If you’ve got kids, chances are you’ve seen Moana. And you know all about Maui, the Hawaiian demigod. One of the newest Disney movies to join the franchise, this heartwarming animated coming of age tale really brings the legends of this land to life.
So, to come to Maui, one cannot help but think of the affable yet arrogant God and understand where he was coming from. Maui is absolutely beautiful. From the crystal clear water and manicured gardens of the resort region of Wailea to the wild, rugged beauty of the Road to Hana’s towering rainforest, this is a place that just oozes beauty and doesn’t care who knows it.
Lets start with Wailea. This strip of luxury hotels sit like a strand of pearls along the ocean, one more beautiful than the next. The hotels are connected by a footpath that runs right along the shorefront, meandering past beautifully manicured lawns and gardens. There are no private beaches in Hawaii, so you’ll find locals and travellers alike out for a morning walk or popping down to find their spot for a day at the beach. The Andaz Maui at Wailea Resort’s tiered infinity pools look out over the walkway to sea. Spend your days at one of the pools, snacking on chips and salsa and drinking cocktails without a care in the world. The hotel’s Awili Spa is another great spot to bliss out for a few hours – after a lomi lomi massage you won’t be thinking about anything at all!
At the Fairmont Kea Lani, guests have 180 degree views out to sea, where they don’t even need to leave their balconies to watch whales breach just off the shore during migration season (Jan-March). Fronting onto one of the best beaches, with some stellar spots of snorkeling, the hotel is made for lazy days by the adults only pool, sequestered away in a cabana with a cooler full of fresh fruit, mochi ice cream and soft drinks. You’ll hear the soft thrum of ukuleles when lessons are held down by the kids pool, see the outrigger canoe head out several times a day and even spot morning meditation classes on the grass – all of these activities are included in a resort fee, and are a great way to learn more about local culture. You’ll also want to work up an appetite, as the Fairmont’s decadent Kea Lani breakfast buffet is worth going to very, very hungry. Bowls of fresh fruit, a full omelette bar, muffins, cakes, crepes, pancakes, bacon, eggs, pork buns, even breakfast burritos are waiting for you each morning. Then there’s the pop up juice bar, that takes over the hotel’s signature Ko restaurant in the morning. Local produce like Molokai sweet potato, along with celery, carrot and spinach are used to create fresh iced teas and green juices. Later in the day, Ko takes over. Chef Tylun Pang’s tenure at this fine dining fusion restaurant is legendary. With a heavy emphasis on farm to table, Pang’s kitchen produces delicate dishes from local produce that peruse the best of all different Asian cuisines.
Just four kilometers out to sea, almost in front of the Fairmont, is the famous Molokini Crater. The crescent shaped volcanic crater is an uninhabited island which was used as a missile practice target during World War Two. These days, it is one of Maui’s best snorkel spots. You’ll find dozens of boats bobbing in front of the crescent each morning, with large groups making the most of the clear water and pockets of coral. Aboard the Molokini Wild Side Snorkel Tour, the small group of travellers gets to snorkel the back wall of the crater, a sheer drop covered in coral. The 54 foot Ocean Explorer catamaran is smaller than other tour vessels, and usually visits the crater once the bigger, more crowded vessels have moved on. You’ll jump straight into the water with your guide, swim out to the wall and get an underwater marine species lesson as the guide duck dives down to point out fish zipping in and out of the coral. Then it’s back into the boat to scoot around to the crescent, where in the calm, protected water you can even hear whales singing underwater. During whale watching season, the Wild Side tour turns into a semi whale watching tour. You can’t seem to go more than a few hundred metres without spotting a tail splashing or even an entire whale breaching into the air. The Wild Side tour has no set itinerary so the captain will happily detour off to watch a mother humpback and its calf practice breaching – it’s one of the biggest lessons you’ll ever get to watch. After a few snorkel stops, lunch is served, and later in the day delicious homemade brownies on the trip back to shore.
The sea may offer some pretty amazing spectacles, but there’s also plenty of drama and majesty on Maui’s shore. The Road to Hana is one of the world’s most famous drives – the 100km stretch has more than 60 one way bridges and winds its way along the coast, up into the mountains, past dramatic waterfalls and towering rainforest. Stop along the way at Halfway to Hana, a cheerful roadside stand that sells some of the best mini banana bread loaves on the island. Many travellers do the Road to Hana as a roundtrip in one day, but it’s worth breaking up the journey with a night at Traavasa Hana. This stunning resort sprawls across the cliffside just outside of Hana town and is a great spot to fling open the doors of your bungalow and let the sound of the sea lull you to sleep.
Another iconic Maui experience is the lū’au. The traditional Hawaiian feast has become a must-do for Hawaiian visitors – not just because of the tasty Kālua cooking in which an entire pig is cooked underground – it is a cultural experience where you’ll learn about the history of the land and its people. At Te Au Moana, the lū’au takes place on the sprawling manicured grounds of the Marriot Wailea Beach Resort. The ocean and a setting sun are the spectacular backdrop as performers demonstrate traditional Hawaiian dances, along with other island nation dances. The night begins with an open bar, and a big buffet of dishes like fried rice, potato salad, taro bread rolls, poi, the Kālua pork, and mini cakes, slices and biscuits. Once you’re fed and rested, the show begins, with whirling, singing and even fire twirling as the sun sets.
If you’re after a more fine dining experience, make a booking at The Restaurant at Hotel Wailea. Located inside this refined, adults only Relais & Châteaux hotel, The Restaurant looks out at the sunset from a higher vantage point on the hills set back from Wailea’s coast, out over its own mini orchards where fruit is harvested and used in the restaurant. Chef Sato and his team are committed to using Hawaiian produce and showcasing it in very modern dishes like smoked Kamuela Beets, where beets are beautifully arrayed on a bed of avocado, harissa and puffed grains. The steamed local fish with Big Island Hirabara Farm’s spinach is always popular, while a short rib Bolognese with whipped ricotta and spaghetti will change the way you view this iconic dish. Ginger rubbed taro, Tammi Farms tomatoes and Ahi Tataki are a few other highlights. You’ll want to save room for a deconstructed molten lava cake that’s actually more like a seriously high end s’more, with handmade marshmallows and handmade graham crackers.
Whether you want to wine and dine, or head out into the wilderness, Maui will show you a very, very good time.