Kauai, the oldest island in the Hawaiian chain, is the most resistant to tired tropical tropes. Though a traveler can get lei’d and fed at a kitschy luau, this is not the place for just-add-water Polynesia. So when Kukuiula- a new high-end residential club that’s opening a cluster of 15 vacation cottages late this summer- says it aims to tap the essence of the real Kauai, it’s unclear exactly what that means.
But after a few low-key days on the sprawling property, you’ll know. Kukuiula is understated; it’s real (Wili, a Kauai native, greets you not with a canned “Aloha!” but with a soft “Welcome home”); it’s indulgence without fanfare. And while there’s some mingling in the $100 million central clubhouse (plantation style, circa 1900s), there’s so much space- the cottages are spread out, the property expansive- that you feel like you have the place to yourself. If you see other people, you’re apt to think, there go some of the other fortunate few.
Kukuiula stretches across what used to be a sugar plantation on bluffs overlooking Poipu Bay. A discreet sign marks the turnoff (Kauai is not an island of gates and guards) to a sleepy entrance road, which spills through fields of wildflowers. The cottages, as well as a constellation of custom homes, orbit the clubhouse and give you access to all club amenities: several swimming pools, a spa, and customized activities including paddle boarding, kayaking, and deep-sea fishing.
Kukuuiula’s other selling point has to be the food. True to Hawaii’s farm-to-table roots (which existed long before the current locavore movement), the club harvests produce from an off-property farm, a hilltop Eden where breadfruit and mango trees ting tidy rows of eggplant, watercress, and tomatoes. Pick all you want for a home cooked meal or leave the duties to chef Ben Takahashi, who worked at a host of high-end resorts before arriving at a place where “if I want an ingredient, I don’t have to wait three weeks for it to arrive on a barge.”
This being Hawaii, there’s also a spectacular golf course. Designed by Tom Weiskopf, an icon of the game, it winds past coffee bushes, citrus groves, and star fruit orchards: On every hole grows something you can either eat or wear. Kukui nut trees, which flank the par-four second, produce the hardened shells that are used to fashion leis. Experts at the club will even help you make one.
The end of the day here is a no-brainer: Just settle into a comfy chair on the clubhouse’s wraparound lanai, sip wine (or a locally sourced carrot juice- ginger shooter), and soak up ocean views.