Shine On

The Travel Desk (

Shine On
By Diana Ting

Even at night, when Kauai is covered in a blanket of darkness and a few twinkling stars, it is utterly breathtaking. While you can’t really see its towering emerald-green peaks or lush landscapes, the island remains a sight — and experience — to behold.

That’s exactly how I felt when I first arrived at the Koa Kea Hotel & Resort at Poipu Beach during nightfall. Tiki torches illuminated the beachfront property just enough for me to glimpse the kidney-shaped saltwater pool and bubbling Jacuzzi as I walked to my oceanview guestroom, listening to the sounds of the waves. I couldn’t wait to see it in the daylight, I thought.

After turning the lights on in my room, I immediately felt at home. Slipping into the bed covers later that night, I drifted to sleep, only to awaken the next morning when a single ray of light broke through my drapes and onto the corners of my pillow. Sluggishly, I ambled toward my lanai, pulled back my curtains and gasped — it was simply beautiful.

The transition from night into day, or darkness into light, is a fitting metaphor for the hotel’s evolution. In 1992, Hurricane Iniki destroyed the Poipu Beach Hotel that occupied this prime real estate. For years, the property was empty, a far cry from its heyday as a popular, family-friendly hotel. In 2006, however, plans to rebuild the hotel emerged and Poipu Beach Hotel’s former assistant manager, Chris Steuri, was called in to lead the charge.

Steuri, now general manager, set to work immediately, seeking out talented developers, architects and designers for the new endeavor, and the results of his efforts are on clear display at the intimate boutique hotel, now a haven for couples.

As the building and planning processes took place, Steuri thought the hotel needed to have a new name, befitting a new beginning. “I just felt we needed a new identity,” he said.

The effort to build the new property was not without some challenges, either. Koa Kea was originally set to open in August 2008, but the opening was delayed due to permit problems with the local government. It officially opened in April 2009.

The interiors of Koa Kea’s 121 guestrooms and suites were composed by Las Vegas-based designer Anita Brooks. At Koa Kea, Brooks, who also designed the interior space for Red Rock Casino, Resort & Spa in Las Vegas, favored the use of mahogany-colored woods, clean, simple lines and warm neutrals offset by pops of vibrant colors — crimson, tangerine and turquoise. The design adds to Koa Kea’s sleek, luxurious ambience.

In my room, I gravitated toward its sea-inspired accents, from tall glass candle holders filled with sand and starfish to beautiful white coral, the hotel’s namesake (koa kea means “white coral” in Hawaiian). I was also delighted to discover all the modern amenities and conveniences I could ever want or need, including a Nespresso espresso maker, a Bose sound system with iPod docking capabilities, complimentary water bottles and a 42-inch flat-screen, high-definition television. All rooms have a private lanai, high-speed Internet access, bathrobes and slippers, an iron and ironing board, ceiling fans, air conditioning and an in-room safe. The bathroom was elegant and spacious, with marble countertops and showers and verbena-scented L’Occitane products. I especially loved the expansive shower, which was built with dual showerheads.

The best part about each room, however, was the bed. It could be, quite possibly, one of the most comfortable and opulent beds I’ve ever slept in. Made with a unique, custom combination of duck and goose feathers, the bed forgoes a traditional top sheet for a down-filled layer of feathers enveloped in fine Egyptian-cotton bedding and luxurious Italian linens, along with matching head pillows that are as soft as marshmallows. Steuri spent months trying to craft the perfect bed for his hotel, and I think he succeeded in doing so.

He was also successful in his choice of executive chef Ronnie Sanchez for the hotel’s Red Salt restaurant.

“We underwent an extensive search to identify a chef with the right combination of creativity, experience and individuality, and chef Sanchez is the perfect blend of all these traits,” Steuri said.

Sanchez came to Red Salt by way of Santa Fe, N.M., and previously worked at the world-famous El Bulli in Spain, as well as in Alaska, Colorado and Florida. Such experiences and flavors are evident in his cooking and, when combined with local Hawaiian techniques and ingredients, the dishes are truly one-of-a-kind. Sanchez’s version of seared ahi tuna came delicately wrapped in Serrano ham; his rendition of kalua pork included taro gnocchi and Berkshire bacon swathed in a lush pineapple demi-glace. One of my favorite items was dessert: a root beer float made with root beer gelato and Wailua-brand vanilla cream soda, topped off with a chocolate cookie.

Feeling rather decadent, I also indulged in a spa treatment. While the spa is relatively small, with five treatment rooms (one is a couple’s suite), it offers a large number of services. Clients can also request in-suite and poolside treatments.

One of the most unique spa offerings is a Neuro-Facial Re-Education (NFR) massage by Gary Remes. Remes created NFR as a way to melt away chronic pain using a targeted type of acupressure. During my NFR massage, I was shocked at how quickly my aches and pains dissolved with just the lightest touch. 

In the same way, by applying just the right touches, Steuri and his team have managed to reconstruct a property to be proud of and one, I hope, that will continue to attract visitors to Kauai for many years to come.