On Kauai, Hawai‘i’s oldest and westernmost island, there is no escaping the humble chicken. The feral, petite birds roam in droves, pecking, chirping, and flapping. Even at the newly opened 1 Hotel Hanalei Bay, the island’s most sumptuous property, one occasionally spots them amid the soft, expensive finery. Roaming near the plush beach chairs and by the large, sunlit pool, the mottled, befuddled fowl seem even funnier than usual. Yet they merely add to the resort’s charm. The 252-room property, like the Garden Island itself, is aloha incarnate.
The five-star, $1,000-plus-per-night hotel rests upon a slope overlooking Hanalei Bay, a two-mile-long rim of shallow blue shoreline. Across the bay are the sharp, verdant contours of the Nāmolokama, Hihimanu, and Māmalahoa mountains and the edge of the Nāpali Coast State Wilderness Park. It is nearly impossible to keep your eyes off the heavenly view, which can be admired through wide windows in the open-air lobby.
The cheery town of Hanalei—home of some of the most pricey residential real estate in Hawai‘i—lies just downhill. During a recent stay, my partner and I paid it a visit. We spotted flocks of nene geese, the state bird of Hawai‘i, alongside sprawling taro fields and sampled delicious bites at Hanalei Poke and Wishing Well Shave Ice.
To explore it all, we commandeered the hotel’s Audi e-Tron, an all-electric SUV, available gratis for guests. We drove it south to Ho’opi’i Falls, a 1.8-mile hiking trail that ends at a glorious waterfall and swimming hole. And though Kauai offers a wealth of dazzling sightseeing, it was difficult, especially on a three-night trip, to leave the wonders of the 1 Hotel.
Veteran Hanalei visitors will recognize the property, which first opened in 1985 as a Sheraton. In 2009, St. Regis took over. Then, this February, it joined 1 Hotel’s glitzy portfolio, an American, eco-conscious luxury brand. The hotel is stylishly decorated with subtle Hawaiian motifs throughout: hanging straw hula dresses; a wall of lava rock in the gigantic shower; chocolate-covered macadamia nuts at the Bamford Wellness Spa; the fantastic, locally sourced meals. But it mostly lets the view do the talking—that haunting, Homeric view.
After two days of admiring the vistas from afar, my partner and I decided to get a closer look. On our final morning, we nabbed a double kayak at the beach rental shack and paddled along the shoreline to the mouth of the Hanalei River.
Splendid palms sagged over the languid waterway as we passed a grizzled surfer schlepping upriver out to sea and then a tour-group armada of kayakers. The nenes were squawking and plentiful. Beyond the river, white lines of waterfall cut into the towering mountains like pinstripes.
On one stretch, as we paddled in solitude, a gigantic white, red-headed bird soared low down the middle of the river like an ancient god. We stopped to watch it pass, enjoying the sun on our necks, drifting with the outgoing tide, feeling weightless.