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Halekulani. The name means house befitting heaven.

Breakfast on the balcony
Breakfast on the balcony
Photo © Barb & Ron Kroll

How appropriate, we think, as we breakfast on our balcony overlooking Oahu's Waikiki Beach. Red anthuriums decorate the crisp white linen covering our table. We sip rich Kona coffee and feast on ripe papaya and freshly-baked popovers with pale yellow poha jam, made from wild Hawaiian berries.

Below us, a couple jogs along the beach. In the background, the sun rises over Diamond Head. Our eyes, however, are drawn irresistibly to the hotel's signature pool — a sapphire blue oval framing a giant cattleya orchid in its base. (It took over one million glass mosaic tiles from Africa to create the glowing blue and lavender design.)


More than 90 percent of the rooms in the Halekulani overlook the Pacific. They feature baskets of fresh fruit, bouquets of tropical flowers, thick terry cloth robes, three telephones and a glass-enclosed shower so you can admire the view while bathing.

But there's more to the Halekulani than its elegant amenities. There's history.

The Halekulani carries the name, much of the aloha spirit and some of the original buildings that belonged to the first hotel that opened here in 1907.

Palm trees, cattleya orchid pool and beach
Palm trees, cattleya orchid pool and beach
Photo © Barb & Ron Kroll

The original hotel consisted of a beach-front home and five bungalows built among the kiawe (mesquite) trees by Robert Lewers.

House without a key

Hawaiian fishermen, who lived on the adjoining land, used to sit beneath Lewers' shady trees while mending nets and repairing their outrigger canoes. After a time, they bestowed a name on the beach house — halekulani — symbolizing the warmth, friendliness and hospitality of their neighbors.

The hotel was eventually purchased by the Kimballs who tore down the old Lewers home and replaced it with a plantation-style main building.

The Kimballs hosted a weekly sunset party, for guests, on a lanai or patio called The House Without a Key. The name recalls the days when cottages with beachside lanais were always open to guests and rarely locked, if they had keys at all.

Celebrity guests

Among the notable visitors was novelist Earl Derr Biggers, who wrote about the murder mystery exploits of the inscrutable Chinese detective, Charlie Chan. Biggers named his first Chan novel after the lanai.

The Clapp family then bought and ran the hotel until 1981, when rising property taxes forced them to sell it to the Halekulani Corporation, a subsidiary of the Japanese conglomerate, Mitsui. Today, Halekulani is a member of The Leading Hotels of the World, Preferred Hotels & Resorts Worldwide and Okura Hotels & Resorts.

It is said that grown men cried when the beloved but aging bungalows were demolished. But they soon dried their tears when the new Halekulani opened in 1983.

Halekulani's signature cattleya orchid pool
Halekulani's signature cattleya orchid pool
Photo © Barb & Ron Kroll


Its 456 rooms were arranged like a giant letter E, facing the ocean. The main building was preserved as the hotel's primary dining and gathering spot. And although the long palm-lined driveway was lost, the gatehouse remained, cleverly enveloped in waterfalls to muffle the noise from the busy street.

Today, afternoon tea with dainty sandwiches and pastries is served in the living room of the main building where the Lewers and Kimballs relaxed by the sea. In the nostalgic House Without A Key, guests still gather for sunset cocktails and Hawaiian music under the same kiawe tree which graced the original beach house.

The main building houses two restaurants. Orchids serves local specialties such as shrimp sautéed in garlic with green papaya salad. La Mer is on the second floor, perched over the ocean facing Diamond Head. Dishes like sautéed jumbo scallops and Kahuku prawns with vanilla saffron sauce, and chocolate Kona coffee cake, marry local ingredients with nouvelle French cuisine.

Diamond Head, viewed from the Halekulani
Diamond Head, viewed from the Halekulani
Photo © Barb & Ron Kroll

Royal suite

Readers of Condé Nast Traveler magazine named Halekulani the number one Pacific Rim resort for location and for food.

Here's just one example why: Arriving guests receive a box of homemade passionfruit, raspberry and banana chocolates made by the resident chocolatiers.

While a stay at the Halekulani can make you feel like a king, there is, in fact, a Royal Suite. With more living space than an average home, it features long lanais with panoramic views of Diamond Head and the ocean, a grand piano, luxurious furniture and a kitchen fully-equipped, right down to the cappuccino-maker. With butler service and airport limousine transfers included, the room goes for US$8,000 a night.

Although few guests can afford the Royal Suite, satisfaction is still high. Some have been coming back for 50 to 60 years.

Everyone at the Halekulani smiles

"It's part of the pride we have in working here," explains one employee. Not everyone is fortunate enough to work in "the house befitting heaven."


Halekulani: www.Halekulani.com