The week is winding down as I continue touring the best of Maui with the ASTA and NACTA group. Little did I know the wow would never stop. My interest in the Maui Ocean Center is bittersweet because this is the spot I know my little grandson would love and he’s not here. This place is beyond amazing and the staff is so eco-
ocean aware I can tell the aloha here is strong. I spend a lot of time facetiming a cute kid in California because I so very much want him to BE HERE with me. The site has sea turtle feedings, stingray shows and the coolest thing? This 750,000 open ocean aquarium with 20 sharks, huge rays and reef fish. I walk through this tube and they swim over me, lapping the current peacefully. I know I was annoying people talking in an excited voice while moving my camera slowly so Cash could see. I’m sorry. I really couldn’t help myself. This is the lesson I learned- take the kids. It is great to see, but they will probably wee a little with excitement. Take extra clothes. It is that exciting.
My next stop scares me. It’s the Island Art Party where everyone gets a smock and a paintbrush and then you paint. I am not talented. I can’t draw my way out of a wet paper bag with a sharp pencil. I am terrified. Everyone is super excited and giggling and anticipating so
much fun and I am filled with dread but trying to play along and not be ‘that girl’ who can’t just buck up and go with the flow. So I do. The place is fabulous, the hosts and hostesses are charming and so encouraging, I drink the kool aid and grab a smock. The picture chosen is an underwater scene with two angel fish. “Big loping strokes with the flat paintbrush, first blue,” our hostess cries out. I begin and it’s kind of working. I slope and bend and switch brushes and then get bored and paint ahead of everyone and of course, it is a disaster. But not even half as bad as I expected and everyone else’s looks really good. I’m
not exactly proud of the painting, but impressed by my ability to try to go along with it. Plus they served us an amazing lunch while dancing the hula for us. This is the perfect diversion on Maui; a wedding or affinity group event- a great option! And if you see that girl who is not terribly excited, please be kind. She is doing her level best to fit in with people who have an artistic bone in their body.
Then I am delivered to HEAVEN ON EARTH. Mana Kai Maui, please let me live in your walls. I check into my room and hit the sliding doors of the lanai, I gulp. I’m overlooking a beach so clear, so close, I can see a sea turtle swimming in the wake. I take in the long stretch
of beautiful beach and the pounding surf is on reverb in the room. The aloha chant of the ocean captures me, rivets me to the floor as the palm trees sway. I have never been in such a fervent state because of a room category, even in a two bedroom penthouse condo with its own plunge pool overlooking the
Bay of Banderas. I thought I was jaded. I was wrong and I am instead sated, deliciously satisfied not only as I look out, but as I look in.
The condo has a king bed, granite countertops in a full kitchen (hooray for Hawaiian morning coffee on the lanai!) and a nice sized bathroom. But the view, no words. Dinner approaches, it’s here on site and with this view as the entrée, I’m eager to see how the dining is. I know I have found heaven up here, but what’s in that kitchen?
Winston Chinn! Premier host for our dinner at the spectacular Five Palms, Winston is an icon himself, full of aloha and jokes and
obviously on top of things when I see what I’m served. First course, a great romaine’s heart salad. Second course, amazing tiger prawns and scallops over pasta. Third course? Their signature Pineapple Creme Brulee, smoking hot custard blazing on a pineapple slice. Yippeee! Heaven continues! Honestly, nowhere, no way has the Maui dream leaned closer to reality for me. This is it and I’m perfectly content to stay here from now on. Why leave? Mana Kai Maui, I love you so much it is a little pathetic. I can’t help it though, I just can’t. I fall asleep, lanai doors wide open, a murmur of aloha waves washing me into slumber. Heaven.
Morning brings a drinking, dairy, honey day. I grab a spot in the van and off we go high into the hills to an organic vodka operation- Ocean Vodka. Unique because it is made with deep ocean mineral
water sourced from 3000 feet below the Big Island and it is all organic. We tour the fields- no pesticides, we tour the production area (no one is intoxicated!) and head for the tasting tiki hut. Early for vodka so I choose rum, they also do rum. It is smooth and goes down easy like a
Friday morning. It is a real treat to see a smallish family run operation that is so successful. How successful? So successful that wherever we go afterward, my friend Mikki tries to order it or buy it and it is ‘out’. Huge demand for this uniquely Maui product and there’s also an open field area for concerts, wedding receptions, etc. It overlooks a valley with views to the ocean. Add a small store and you have the perfect business model.
Next stop, goats that surf? An enterprising German couple call Surfing Goat Dairy home. This is an organic dairy operation. When
they started, they ran into a guy at the dump getting rid of his boards. In a light bulb moment, they offered to repurpose them and now, the goats play yards are full of them. Surf board fences line the visitors area, very unique! I sample a variety of goat cheese and they’re all so good! My favorite is the Garden Fantasia, peppered with savory bits of organic veggies. Yum.
Upcountry Maui is full of gourmet operations that keep the island’s economy ticking
while offering the unique and tasty. Farm to table starts at these elevations. While on Maui, get off the beach for a day and head up to the cool country where a lot is happening, most of it sustainable and organic!
Next we go down, down, down into the valley and then up, up, up! Where we land is unlike anywhere else I’ve been on all three islands. Lona Ridge. The home is an architectural masterpiece, patterned
after early Maui architect, C.W. Dickey’s work. Head out back if you want to be wowed. The view encompasses both shores of Maui and a view of the Big Island. The grounds contain rare trees and plants and up the steep slope behind, an organic honey operation. Owner Leona Rocha Wilson was Maui raised in very humble circumstances- a sugar plantation camp. Her
mother knew she couldn’t pay for college, so encouraged Leona to enlist in the military which she did. Setting her sights high, she used the GI Bill to launch a career in the fashion industry. Today, she opens her home by appointment only (or the customary Monday farm lunch- see linked article for details), preferably to local school children. She has a keen desire to inspire the keiki to reach for their dreams. It is a true ‘island girl made good’ story and after she shares it, I sample honey.
The honey is organic, produced in collaboration with Lona Ridge by a young woman Leona met on the school board. The Lona Ridge Honey component is also all organic and it is interesting to sample
the flavors of the honey from differing locations. My favorite was macadamia nut! After sampling her delicious fare I’m treated to the most amazing box lunch ever. Leona loves education and all the possibilities involved so another collaboration is with the Maui University Culinary Arts Academy. Yes, I am pleased to have enameled box lunches to choose from, each looking like a jewel and all having flavorful delights inside. Mango and other flavored teas from the property
wet my thirst while I ravish the box lunch. Farm to table is the theme but this is stuff straight out of a Five Star restaurant. I want to keep the box but alas, must return it. The steep, steep ride back down is accompanied by groans and sighs as everyone riding along knows it will be
a long time before they experience something that special again. What a treat.
My afternoon at leisure consists of throwing a load of laundry in. After all, I have been here eight fabulous days and who wants to pack that many outfits? Not me. I sit on the lanai in between, then check out the sundries store where Ramen Noodles are $1.98 a pack and then peek into the pool area. Not many pool takers because the ocean is right there, yards away, the ocean! The Kihei location of the Maui Mana Kai is very nestled right up on the beach, built before a
lot of restrictions about that were in place. The setting is perfect for an ocean front wedding and this evening, the staff is preparing for one with delight. I see leis and a ukulele and neat rows of chairs. The sunset will frame the vows with the promise of enduring aloha.
Our group’s time is coming to a close. We still have a snorkel tour in the morning but our graduation dinner is at Merriman’s Monkeypods tonight and even though I’m still quite full, I actually put on a dress for the occasion. The drive is short and the location is
an upscale strip mall in Wailea. The place is jam-packed crowded and when our appetizers come out, I can see why. Seared poke’ tacos and garlic oil fries. Everyone had a choice for dinner and I chose the Kale and Wild Mushroom Gnocchi. But the dessert, the Chocolate Cream Pie? It is a mile high! Piled high with delicious cream! I keep thinking as I attempt to polish it off, swimsuit tomorrow, with everyone. Oh boy. I’m not a quitter. I manage to eat almost all of it.
Morning comes early, lulled into consciousness by the waves so
close you can hear their crashing, time to rise for the last activity – snorkeling at Molokini Crater. Another short van ride gets us to the pick up point for Kai Kanani Charters. The waves are rough in the early morning hours and as the boat runs up on the sand, I look around and gulp. The catamaran lets down the stairs and the boat
keeps rocking. The crew gives the ‘wait, wait, wait’ sign so we do. The waves surge in groups and when a calmer stream starts we all scramble on, still getting soaked and a little jostled. We’re given great instructions by the experienced crew, warned about things that matter and told what to look for. Why am I excited? Because they have masks that have prescriptions in them and I will actually be able to see something. That has never happened before. We are a
motley crew, my fellow travel agents and the general public. Guys are speaking softly to calm their wives, others are trying hard not to stare at the hard bodies of the Hawaii styled bikini body guides and some of the kids can’t resist putting their flippers on to walk like ducks. We arrive. There is abundant sea life in this extinct volcanic crater. “Don’t get too close in to the crater walls because that pretty coral is sharp and dangerous” we’re warned. I wait my turn and take the plunge. Snorkeling has never been fun for me, a glasses wearer. The prescription lenses change everything. I can see the pretty fish and the beautiful coral! I am so mesmerized, floating and staring down in awe that one of the guides swims to me to ask me if I’m alright. Well yes, you see, I am staring at the bottom of the ocean, the beauty of it. Duh. Everyone else is flipping and flopping but I am happy to turtle around slowly, just taking it all in and remembering to breathe through my mouth, not my nose. It works. I am happy and at peace staring at the ocean floor, the coral and the fish. I am one of the last few on the boat because next, turtle town! On the way? Rum punch and sandwiches. Yea!
I have had a long love affair with all things honu. My first encounter was on the Kona coast of the Big Island, in a park. I was walking along looking at the ocean and boom, a turtle is peeking at me with its big, cute eye. I was so excited to see it and really felt like it was happy to see me because it kept peeking at me. Today, we’re going to a spot called turtle town so I am super excited! I’ve had many other turtle encounters since and they all seem magical. We get near and are told to swim closer to the shore. It doesn’t look far so I do. I see one turtle and then realize I am getting tired so decide to swim back. Half way back, and we’re talking the length of two football fields or more, the Jaws music starts playing in my head. I’m kind of far away from everyone, wearing a very bling ring and I’ve been told that attracts sharks. A woman near my age has been recently killed snorkeling not far from shore and it weighs on my mind. I am in their
territory, alone, with that damn shiny ring I forgot to take off, just asking to get bit or worse. Before I was all “I love honu’ and now I’m all “I am shark bait!” so honestly, I start to panic a little. I soon realize that swimming faster will not make the shark any slower and will wear me out. I calm myself, swim purposefully and wish I knew a song about honu to replace the Jaws theme. Hasn’t Jack Johnson written a honu song? Ugh. I pass a guy who is consoling his wife as they schlep through the waves. I don’t think anyone thought it would be such a far swim and expecting this, the staff is throwing out ropes to pull people in? Why not just move a tad closer? Anyway, I’m glad to be back on board after surviving the Jaws encounter in my head. I look resentfully at my sparkly ring as we head back to shore.
This is it. The end of the road for our group. We all hail from far and away and our time learning about Maui Nui is over. I am sad. Glad
for the friends I’ve made, the connections that will be touchpoints held together by tender aloha memories. I have one more night and day in the HEAVEN condo, so I am not leaving yet, but as a group we are done. It was fun, sometimes hilarious. It was yummy, sometimes over fullish. It was educational, with interesting learning that fed my heart and my soul. It was so much more than a beach trip. Friends reading this, visit Maui. Go farther
and discover the secrets of Molokai and Lanai. But on any of these islands? Don’t limit yourself to the beach. I know, I know, all I’ve been showing are videos of the beach. This last one is on Molokai, three miles of pristine beauty, deserted. Papohaku Beach. Worth thr trip, but again, off the beaten path. So many activities and interesting things to discover await you. Venture off the beaten path for that unique experience. You’ll be glad you did and the people you meet? They’ll also be happy you branched out to find the gems of aloha, scattered about just waiting to be enjoyed. Mahalo Maui Nui.
Many thanks to the organizers of this trip, ASTA, NACTA, and the Maui Nui Visitor and Conventions Bureaus. Very well done and executed. Mahalo!