machines, cardio equipment like ellipticals and stationary bikes, and free weights. There’s also a yoga and stretching room and an outdoor deck with more treadmills, rowing machines and Peloton bikes.
Guests are provided with headphones to enhance the workout videos on the machines, plus dry and damp chilled towels and bottled water.
There are also tennis courts nearby for guest use.
There is a small activity club for children called the Rosewood Explorers Keiki Club near the spa and fitness center. Although there are facilities for arts and crafts as well as storytime and an outdoor lawn for games, most activities see the tykes getting out to the pool or beach as they get to know more about Hawaii’s legends and landscapes.
Part of what makes Kona Village so special is the fact that it’s on an ancient Hawaiian settlement whose history dates back over 1,000 years. Guests can experience that heritage with a variety of tours and experiences at the resort’s Kauluola Cultural Center.
Perhaps the most intriguing is a walk along the wooden boardwalks that traverse the otherworldly lava fields, learning about the mysterious petroglyphs carved into the rocks depicting both daily activities and the arrival of Europeans.
There are also excursions that detail the resort’s 21 archaeological sites, which are still evident across the property, including a royal bathing spot and the old village cooking pit.
Guests can learn about the indigenous flora and fauna as well as traditional Hawaiian arts and crafts at the cultural center, too.
Between reception and the Kahuwai Cookhouse, the hotel fields a small, upscale boutique selling various vacation-skewing sundries like swimsuits, sunglasses and jewelry, and stuffed animals, books and children’s toys.
Out and about
The hotel can arrange for adventures farther afield, including visits to Nahuku, or the Thurston lava tube, strolls through the Waimea Farmers Market (Saturday mornings) to meet local purveyors, hikes in ‘Akara Falls State Park and rodeos at Parker Ranch, among other activities.
Guests with rental cars might want to venture north to the spectacular Kohala Coast for excursions like a strenuous hike at Poholu Valley. A day-long trip might include a helicopter tour of Volcanoes National Park and a snorkeling session to see the tropical fish at Kealakekua (formerly known as Captain Cook’s Bay).
Kona Village, a Rosewood Resort has nine accessible room and villa types with features like low-gradient ramps with handrails, wheelchair-accessible doors, roll-in showers with grab bars and benches as well as toilets with grab bars, tubs with removable seats and wheelchair-accessible lanais.
There are also communication-accessible features like visual fire alarms, doorbells with enhanced audio and visual features, Braille plaques, and portable equipment to make phones TTY and deaf-accessible.
To ensure that your accommodations meet your requirements, it’s best to book directly with the hotel and go over the specific features of your room.
The resort’s common areas all feature ramps and areas accessible by wheelchair, and there are chairlifts into the pools. Guests can request golf carts for transportation around the property, but most of the paths are sandy, so wheelchair users might need to make special arrangements to get around.
For nearly five decades, Kona Village was one of Hawaii’s most iconic beach resorts. After a much-anticipated multi-year reimagination by real estate investment company Kennedy Wilson and an up-market polish by Rosewood, it is already well on its way to re-establishing that reputation.
Its high price point and ambience of higher-touch luxury are bound to exclude some “legacy guests.” However, if the resort’s nightly rates are within your budget, there are few places in Hawaii that can provide such a dreamy backdrop for a tropical getaway. Just be sure that your budget also allows for a not-to-miss spa treatment and a few extra orchid-garnished mai tais at Shipwreck Bar to take full advantage of the experience.