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It's a Tale of Two Cities on Hawaii's Kohala Coast

September 17, 1989|BEVERLY BEYER and ED RABEY | Beyer and Rabey are Los Angeles travel writers

KAMUELA, Hawaii — This town on the Big Island has a split personality in more ways than one. First, it has two names. Also, when it's sunny at one end of the village, the rains at the other end could scare Noah.

The names resulted after John Parker, a New England seafarer who walked off his ship here in 1809, married King Kamehameha's granddaughter, had a son named Samuel (Kamuela in Hawaiian) and made the town his namesake. Many early settlers, however, preferred Waimea (red water). As a result, both names are used.

The meteorological change is caused by Waimea-Kamuela's upcountry location--between the relatively dry western Kohala Coast and the rain-forest wetness of the Hamakua Coast to the east.

In any case, hotels and restaurants are sprouting like wildflowers, real estate prices are erupting and everyone believes that the town and coast have very rosy futures.

Even mainlanders will agree that the Kohala Coast and this very pretty little town have plenty of room to grow before suffering development pains.

Getting here: United is the only airline that will get you to the Big Island without changes. American, Pan Am, Delta, Northwest, Continental and TWA will take you to Honolulu, with Aloha and Hawaiian Airlines flying onward.

How long/how much? Stay a week, at least. All sorts of accommodations in moderate prices. Dining the same.

A few fast facts: A rental car is a must for seeing the Big Island. Most firms have desks at the airport. Dollar Hawaii gives out a booklet with discounts at 70 dining spots.

Getting settled in: The Royal Waikoloan (Box 5000, Waikoloa; $90 to $175 double) has a large indoor-outdoor lobby, seven restaurants and lounges, big bedrooms with private balconies or lanai. The beach is a step away and golf and tennis are available. The rooms are $90.

Parker Ranch Lodge (Box 458, Kamuela; $58-$67 double) has 20 rooms, all enormous. Painted barn red with white trim, the lodge looks like a well-kept stable. It offers handsome-pine bedroom furnishings, fresh flowers and a refrigerator. The lodge is at village center. Good restaurants are nearby. The coast is about 20 minutes away.

Mauni Lani Point Condominiums (Kohala Coast) charges $150 to $180 for one bedroom, $210 and up for two and three bedrooms. It has daily maid service, equipped kitchen, washer-dryer, a pool, a Jacuzzi, a sauna, a color TV and a general store nearby for provisions.

Units are on Mauni Lani Bay Hotel's golf course. The tennis club is a short walk away. Condo guests get privileges for both and other hotel facilities.

For other particulars, call toll-free (800) 642-6284.

Regional food and drink: Hawaiian cuisine is slowly developing a measure of character beyond poi and the luau. Although seafood has always been plentiful and fresh daily, it still is a chore to get it without the sweet sauce that hides its delicate flavors.

Some of the local fish not swimming in sauces are opakapaka, a pink or red snapper with flaky meat; onaga, snapper with whiter meat; mahi-mahi, a non-mammal dolphin that is the state's most popular fish; ono, a king mackerel that's also called wahoo, and ahi, a yellowfin tuna that's popular broiled or used in sushi and sashimi.

The Big Island's Parker Ranch beef (10 million pounds produced yearly) is used. French and California wines are readily available but costly.

Dining: Bree Garden restaurant (Waimea-Kamuela) is new and elegant, the work of German owner-chef Bernd Bree. There are framed wall displays of antique German dining silver, old butter molds and 19th-Century fashion prints in the small bar.

The menu offers pepper-broiled salmon steak, Wiener schnitzel, honeyed rack of lamb, prawns in an Amaretto, brandy and cream sauce, plus plenty of other seafood.

The Canoe House (Mauna Lani Bay Hotel) is the newest dining spot on the island. Room and terrace are open to the beach and decorated with old Hawaiian paddles, canoes and other nautical artifacts.

The menu is imaginative: bamboo-steamed mahi-mahi, wok-fried snapper, smoked duck with jicama-mango relish and grilled shrimp, scallops and Japanese eggplant with fresh taro chips.

Merriman's (Kamuela) is another new spot opened by a young man determined to improve Hawaiian dining. Peter Merriman uses fresh seafood, Parker Ranch beef and Kahua Ranch lamb to creat a menu that draws locals in droves.

Try his marlin ceviche with peppers and cilantro, wok-charred marlin or the Thai-style shrimp curry.

Going first-class: The Mauna Kea Beach Hotel (Queen Kaahumanu Highway; $220-$330 double) is still queen of the Big Island hotels and the standard by which other luxury resorts in the Pacific are measured. Mauna Kea's Batik dining room is considered the island's finest. The Pavilion, Garden and Japanese Terrace restaurants offer a broad choice of dining adventures. A children's program also is bringing Mauna Kea an ever-younger family business.

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