A Slice of Maui and on the Road to Hana

Maui,_Hawaii_beach

Hawaii is an island chain made up of eight distinct islands, each with their own personality and lure. In 1778 Captain James Cook of England discovered Hawaii for the Western world but, interestingly, never set foot on Maui. Maui, the second largest island in this volcanic chain, is 48 miles long and 26 miles wide. There are 81 accessible beaches and 120 linear miles of shoreline featuring more miles of swimmable beaches than any of the neighbor islands. The average temperature is between 75 and 85 degrees. The island’s highest peak, Haleakala, is 10,023 feet above sea level and is the home of the Maui’s only national park. In 1961 a low temperature of 11 degrees was recorded atop this dormant volcano! There are also 10 state parks and 94 county parks.

While surfing the Internet we read about new owners at the Hotel Hana Maui, found a hotel that was in a great location “down island” and that the Maui Film Festival was concurrent to our planned vacation dates; so it was off to Maui.

The Ka’anapali Beach Hotel was our choice for the first two nights in Maui. Recently, it won a Conde Nast Traveler Magazine award as a Gold List winner in their Reader’s Choice Poll. This is family friendly, ocean front hotel with a terrific pool area and large expanse of tended lawn leading to the beach. Our first night, we enjoyed the Black Rock Illusions buffet dinner show at the hotel. The show intertwined the legends of Maui through traditional Hawaiian dances with a rollickingly funny magic show. Legends relate that the Haleakala Volcano on the island of Maui is the mythological home of Pele, the fire goddess, who is at the very center of Hawaii’s creation. So there is a lot to work with for the dancers. The show was recently voted Maui’s best dinner show.

The accommodations are pleasant and spacious and I would recommend reserving an ocean view room. Interesting prints on the wall were copies from the book Indigenous Flowers of the Hawaiian Islands. The originals were 44 pictures painted in water color by Mrs. Francis Sinclair and published in London in 1885. Interestingly, the artist was the great, great grandmother of the hotel’s General Manager (should I use his name: Michael B. White?).

The next morning we drove to the Pacific Whale Foundation to go on an Eco-Adventure Tour. This not for profit organization was created to save whales, dolphins and the ocean environment. Their location at the Ma’alaea Harbor Village was approximately 30 minutes driving time from the hotel. The tour we chose was the Molokini-Lanai Snorkel and Wild Dolphin Eco-Adventure. The package includes a continental breakfast, BBQ lunch, soft drinks and snorkel equipment. Unfortunately, trade winds had kicked up and the cruise became “optional” with the choice of going or re-booking for another date. The timing was not good for us to re-book and we chose not to set out to sea like Gilligan. It’s usually not the problem but how it is handled. The staff handled a tricky situation well.

We stopped at the nearby Maui Ocean Center, the Hawaiian Aquarium. Dedicated to “preserving and sharing the beauty and wonder of Hawaii’s indigenous marine life.” This marine park exhibits thousands of fish, sharks, turtles, stingrays and other marine animals throughout 60 interactive exhibits in a three acre waterfront setting. If you are there with your kids, this is a must stop attraction.

That evening, we drove into Lahaina and had a delightful outdoor dinner at the Hard Rock Café, while watching a beautiful sunset. Although we usually shy away from restaurant chains we were very pleased with the quality of the meal and aloha spirit of the staff. Excellent food, Hawaiian beer, reasonable prices, wonderful desserts and a great sunset. It doesn’t get any better than that.

The next morning we decided to return to Lahaina for a morning at leisure, strolling the compact downtown filled with wonderful shops, places of historical significance, a stunning waterfront and people watching opportunities. A big bonus was that it was King Kamehameha Day and we were able to see the Floral Parade on Front Street in Lahaina. Stop by the Lahaina Restoration Foundation’s location on Front Street and pick up their walking tour map. The “long” tour takes about 1.5 hours and is well worth the effort. You will see historic homes, the fort and courthouse, churches, the government market and several old cemeteries. On a smaller scale, drop by the Hale Kahiko (ancient house) at the Lahaina Center to visit a recreation of an authentic Hawaiian village.

On night three, we checked into The Plantation Inn, a sister property to the Ka’anapali Beach Hotel, nestled in the heart of historic Lahaina Town. This charming, Victorian flavored B&B was a real treat. This relatively new 19 room, plantation style Inn is a wonderfully romantic hide away featuring turn of the century architecture. The guest rooms open onto a delightful courtyard and pool where breakfast is served. This is a special little place for those who enjoy the B&B experience. A real oasis.

A sybaritic afternoon was to follow. We had decided to try the top rated spa at the Grand Wailea Resort and Spa. The resort indeed lives up to its well deserved reputation. Upon entering, one sees a dramatic, shimmering indoor-outdoor waterfall that seems to stretch from the front entry way to the ocean. Lush greenery, romantic music, tropical colors, marble floors and comfortable sitting areas in the lobby area create a sensual indulgent quality and very luxurious yet welcoming tone.

The Spa Grande is a 50,000 square foot area covering two floors that belies its size. Although the largest in Hawaii, the resort has carefully created a place of refuge, tranquility and comfort. The staff is solicitous, effective and knowledgeable. One starts with the Terme Wailea’s Hydrotherapy Circuit which features five specialty baths, showers, soaks, waterfalls and hydrotherapy jetted tubs. From there, an extensive choice of spa services and treatments are available. There are saunas, steam rooms, weight training rooms, aerobics, racquetball/squash courts, beauty salon, boutique, lounges and a first rate fitness center. It is easy to understand why this is considered one of the best spas in the world.

After our wonderful spa experience we strolled the beautiful grounds and gardens then had a marvelous early dinner at the Bistro Molokini. This open air restaurant features California and Island cuisine at very reasonable prices. The outdoor pool area is not to be missed. The Wailea Canyon Activity Pool features nine separate swimming pools cleverly joined by a flowing river and rapids taking one through and past waterfalls, swim up bars, Jacuzzis, caves and grottos, a sand beach, seven water slides and even infant and adult only pools.

Next on our island adventure was the Maui Film Festival. The Maui Film Festival is a five day and night event featuring venues throughout Wailea and nearby locales in Maui. Thirty nine movies were featured along with Filmakers Panels, award events, tastings, etc. We chose the Celestial Cinema and that evening viewed My Big Fat Greek Wedding on the green at the Wailea Gold and Emerald Golf Course. The setting was superb; it was a cloud free, balmy evening. The movie, which has subsequently been a runaway hit on the mainland, was terrific.

Next, onto the famous Road to Hana which was recently named the number one tourist “must do” activity while in Maui. The official start of the trip on Hana Highway 36 is in Pa’ia, a regentrifying plantation mill town. Although there are many opportunities to stop along the way, we were quite pleased with the following choices. About ten miles out, the curves begin. First stop for us was the Waikamoi Ridge Nature Trail, a nice easy walk through a tropical forest. Further up the road (another 5-6 miles) is the Ke’anae Botanical Garden. This arboretum covers six acres and features a flat round trip trail of less than a mile but filled with wonderful plant life and photo ops. Drive another 5-6 miles and you reach the Pua’a Ka’a State Park. Here you will find pools, a garden of tropical plants and waterfalls where it safe to swim. You are now about 1,000 feet above sea level and in an area that experiences 150 inches of rain a year.

According to those who keep count, after 56 miles of spectacular scenery, a harrowing narrow winding road, 600 curves and 54 one lane bridges you will reach Hana and the wonderful Hotel Hana Maui. As I mentioned, the hotel has new owners. It is the same group that owns and manages the award winning Post Ranch Inn and the acclaimed Jean-Michel Cousteau’s Fiji Islands Resort. Not bad company! The resort is situated on 30 plush acres of landscaped oceanfront grounds.

We had been told that it was a lazy place with not much to do. It is a bum rap. There is a weekly activity calendar that each guest receives upon check in plus daily reminder cards that are placed in your room. The days were very full. Free activities included daily yoga classes, ukulele lessons, lei making, hala weaving, use of the ocean view exercise room, tennis, a 3 hole golf course, guided walking tours, a wonderful hosted Manager’s Reception at the Plantation House, aqua aerobics in the fabulous swimming pool, bikes and, of course, the beach. Hotel Hana Maui’s beach is none other than the spectacular Hamoa Beach. James Michener called it the most beautiful beach in the world. The resort has its own private area and they furnish chairs, umbrellas and beach towels. Other resort activities include horseback riding and jeep tours to nearby sites and parks. There is a Wellness Center which offers a full complement of spa services and massages. The Activities Desk is staffed by friendly, knowledgeable and helpful people.

We spent most mornings at various activities, sightseeing or hiking and the afternoons at Hamoa Beach.

We stayed at one of the Sea Ranch cottages overlooking the Pacific. The rooms are not air conditioned but the ocean breezes and fan were wonderful and the room very comfortable. The accommodations include a deck with table and chairs, a sitting area with couches, queen sized bed and refrigerator and wet bar. The spacious bathroom featured a large walk in shower and separate tub. There was plenty of closet and drawer space. Listening to the surf as we fell asleep was soothing and zen like. It was terrific.

A short drive from the Hotel Hana Maui one finds the Haleakala National Park. It encompasses more than 28,000 acres and is reached from the Hana side via the Kipahulu Visitor Center. We hiked the Pipiwai Trail past dozens of waterfalls and pools with the goal of reaching the 184 foot falls at Hakahiku Overlook. The trail passes through a spectacular bamboo forest and tropical rainforest and is approximately 4 miles round trip. There are also shorter, easier hikes and walks. From the hotel one can also visit the Hana Harbor and the Kahanu Gardens.

Let me repeat, there is a lot to do and Hana is a beautiful vacation spot.

Travel Tips:

Must reading before the trip is James A. Michener’s epic Hawaii and the Road Guide to Haleakala and the Hana Highway by Robert and Barbara Decker, Publisher: Double Decker Press; 4087 Silver Bar Road, Mariposa, CA 95338.

Fortunately, there have been dozens of new non stop flights added to Hawaii from various west coast cities including San Diego, our home base, so we were able to Maui without a connecting flight. Check online or with your travel agent. Car rentals are a necessity for your trip. The roads are well marked and the people are wonderful about giving directions. Lots of money saving online specials and weekly rates.

Pick up a free copy of This Week Maui for maps, activities, dining and shopping hints and money saving coupons. www.thisweek.com. Also look for guides, maps and coupons at your car rental location

Don’t forget the Entertainment Book’s Hawaii Edition!

Website and Visitor Information:

www.visitmaui.com – request their Maui Calendar of Events or write Maui Visitors Bureau Post Office Box 580 Wailuku, Maui, Hawaii 96793

www.kbhmui.com – for hotel information. The Ka’anapali Beach Hotel features three moderately priced restaurants. The hotel charges only $3 per night for parking, a real bargain. They also provide a free 10 minute call home. They have convenient guest services and activity desk in the lobby. The staff is friendly and helpful. The Ka’anapali golf course is right across the street. Every morning an “Aloha Reception” is held pool side so guests can learn about the activities scheduled for the day. On departure day there is a farewell ceremony and a kukui lei is presented to each guest. A tram or short beach walk takes you to the Whalers Village, a collection of over 60 shops and restaurants. Rates start at $190 per night but discounts are available. Shop around their website for rates at or call direct at 1-800-262-8450.

www.plantationinn.com – for information or call 1-800-433-6815.. Breakfast, which is included in the rate, is served pool side and prepared by Gerard’s, an award winning restaurant, featuring “contemporary Island French cuisine” that is located in the Inn.

www.hotelhanamaui.com – for information or call 1-800-321-HANA (4262) or Hotel Hana Maui, P.O. Box 9, Hana, HI 96713

www.grandwailea.com for Spa Grande rates and options can be found online.

www.oneworldmaui.com – for a look at the art of Maui and Lahaina.

www.mauifilmfestival.com. – for information about the Maui Film Festival

www.visitlahaina.com – for Lahaina Town

www.pacificwhale.org – for the Pacific Whale Foundation (AAA and AARP discounts are available).

www.mauioceancenter.com – for the Maui Ocean Center

Hana Highway 36 is the most well known of the 52 Millennium Legacy Trails established in Hawaii to protect its historic roads and trails. Start early and plan to stay in Hana (it’s no fun driving in one day and I don’t recommend it a night). Gas up before you start the Road to Hana. Take sturdy waterproof shoes and water. Our drive up took 4 1/2 hours with the various stops (non stop back to the airport took 2 1/2 hours). Pua’a Ka’a State Park had decent restrooms, the other spots Port a Potties. Pack a picnic lunch or snack. Don’t want to drive, daily flights from Honolulu and Maui are available.

www.hotelhanamaui.com – for more reservations, rates, packages and information. Accommodations range from Spacious Bay cottages to ocean view and spectacular coastal bluff ocean front Sea Ranch Cottages with private decks and some even with outdoor hot tubs. Forget about phones, TVs and radios; none at this special place. There are two restaurants, one casual (Ranch House) and the other casual dressy (XXX). Don’t miss the taro rolls! The Pianolo Lounge features a pupu menu and a long list of tropical drink specials. The aloha spirit is alive and the staff is friendly and helpful.

www.hanacoast.com – Don’t miss the Hana Coast Gallery at the hotel. It features original fine art and crafts created by artists of Hawaii, Polynesia and Asia. Their wood products are particularly beautiful and interesting.

www.hawaiimuseums.org – for information on the Hawaii Museums Associations’ 97 museums and cultural attractions includingbotanical gardens, cultural centers, aquariums and zoos.

www.nps.gov/hale – for Haleakala National Park information or call 808-248-7375. There are cultural demonstrations, talks and guided tours. No water, food or gas is available in the park.

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