When 11-year old twins Lauren and Will Baxter get to Kukui‘ula, the first thing they do is go hunting for staff member Willie.
Well, for Willie—and for Willie’s famous cookies.
“They’re, like, double, double chocolate chip,” Lauren explains, but the words are barely out of her mouth before Will chimes in. “They’re like those chocolate lava cakes… gooey… but a cookie!” The memory makes Lauren close her eyes in ecstasy. “Sometimes Willie makes them fresh,” she murmurs. “They’re warm and they’re like… Oh, my gosh.”
Lauren and Will can’t recall a time when Kukui‘ula—and the cookies, and Willie (officially a part of the Hi‘ilani Spa + Fitness team; unofficially, a provider of hugs, warm cookies and even warmer greetings)—wasn’t a part of their lives. Their parents, Jinee Tao and Charlie Baxter, are founding members of The Club at Kukui‘ula who bought property in 2005, when the vision for the community was just a collage of images hinting at the sense of the place.
Growing up, Charlie’s family vacationed all over the Hawaiian islands—at first on the Big Island, then on Maui before buying a home on Oahu. So his love for the Hawaiian lifestyle runs deep. But it wasn’t until Charlie and Jinee started to look for an island-wedding destination that they both fell under the spell of Kaua‘i. The two were married almost 20 years ago at the Waimea Plantation Cottages not far from Kukui‘ula. And after that, they kept returning.
“Kaua‘i draws you in,” Charlie says. “It’s an outdoor adventurer’s dream, of course. But I feel more relaxed and in touch with nature here than anywhere else. Kaua‘i seems to emanate a centripetal force, quiet and persistent.”
Hooked, Jinee and Charlie purchased a second home on the South Shore almost fifteen years ago, and that eventually led them to Kukui‘ula. Enchanted with its open fields, ocean-view pools and sense of freedom, they knew Kukui’ula was the kind of place where their kids could have the sort of free-range childhood experiences Charlie and Jinee fondly remembered—something hard to do in the hills of Northern California, where the family resides.
They were right.
“When we’re at home, we never get to do this,” Will laughs, talking about roaming around Kukui‘ula with his sister. “We never get to just wander off without our parents knowing where we are.” He and Lauren have the run of the place. They tool around the 1,000-acre property on their bikes, head off on adventures led by the Huaka’i Guides, play golf or take on other kids they meet at The Club in games of pool or shuffleboard. They take surf lessons and have totally fallen in love with the sport. “In California, where we are, it’s really cold and there’s a lot of sharks,” says Will. “So we surf almost everyday when we come here.”
“Here, we have a chance to be as active or as relaxed as we each want, everyday,” says Jinee. “It’s so easy to put together memorable group adventures, especially with the Guides from The Club. But we can also just do our own thing, and come back together to share a meal or relax. I like that—the independence, the flexibility and the balance.”