Suffering from what many scholars today believe was tuberculosis, in 1888 author Robert Louis Stevenson boarded a chartered San Francisco schooner, along with his mother, his wife and his stepson, to embark on an ocean voyage destined for the South Pacific.
At the time Stevenson was already famous for writing "Treasure Island" and "The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde," but poor health had plagued the Scottish writer for years, and he hoped a change of scenery, along with the region's tropical climate, might do his beleaguered physical state some much-needed good.
Stevenson left California planning to spend many months exploring places such as the Marquesas Islands, Tahiti, Samoa and eventually Hawaii. That first voyage, however, ultimately became just one of several journeys crisscrossing the South Pacific over what proved to be the final six years of his life.
Stevenson visited Hawaii twice during those years, spending nearly six months in Honolulu and Waikiki in 1889 and returning for several weeks in 1893. A friend of King Kalakaua and a popular guest at many of Oahu's most influential homes of the era, the author's time in the Islands has since led to a range of books, commemorative plaques, a middle school named in his honor and all sorts of fantastic stories, some more true than others.
Bibliophiles and history buffs hoping to enjoy an authentic Robert Louis Stevenson experience need look no further than Waikiki's New Otani Kaimana Beach Hotel.
The property's Hau Tree Lanai restaurant, a favorite among locals, is home to one of the author's favorite shade-rich vistas and the very tree beneath which he spent so many hours lounging and writing.
Long accustomed to doubters, folks at the restaurant put up a strikingly clear photograph years ago of Stevenson, along with several friends, grinning beneath a sprawling hau tree that even skeptics are sure to recognize.
The Kaimana, which takes its name from the Hawaiian word for diamond, stands today on the site of what was once the McInery family residence built more than a century ago.
Owners of a major mercantile business in downtown Honolulu, the McInery family was apparently very fond of entertaining guests over dinner.
"They were important merchants at the time," said Lisa Reasoner, sales and marketing coordinator at the Kaimana. "And one of their most famous guests was Robert Louis Stevenson, who would come over and hang out underneath the tree, dine on their porch and write his famous poems."
By 1963 the rundown McInery residence was beyond saving and eventually removed to make way for the current nine-story Kaimana Beach Hotel building. The original porch railing from the McInery's veranda was preserved, though, and today the wooden structure serves as an enclosure for the open-air Hau Tree Lanai restaurant.
New Otani, a well-known and respected Japanese brand headquartered in Tokyo, purchased the Kaimana in 1964, and over the years, the 125-room boutique hotel has developed a solid reputation as a place where visitors looking to escape the noise and crowds of Waikiki, without straying too far from the popular destination, can find great rooms at reasonable rates.
According to Jean-Pierre Cercillieux, executive vice president and general manager at the Kaimana, 45% of the hotel's annual guests are returnees.
"They are faithful to the brand ... and the location," Cercillieux said. "It's not exactly Waikiki, but we are within walking distance. The profile of the guests is not old but middle-age and older. The younger generation, they like the excitement and want to stay in Waikiki, but for people who want quiet but still want to be a part of Waikiki, this is the place to stay."
The mainland U.S., especially the West Coast, is the hotel's largest market, and despite the property's Japanese ownership, Cercillieux said only about 10% of last year's visitors came from Japan.
A leisurely 10-minute stroll from Waikiki proper and literally steps from the 500-acre Kapiolani Park, the Kaimana is blessed with a stunning Diamond Head backdrop and fronted by a sandy stretch of safe beach popular among residents. Folks who live on Oahu will also tell you that the hotel's Miyako restaurant features some of the finest Japanese cuisine available anywhere on the island.
Rack rates for the hotel's 31 suites, including the Robert Louis Stevenson Suite, range from $320 to $1,100 a night. Oceanview rooms begin at $250, while those facing Diamond Head start at $210.
All of the property's rooms feature private lanais, and the hotel also offers guests 16 accommodations with kitchenettes.