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HAWAII\'S \"VALLEY ISLE\" - MAUI NO KA \'OI
 
(2013 - Fall/Winter Issue)

Writer: CATALINA MARGULIS



Who can disagree with the local saying? Maui is the best.

Even those who haven’t visited Maui envision its honeymoon-perfect beaches, lush landscapes and welcoming people. But what about its myriad art galleries? Sparkling cuisine? Exquisite fashion boutiques? Not to mention breathtaking vistas, colourful surf towns and exhilarating coastal drives?

A two-week tour of Maui reveals this is not your average island getaway. Culture, adventure and surprises await you if you plan enough time to allow these experiences to unfold. Fortunately, we did.

Three kids, two flights and untold bottles of formula later, we arrive at Maui’s Kahului airport. Not quite a tropical island hut, but not a sprawling hub either. We pick up our family van to begin our island adventure.

Heavenly Resorts

First stop: The palatial Ritz-Carlton, Kapalua in Maui’s fashionable northwest coast. It’s all manicured lawns, sprawling golf courses and postcard-worthy sunsets perched atop a hill with panoramic views of the sapphire-blue ocean.

The hotel boasts a cool Jean-Michel Cousteau cultural and environmental program called Ambassadors of the Environment, with tours and activities for all ages. We take advantage of it early the next day, exploring the tidal pools on a rocky outcrop adjacent to the hotel’s beach (all beaches in Maui are public). Our guide helps my four-year-old son spot sea urchins and sea cucumbers, and we race hermit crabs. It’s whale-watching season in Maui. Every winter, humpback whales migrate to the island’s warm waters to mate and give birth, which means plenty of breaching whales can be seen from the shores. It does take some time to train the eyes, but after a few days, we’re experts and a day doesn’t pass without spotting a few.

In addition to the Ambassadors of the Environment program, the hotel—as many others do—also offers cultural activities such as lei-making, an exploration of early mapping and cartography of Hawai‘i and cultural Walk ’n’ Talk Tours. As a souvenir, guests can even make their own Hawaiian organic bath salt at the hotel’s Waihua Spa.

Personally, I’m anxious to explore the island on foot. I head off toward the area’s immaculately kept and thankfully shaded walking trails. A 5.8-kilometre loop and a two-kilometre cardio loop take me from Kapalua Village, past upscale residences and gated communities, to a hilltop with panoramic views of the ocean and surrounding neighbourhoods.

I’m also eager to try stand-up paddling—blame too many tabloid magazines showing celebrities holidaying in Hawai‘i with their families, toned bodies gliding over serene, calm blue waters.

No such luck. We’ve settled in now at Na_pili Kai, a beach resort with family-friendly apartments featuring great layouts and fully-equipped kitchenettes on crescent-shaped Na_pili Bay in West Maui. My first paddleboarding lesson with Tiki Man SUP is foiled by wet, windy weather. The next day, the waves are still choppy, however we go for it, only to turn back after numerous failed attempts to stand up on the board. Finally, my third day out, I experience what all the fuss—and fun—is about. Zipping effortlessly over the glass-like surface of the ocean, back and forth across the bay, beach goers and swaying palms behind me, I’ve achieved Zen—city-life burdens seemingly light years away.

Time to celebrate, and fortunately for us, Na_pili Kai is next to one of the nicest places in Maui to enjoy a meal and catch sunsets: Merriman’s at Kapalua between Kapalua Bay and Na_pili Bay. We dine on the terrace with its spectacular views of the bay. Firepits crackle as designer-clad children play about and adults sample the Hawaiian regional cuisine. I can’t say no to pan-roasted sea scallops. For dessert we take our server’s enthusiastic suggestion for the white chocolate-filled malasadas with Maui Oma coffee caramel dipping sauce, which I still dream of to this day.

On the Town

Kapalua and Napili are sublime, however Lahaina is definitely where the action is. Once a rowdy whaling port, the picturesque Lahaina Harbor is also where you can catch a ferry to Lana‘i and Moloka‘i. This historic whaling village maintains its reputation with stocked bars and busy taverns. Families gather under the sprawling banyan tree, while hungry shoppers scout out the chic fashion and designer shops. With more than 40 galleries, La0haina has gained a reputation among insiders as a world-class art market. There’s an Art Night every Friday between 7 and 10 p.m., in addition to Friday Town Parties, when a different town on Maui holds a block party with music, activities and demonstrations by artists and craftspeople.

But it’s not just about the parties. Lahaina Heritage Museum at the Lahaina Court House and the Baldwin Home Museum chart the history of Lahaina, the original capital of Hawai‘i.

On a quieter note, the surf town of Pa‘ia, Maui’s historic plantation town on the North Shore, serves up charming boutiques such as Letarte, Nuage Bleu and Tamara Catz as well as casual cool restos such as Café Mambo and Pa‘ia Fish Market.

But save your appetite for Mama’s Fish House. Set on the beach in its own private hideaway, the humble name belies the magnificent dishes within. Lunch or dinner, you’re in for a treat. It’s hot out but I can’t pass up the crab, coconut and lemongrass soup. Island prawns come with Taha‘a Island vanilla. Beef Polynesian is seared tenderloin in a grilled ripe Hana papaya. There are cottages and rooms on site if you can’t bear to leave, though availability is limited.

Road Tripping

Pa‘ia is also the gateway to Hana—we’re told Oprah has some property near here. With more than 600 hairpin turns and 54 narrow bridges, the famous Road to Hana rewards those brave enough to follow it with waterfalls, black sand beaches, lava tubes and the Pools at ‘Ohe‘o, dozens of freshwater pools (not just seven), just beyond Hana.

Our curiosity piques when we keep seeing bumper stickers and T-shirts reading “I survived the Road to Hana.” Despite the warning, we head out, hoping to see just a portion of the treacherous journey—on average it can take nine to 10 hours to drive the round trip to Ha_na, and visitors are told to allow for plenty of time to rest along the way. We reach Twin Falls in no time, however rainy days mean it’s also too wet to explore. It doesn’t take long before the motion sickness takes hold, cutting our trip short and making the return almost unbearable. Still, we promise ourselves to try again next time we visit Maui.

Hairpin turns and cliff-hugging roads are also in store for those exploring Haleakala Volcano. Be sure to fill up on gas before you head off on the two-hour drive from Ka‘anapali and Kihei to the summit of Haleakala National Park, as there’s no food or gas available in the park. Once there, you will find an observatory and visitor centre, which offer awe-inspiring views of the basin at the summit.

One drive we love is the stretch of Honoapi‘ilani Highway, which takes us to Maui Ocean Center and spectacular views of wild beaches and rugged coastline. The centre itself boasts an impressive aquarium. A 16.5-metre-long clear, acrylic tunnel in the Open Ocean exhibit affords an up-close, 240-degree view of nearly 2,000 marine creatures in a 2,839-litre saltwater aquarium, where certified scuba divers, ages 15 and older, may enter the exhibit as part of the Shark Dive Maui program.

Spa Getaway

It’s time for some rest and relaxation. Farther down from Na_pili, on Maui’s West Coast, we check into our final destination—the Westin Maui Resort & Spa in Ka‘anapali. Once a playground for Hawaiian royalty, Ka‘anapali  is renowned for its championship golf and beautiful stretches of white sand beach. The hotel also boasts the first Heavenly Spa by Westin to open worldwide in 2004. We lounge in the spa’s oceanfront relaxation room sipping lemonade before sampling the indigenous treatments. The 50-minute Hualani (heavenly fruit) Body Treatment features essence of pineapple and passion fruit grown on Maui and O‘ahu, applied in a body scrub, followed by a warm, moisturizing tropical cream body wrap and head and scalp massage. It’s a heavenly ending indeed to our adventurous Maui getaway.

Travel Planner

For more information on Maui, log onto visitmaui.com. Note that the Haleakala_ Visitor Center closes at 3 p.m. Also be sure to pack warm clothes as temperatures drop drastically as you reach its summit.

Haleakala Volcano: nps.gov/hale

Mama’s Fish House: mamasfishhouse.com

Maui Fridays: mauifridays.com

Maui Ocean Center: mauioceancenter.com

Merriman’s: merrimanshawaii.com

Na_pili Kai: napilikai.com

Ritz-Carlton Kapalua: ritzcarlton.com/kapalua

Tiki Man SUP: tikimansup.com

Westin Maui Resort & Spa: westinmaui.com

 
 
 
 
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