Dispatch: My Time At The Mauna Lani

Holly Bennett intended on staying at the Mauna Lani Bay Hotel & Bungalows for one day, but ended up staying for nearly a week.

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“Dispatch” is an online column from Triathlete Editor-at-Large Holly Bennett that will feature pro updates, industry news, happenings afield and otherwise random reports related to multi-sport. Look for “Dispatch” every Thursday on Triathlete.com.

The past few weeks were a whirlwind in the triathlon world. With the Ironman World Championship on Oct. 13 many of us connected to the sport – athletes, fans, industry employees and members of the media alike – made our annual pilgrimage to paradise. And while the race and all its accompanying events are utterly exhilarating, they’re also honestly a bit exhausting. Generally, when it comes time to bid adieu to the Big Island I’m ready to make the journey back home, my energy spent and relishing my Hawaiian memories until next year. But this time around my trip back to Boulder took a slight detour, and I found myself savoring a few welcome days of luxury at the Mauna Lani Bay Hotel & Bungalows.

You’ve probably read tweets, status updates or blog posts from your favorite pros alluding to awesome-ness of the Mauna Lani. The resort proudly sponsors a team of top athletes consisting of Mirinda Carfrae, Belinda Granger, Hillary Biscay, Maik Twelsiek, Linsey Corbin, Luke Bell, Jordan Rapp, Matt Lieto, Jesse Thomas and Samantha McGlone. In addition to the team members, other athletes who enjoy dipping their toes in the Mauna Lani’s welcoming waters include Tim O’Donnell, Joe Gambles, Julie Dibens, Mathias Hecht, Chrissie Wellington, Tom Lowe, Justin Granger, Paul Matthews and Ty and Nikki Butterfield. So when an opportunity arose to check out what makes the place profoundly special, I promptly packed up my beach hat and bikini from my meager Kona rental condo and headed 30 miles north to the Kohala Coast. And while my intention was to simply spend my final 24 hours on-island at the resort, I knew the moment I turned left off the Queen K Highway onto Mauna Lani Drive, stepped into the hotel lobby and was greeted with a shell lei, a cool washcloth, a heartfelt aloha and a glass of fresh passion fruit/orange/strawberry juice that I’d be tempted to stretch my time there. It was five days before I finally left!

It’s hard to pinpoint just one reason why the Mauna Lani holds such a magical allure – perhaps because there are so many special touches and something-for-everyone activities that it’s truly a haven amid an already incredible island. For one, athletes benefit from a beautifully equipped fitness facility, complete with 25-meter lap pool and classes including spinning, Pilates, yoga and the like. There are numerous well-shouldered smooth asphalt roads, as well as a variety of paved and sand paths creating outdoor run routes around the property. In fact, much of the Ironman 70.3 Hawaii’s half marathon takes place on the Mauna Lani’s grounds. Cyclists need merely head to the highway and hang a left to experience the latter half of the Ironman World Championship bike course to the turnaround in Hawi. And open water swimming is easily accessible at nearby Hapuna Beach (site of the Ironman 70.3 swim). Coolers of fruit-infused ice water are strategically placed throughout the resort to help guests stay hydrated and healthy.

If post-race relaxation and a respite from the swim, bike and run grind is what you’re after, book an appointment at the world-class Mauna Lani Spa, offering open-air massage, a range of traditional Hawaiian treatments, a natural lava sauna and a therapeutic watsu pool. Cruiser bikes (including tandems) are available for casual trips around the resort, and other non-triathlon alternatives include two championship golf courses and ocean outings via kayak or stand-up paddleboard. I opted to try stand-up paddling (SUP) with a private lesson from the pros at Hulakai, the family-owned watermen/waterwomen business that operates the ocean activities beach shack at the Mauna Lani, stocked with their own handcrafted paddleboards. George, my guide, not only gave me a lesson in the fundamentals of SUP (referred to locally as “beach boy style”), he recounted a wealth of Hawaiian lore during our “board meeting”, cruising the gentle waves of his oceanic office. From our vantage point standing atop the water it was easy to view a number of green sea turtles playing gracefully in their protected home.

Of course my favorite tropical pastime is simply to chill, and the Mauna Lani offers all variety of beach and poolside lounge chairs, daybeds and hammocks. A lazy afternoon spent swaying in a hammock, a book in one hand and a banana smoothie in the other, lulled by the warm breeze and listening to the crashing waves cannot be beat. Fruit-flavored popsicles are served poolside each afternoon, and 4:00 pm marks the start of happy hour for adult beverage treats (May I suggest the light and refreshing Tiny Bubbles or the decadent and delectable Lava Flow?). The beachfront relaxation ritual is completed by sinking into the hot tub to warm up as the temperature transitions slightly cooler into evening, then taking a front row seat to witness a spectacular sunset – each one slightly different yet equally stunning. My first night at the Mauna Lani was highlighted by a humpback whale making an early appearance (the whales’ migration normally takes place from December – April), breaching multiple times against the sunset backdrop.

For dinner it’s easy to traipse straight from the beach to the casual outdoor Ocean Bar & Grill, or shower up for a stylish night out at the farm-to-table inspired Canoe House. A beachfront picnic is another possibility with gourmet fare and fresh island produce purchased from Foodland Farms at the nearby Shops at Mauna Lani (with something to suit your every retail impulse as well). Breakfasts at the resort are café-style simple (at the Mountain Thunder Coffee Shop, serving 100% Kona coffee brews) or deliciously abundant (at the Bay Terrace restaurant), depending on your preference.

After each sun-drenched day filled with outdoor activities (or not-so-disciplined napping), I happily retired to my resplendent room-with-a-view. The combination of ultra-comfortable king-sized bed, luxury amenities, soothing ceiling fan, natural wood decor and spacious lanai made for a perfect personal retreat and a guaranteed good night’s sleep. It’s easy to see how my one planned day at the Mauna Lani quickly turned to five spent in full tranquility, and why I will most certainly book another visit next year!

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