An alternative to Poipu's mega-resorts and condos, this small boutique has attentive five-star service and luxurious rooms.
An intimate, boutique-hotel alternative to the multitude of condos and mega-resorts dotting the Poipu coastline, the 121-room Koa Kea is a hidden gem: The motel-like exterior masks a slickly designed lobby and fine Pacific Rim restaurant, fitness center with new Cybex equipment, and luxurious rooms with 42-inch plasma TVs, sumptuous Anichini linens, and espresso machines.
The former site of the budget Poipu Beach Hotel (devastated by Hurricane Iniki in 1992), 121-room Koa Kea is actually the old Poipu Beach Hotel exterior, completely gutted and redone inside. Under current building ordinances, the owners would have had to build further back from the coastline if they had ripped down the old hotel. By sticking with the old building, Koa Kea was able to remain one of the closest hotels to the beach -- about 25 yards away from the water (much closer than neighboring Marriott Waiohai). The beach is pretty much the same stretch as Kiahuna Plantation's: good for snorkeling and surfing, but with plenty of rocks that are easy for swimmers to cut their feet on as they're pulled with the strong current.
It does feel like you're driving up to an old, signless motel next to the splashier Marriott. But two steps into the sleek white-leather-couch lobby -- done by the same designer behind Vegas' Red Rock and Four Seasons -- and you've entered a completely different hotel. Twenty-four-hour porters whisk your bags away, and a front desk receptionist escorts you to your room, showing you how to use your Nespresso machine. A half hour later, and a staff member came to my door with a letter welcoming me to the hotel and three types of macadamia nuts. This is the kind of five-star pampering you'd find at the Four Seasons Maui -- turndown service, twice-daily housekeeping -- but it's pretty much nonexistent on Kauai's south shore (even at the fancy Grand Hyatt).
Those expecting the expansive list of features that's common in this price range (the Sheraton Kauai mega-resort, just down the street, runs a third less) will be disappointed by Koa Kea's single pool and restaurant. But offering an endless number of features is not the focus of Koa Kea, which falls into the boutique hotel niche rather than the full-on resort category. Koa Kea is for those seeking a lavishly stylish but intimate experience that's less overwhelming than staying at the 602-room Grand Hyatt, considered the most extravagant resort on the island. Koa Kea also offers much more personal, attentive service.
30 minutes from the Lihue Airport, in the middle of the south shore Poipu resort area
Koa Kea is in Poipu, the south shore development that's one of Kauai's biggest resort areas. The town is known for its consistently sunny weather (versus the rainy north shore), picturesque, treelined streets -- and constant construction as developers add more condominiums and hotels to these former sugarcane fields. Located just off Poipu Road, the main strip flanked by resorts on one side and a shopping mall on the other, Koa Kea shares an entrance and beach with the Marriott Waiohai and Kiahuna Plantation.
On family friendly Kiahuna beach, whose clear water is perfect for snorkeling and gentle waves are good for surfing lessons
Minutes away from Waiohai Beach, where more experienced surfers can find larger waves.
Across the street from Poipu Shopping Village, with affordable restaurants including Keoki's Paradise and Puka Dog and fine dining like Roy's
Five-minute drive to Spouting Horn, a lava rock formation that shoots water 50 feet into the air
Small but luxurious, with modern decor and luxury amenities
Confined by the framework of the original hotel, Koa Kea's rooms are smaller than those at the Grand Hyatt (442 square feet versus Hyatt's 500). But they're done up with a cozy, modern boutique-style decor (versus Hyatt's quaint plantation-style) and offer a few more luxury amenities, including 42-inch flat-screens and a drawer hiding an easy-to-use espresso machine (but no bathtub -- just a marble shower with a bench). Westin Princeville's one and two-bedroom condos still have both beat, though -- in size and amenities.
Fresh, modern decor: sleek dark-wood furnishings with turquoise accent pillows, and shelves holding fresh coral and seashells
Room rates vary by view; ocean-front rooms lie very close to the water, but can be more than $300 extra a night versus standard garden view.
One-bedroom suites: 720 square feet; two-bedroom suites are one-bedroom suites with a connecting guest room
Low on features (one small pool), and $15.62 daily resort fee
As an intimate, 121-room luxury boutique hotel, Koa Kea isn't rich with the same extensive features that the Grand Hyatt or even the cheaper Sheraton Kauai have (multiple pools, several restaurants, a kids' club). Koa Kea's small pool and two-computer business center can't really hold a candle to what you'll find at these larger resorts.
Only one small, slightly kidney-shaped pool with Jacuzzi; no children's pool
Five-treatment-room spa that's small but offers an extensive selection of massages, facials, and waxing, including Kauai adventure-specific treatments (massages after a day of hiking, body treatments after a sunburn)
Small fitness center with windows (looking out onto the parking lot, unfortunately)
New equipment: All Cybex cardio machines (five treadmills, two ellipticals, two upright bikes) with TV monitors with cable; Iron Grip weights, but no strength-training machines
Business center is free (to surf and print), but it's just two cubicles with computers, awkwardly located in the hotel's administrative offices.
Faxing costs extra ($2.50 to $5 for first page, $.50 to $1 each additional page).
Serving fresh seafood with Pacific Rim flavors, Koa Kea's upscale Red Salt restaurant is an elegant choice for a romantic evening. But be forewarned that these involved entrees (vanilla-seared mahi mahi with avocado ginger salsa, seared ahi with cilantro risotto) do not come cheap.