Fun and fashion in the Aloha state
It’s not a cliché after all. It’s official – they really do wear Hawaiian shirts in Hawaii. They are bright, flowered and simply everywhere. If you’re planning on taking Continental Airlines’ brand-spankin’-new direct flight from Houston to Maui, plan on adding a loud festive shirt to your wardrobe in order to enjoy the pristine sandy beaches peppered with dark volcanic rock, lush green hills and plenty of fabulous meals by tiki-torchlight of Maui. So grab some flip-flops and some sunscreen – in just eight hours, you can be on the beautiful island of Maui.
Despite its big reputation, in Texan geographical terms, Maui is really pretty small. The island is entirely contained within 120 miles of coastline, yet this little island packs a big punch. You can shop the day away in the energetic beach town of Lahaina, frolic on the family-friendly beaches of Ka’anapali or relax in the beautiful serenity of Hana. (Photo: Debbie Porter)
Depending on where you go, you’ll hear that Maui is the “couple capital” of the world. Well, if you are not one-half of a couple, then Lahaina is where you should take your single self. Lahaina is Maui’s fun, busy little beach town with a beachfront street crammed with shops, restaurants and, most of all, people.
This is where you do your typical Hawaiian shopping – you can pick up the mandatory crazy shirt, update your flip-flop collection and buy any number of flavors of macadamia nuts. And of course, if your penchant for flower leis hasn’t yet been sated by the time you get to Lahaina’s Front Street, this is where you do that, too.
One of the best things about shopping is, naturally, that it works up an appetite. Add to that the thirst for something fruity with an umbrella, and you’re really onto something festive. The atmosphere that Cheeseburger in Paradise has to offer is possibly even more festive than its name. Cheeseburger in Paradise, perched just over the ocean, is a casual, open-air beach dive, with walls cluttered with entertaining nonsense such as street signs and wooden beach carvings and a menu that boasts two kinds of wine: “cheap white wine and cheap red wine.” This is the perfect Jimmy Buffet-inspired atmosphere in which to spend countless hours listening to (and eventually, singing along with) live music on the upstairs deck. Just remember to shift every few minutes to keep the direct sun out of your eyes and order plenty of Cheeseburger namesakes while washing them down with a few rounds of their famed Trouble in Paradise tropical cocktails. On any given sunny day, the lines at this joint will be long but well worth the wait.
If you can pull yourself away from the basket of home fries, prepare your taste buds for Pacific’O Contemporary Pacific Cuisine. This restaurant is perhaps Maui’s culinary pinnacle with awards from national magazines such as Travel & Leisure and Wine Spectator, as well as local accolades, including “Best New Restaurant 1999” by the Maui News. Put yourself in the expert hands of Executive Chef James McDonald, and prepare yourself for culinary bliss.
Pacific’O is Pacific-fusion cuisine, a marriage of Polynesian and Southeast Asian influences – hard to describe yet oh-so-easy to enjoy. Allow Chef James to pair his own wine selections with your dinner courses. The results may include Taste of Lahaina’s “Best of Show 2001” Yuzu Divers, seared scallops over coconut rice with yuzu lime sauce and dabbed with caviar and adorned with a fresh orchid, washed down with a chilled glass of rich Rombauer chardonnay. Or it may include Taste of Lahaina’s “Best Seafood” Fresh Hapa Hapa Tempura, tuna sashimi blocks in white miso dressing, paired with Louis Latour Pouilly Fuisse. And if you’re really lucky, it would include a sesame-crusted lamb mini-rack with roasted macadamia nuts and Hawaiian chutney. Chef James’ cuisine alone is worth the flight.
Can’t live without Ka’anapali
If you actually intend to do something in Maui in addition to eating and drinking, there is plenty of that, too. Maui hotels enjoy the benefit of breathtakingly beautiful settings and enough visitors to cater to a specific segment of the tourist population. Whether you have a family with rambunctious small children (or just adult friends that act like rambunctious small children) or are looking for a sultry relaxing ambience, Maui’s got it.
If a fun, active hotel scene is your ultimate destination, the Westin Maui Ka’anapali Beach Hotel will do the trick. Located on the west coast of Maui just north of Lahaina, this 87,000-square-foot beach resort is an aquatic playground. There are five interlocked, cascading swimming pools (one of them, importantly, is adult-only), a secluded Jacuzzi, multiple lounging areas – and a waterslide with 270-degree turns and a 23-foot drop. If that’s not enough to keep you busy, there are private and group activities for snorkeling, scuba diving, beach volleyball, windsurfing and chartered catamaran adventures. If you have time, there are two championship golf courses, an 11-court tennis center and a full-service health club and spa with complete massage and facial services. Oh yeah, there is also the beach: beautiful, sandy, natural Ka’anapali Beach is just at the edge of the property.
As you head south from Lahaina, the landscape turns from plush to desolate. With the Pacific Ocean to your right, it’s about a 30-minute drive south to the town of Wailea. A more romantic and secluded location than Ka’anapali, the town of Wailea boasts natural beaches with lava rocks that jet out into the ocean. Adding to this romantic setting is the coastal walk that connects the resorts to one another, as well as providing paths to coveted pockets of swimming beaches. Not only is this hike a great aerobic workout, it provides views of the Crescent of Molokini, which is famous for snorkeling and diving.
The Outrigger, which is now a Marriott, was the original hotel in Wailea. Soon others followed suit, and now hoteliers such as the Four Seasons and the Renaissance hang their hat here, but the true standout is the Grand Wailea. Its grounds take you back to the days of early Polynesia with bronze statues, beautiful gardens and an array of waterworks including exquisite fountains filled with mermaids and dolphins. The picturesque wedding chapel, with its colorful stained-glass windows, plays host to five weddings a day.
Dining in Maui should not be taken lightly. Chef Beverly Gannon of the Hali’imaile General Store and Joe’s in Wailea is a Texan who got her start catering for rock bands when they came through town. In 1988, she opened the General Store as a takeout gourmet food shop. It became a restaurant when people started eating their takeout meals on-site. It’s American food with Hawaiian regional touches, but we can see hints of Texas in some of the signature dishes. For example, the Paniolo ribs are doused in homemade barbeque sauce and served with mashed potatoes and onions. An appetizer like you’ve never seen before is the crab pizza. More nods to Texas include the brie and grape quesadilla and the Asian pear and duck tostada. A signature appetizer, which has been featured in Gourmet and Bon Apetit magazines, is the Sashimi Napoleon, which is a sushi roll with smoked salmon, ahi tartare, sashimi ahi and crispy wontons.
Just up Piilani Highway is a great part of town filled with restaurants and fun things to do. Locals will tell you Sansei is the place for sushi. The casual atmosphere makes you feel right at home, as the fresh sushi makes its way to your table. For a real treat, Chef Eric Arbogast’s tasting menu gives great breath to the menu at Sansei. It’s hard to agree on a favorite, as the hits keep on coming: edamame, miso soup, mango crab salad hand roll, Asian rock shrimp cake, Panko-crusted ahi sashimi and lobster crab ravioli. The Japanese calamari salad was unique with a spicy sauce similar to that found on barbeque wings. The Sansei special roll contains spicy crab, cilantro, cucumber, avocado and sweet Thai chili sauce. The desserts blew us away, especially the Granny Smith apple tart.
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The Road to Hana
It’s a leisurely three-and-a-half-hour drive along the Northern face of Maui to Hana. For the more adventurous, you can make a day out of the trip to Hana and enjoy true Hawaii along the way. Remember to fill up with gas before you leave Kahului; once you are out of town, gas is almost impossible to find. Take the road to Crater Park in the center of Maui. You ascend to more than 10,000 feet, the temperature drops, the wind picks up, and you see the wondrous effects of time and erosion. To some, the crater looks like “just a bunch of rocks,” but it truly is an ecological miracle.
Descending the mountain, you’ll hit the Haleakala Highway; a right turn will take you to Hana via the shortest, most common route. A left leads down the road less traveled (and less ready for travel). Past the botanical garden and small towns, the vistas are breathtaking with waves crashing into the dry volcanic rock. The two-lane, winding road lines the coast and ascends high on the cliffs on the southwest side of Maui. As it bends back to the east, the road narrows and loses its shoulders, becomes very crooked and finally turns into a very narrow one-lane road. At points it’s paved, and others not. As you travel down this road, it’s easy to believe that you are going where few men have gone before – that is, until you run into one of the many cruising tour buses. Unfortunately, the “Falling Rocks, Drive Slowly” and “One Lane Bridge” signs don’t seem to raise any alarm to tour bus operators.
Along the way, you’ll pass some churches, one small store and some stunning waterfalls. Once you hit the northeast side of the island, the landscape turns lush, and you are now on the rainy side of the island. Despite the scenery, the windy road full of switchbacks and other tourists has you wishing you were in Hana long before you arrive.
You’ll feel at home at the Hotel Hana-Maui. On a property that was once a sugar cane plantation, the staff is excellent, the rooms remarkable and the roots – Texan. That’s right. Houston’s billionaire Hunt family owned the property for more than ten years and added a touch of luxury. The sea ranch cottages here are some of the resort’s most attractive rooms. We recommend rooms 217, 218 – close to the sea, premium pricing and well worth it!
Here, Vegas-style hotel towers, prominent throughout most of Hawaii, are replaced by spacious cabins carved into mountain slopes overlooking the ocean. Well furnished with native teak and wicker furniture, the cabins boast hardwood floors, spacious bathrooms and giant private lanais (porches), many with built-in Jacuzzis. As exquisite as the atmosphere, Hotel Hana leaves many things out of your vacation. You won’t find minibars that charge by the item, rental fees for hammocks and lounge chairs or salespeople peddling condos. The management at Hotel Hana looks at things differently than most. You will find a complimentary gift basket in your room filled with cheeses, fruits, crackers and banana bread. They fill your minibar every day with water and assorted beverages at no charge, as well. Room service is available if you want it. Other options include the local general store (established in 1870) where you can buy food and wine at reasonable prices. This place is all about relaxing your way.
The town of Hana echoes the atmosphere at the hotel. So small you’ll drive right through it if you blink, Hana is the perfect escape. The air is full of sounds: the surf crashing onto the lava-lined shore, birds singing, horses galloping through lush pastures and children playing in the deserted streets. Hana feels like the Hawaii you dream of – relaxed and beautiful.