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Kona Village, a Beloved Hawaiian Resort Destroyed by the Tsunami, Gets a Thrilling New Life

There were no televisions or phones in the rooms, which, especially then, when smartphones were on no one’s radar, offered a radical shift from the rhythms of normal life. There was an office phone for emergencies, but the absence of communication made you wonder what could be so important in the first place. We went back seven more times; in college, when I had already begun taking trips on my own and with friends, I dropped everything to go back with my parents.

On March 11, 2011, an earthquake off the northeastern coast of Honshu in Japan sent a series of powerfully destructive tsunamis radiating across the globe. The waves struck land several thousand miles away, including the Kona coastline. Images of its aftermath show collapsed roofs and doors hanging from their hinges, lonely palm trees swaying amid the devastation. Overnight, the resort took on a haunted look, like a place that had been abandoned for years. Employees from all parts of the resort became cleanup crews, but there wasn’t much hope. The resort was shuttered indefinitely. There was a fundraiser for employees who were suddenly out of a job that raised $250,000; half of that from members of a Facebook group made up of former guests calling itself “Save Kona Village” that had launched just eight days after the tsunami. Nostalgia is usually a gradual, seeping process; for the people who had loved this place, this was a sudden, shocking plunge.

The destruction of a luxury resort is not a tragedy. But it did mark an abrupt end to something my family and many others had loved, and a dramatic change for its employees, many of whom had worked there for decades. My parents, not quite willing to give up on the dream of Kahuwai Bay, visited a Four Seasons, which has a property down the beach and had, amazingly, been able to open again. They swam along the coast to catch a glimpse of the ruined landscape but encountered little more than a few desolate yellow tang, those bright fish who had kept them company on their happier snorkeling expeditions.

And then in 2016, it was announced that global real estate company Kennedy Wilson, whose CEO William J. McMorrow had honeymooned at Kona Village in 1992, would purchase the property—or, rather, lease it from the local trust, Kamehameha Schools, that owns the land—and develop it with Rosewood Hotels & Resorts, a company with a track record in reinventing storied properties (like New York’s Carlyle Hotel). A cultural committee composed of lineal descendants of the original village would guide the renovation; former employees were consulted as well.

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