Glamour weekend at St. Regis Princeville for Bethany Hamilton's wedding.
The first time I saw Kaua`i’s Hanalei Bay from the site of the St. Regis Princeville, I was five years old. The five-star resort location was a pasture with a steep slope that ended in a little beach we called “Cowpies” because Princeville Ranch cattle napped under the spreading leaves of the kamani trees on the hidden beach and did the obvious. Much has changed since then—but not the iconic drip-castle headland of Bali Hai nor the triptych of mountains Hi`imanu, Namolokama and Mamaloa that overlook sparkling Hanalei Bay.
Forty years later, the view is the same and in place of cowpatties are lovely green beach umbrellas. The kamani trees still spread shade over the pristine beach, and canoes still paddle and sail by regularly—but in the place of pasture is a gracious hotel first built in 1985 that has been the crown jewel of Kaua`i’s North Shore since its inception.
For me as a returning Kaua`i resident, visiting the island for family friend Bethany Hamilton’s wedding, opening the door to our luxury room four floors above the beach was emotionally charged. The view struck me like a Technicolor backdrop, and the well-designed space capitalized on it with a built-in window seat where we could take in the moods of Hanalei Bay from sunrise to sunset, watching the changing pattern of light and shadow across the sculptured green mountains as well as the sailboats, canoes and classic view of Hanalei Pier all viewed from a perch of exquisite luxury.
We had the accomodations comped because I’m now writing for a travel review media group called IPA Magazine, and champagne and fruit greeted us. Toppy, our bellman, was a fountain of information on the hotel as he had been on staff with sixty others who have remained “since the beginning.” His demeanor was animated as he told us about the various incarnations of the hotel since 1985 when it began as a Sheraton, then became a Mirage, then the Princeville Hotel and is now the St. Regis.
I had also visited the hotel numerous times over the years, (including having my wedding rehearsal dinner there twenty-seven years ago) and its present décor is the most gracious of all. From the porte cochere to the rooms, guests are surrounded by the theme of water: reflection pools and fountains decorate the grounds, most spectacularly inside the lobby where a series of cascading infinity pools reflect the stunning floor-to-ceiling views of the mountains and Hanalei Bay (a scene I describe in Torch Ginger when Lei goes to a ball.) A modern chandelier in the entrance continues the water theme, made of clear glass balls and bubbles that give the impression of sunlight in a waterfall.
We enjoyed listening to a world-class jazz ensemble in the newly-expanded and redecorated St. Regis Bar, done in comfortable couches where guests can pop in to read, relax or take in the sunset through massive windows. Food was delicious (if pricey) at the Makana Terrace grill with its amazing view of Hanalei Bay where we met a new friend, journalist Kim Rogers, for brunch.
All that aside, I still remember having family picnics in the grass on the bluff, chasing my sister through the brush and scrub guava down to the deserted beach and throwing dried cowpatties at each other. Later, as a teenager, I made out with a boyfriend under the kamani trees after we came in from surfing. Forty years ago or yesterday, Hanalei Bay is something amazing.
Bethany’s wedding was gorgeous. Held at a private estate, security was heavy and I was feeling nervous in my new dress and heels. It still feels weird to be one of the “older generation” (when we moved away in 1992 with our very young children, we were in the young married group) with friends becoming grandparents all around us. Standing to see Bethany, radiant in a tulle gown, walk down a grassy aisle strewn with plumeria on the crown of a hill to meet handsome Adam felt like being part of a fairy tale. The heavy security was merited because paparazzi continued to try to penetrate the event throughout. One even paraglided in, photographing as he passed overhead!
We were under “media silence” to allow Bethany and Adam privacy, and we respected that by taking no photos of the ceremony nor any of them at the reception. But I will say this: I have seldom seen two more physically and spiritually beautiful young people, and they were just aglow with happiness. Something people don’t realize is that Bethany is almost six feet tall, and her new husband made her look petite! They were so lovely together, so happy and clearly magnetized by chemistry, it made me want to zoom home to work on my new book, a romantic “women’s fiction” I’m calling The Waiting Room.
Kaua`i always elicits deep and mixed feelings: on the one hand I feel like I’ve outgrown it, and feel frustrated with the traffic, the nondiverse economy, the lack of outside influences like the vital arts scene we have on Maui. On the other, Kaua`i will always feel like home in a profound way and even totally new experiences like staying at the St. Regis are layered with memories and relationships. Kaua`i reminds both Mike and I of our young, athletic physical selves—running on the beach at Hanalei Bay, learning to surf at Pine Trees, diving with my dad for dinner at Tunnels, swimming all the way to Hanakapiai on the Na Pali coast—and how those feats are over for these middle-aged bodies. It makes us both a little sad.
And yet—now we can sit on a tiny beach all by ourselves below the St. Regis and take pictures of the sunset, and toast Kaua`i—the fairest of them all—from a place of blessed plenty and well-earned rest.
Either way, there’s no place like home, when your home is Kaua`i.
Have you ever had mixed feelings about returning to the place you grew up in?