Kukui`ula: The Ultimate Family Retreat

           

Trick question: How many different places would a family need to visit in order to play tennis, golf, croquet, pickleball, bocce, checkers, and snooker; learn surfing, stand-up paddling, archery, and Hawaiian-style fishing; pick (and eat) fresh fruits and veggies at a magical upcountry farm; go hiking, biking, and sailing—and then cap off their recreation with a memorable farm-to-table meal amid exquisite surroundings? 

Easy answer: Just one . . . if that place is Kukui‘ula. 

Some aspects of Kukui‘ula’s exceptional charm are apparent the moment you walk up the front steps: the perfect beauty of the setting; the airy, art-filled interiors; the dazzling vistas of pools and lawns and ocean beyond. Others come into focus more gradually, with every day yielding new delights to enjoy, and explore. 

One of those timed-release perks is The Club’s outstanding slate of recreations, offering innumerable opportunities for fun, fitness, skill-building, and adventure. Along with all the other facets of the property’s unique appeal, these activities make Kukui‘ula an ideal place—or destination—for families of every shape and size. (An unusual perk, rarely seen in private clubs, gives lodge guests who are renting any of the nearby Club Cottages, Bungalows, or Villas access to Kukui‘ula’s remarkable facilities and services, as well.) 

The Huaka‘i Outfitters—Kukui‘ula’s impressive recreational department—is in a perpetual state of expansion and evolution, constantly adding new features and making innovative tweaks to existing programs.  

This dynamic reflects the entire Club’s never-ending pursuit of excellence, and also mirrors the personality of its vibrant, visionary, dedicated Ho‘okipa (“hospitality”) Ambassador, Mariko Strickland Lum. A collegiate soccer star turned competitive stand-up paddler, Mariko approaches what she describes as her dream job with a dedication that’s thoughtful, creative, and energetic. “My goal is to create opportunities for growth, social enrichment, and life-changing moments,” she explains, adding that a primary aim is for activities to be both authentic to the culture on Kaua‘i, and optimally suited to the Kukui‘ula community. On the topic of family recreation, Mariko waxes reflective: “Growing up in Hawai‘i, you embrace the concept that family always comes first,” muses the Kaua‘i native. “I love that our members and guests are constantly inquiring about fun activities to do as a family. Kukui‘ula—and the entire island of Kaua‘i—is a perfect playground for families to enjoy the outdoors together.”

It would take a book-sized brochure to chronicle every detail of Kukui‘ula’s family-friendly activities—not to mention the myriad attractions for kids of all ages, singles, couples or pairs, and other types of groups, as well. Thus, what follows is only  a small sampling of the amazingly vast and varied possibilities. These can be roughly classified as either fantastic year-round features; special events; seasonal programs; or spontaneous, independent recreational options that we’ll call “anytime adventures.”

 

FANTASTIC FEATURES  

Week after week, all year round, the Club’s calendars and bulletins are jam-packed with intriguing activities that encourage full or partial family participation. And if the normal time slot doesn’t work, some can even be tailored to suit individual schedules. 

  • Sunday Fun Days offer something for everyone: a sporting activity in the morning (for example, fishing at the lake, stand-up paddling at the harbor, or lawn games such as cornhole, chippo, and croquet); an artistic craft of the day; root-beer floats (which draw raves and nostalgic exclamations like “Wow, I haven’t had one of these since I was a kid!”); and, as the finale, a grilled alfresco dinner down by the Makai Pool.
  • Sunset Harvest: On many Thursdays, members and lodge guests are invited up to the beautiful, bountiful Farm to enjoy water sports on the nearby lake, followed by feasting on grilled, just-picked veggies to the mellow strains of Hawaiian music.  
  • Golf: Families of all ages, from low-handicap grandparents to precocious toddlers wielding miniature putters, are welcome to play together at Kukui‘ula’s stunning world-class course, and there’s a tempting assortment of tutorials and events on offer, as well.
  • Racket Sports: Animated sessions of pickleball (an ultra-popular hybrid of tennis,  badminton, and ping pong) and beach tennis, open to families, happen on most Thursdays, in addition to the tennis tutorials for youths and adults scheduled throughout the week.
  • Weekly Beach Days: Every Wednesday there’s a full agenda of lively water-and-beach activities down at the scenic harbor, but if another time works better, custom beach days at the harbor, at nearby Kalapaki Beach, or at Anini Beach on the North Shore (the sparkling site of the longest, widest fringing reef in the Islands) are easily arranged.
  • There are scheduled walks and hikes, paddling excursions, and sailing-canoe outings—either on the exhilarating ocean or, for a slightly tamer experience (suitable even for toddlers), on the calm, pretty lake up at The Farm. Surf sessions, with professional instruction and all equipment provided, are available via private bookings.
  • Cutting-edge fitness classes (including yoga) throughout every week offer parents and kids over 16 the chance to share a great workout and perhaps a bit of bonding, as well.
  • The Spa—that lovely, restorative hideaway—is open to teens accompanied by an adult.

 

SPECIAL EVENTS (ANNUAL OR PERIODIC)   

  • Makahiki Festival: This joyful celebration of the Hawaiian New Year (and of Hawaiiana in general) was inspired by an ancient cultural tradition that’s kept alive at many schools in the Islands and now, with typical panache, at Kukui‘ula, too. The one-day commemoration features games to challenge both mental and physical skillsets— Hawaiian-style checkers, rock bowling, standing-chicken fight, spear-throwing, tug-o-war—along with a laid-back poolside lunch, and live Hawaiian music along the way. 

  • Summer Slam: A Fourth-of-July lollapalooza for members, guests, and staff, with active diversions ranging from the contemplative (hatha yoga) to the sporty (flag football and other wildly competitive lawn games). There’s also a cooling slip’n’slide station, a DJ’ed lunch beside the jewel-like Makai Pool, and a doubles-pickleball tournament, with excitement and prizes galore.
  • Kukui‘ula Guardians of the Sea (Kukui‘ula Kia‘i o Ke Kai): This inspirational, comprehensive three-day lifeguard program, created in partnership with the Kaua`i Lifeguard Association, was recently expanded to include families. The pleasurably informative sessions promote fitness while teaching valuable lessons about safety, teamwork, and environmental awareness. The program benefits a good cause, too:    100% of the proceeds from course fees are donated to the Kaua`i Lifeguard Association.
  • Pop-Up Festivities: An eclectic slate of seasonal events, such as the Lunar New Year’s lion-dance displays, invite spectating or mild participation, while others—like picking summer plums or making December holiday wreaths, both in the misty-mountain wonderland of Koke‘e—are literally hands-on . . . and hands-full at the end, as well!
  • Summer Matsuri: A midsummer highlight, this Japanese-themed festivity features taiko drumming, bon dancing, food trucks, and cross-cultural fun for everyone.
  • The Living Well Guru Series: Transformational four-day programs, each featuring a captivating new theme and a stellar guest instructor who might be a master chef, a renowned yoga practitioner, or a celebrated fitness trainer.

SEASONAL PROGRAMS  

During traditional vacation periods (spring, summer, end-of-year) Kukui‘ula offers the stimulating chance to spend several hours a day having fun while learning new—and potentially life-changing—skills. Family participation is invited, in varying degrees.

  • Kamali‘i Programs: These voyages of discovery boast an assemblage of exciting (and painlessly educational) activities for children ages 5 to 17. There are full-day and evening sessions, all overflowing with irresistible activities: movie nights, golf and racket-sport clinics, lawn games, surfing, archery, hula lessons, stargazing, glow golf: the scintillating list goes on and on. And while these programs are designed primarily for kids, adult relatives are welcome to tag along and even join in on certain events. 
  • Sublime Expeditions: Whale-watching in the wild is just one of the thrilling seasonal adventures that can be custom-booked on the sleek 32’ Mahealani charter boat. Other unforgettable half- or full-day options include dolphin-spotting, snorkeling, exploring sea caves, fishing, salt-water crabbing, and simply reveling in the astonishingly vivid beauty of Kaua‘i’s dramatic coastline. And for a quick aperitif of natural wonder, there’s a two-hour sunset cruise, too!

 

ANYTIME ADVENTURES  

“Here at Kukui‘ula, we have a chance to be as active or as relaxed as we each want, every day,” says Jinee Tao, mother of two and a founding member of The Club. “It’s so easy to put together memorable family adventures, but we can also just do our own thing. I like that—the independence, the flexibility, and the balance.”   

Flexibility and balance, indeed: this open, relaxed approach to living well forms a key element of Kukui‘ula’s distinctive ambience, and character. And while all the organized pastimes are delightful, sometimes a spur-of-the-moment activity can be a better fit for circumstances, or mood. This sets up another form of family fun: heading off in pursuit of individual diversions, then getting together to talk story afterward. (And for days when kids just want to hang out with other kids, or adults want to sneak away to the Spa, Kukui‘ula offers a beguiling selection of supervised kids-only programming.)

The first stop for impromptu amusements is often the Huaka‘i Outfitters equipment room, which is fully stocked with state-of-the-art supplies and overseen by friendly, helpful staff members. This enchanting space might be mistaken for the set of a childhood-fantasy movie, with its marvelous collection of fishing poles, kayaks, cruiser and mountain bikes (“very popular!”), boards and paddles for surfing and SUP (stand-up paddling), gear for lawn games, and every conceivable type of racket or ball, including bocce (for matches on the nifty little court behind the Makai Bar)—among dozens of other top-quality tools for recreation and enjoyment. 

Tucked away in the heart of the sprawling Plantation House, Huaka‘i Outfitters’ very existence may come as a revelation to some. “I was talking to a family who wanted to do a beach day and they didn’t realize we had all this equipment for them to use,” Mariko Strickland Lum recalls. “They were going to buy everything, but we set them up with snorkel gear, coolers, chairs, and umbrellas, free of charge. They were stoked!”

The beaches are a major draw, of course, but an equally beloved “anytime outing” is a short jaunt to the wondrous upcountry Farm. There, visitors can get a first-hand look at the colorful, picturesque “farm” component of Kukui‘ula’s superb farm-to-fork dining, and even pluck tropical flowers, exotic fruits, and ripe tomatoes still warm from the vine. For more active recreation, the pastoral lake nearby is teeming with catchable fish—and with water-sports possibilities (sailing, rowing, paddling, SUP) as well. 

Last but emphatically not least, one of The Club’s most enticing sanctuaries is  an idyllic space that truly puts the “treat” in “retreat.” In the fully appointed Games Room—complete with breezy verandahs—that adjoins the Plantation House’s elegant lobby, members and guests can play all the best table games (including Scrabble® on a fascinating limited-edition board); read, write, and chat; or just bliss out in casual comfort, lulled by the timeless green-and-blue view of land, sea, and sky. Bonus perks: tasty snacks and beverages (hot or cold) are available at all hours, and every afternoon around teatime, freshly baked cookies are delivered direct from the ‘Umeke Kitchen. As a warm peanut-butter cookie melts in your mouth, you may find yourself wondering yet again whether you’ve somehow wandered onto the set of a fantasy film, where every detail is pure perfection and pleasant surprises rule the day.   

Extraordinary facilities plus imaginative planning plus a genuinely caring staff do, indeed, make Kukui‘ula the ultimate family retreat. And if you don’t see your desired activity listed anywhere, don’t give up! Where there’s a wish there’s a way, and the uber-resourceful Mariko Strickland Lum and her conscientious colleagues are always ready, willing, and infinitely able to make wonderful things happen—not just for family groups of every kind, but for everyone else, as well.