Mauna Kea and Hapuna
Just south of Kawaihae, the beaches at Mauna Kea and Hapuna are the best on the island. These wide crescents of sand are clean, powder soft and golden hued. No wonder that one of the Big Island's most respected resorts, Mauna Kea Beach Hotel, was built here. Unfortunately, the earthquake of Oct. 15 left structural damage that caused the hotel to close its rooms indefinitely for repairs. Even so, the Tuesday luaus and Saturday clambakes ($84 each;  882-7222, vwww.princeresortshawaii.com) continue.
For the time being, anyone wanting a resort stay in this area will have to check in at the Hapuna Beach Prince, (888) 977-4623, vwww.princeresortshawaii.com. This hotel is best appreciated by those looking for rest and seclusion. Although Hapuna Beach proper — and every Hawaii beach, for that matter — is open to the public, this beach is a long one, and the resort is sequestered at the northern end, away from the day-use crowd. Beyond the resort's 32 acres, there are no attractions, restaurants or shops within walking distance. But the place is wheelchair-accessible, and one of the most pleasant pastimes here is to start the day at the breakfast buffet ($29 person, tax included) in the Ocean Terrace. The open-air restaurant overlooks the grounds' mature, terraced landscaping down to the pool and, beyond that, to a grouping of beach umbrellas set in the sand. Room specials that include buffet breakfast, rental car or $100 in resort credits start at $295 per night; most are good through Dec. 22. No resort fee. Parking is free.
South of Hapuna Beach are the resorts of Mauna Lani, a complex that includes shops and restaurants — Tommy Bahama and Ruth's Chris Steak House, among them — and a hike to see ancient petroglyphs.
The Fairmont Orchid, (800) 257-7544, vwww.fairmont.com, fosters Hawaiian culture through its beach activities — outrigger and double-hulled canoe sails, the making of traditional crafts — and established its place in the luxury firmament with services such as ocean-side massages in its seminal Spa Without Walls. One of the best ways to spend an afternoon is to stretch out under a clamshell umbrella after snorkeling, possibly with Hawaiian green sea turtles, in Pauoa Bay. Room specials that include buffet breakfast, guided adventure treks, golf or spa services start at $395 night; most are good through Dec. 20. No resort fee. Self-parking is $9; valet is $15.
Also at Mauna Lani is the Mauna Lani Bay Hotel, (800) 367-2323, vwww.maunalani.com. The welcome mat here comes close to disappointing: a central atrium and weary-beige lobby that feel vacuous, as opposed to spacious. This design trespass is most easily forgiven from the private terrace of the private pool of a private bungalow (from $5,500 night) that comes with airport limo, breakfast, afternoon hors d'oeuvres, an open bar and 24-hour butler. Clearly, this resort has put its money into its private spaces. Guests staying in the ordinary rooms — and these rooms aren't so bad, either — can stroll the beach or wander these 29 quiet acres to find the shark and sea-turtle ponds. Room specials that include breakfast, golf, scuba, helicopter tours, spa services or honeymoon perks start at $415 night; most are good through Dec. 19. No resort fee. Parking is free.
From Mauna Lani, the next resort complex south along the coast is Waikoloa Resort, not to be confused with Waikoloa Town, which is about six miles inland and at a higher elevation. Besides golf, the complex includes the busy-and-still-expanding Kings' Shops plaza, where familiar names such as Starbucks and DFS Galleria keep company with trendy restaurants such as Roy's and Merriman's.
Hilton Waikoloa Village, (800) 445-8667, vwww.hiltonwaikoloavillage.com, is Las Vegas without the casinos, Orlando without the mouse ears. Its grounds — covering 62 acres — are vast enough to encompass 1,240 rooms scattered among three buildings, a snorkeling lagoon, 18 restaurants and bars, three swimming pools, various waterfalls and a Dolphin Quest. It's a good choice for families or adults looking for a livelier scene. There's so much here that many guests may not realize that there's no beach — or even miss having one. Part of the fun is exploring the place by canal boat and tram, both of which operate from one end of the resort to the other. But the sheer size of the place is also a drawback: It can be daunting to get off the property for shopping and dining, and long waits for the tram (now under renovation but still operational) combined with high prices at in-house restaurants are frustrating — and make room service an attractive alternative (an order of quesadilla-like chicken wraps and a fruit plate, each enough to serve two people, costs $46, tax and gratuity included). Room specials that include parking, discount vouchers, resort credits, golf, meals or spa services start at $289 night; most are good through Dec. 20. No resort fee. Self-parking is $9; valet is $17.
Settled on the fringes of the historic Anaehoomalu Fish Ponds and Beach, the 15-acre Waikoloa Marriott Resort & Spa, (808) 886-6789, vwww.marriott.com, rests on one of the island's most idyllic bays, known for outstanding snorkeling. The hotel should be more equal to its setting when it wraps up a comprehensive $55-million renovation of its 555 rooms and lobby on June 15. An infinity pool is part of the improvements, as is a Mandara Spa. Room specials that include a fifth night free and daily breakfast start at $425 and are good through Dec. 22. Parking is included in the extra $15 resort fee.
Between Waikoloa Resort and Kailua-Kona, very near the airport, a massive construction project is underway. Behind the construction clutter is Kona Village Resort, (800) 367-5290, www.konavillage.com, a collection of 125 luxuriously appointed thatched-roof bungalows built in the style of various Polynesian islands. They're anything but huts. These 82 get-away-from-it-all acres include a fitness and spa center, fish ponds and a small beach. Activities include petroglyph walks and watching manta rays swim by night. One-room bungalows start at $625, a price that includes three meals a day, non-motorized water sports and special events such as the Friday night luau; 2007 rates are good through Dec. 20. Resort fees and parking also are included.
People who like to mix mainland hobbies with tropical ones will find a rock-climbing wall and a private snorkeling lagoon at Four Seasons Resort Hualalai at Historic Kaupulehu, (888) 340-5662, vwww.fourseasons.com. The hotel and its 600 acres are otherwise geared to relaxation. On its narrow beach of peach-colored sand, even the sea turtles come ashore to rest. Paying guests may best achieve the same thing beside the classical pool or the naturalistic lagoon, drink in hand. One thing about the lagoon: It's formed from and surrounded by black lava that amplifies the sun's heat; the only refuge is under the shaded chaise longues. Room specials that include a full-size rental car and valet parking start at $726 and are good through Dec. 18. No resort fee. Self-parking is free; valet is $12.
Past Kailua-Kona, well south of the town's cluttered bay front, are the resorts of Keauhou Bay. This area is quiet, populated mostly by condos and golf greens. The gift shops and restaurants of Keauhou Shopping Center are a bit of an uphill hike — a short one from the Outrigger, a long one from the Sheraton.
The name of Outrigger Keauhou Beach Resort (800) 688-7444, vwww.outrigger.com) is a bit misleading; it's not on a beach, at least not a sandy beach of the sort that most vacationers expect. Kahaluu Bay Beach Park — good for snorkeling but still not a real beach — is next door. However, the hotel's western elevation juts out over the water, so anyone finding themselves in the first-floor bar or the guest rooms above it would be in a good position to survey the surf breaking over the reef. These 13 acres encompass tide pools, ancient Hawaiian ruins and a replica of the cottage where King David (the Merrie Monarch) Kalakaua once vacationed. There's also a spa. The hotel's 309 rooms are pleasantly above average but not luxurious; it makes this list because of its setting and grounds. Room specials start with a fourth-night-free deal from $169 that's good through Dec. 21. No resort fee. Parking is $5.
Sheraton Keauhou Bay Resort & Spa, (808) 930-4900, vwww.sheratonkeauhou.com, follows the black lava flow on which it rests with its own flowing architecture in contrasting white. Its 22 acres encompass pools with a water slide and a waterfall, and cliff walks that come as near to the pounding surf as safety permits. The air here smells sweetly of passion fruit and plumeria, and the real treat of its 521 renovated and oversized rooms are the balconies: spacious and furnished with bar-height table and chairs. Anyone wishing to dine on the property after 11 p.m., though, had better bring his or her own provisions. By that hour, the hotel's restaurants and room service have closed, so has the local pizza delivery, and all that's left is the pop from the vending machines. Room specials start at a best-available online rate of $179, good through Dec. 31. No resort fee. Self-parking is $5; valet is $10.