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The living room in the Belzberg home

Hualalai Resort captures an intimate, village-like ambience.

The seaside Beach Tree features an open-air bar and lounge area.

The pool at the Hualalai Sports Club

Natural Wonders

At Hawai‘i Island’s Hualalai Resort, get back to your senses in more ways than one.

When it comes to striking landscapes, the vast stretches of black lava of North Kona on Hawai‘i Island fit the bill. It’s the closest that Hawai‘i gets to the desert, after all. For the uninitiated, the arid environment could seem intimidating, even uninhabitable, and certainly an odd place for a vacation. But the Hawaiians of old knew far better, making their home along the rugged shores and sandy coves. Of the many famed places along this coast, one spot has earned an enduring reputation: Ka‘ūpūlehu, a former fishing village that is now Hualālai Resort.

For years, I’ve heard countless praise of this destination getaway founded in 1997, apparently for good reason. First, the ultraexclusive community is host to the acclaimed Four Seasons Resort Hualālai, a frequent award winner of luxury honors—2013 has been no exception, of course, with the property garnering the Five Diamond Award from AAA. Then there are the beyond-spectacular residences, where jet-setters and business moguls have found their homes away from home. Understandably, my anticipation is high as my driver turns into the resort.

Instead of taking in the usual hotel monoliths, my gaze relaxes as my eyes settle on the rolling landscape. Rough lava gently cedes here and there to seas of green grass and vegetation, along with thoughtfully arranged groups of villages. Everything here seems perfectly in place and in harmony as if that is how it’s always been. No wonder I immediately sigh when I step out of the car; it takes a few seconds to recognize the feeling as that sought-after sense of relaxation.

The feeling only deepens when I arrive at my vacation pad. While many first-time visitors head straight to the Four Seasons, I’m ushered to a truly exclusive experience. For a few treasured days, I dwell at one of the resort’s villas. (A select handful are available to vacationers who would like to live like one of Hualālai’s fortunate residents.) The villa’s decor, chosen from a palette of subtle earth tones, evokes the surrounding landscape. From my ultraplush bed, I’m greeted every morning by an unhindered view of the dormant volcano Hualālai, the resort’s namesake. For those wanting a truly sumptuous getaway, larger homes are available for rent, as well. During an insider’s tour, I’m amazed by several stunners, including a modern masterpiece by L.A. architect Hagy Belzberg.

While the residential areas offer supreme quietude, I’m not out of the action either. Like every guest of Hualālai Resort, I get access to all of the amenities of the Four Seasons and select areas of the resort, including the Hualālai Sports Club and the highly lauded Hualālai Spa. (Do try the artisanal Hulali treatment, which will leave your skin supple, yet invigorated.)

I realize I do have the best of both worlds when I explore the dining options. An obvious choice is Beach Tree, where I find myself literally a few steps from the lapping waves. The sea competes with dishes prepared by chef Nick Mastrascusa’s kitchen team for my attention, but eventually the chef, a native of Uruguay, wins out (if only for the duration of the meal), infusing the playful flavors of his Italian and Spanish heritage with Hawaiian ingredients. For lunch, I settle on chilled mango gazpacho and the chef’s ceviche. Equally impressive is ‘Ulu Ocean Grill + Sushi Lounge, where guests can enjoy three distinctive seating areas. When I slip into this open-air oasis in the late afternoon, I’m immediately romanced by the rays of the setting sun dancing off the hanging glass sculptures. Sophisticated cocktails only add to the dreamy atmosphere.

Of course, I have to explore the property’s upland offerings, leading me to Hualālai Grille. The night I dine, Hawai‘i Island-raised toque James Ebreo serves up succulent steak, but I’m wowed by his preparations of Kona kampachi and abalone, harvested from a few miles away. And this is just one element of the sensory delights that I’ve found throughout the property.

As I spend more time exploring, I have to admit to myself I’m falling head over heels for the very geography of Hualālai. Winding paths throughout the property encourage me to slow down and appreciate the truly stunning scenery. Director of Natural Resources David Chai explains to me the extraordinary efforts that Hualālai Resort has taken to both protect and restore the environment. Chai and his team have helped restore the natural wetlands into a flourishing ecosystem and have spearheaded measures to protect marine species right offshore. Maybe this attention to the surrounding ecology is the source of the deep calm that I feel at Hualālai.

The feeling truly hits me on my final morning. Before I depart, I head out in a two-man canoe with a crew member from the resort’s ocean activities program, Alaka‘i Nalu. As my guide explains the rich history of the area, I look back across the calm, glassy sea to the island rising behind me. Call it an epiphany, but for someone born and raised in the islands, I finally recall how truly amazing Hawai‘i can be for the land, water and sky alone. I also understand why so many guests return here year after, until they finally decide to move in. They realize eventually that home is right here at Hualālai. 325.8022, hualalaivillasandhomes.com