A Respite That Rivals Any: Kona Village Lulls The Senses

In the not so distant past, a certain web site and newsletter publisher/freelance writer found himself in Kona for the weekend. There was a culinary festival of sorts going on in Keauhou Bay. There were meetings in town and dinners at Huggo's (yum: more on this later). And there was a snorkel excursion to Kealakekua. It was a lovely visit; an escape from the bustle of Honolulu (yet not without traffic), at the slowed-down only a neighbor island can so readily offer. It was idyllic.

Or so he thought.

Before departing for home, said editor took advantage of a long holiday weekend (shouldn't we always have Mondays off?), and checked in to the Kona Village Resort. After the bags (and the writer) were whisked away on a golf cart, the automobile tucked far away from the oceanfront hales for the duration of stay, and the bags stowed, true serenity ensued.

Truly.

Kona Village Resort, a mere 6 miles north of the Kona International Airport, is a collection of stand-alone, thatched-roof hales that skirt Hawai'i Island's Kohala Coastline. At the foot of a swath of brittle, black lava that extends as far as the eye can see, the bungalows are all to stop gentle trade winds that swoop down from Hualalai, before fluttering across tepid, cresting waves. Beneath the water is one of Hawaii's richest coral playgrounds, teeming with life (and frolicking resort-goers). In the center of the property is a freshwater pond flush with wildlife, keiki chasing unique varieties of bird and pheasant, and smiling parents trying to capture both on film. Two large structures are the twin dining areas-one casual and one considered formal-although the dress for each hardly varies. Aside the gentle shores of the bay that fronts Kona Village, a hut holds everything from windsurf and stand-up paddleboard gear, to towels, sun-block and a guide to types of fish you might see.

Ulrich Krauer has managed this haven of laid back, sun-drenched lazy afternoons for 5 years-and somehow keeps it running like clockwork. If you've ever wondered where the Polynesian resorts of yesteryear went, want to visit Tahiti but don't have the means or simply need to get away, then read on.

B on Hawaii: You have shaped one of Hawaii's most unique getaway options. What do you consider the essence of Kona Village resort (KVR)?

Ulrich Krauer, General Manager, KVR: here guests experience the Hawaii of their imaginations... Time and again we are told that Kona Village is exactly what they thought Hawaii would look and feel like...both in terms of the physical plant, but also in terms of our Hawaiian hospitality. We hear this over and over again.

B on Hawaii: How has Kona Village managed to survive more than 40 years in the industry with the same philosophy and relative offerings?

Ulrich Krauer: we'remain true to our place here at Kaupulehu by respecting the culture and the history of this area. We offer guests a truly Hawaiian experience, same as we have for 42 years. On our 82 acres, guests have room to jog, stroll, relax and mingle. We skipped the poured concrete paths and left things as they once were-lush, tropical, original. We've maintained the ancient fishponds, the thatched roofing, the petroglyphs and so on. Our luau is the longest running luau on the island. And by not "plugging in"-no TVs, radios or telephones in our rooms, guests absolutely love that they wake up and go to sleep to the sounds of nature. Couples and families actually talk to one another. We must be doing something right: 65 to 70 percent of our guests are return clients.

B on Hawaii: How many hales are there on property? And are they all different?

Ulrich Krauer: There are 125 hales reflecting nine different architectural styles of Polynesia. They vary slightly in their square footage and layouts because of the layouts. Some are single rooms, others have two rooms, and we have some ohana duplexes as well. All are single level, but some have raised steps leading up, so they almost feel like tree houses. Some have hot tubs on their porches; most have a hammock or two within a few feet from the front door.

B on Hawaii: What type of person is your ideal guest?

Ulrich Krauer: The majority of our guests come from Northern California, actually. They vary in age from the young honemooners to entire generations of families celebrating reunions. The ideal guest is somewhere between 35 and 65, looking to unplug and relax. [KVR has no televisions, radios or phones in the individual hales.] They would enjoy water sports since that is a key focus of our resort. But they would also appreciate the Hawaiian culture and learning the history of Kaupulehu.

B on Hawaii: There's a beach bar that is, literally, an old sailboat. What's the deal?

Ulrich Krauer: It belonged to the owner who built this property. Johnno Jackson began building KVR in 1965. He has sailed the South Pacific in his schooner, the "New Moon," which he moored in Kahuwai Bay. A storm pushed the boat on to and across the reef, causing some damage. Johnno and his crew removed it from the water, and proceeded to drag it up the beach as far as they could. When they stopped, exhausted, he said "This would be a good place for a bar!" Forty-three years later... still there.

B on Hawaii: How does KVR's positioning next door to the tony Four Seasons Resort play out? Do you see a huge difference in the clientele?

Ulrich Krauer: Four Seasons guests are not Kona Village guests, and vice versa. The experiences are quite different, and you either want one or the other. We do not market to the same clientele at all. Our guests enjoy our casual atmosphere, the resort layout, the beach and guest services the individual hale the inclusion of meals and activities and so forth. The more formal Four Seasons is for different kind of traveler. However, the Four Seasons guests do appreciate the ocean sport offerings from Kona Village Ocean Adventures so they come over to our beach for scuba diving, wind surfing, sailing, kayaking and so forth.

B on Hawaii: You are Swiss German. A background in hospitality from that region screams efficiency and, of all things, not really the most laid back attitude. How did you come to be at KVR? How does your go-get-'em personality meld with the relaxed vibe at the resort?

Ulrich Krauer: I love Hawaii. I love the culture, the people... My management style, as it would anywhere, had to adjust to my surroundings. The staff has worked hard during my tenure here to improve and upgrade their own style of service. We've implemented a training program designed by myself and the staff members who have been here more than 15 years. It speaks volumes to the younger staff.

B on Hawaii: What are some upcoming events at KVR?

Ulrich Krauer: In 2008 we are hoping to offer two "Wine Months", which will be in May and September. Rather than just an evening or weekend, the wine months will have a variety of happenings; Tastings, dinners, seminars and so on, so guests at any given time might experience some unusual or little-known wines. Also, our ribcraft [motorboat] has arrived, and we are building ocean adventures around this new, custom boat. We have the "Wahine Unwind Weekends" packages, as well as the "Village Experience" package and our "Bed, Breakfast and Beyond" package which gives guests the option to include lunch and dinner, or not.

"By not "plugging in"–no TVs, radios or telephones in our rooms–guests absolutely love that they wake up and go to sleep to the sounds of nature. Couples and families actually talk to one another."