Nearly every year someone sets out to do the Transpac, the biennial race from Los Angeles to Oahu, and never comes home-but not because he was lost at sea. No, the Pacific is usually not that rough-leaving paradise is. Coral reefs to snorkel, Waikiki's gentle surf to ride, rain forests to hike in, the ever-present scent of plumeria blossoms in the air, white sand beaches, a handful of other islands within a day's sail-and you're still in the U.S.
No wonder dozens of yachtsmen have crossed the finish line off Diamond Head, downed a mai tai and then called a realtor. "Hawaii has a magic to it. The palm trees, the smells..." sighs Roy Disney, "every time I finish this race it grabs me." Philippe Kahn even moved half his fleet of racing dinghies here and invites racers to come practice. They're not the only ones enchanted by Hawaii and the real estate market has been rising as fast as boomers can say, "Aloha, I'm retiring." Honolulu has undergone a renaissance in the past year with new parks and open spaces, outdoor movies and entertainment and a spate of hot new restaurants and celebrity chefs such as Roy Yamaguchi, Alan Wong and George Mavrothalassitis (aka Chef Mavro).
That's why our ears perked up when we heard about the new Beach Villas at Ko Olina Resort and Marina, just west of Honolulu-what developers claim will be the first new beachfront condominiums built on the island in 20 years. Though they are called "villas," the residences are actually located in two condominium towers overlooking a lagoon and private beach. With private lanais and kitchens designed by Yamaguchi himself, the villas start at $1.8 million for a two-bedroom and are being offered by Centex Vacation Properties. Ownership gets you access to a sports club, pools and the 687-acre resort. Also on the property are the Ko Olina Golf Club and Marina, a JW
Marriott hotel and spa, as well as seven lagoons.
At the same time, the Ko Olina Marina, built in 2000, is expanding, adding 63 new slips to its existing 267. Concrete docks can handle yachts up to 150 feet and there's a full-service fuel, water and pump-out dock. If you're not ready to set anchor ashore, then you can rent an 80-foot slip here for $2,098.94 a month.
If you're a sport fisherman, you may already know the marina as the former base for several billfish championships. There's still plenty to cast for only a couple of miles offshore, not to mention splendid whale-watching. Summer is the best time to visit if you plan on cruising, as the winds and seas are calm. Want to watch big surf crashing on the North Shore? Then go in November. From Oahu, it's a full day's sail across the Molokai Channel (notoriously rough) to Lahaina on Maui or a 24-hour jaunt to the Big Island (Hawaii). And when you are ready to go home, leave the yacht at the dock. The Honolulu airport is only 20 minutes from Ko Olina and you can be in Los Angeles in five hours. That's less time than it takes some L.A. locals to commute to work on the 405.
Ko Olina Resort and Marina, www.koolina.com