The Hawaiian island of Oahu has no shortage of great hotels. However, Oahu’s newest and most sparkling diamond is certainly the Four Seasons Resort Oahu at Ko Olina. To add to its glorious location on the island’s peaceful west side, it has some of the planet’s finest sunsets that money cannot buy.
Just a short 30-minute drive from Honolulu International Airport, the Ko Olina Resort area is a 642-acre master-planned vacation and residential community – only about half of which has been developed – offering two miles of calm, white sand beaches, man-made lagoons, a Ted Robinson-designed golf course with extraordinary water features and Hawaii’s only deep-draft marina. Nearby in Makaha and Yokohama are more perfect, unspoiled beaches, and captivating hiking.
For those seeking tranquility away from the cacophony of Waikiki without having to travel to one of Hawaii’s outer islands, but desiring elegance, excellent cuisine, impeccable Four Seasons service, a host of indoor at outdoor activities for young and young-at-heart, and yes, those gorgeous beaches, look no further.
Originally the Ihilani Hotel, developer Jeffrey Stone reimagined the property – situated in the best part of the resort area – spending $250 million over an 18-month period. The renovated hotel, originally built by architectural giant Edward Killingworth, reopened to acclaim as the Four Seasons Oahu at Ko Olina last May.
The magnificent result is an expansive lobby and glass roof that takes advantage of Killingsworth’s genius vision of a ship’s bow facing the ocean, with 370 light-filled and spacious rooms, including 55 suites. Rooms are equipped with every imaginable convenience, the industry’s best bedding causing rising in the morning to become an actual task, but helpfully the Four Seasons Oahu provides the all-important Nespresso makers, and the small, perfect touches for which the brand is famous, like eyeglass cleaner pads left discreetly near sunglasses and USB cords magically disentangled and rolled with cool Velcro widgets.
There is also a state-of-the-art fitness center, tennis center with five courts, three equipped with lights, the Naupaka Spa & Wellness Center so well-designed for relaxation and so Zen it could probably forever cure most Type-A Wall Street denizens. The Yamaguchi Salon is an absolute must for some of the finest personalized beauty services available. In addition to a turquoise beach just yards away, family pool, and serene adults-only infinity pool, there were so many activities to choose from – yoga, stand-up paddle boarding, snorkeling, scuba, outrigger canoeing, art and cultural lessons, yachting, hiking and running, and the all-important cocktail sipping while marveling over those mind-bogglingly beautiful neon-colored sunsets, it was difficult to decide what to do. But I like a good challenge.
For those traveling with children ages five through 12, there is a complimentary “Kids For All Seasons” club available daily that provides an extensive summer camp like experience including hula, tennis, canoeing, lei making, sandcastle building and cookie decorating, among many other activities.
There is much to do at Ko Olina so one can stay as busy or as idle as one would like.
As a tennis lover, I grabbed my racket and headed to one of the five ocean view courts located on the terrace of a separate building a few paces away from the main hotel. Local tennis pro Carter Lam maneuvered me with useful drills and helped strengthen my serve. Near the courts are a fully equipped gym, an outdoor basketball court and large exercise and yoga class area.
After all that exercise it was time for the Naupaka Spa & Wellness Center. A flowing, beautifully designed space where gentle ceiling fans and orchids set the tone. The indoor wet area with steam room, sauna, cold plunge and Jacuzzi is decorated with blue tiles and white marble walls giving the sensation of floating in the clouds. Discreetly secluded comfortably furnished outdoor relaxation areas where island trade winds billowed gauzy chiffon curtains add to ethereal sentiments.
Following an 80-minute massage where my masseuse Bronson also used aromatic coconut oil to treat my locks, I had lunch by the outdoor spa pool – another haven of complete relaxation – then a Sodashi Samadara age-defying facial. My facialist Cheryl had fingers like delicate flower petals with which she cleansed and massaged my face with hot rose quartz crystals that cajoled my skin into believing – if not looking – like it was 25 again.
To take advantage of the sunsets for which West Oahu is famous, I jumped onto the 47-foot ‘Serendipity,’ a Meridian 441 diesel engine yacht available for two-hour sunset cruises, snorkeling trips or full day outings that depart from the marina just a 10-minute walk or short drive from the hotel. With a large stateroom, crew room, flat-screen television, two granite bathrooms and stainless steel kitchen, dining and several seating areas, this was true luxury. Heading towards Electric Beach, Captain Bruce and his crew regaled stories and plied champagne and hors d’oeuvres. In vintage West Oahu fashion, a sunset with bands of gold, ochre, orange and burnt sienna was a reminder of why Hawaii remains deep in one’s heart long after the tan has faded.
A late morning rain shower was the perfect time to call up my nonexistent inner Gauguin and take a lesson with local artist Jan Tetsutani. Jan set up up six easels in the lobby and provided all art supplies. Three kids and three adults sat with our smocks and followed Jan’s patient and talented instructions. The result was that all six of us were able to paint a local scene on a canvas that actually resembled Jan’s sample. While sadly, I may never be able to quit my day job, run off to Tahiti and make a living painting landscapes and locals, the art lesson was extremely enjoyable and my five able comrades-in-acrylics thought so too.
Long wanting to drive a Tesla, I hit pay dirt with Four Seasons “Tesla Drive & Delight” that is available on selected weekends. With this program, guests can test drive a Tesla Model S or X. Arranged by the concierge, this dream ride – mine was a Model X – was fully charged and waiting for me in the driveway.
I drove the Tesla north past the pristine beaches of the Waianae coast for a hike. On the westernmost point of Oahu, the trail up to Ka’ena Point follows an old railroad bed leading to a reserve that’s home to native plants and seabirds. Huffing blowholes, jagged rock formations, intense tides and crystal clear waters in the 3.5-mile loop vied for my attention with the knowledge that Hawaiians have long believed Ka’ena Point to be one of their most sacred spiritual places.
During the last few days of each month, feng shui practitioner, international celebrity stylist and author Billy Yamaguchi is based at the Four Seasons Oahu. He gives complimentary feng shui beauty seminars and also accepts salon appointments. Ever the skeptic, I made an appointment to understand how the Eastern philosophy could be married to Western beauty concepts.
With answers to a short series of questions, such as what color best describes your personality, Billy drew feng shui elements on a five-pointed star with a sharpie pen on the mirror facing me. Discussing lifestyle, family and professional obligations, Billy made feng shui connections to arrive at his artistry. While we did not solve world peace or eradicate the national debt, my hair never looked better, I felt like a million bucks and I understood why Billy is called the Deepak Chopra of beauty.
If you can bear to tear yourself away from the Four Seasons Oahu, there’s no shortage of sights on the island: Pearl Harbor’s USS Arizona and Battleship Missouri Memorials, Bishop Museum of Hawaiian history, Iolani Palace – the official residence of Hawaii’s monarchy – and of course Waikiki, Diamond Head and more glorious beaches.
Hunger is an adjective never felt and dieting is not a permitted activity at the Four Seasons Oahu.
At Noe Italian restaurant, the coupling of Hawaii and Italy was evident while dining al fresco under lanterns by rushing waterfalls near the beach. The ahi tuna with snap peas, grilled mushroom with apple salad and lemon-laced king crab over fresh pasta was so expertly prepared and delicious that there was a risk that I’d fall in love with Noe’s Michelin-starred Chef Ryo Takatsuka. Remembering I was already married, I instead bid arrivederci following an exquisite meal.
Dining at The Fish House, famous for its seafood towers containing shrimps, oysters, crab claws, lobster tails, poke and sashimi is a great choice for commitment phobic eaters. Also fantastic were the grilled Mahi-Mahi with fennel salad and the grilled Ahi with hapa rice that had me contemplating altering my normally carnivorous ways.
Following another stunningly surreal sunset, I had dinner with a friend at La Hiki Kitchen. Together we swooned over savory crab cakes atop sweet mango salad that would make the entire state of Maryland green with envy. The miso-glazed black cod, intoxicating with its distinct, velvety flavor was superb. The spicy short rib Bao with Sichuan peppercorn sauce cemented any delusions of ever being a full-time pescatarian. We had no room for dessert, but of course that did not stop us from trying the tart and sweet lemon merengue pie or the blueberry-draped creamy cheesecake.
The lessons learned
To have an inspiring and tranquil Hawaiian holiday, with as little or as much activity as one desires, one does not need to fly off to the neighboring islands. There is magic in West Oahu with its natural blessings, far away from the crowds of Waikiki. In vintage Four Seasons fashion, with excellent service, food fit for royalty, and plenty of activities, the Four Seasons Oahu at Ko Olina shines bright and gets it just right.
Julie L. Kessler is a travel writer, attorney and legal columnist based in Los Angeles and the author of the award-winning book “Fifty-Fifty: The Clarity of Hindsight.”