Travel agents can be a jaded bunch. We really do get the plum assignments, like this trip to Maui sponsored by NACTA and ASTA. It’s hard to be humble when the hosts at each location treat you like you’re the best thing ever. Even the notion that the above names groups support us agents so completely, it is heartening! Rough job to have these VIP’d and sponsored trips, but someone has to do it, so we eagerly sign up and pack.
Our next stop is a farm to table experience overlooking the ocean. Nothing mundane about this place, Oh my Pacific’O. You know the new movement where everything is organic, grown locally and then
delivered to a restaurant with a discerning chef who insists on only the finest ingredients? This place is your benchmark. Pacific’O was created in tandem with O’o Farm with the intention of having control over produce quality. They’ve been doing it for twenty years people, not the new kids on the block, the pioneers. They even grow their own coffee and my favorite- edible flowers. If you are what you eat, I want to eat flowers. As a small child, my parents made the mistake of letting me hold the pretty red geranium plant in the backseat, heading to grandma’s on Mother’s Day. Have you ever tasted one? By the time we arrived, no flowers; Gulp. So if you haven’t tried edible flowers and they’re not a gift for someone, chow down. So good! But I digress…. I have the Fish n Chips and homemade ice cream- all fabulous, with surfers in the background.
Our next stop is the state of the art Maui Theatre for the production of ‘Ulalena. Interpretive dance and fusion music meet Hawaiian history. The theater itself is a great venue, but the live music, vocals and Cirque style dance weave a spell of enchantment that holds me entranced through the changes Maui has experienced. I am not a musical lover. I don’t want this to end. I want to linger longer in the dark as the mood envelopes me in its magic. A side note: Kalapani Kollars, our tour guide from the Maui Nei Native Expeditions is one of the music makers for this long standing production. This man lives and breathes the true essence of Maui, devotes all of his energy to embracing and dispersing it to interested parties. You will miss something significant if you don’t request him as a guide and then experience his performance in ‘Ulalena.
I have an appetite now and glad to be walking though the high end shopping outlet with a wood fire pizza joint- Pi Artisan Pizzeria. The
sun lowers itself onto the waves as they bring out platters of antipasto, bowls of Caesar salad and then of course the pizzas. All locally sourced with another fabulous view, pizza done right Maui style satisfies everyone, topped off with more platter of dessert. The cheesecake gets me. I don’t need this but I want, I want and I grab a spoon. We later waddle to the vans together.
I don’t think I’ve ever been so excited to wait for a six am ferry. They
give me coffee, a ferry ticket and I roam around with my box breakfast, watching grizzled construction workers congregate with their gear. This ferry is full because crews are heading over to do a refurbish on one of two Four Seasons resorts on Lanai. Oracle founder Larry Ellison purchased the majority stake of the island and is building into the economic and cultural infrastructure of this tiny island. After repeatedly asking many of the residents and reps there, they say the jury is still out on Ellison. It is still too soon to assess if this benevolence is genuine and unequivocally a place where the local’s hearts and his meet. “So far, so good,” they say. “We’ll see,” they say.
The Expeditions Ferry takes about an hour and we approach the Manele Small Boat Harbor before eight. The harbor is new and nice and our coach takes us up, up, up a winding road that offers sweeping vistas over the fringes of scraggly shrubs. Mountain goats live here on these slopes, but I don’t see any. What I do see when we reach the top is a really nice broad top of an island that is green with cooler temps. Cook and Norfolk pines shoot emerald spikes into that landscape and rim areas of the road in a reminder of genius rain capturing magic. These pines suck the moisture out of the sea breeze and create a micro climate of rain which is desperately needed on Lana’i. And the beauty it has created; I love trees and the town square is Dole Park, named so because the whole island was once a pineapple plantation. These are huge! The tiny Dole Park town square has its own forest. I love this spot! It is cool and refreshing and feels so intentionally lovely. Little art and boutique shops dot the perimeter of the park along with the Hotel Lana’i, our first stop.
Groan, sigh. This place is exquisite in its throw back charm, lovely native art and furnishings, plus its delectable cuisine. This is not the Ritz but an old school inn with a handful of rooms and gathering areas in the center. It is lovely. Ellison has hired top notch staff, many locally sourced and built into their skills to offer a world class experience, tiny island style. This gem offers
relaxation of the finest kind. I swoon and swoon again as we are greeted by the manager and fed a gourmet brunch. Touring the rooms yields rustic island furnishings with my Hawaiian quilts in my favorite colors. I am charmed, and as I stated before, as a kind of jaded travel agent, this is a refreshing feeling of delight.
We stop briefly in the tiny Lana’i Culture and Heritage Center. The building is multi purpose, holds other offices but the artifact collection it holds is really impressive. It was formerly the Dole Plantation Administration Building turned cultural center/museum when development began on the island. Another spot where I wish I could linger.
Load into the vans courtesy of Rabaca’s Limousine Service, I’m going off-roading to Shipwreck Beach. We drive and bump and sway over the mostly sand roads.
Everyone once in a while there is a clearing of tiny buildings knocked into the scrub where people were living off the grid before it was trendy. There are turtles lolling in the surf when I arrive, fishermen fishing for their real lunch, not as a sport. The ship that was wrecked offshore looms in the distance and there is nothing around here, nothing. Oh wait, that’s not what one of our drivers says. Let’s head into the scrub and check out the
petroglyphs. This place is the real deal, native etchings that are symbols of importance to Hawaiian history. There are ceremonial stone cairns in the scrub also. This is the Hawaii many miss, the outback Hawaii on a remote island with a steady population of about 3200 people total. This is your ultimate getaway if dodging the crowd is your thing. It is certainly mine at times.
We head back and have time to check out the new Lana’i Theater with it’s leather reclining seats and fancy bathrooms! I browse
the tiny shops and grab a lunch from Pele’s Other Garden and head to forest bathe under the giant pines. Young kids play in the park while their hipster moms do yoga on the grass. The call to board the bus and leave comes and I am just the last one on the bus. I want to stay. Charity Texiera from the Lanai Visitor’s Bureau has made the brief stay pleasant, and a little bit of a teaser for more to come. I want to stay to see what the light is like through the pines in the evening; what the air smells like as I bicycle through the early morning hours. What the locals say when the haole woman just doesn’t get on the ferry and go. I just want to immerse myself and stay.
Off we go and the ferry ride back brings me to the vans and then I’m checking in to the Kaanapali Beach Hotel. This is in the hotel zone on Kaanapali Beach, a moderately priced property with sprawling grounds and is considered the most Hawaiian of the hotels in this area. There are native arts and crafts, music and we are greeted with traditional song and then when we congregate later,
are feted with more by lovely women who explain their kukui beads to us. Guests and staff alike receive a bead lei and for staff, every year service garners a different colored bead. For returning guests, it is the same because many, many customers return. Why? Because of the location, cultural offerings and excellent beach. During our room tour, we were shown the kit kids receive when checking in. It is totally cute and it is plain that keiki are given honored status here.
Our hostess at dinner outdoes herself as we are seated on the Tiki Terrace for food and music. The food is out of this world. I have the
scallops and Ed next to me has the skewered shrimp. It is a feast from the ocean. My friend Mikki has the tuna rare and she goes on and on about how it is perfectly done. Just heaven. But it is bedtime for us and we have another early dock departure, this time to Molokai for a one night stay.
The Molokai Princess Ferry is coming so again I wander while eating and watching the workers get ready to head over for work. I’m told sitting atop is not a great idea because of the rough seas. It is uncharacteristically windy so we hunker inside and take the ride to Kaunakakai Harbor which is an almost two hour ride this time. I doze.
Arrival has us checking out the golden beach littered with tiny transluscent jelly fish. Not your swimming pals, they are often around you before you know it and the stings can be painful. We gather under a tree and are told we will next be meeting a Hawaiian
holy man. Kalanianaole Hall is straight Hawaiian plantation style, charming in its simplicity. I remove my shoes and am greeted by breathing the breath of a towering giant, his wife Kyrian Van Vliet and a follower. Kumu Pa’a Lawrence Kalaina Kamani Aki is a 50th generation traditional Hawaiian teacher. Blood lines are very important in Hawaiian society because remember, this is a monarchy and that follows the blood line.
Aki narrates to a power point, explains Molokai culture, how his teaching business is world wide (his wife is a blue eyed Dutch girl) and the movement to reinvigorate the many facets of Hawaiian culture. You can tell this is huge on the islands, the undercurrent of plenty pono (righteousness in Hawaiian) permeates all things Hawaiian. Like many traditional societies, rules are strict. It is fascinating to hear of Molokai’s deep heritage and how many people are building into sustaining it. This is a tiny island also with a population of less than 10,000. Because it has resisted development, it is ranked very high on the worldwide unspoiled island scale.
Next I head up to the rigid Nanahoa in Pala’au State Park with the group. This is the fertility stone and it takes a little hike to get there. I snap a pic and send it to my son, father of four, and tell him to never touch this. It is beautiful and I love the
high forest. I almost step on two little mushrooms that look like bosoms. So here is the rock and here are the perfect, tiny bosoms. Interesting. I hike back to the Kalaupapa Lookout, gaze down upon the Kalaupapa Settlement where the leper colony stood and Father Damien took purposeful strides in creating a decent world for people cast off by society before succumbing to the disease himself. Mule rides down into the historic
development are very popular and from what I hear, exciting. Visit the page at Kalaupapa Mule Tour for more information. I didn’t do this, but would have loved the opportunity!
Hard to believe it’s only lunch time but it is. The sandwich buffet is scrumptious at the Coffees Of Hawaii. Julie Bicoy has called ahead and we’re greeted with an amazing frozen coffee drink, perfect refresher after the higher altitude walking we just did. This plantation style building is large enough to house a coffee shop, gift store and boasts a spacious lanai for hosting hula shows and music. Small but charming, this place hits the spot. They roast a wide variety of coffee and their hospitality is fantastic. I don’t want to leave.
We land on a swath of beach three miles long and 100 miles wide. Papohaku Beach. I have never seen such an incredible beach. There
is no one here with us (okay, a young tattooed couple almost hiding in the rocks). You cannot see a house or anything. It is just sand and surf and the wind. Swimming is not advised. The seashells are abundant so there I go scouting for tiny treasures. I love when I get them back home and there is sand clinging to the little fissures and openings. The sea coming home with me is nice.
Next stop is a resort where you can rent condos, the Kalua Koi Beach. It seems deserted. We meet a couple from the Midwest who after vacationing here for decades, have just retired and moved here. They say everything has stayed the same. Nothing changes. There is a slow pace they enjoy. I’m not sure about you, but I think this would be paradise, a great place to retire.
Our next ride drops us at Maunaloa Town where the Big Wind Kite Factory is located. It is the store and it is the factory. Back beyond the book section, tables are strewn with kite making materials under big
windows. The same owners have had it for decades and the vibe is that of a 70s head shop. Jewelry and t-shirts and used books and wind chimes and kites. This is definitely the spot for unique shopping on Molokai. I buy a book about ghosts and climb aboard the van. It is so obvious that unseen forces blend with the seen world here. I don’t really believe in things like that, but from the stories I’ve been hearing, you don’t need to believe in the Hawaiian spirits for them to be real. Your beliefs are not important, haha.
Hotel Molokai awaits. It is a cluster of low slung buildings on the water, under refurbishment and that means the kitchen, too. Our
desk clerk is from Peoria, about 100 miles from where I live. The open air concept is charming but this is a rustic hotel; fan only, no A/C. To get to where dinner is being served, I walk through the construction area in the bar. The pool is tiny but lovely and a group of hipsters are there partying it up. The food is great, especially for a
first meal after a renovation. This little engine is trying very hard and doing a fantastic job of reinventing itself for visitors. I really like the laid back vibe of this place. The back of my room is all screen door and there is no lock, just a chain. I sleep peacefully with the screen open. There is very little crime because where would one go after committing a crime? The island is ten by twenty eight miles. Sure you can run, but you really can’t hide.
I am late to the lobby so miss the trip to the Kanemitsu Bakery. I am crushed but wait patiently in the lobby, hoping someone will share this legendary bread and they do. This bakery is open all night because people visiting off island carry it as a gift to ohana and friends. There is no website but there is a great story by wakeandwonder on the jaunted blog website. Most planes leave before 7 am so getting the bread the night before is the way to go! The bread is a warm lump of surprise with cinnamon or fruit filling and is so tasty. I’m not really embarrassed to be tearing handfuls off of someone else’s loaf (thanks Ken and Wendy Kimi), but I should be. What I shouldn’t be is hungry after my recent dinner. Instead, I’m just a tad jealous of everyone clutching their brown bags of steaming bread. Ugh.
The next morning I’m so excited to see the Molokai Airport. Our
flight leaves at 7 am and this airport is cute and little. Travelers look the same as others the world over; cranky to be there so early, grappling with small children and confused looking elderly. But this place is pretty calm. It’s apparent we’re outsiders. Molokai get about 1000 visitors a day which is a substantial number considering their focus has not been tourism. The ongoing dilemma here is to attain the sweet spot balance between of delicious Molokai culture and inviting and accepting the world flavor. It is problematic but Molokai Convention and Visitor’s Bureau, Julie Bicoy presses on, knowing that the right strategy will keep the chill while warming the island for curious world travelers. Molokai is lovely.
Stay tuned for more of your armchair travels. Don’t you want to go? Words and pictures don’t really suffice. Breathing the air, meeting the big Hawaiian teachers and hiking to Phallic Rock? Has to be done. Come…