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The Hidden Side of Maui

Where to eat, stay and play in Western Canadians’ favourite Hawaiian destination.

Ah Maui, you’re like our fifth Western province. We know you (with your perfumed air), we love you (with your clear, warm water), we want to visit you every year. But has our relationship become too routine? Can you still surprise us? Yes, sure, the island has a fair share of tourist traps scattered among its 1,883 square kilometres, but a modicum of digging reaps rewards disproportionate to its size: waterfalls the whole family can jump off, abandoned back roads and memorable hole-in-the-walls for dinner. We’ve dispatched our team of travel experts to scratch the surface of this magical place and show you the hidden side of Maui.

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Wailea

The toniest and priciest sliver of the island, it’s also the driest and least windy of the main tourist areas. Back in the day, this is where the Goldman Sachs boys would blow their bonus, but in these more restrained times, the overall volume has calmed down and all walks of travellers populate the area.

It’s tough to go wrong at any of the big three: the Fairmont Kea Lani, the Four Seasons or the Grand Wailea. But forced to choose? We’re going to go with the Fairmont Kea Lani. Out of the three, it has the most private property, and unlike the other two its beach isn’t shared with any other resort. But mostly we love that the rooms are all suites (from US$499) and they clock in at a mind-bending 860 square feet—unheard of size in these parts.

The area has never been short on great food, just be prepared to spend. For luxe hotel dining, Amasia, the newest spot from Alan Wong (the Jean-Georges of the islands), is over-the-top swanky—right down to the 800 tonnes of rock imported from Mt Fuji. More family friendly is the loud, open-air Monkey Pod Kitchen, where homemade ketchup and a huge beer list meet great, relaxed dishes like a kale and macadamia nut salad.  

You can (and should) rent stand-up paddleboards anywhere, but when was the last time you shot trap in the crater of a volcano? We’re going to go ahead and assume never. Maui Sporting Clays is far more Town and Country than Guns and Ammo; there’s no experience necessary (and it’s something your neighbour hasn’t done).

"Couple enjoying Wailua falls, Hana Maui"
Waterfalls are plentiful along the Road to Hana—and a cliff jumping guide can transform a spectacular sight into an unforgettable experience.

Hana

The touristy “Road to Hana” has transformed this tiny town into an afterthought, a place you grab a quick bite before heading back on the twisty road. In reality it’s the most uncommercial spot on the island (no Costcos, no chain restaurants) and worth a few days if you really want to get into true Maui—like (coolest guy ever) resident Kris Kristofferson.

Travaasa is a new Texas-based outfit that swooped in and retrofitted the former legendary Hotel Hana Maui—to great effect. The meandering sprawl of 47 plantation-style sea cottages (from US$400) still have ceiling fans (open the lanai’s porch doors to let in the Pacific cross breeze)—but the new spa (just voted #1 in Hawaii by Conde Nast) and restaurant makes this spot the love child of the Four Seasons and a lake cabin. No TVs, wifi, or clocks in your room. Just chill.

No place better sums up Hana—hippy, freewheelin’, off-the-grid Hana—than the Clay Oven (808-248-7371), a shanty-cum-restaurant on the side of the road. It’s staffed by folks who may or may not be Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros, and you can expect organic just-picked greens to start, a long wait and then a superlative pizza fresh from a clay oven built in the middle of the jungle. If you get it to go, it’s wrapped in gigantic banana leaves. A total trip.

How often do you get to say, “I jumped off a waterfall?” It’s easy and accessible on the Road to Hana. You can google “Twin Falls and Hana” and get detailed instructions but, when it comes to cliff jumping, you’re better off going with a guide, no? Hike Maui pioneered the activity, and will help you pick which precipice is best.

Beach near Makena at Sunset. Island of Maui.

Beach near Makena at Sunset. Island of Maui.

Ka’anapali

This is the densely populated swath that is most travellers’ first introduction to the island. The tall towers (Westin, Hyatt, Sheraton, Marriott) mimic the vibrancy of Waikiki without the madness of Waikiki. Still, there remain pockets—the calmness of nearby Kapalua, the Hilfiger-esque charm of Napili—that defy the big resort vacation vibe. You just have to know where to look.

You know what beats brand-spanking new in a hotel? Absolutely nothing. The dual 10-storey towers of the Intrawest-built Honua Kai Resort and Spa (from US$249) are set up like condos (and, if you’re interested, there are still a few for sale—but bank on $944,900 for a two-bedroom) with still-shiny stainless steel appliances, flat-panel TVs and thick Berber carpeting. Outside, the lazy river is packed with decidedly non-lazy kids. 

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