All posts by Mark Sullivan

Sunset in paradise

Palm trees in paradise

A cute little guy on our porch

From the volcano park we drove a few hours north and west to the sunny side of the Big Island for the final stop of our summer adventure in Polynesia. Kailua is the island’s second largest town. And it’s in a region called Kona. And apparently nobody can make up their mind about what to call the place, so it’s most frequently referred to as Kailua-Kona, as weird as that seems.

This is the stretch of the Big Island that is lined with beautiful beach resorts. And because it’s the Big Island, there’s a lot of volcano action, so the beautiful beach resorts are surrounded by lava fields. It’s an interesting and beautiful juxtaposition.

So we spent our last six days in Polynesia doing what we are very good at — enjoying a gorgeous beach and bunches of books and not much more. We had a rental car here, but it sat in the parking lot for six days because we weren’t motivated to leave the resort.

While we love nice beach resorts, we do tire a bit of fussy (and annoyingly expensive) resort restaurants. So we took a disproportionate share of our meals, sitting at the bar, at the restaurant that was more casual than the rest. And it turned out to be surprisingly homey, especially for Jim.

One great bartender turned out to be from Bemidji, Minnesota. Not only is she a member of the same Ojibwe tribe as Jim, but she is also the niece of Clyde Bellcourt, famed founder of the American Indian Movement. The other great bartender hailed from New Jersey, but his mother grew up in Billings Park, the same neighborhood in Superior, Wisconsin where Jim’s mom grew up. Weird connections at a fancy Hawaii resort!

And thus our adventure in Polynesia comes to a conclusion. As we await a long flight back to New York, I’ll just share the last pretty pics.

The beach in paradise

It’s not hard to spot Jim

A pretty relaxed lunch

From the beach we could see Maui in the distance, the beleaguered island that experienced so much tragedy while we were here

Frangipani blossoms always make me feel like I’m in a happy place

Palm trees and lava. That’s the Big Island.

From the tiny airport you step straight onto a boat headed to your resort, and you are immediately wowed by the scenery

The yellow star marks our resort. The blue dot is where we had lunch on the main island.

We found a phone booth in the main town, and Jim even checked for a dial tone!

A manta ray under a bridge at the resort

Bora Bora is a “Wow” place. It looked stunning from the airplane as we approached. The water was an unreal turquoise color as we stepped onto the boat to be transported to our resort. For six days we marveled at what a beautiful place this is. We couldn’t help making favorable comparisons with the most beautiful places we’ve ever been — the Maldives, Capri, Torres del Paine in Chile, Sardinia.

And it didn’t hurt a bit that the St. Regis Bora Bora is a truly world-class hotel, one of the best we’ve ever stayed at. The facility, rooms, service, food, and grounds all came close to perfection. The place comes with prices to match, but we were able to use the gazillions of Marriott hotel points we’ve earned to snag a beautiful over-the-water bungalow at a fraction the normal cost. There’s reason we’ve been hoarding those points.

The main island is formed by an extinct volcano, from which rise two dramatic peaks called Pahia and Otemanu. The island is surrounded by a lagoon enclosed by barrier reefs on all sides. The nicer resorts live on little islets along the barrier reef, affording spectacular views across the lagoon to the peaks of the volcano.

What does one do here? If you are Mark and Jim, the answer is not too much. We are more than content sitting on the lovely white sand beaches, reading and marveling at the brilliant colors of the water and the lush green scenery. Because our resort sprawled expansively across several of the islets, each room came with two dedicated bicycles, which we’d use to traverse the hefty distances between our bungalow, the beach, the restaurants, and the gym. Every time I got on that bike, I was amazed at how beautiful everything was in every direction as I rode.

We did venture into the main town of Vaitape on the main island one day, taking a complimentary hotel shuttle boat to get there. It was a pretty dusty little town with locals going about their business and a scattering of tourists checking out shops selling black pearls and assorted other touristy finds. After running a couple of errands we’d quickly had enough of the town and stopped into the one restaurant that had sounded good for lunch. Coming off the hot and dusty main road, we were amazed at the loveliness of the patio and the gorgeous views toward the water and the islets.

It was a heavenly little lunch. Other than that, we did very little more than enjoy being in one of the most beautiful places on earth. And naturally, this post come with a lot of pictures!

The scenery as our plane approached the island

These waters are heavenly

My view as I bike across the bridges that connect the bungalows to the islets

Our deck provided expansive space for drying our laundry — handy when the hotel charges $18 to wash a pair of shorts

Can’t get enough of that view toward the peaks

The center of Vaitape from our in-town lunch spot

Jim looks blue, but in fact he’s enjoying our wonderful lunch in town

Did we mention the VIEWS?

Sunset views are nice, too

Jim loves a great hammock, and this one takes the cake

The hotel bar is a nice place for sunset

More sunset

The ride back to the airport on our final day

World’s best airport sign

Lunch at the venerable Halekulani, where the service was amazing — like when the bartender asked if he could take this great picture

After Kauai we made one more two-night stop in Honolulu before embarking on the six-hour flight to Tahiti. Two notable things about this stop:

First, we decided to give another hotel a try. So this time we stayed at Halekulani, a venerable Waikiki hotel that recently went through a huge renovation.So you got the best of all worlds: A great old hotel with a storied reputation and super contemporary design and amenities.

But the best part of our visit was reconnecting with our friends Andrew and Maia Rosen, whom we hadn’t seen in decades. Andrew was one of our classmates at the Kennedy School at Harvard. Maia was his girlfriend back then who went to the Harvard Education School and lived in the same dorm. We’ve kept tabs over the years but just hadn’t managed to connect in person until now — after they’d moved to Honolulu, married, and raised three sons.

Arriving at the credit union’s new headquarters, we knew we were in the right place when we found this life-size picture of Andrew building the place

Andrew is President and CEO of the Hawaii State Federal Credit Union. He suggested we meet him at the brand new headquarters he just devoted a couple years to building. So we agreed — but had to joke a bit about coming to Polynesia to tour a credit union. As we entered the building, Andrew told us how he wanted to build a space where people would love to work. And he insisted that his staff really liked working there. Of course, we kidded, that’s what they’re going to tell the boss!

The building, which they’d barely just moved into after a long renovation, was loaded with spaces for socializing, relaxing, and doing teamwork. The design was sort of Polynesian, sort of Japanese, sort of Zen. And when we reached the top floor we found a huge kitchen/entertaining space with expansive outdoor patios with really comfy furniture. And lo and behold, we met a bunch of super friendly staff, who were hanging out together after work and cooking, drinking, and having fun. And we heard an earful about how much they LOVE working there. It was all very impressive. In my next life I want to work for Andrew at the credit union!

After enjoying some wine on the lanai there, Andrew took us to the lovely and serene Pacific Club where well-heeled Hawaiians gather for drinks, meals, sport, and mingling. Then on to his home near Diamond Head to meet Maia and finish off a wonderful evening of catching up. It was as if no time at all had passed since grad school.

Martinis at the Pacific Club

At home with Maia

The pool and beach from the Halekulani gym

Waikiki at night rom our balcony