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In the Wake of a Double Disaster, The Big Island is Back and Better than Before

John Scott Lewinski | September 18, 2019 | Lifestyle

Free dive at Kohanaiki Private Club Community.

Heading back to Ellison Onizuka Kona International Airport in a local shuttle bus, my driver doesn’t want to give his name. He’s friendly and proud of his Hawaiian heritage like so many on the Big Island, but he’s sensitive about what forced him into driving the bus. His family’s B&B and coffee plantation high in the mountains struggles with too many vacancies.

“The tourists think we burned down or got washed away,” he muses from behind the wheel. “If you can get a message out there, tell them we’re all open for business.”

Aerial view of Kohanaiki Private Club Community

Few spots on Earth experienced a natural disaster one-two punch so stunning as the 2018 Hawaiian volcano and hurricane combination. After weeks of lava eruptions out of Kilauea throughout last year’s spring and summer, Hurricane Lane scored a glancing yet powerful blow on the Big Island between Aug. 22 and 26. The lava flow destroyed more than 650 homes, while 140 more homes were damaged by Lane’s wind and rain.

Hui Holokai Beach private lagoon at Fairmont Orchid Hotel

Fortunately for the major Kona coast resorts such as Mauna Kea Beach Hotel, Autograph Collection and Fairmont Orchid Hotel (@fairmonthotels), most of that damage struck more than 100 miles away. Both spots were up and running after some simple repairs and built significant improvements since the double whammy.

The Mauna Kea Beach Hotel and its classic Robert Trent Jones Sr.-designed golf course shrugged off the dark days of 2018 to add new activities such as a manta ray diving experience, VIP helicopter service and seasonal stargazing opportunities. Up the coast, Fairmont Orchid expanded in the wake of the hurricane, completing the Hui Holokai Beach private lagoon with snorkeling, scuba, kayaking and paddleboarding, a selection of six restaurants and its outdoor Spa Without Walls.


From top: An award-winning 36-hole championship Hawaii golf course at Fairmont Orchid Hotel; paddleboard floating yoga outside Fairmont Orchid Hotel.

Not far away on a private stretch of beach, the elite residences of the Kohanaiki Private Club Community (@kohanaiki_life) not only survived the hurricane winds but flourished to add entire neighborhoods of $10 million homes. Its exclusive 7,329-yard golf course is up, running and open to members and the PGA pros who visit. Garratt Fitts, brewmaster at Kohanaiki, produces small-batch artisan beers for the development’s well-heeled residents. He laments the media’s tendency to swarm over news of a disaster but disappear when the good news of recovery emerges.

“The press made it sound like the entire island was burning down. Now we’re enjoying the best air quality we’ve seen in years. We’re all very proud of how our island recovered and became stronger than before,” he says. Perhaps now is the best time to experience it yourself.

Hawaii-raised Kampachi is an example of fine dining at Fairmont Orchid Hotel.

Photography by: allen kennedy | salmon photo by rachel olsson