by Jessica Price
SGN A&E Writer
Many who visit Maui come to regard it as their favorite of the Hawaiian Islands, and this is no surprise. With picture-perfect sunsets and 120 miles of coastline caressed by crystalline seas, Maui is also home to rolling hills and the unique landscapes of the Upcountry and Haleakala. Outdoor activities abound, including world-famous windsurfing, paddleboarding, snorkeling, diving, and trail riding. Culinary and 'agritourism' adventures are also plentiful for appreciating the bounty of the land. Maui is easily traversable and there's not much you could imagine in a vacation that can't be found on this beautiful slice of tropical paradise.
Getting to Maui is easy from Seattle - Hawaiian Airlines is still the Northwestern traveler's airline of choice. You'll find more spacious seating, gracious service, and a steady stream of deals on offer if you watch their website (www.hawaiianairlines.com) or subscribe to Hawaiian's mileage program. There is now more reason than ever to visit: marriage equality became a reality in Hawai'i as of November 13. Maui Pride takes place the first weekend of every October, extending the summer-long mainland celebrations for visitors when Maui's weather and ocean temperature are at their best. Visit http://mauipride.org to stay updated.
Wailea, South Maui's premier resort area, is an excellent way to kick off your stay. A quick 35-minute drive from Kahului Airport, the community is three times the size of Oahu's popular but often overcrowded Waikiki. Many of Maui's best beaches are found in Wailea, connected by beachside trails ideal for a sunrise jog or evening stroll.
One of the many sponsors of Maui Pride is the brand-new Andaz Maui at Wailea Resort & Spa (http://maui.andaz.hyatt.com), which opened in September. A $90 million renovation transformed the former Renaissance Wailea into a sophisticated resort actively engaged in Hawaiian sustainability and eco-friendly tourism. Guests and travel publications alike rave about the Andaz Maui's serene ambience, from the dramatic entry bridge to the grandiose open-air lobby (complete with a view of Molokini Crater in the distance) to modern guest rooms, refillable water stations, and privacy-enhanced stacked infinity pools.
The Andaz is also a hot destination for foodies. Ka'ana Kitchen is the resort's main dining experience, featuring an open kitchen that boasts a stainless steel Hibachi grill as its centerpiece. Emeril Lagasse, Padma Lakshmi, and other familiar faces from Top Chef were recently spotted here during filming. In keeping with the farm-to-table trend present in the islands, the dinner menu is planned around star ingredients from the Hyatt's brand new pride and joy, Ka'ana Farm, and nearby Surfing Goat Dairy, Makawao Farms, and a host of local fishermen. A second restaurant just launched in November, Morimoto Maui. Celebrity chef Masaharu Morimoto (Iron Chef and Iron Chef America) utilizes locally sourced, seasonal ingredients in a blend of Western and Japanese styles.
Not to be outdone by dining, the resort's lavish Awili Spa & Salon features 10 blissed-out treatment rooms and an organic apothecary. Other onsite activities include outrigger canoe paddling (or a fitness-minded cardio version), kayaking, and surf lessons. Paddleboarding is popular in South Maui, and the progressive Andaz offers core-building paddleboard yoga. You'll really never have to leave the resort to experience some of Maui's best land and sea activities. However, there are day trips worth exploring:
Molokini: Organize a boat trip to Molokini Crater, a marine and bird sanctuary two miles off the coast from Wailea and Makena. Though you cannot walk on the tiny, crescent-shaped offshore island, its protected waters are known for incredible diving and snorkeling.
Upcountry/Kula/Haleakala: Hawaiian travelers will notice more emphasis than ever on the concepts of ecotourism and agritourism (tourism based on respect for natural areas and unique agricultural experiences). Trends in sustainable foods go hand-in-hand with the Hawaiian concept of malama aina, or caring for the land. Virtually every place you visit in Maui is connected in an edible way to the rustic Upcountry (on the way to the 30,000-foot summit of Haleakala). From Wailea, visit these three 'don't miss' Upcountry destinations:
o Ocean Vodka Organic Farm and Distillery (http://oceanvodka.com) - Family owned and operated, perched atop 80 breathtaking acres of lower Mount Haleakala. Sample fresh sugar cane, sip vodka, and tour the custom-built distillery. The beautiful landscaped grounds and panoramic views of the north and south shores are perfect for a picnic or occasional concerts hosted by the farm.
o Surfing Goat Dairy (www.surfinggoatdairy.com) - Right next door to Ocean Vodka, sample a flight of award-winning cheeses and meet the prettiest, happiest goats on the planet. Surfing Goat has also launched a line of goat cheese truffles to die for. Holiday gift baskets are available and can be shipped to the mainland.
o Ali'i Kula Lavender Farm (www.aliikulalavender.com) - This incredible 10-acre farm and garden is home to protea plants as big as your arm and 55,000 lavender plants in over 45 varieties. Explore on your own or choose a guided tour with a gourmet picnic lunch. A panoramic view of both halves of Maui in the distance is unforgettable. This is the sweet-smelling, blissed-out happy place you'll return to in your head again and again, long after your vacation is over.
WEST MAUI: LAHAINA, KA'ANAPALI, AND KAPALUA
Your first brush with traffic nearing the busy town of Lahaina in West Maui can be jarring, but there are definite perks to this part of the island. Safeway, Costco, and an abundance of quaint restaurants, bakeries, and souvenir shops are located here, but most accommodations are further north in Ka'anapali. The Ka'anapali Beach Walk winds through prime tourist territory; most resorts are side-by-side dotting the entire stretch. Early risers will love this area for a jog or morning swim. If lounging poolside is your style, get outside early before the chairs are all snapped up and the sun gets too intense (lahaina does mean 'cruel sun,' after all). In a busy tourist area with resorts competing neck-and-neck, we recommend the Hyatt Regency Maui Resort & Spa for the best all-around package (www.hyattregencymaui.com). The restaurants are hip and the activities intriguing, including tennis, golf, water sports, sushi lessons at Japengo, or the 'Drums of the Pacific' luau. The Hyatt contains its own set of shops, including a boutique Macy's that reportedly sells more bathing suits per square foot than any other in the country. Even wildlife tours are available: the resort proudly cares for its own family of exotic swans, warm-weather penguins, cranes, flamingos, and parrots. As an unusual nighttime activity, the Hyatt's Director of Astronomy hosts a nightly 'Tour of the Stars' on the building's roof (stargazing in Hawai'i is some of the best anywhere).
If you want to trade resort crowds for sightseeing, head north for lunch at Maui Brewing Company, then continue through Napili into Kapalua. From D.T. Fleming Beach Park, begin an easy hike by following the unadvertised path bordering the pristine grounds of the Ritz-Carlton. From here pick up the public access Kapalua Coastal Trail, which leads to some of the most breathtaking coastal views imaginable. Oneloa Beach and the tide pools of Hawea Point are not to be missed. Crashing waves, unbelievably blue waters, sugary white sand, and distant surfers will provide an unforgettable Maui memory.
DAY TRIP: LANA'I
West Maui offers advantageous proximity to the island of Lana'i. Once home to acres of pineapple plantations, Lana'i now concerns itself primarily with tourism, welcoming mainland, foreign, and inter-island tourists. Lana'i can best be described as a fascinatingly private place balancing small-town life and hospitality. Only approximately 3,000 people call the island home. With its unspoiled beaches, misty upper ridge, abundant wildlife, and miles of abandoned pineapple fields, it's hard not to worry that it will become overdeveloped. The 140-square-mile island was once almost entirely owned by Dole Pineapple; today it is owned by Oracle CEO Larry Ellison. Residents regard Ellison with cautious optimism as he plans to make Lana'i more self-sufficient by reintroducing farming and making civic improvements, many of which are already under way.
So, what to do when you get there? First on the list, give in to complete and total relaxation. Ferries run from Lahaina to Lana'i and are relatively inexpensive (Expeditions Ferry, 808-661-3756). You can also fly on Island Air. There are just three places to stay on Lana'i; shuttles at the ferry dock will whisk you off to your destination of choice.
Cozied up to the shimmering Hulopo'e Bay is the Four Seasons at Manele Bay (www.fourseasons.com/manelebay). Nothing is more indulgent than lying on an outdoor sofa on the edge of the property's manicured lawn, gazing out at nothing but ocean as far as the eye can see. You'll truly believe you've found paradise, which is a feeling the Four Seasons excels at delivering but is particularly prevalent on Lana'i. If you're planning a destination birthday or special event, consider a private oceanside massage at the resort's top-notch spa. For dining onsite, there are multiple restaurants including outposts of Nobu and One Forty. Shuttle service runs frequently to the Four Seasons Lodge at Ko'ele (www.fourseasons.com/koele), which resembles a regal plantation house lined with tall trees and a decidedly English feel.
For fun and exploration, we suggest taking an island tour with Rabaca's Limousine Service (808-565-6670). Their fleet of vehicles and expert drivers will show you parts of the island an average visitor might never see. The Garden of the Gods, Hawaiian petroglyphs, and the difficult terrain of Polihua Beach are best discovered with a native Hawaiian to share their knowledge. You'll drive through Lana'i City, one of the most enchanting small towns anywhere on earth with one gas station, one K-12 school, a tiny community college, and a handful of restaurants. Here you'll find the adorable 10-room Hotel Lana'i (866-971-2782), which offers an alternative to the two Four Seasons properties. During the day, you can explore the island's rustic backcountry on a fantastic horseback excursion from The Stables at Ko'ele. You can also book an underwater adventure such as 'snuba' with Trilogy Ocean Sports (808-874-5649). A safe beginner's underwater sport, snuba is a perfect fusion of snorkeling and scuba and only takes a few minutes to learn. Just ask the concierge anywhere you stay in Maui or Lana'i - there will never be a shortage of experiences to be had.
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