Love is in the air. It is in the perfumed breeze that hints of tuberose, orchid and exotic island flowers. It is in the ocean that laps at the shore, where the pristine sand is disturbed only by the occasional tracks of birds. It is in the breathtaking orange and magenta sunset that sinks quickly into the sea to make way for a full moon that hangs above the tops of towering palm trees. It is in the undersea world of brightly coloured fish and ancient coral reefs. It lives here, in Maui, the Magic Island.
I came to Maui expecting a pleasant vacation, a respite from the snow, sleet and freezing rain of winter. The magnificent Westin Maui Resort & Spa is set right on the ocean. At sunrise, while sipping my coffee on the balcony of my room, I survey the view and plan my morning. To get to the beach, I stroll through the resort’s tropical gardens and the 87,000 ft aquatic playground with five free-form pools, pause to admire the flamingos, stop at Ono, the outdoor restaurant, for breakfast, and then, there it is. Azure-blue ocean and a pristine beach. I can walk for miles and return to my beach lounge to gaze out to where sea and sky meet, sip a frosty drink and view the yachts and sailboats that dot the skyline.
The hotel is abuzz with hula classes and lei instruction. Maybe later, I will take the Kaanapali Historical Trail & History Legends Tour conducted by Ka’anapalis Na Kumu Modelo – Keepers of the Stories.
Enough activity, I figure, for a person bent on doing nothing. But the enthusiasm of the concierge staff is contagious and I’m told that I could fill my days with the kind of sights and sounds geared to create a lifetime of memories.
If I wanted a break from lying on the beach, I could think about exploring the natural beauty of rainforests, waterfalls, Hana and Kahakuloa Village. I could leave the Mai Tais behind and enjoy a helicopter ride through a bright blue cloudless sky, go horseback riding, hiking, kayaking, or spend the night in the Haleakala Crater with a personal tour and a private chef.
Whale-watching is an intriguing sight. From mid-December through mid-August, Humpback Whales enjoy these warm waters for the same reason most tourists come to Maui, to escape their frigid homes.
Mark Twain once wrote that Hawaii is “The loveliest fleet of islands that lies anchored in any ocean.” Exploring the underwater aquatic world, with its incredible variety of vibrant fish, turtles and eels that freely roam the coral reefs, is a thrilling adventure.
On any perfect day in this paradise, nothing beats cruising around a tropical island on a luxurious boat, dining on delectable food and drink. Cruise lines and boating operators offer every kind of sea excursion – short, long, day, night, lively, quiet, public or private. It’s easy to indulge in a relaxing day of boating, or slip into something special and sail the night away with the island as your backdrop. This is about as romantic as it gets, according to the hotel’s Director of Romance. She helps plan weddings and is creative in arranging for everything that can aid and abet affairs of the heart.
Patience is not one of my virtues, but if it’s yours, you can go fishing, even while standing on the shore. Or take a day excursion and be prepared to catch the likes of mahi-mahi, marlin, tuna and Wahoo. And bring your camera.Described as a golf nirvana,The Kapalua Resort, just a half hour drive from the Westin, is home to two of the finest golf courses in Hawaii. Set against the lush tropical background of the island, you can retrace the steps of the world’s best golfers by playing a round on The Plantation, the perennial host of the PGA Tour’s season opening Mercedes-Benz Championship and The Bay Course, which will welcome the LPGA for the Kapalua LPGA Classic. But man cannot live by golf alone, and one of the island’s best restaurants, Pineapple Grill, is right on the property.
Languid ceiling fans and a casual ambience welcomes guests, whose main purpose is a great meal after a day on the links. Modern pacific island cuisine influenced by Hawaiian, Thai, Tahitian, Filipino and the traditional cultural dishes of other islands are much in evidence in this exotic, fascinating menu. To a Torontonian, locally caught fish like monchong, a flat round fish that swims vertically, ono, a predator fish, prepared with crushed candied peanuts, and pistachio-wasabi crusted rare tuna with the texture of silk, are unusual dishes indeed.
If there exists any stress in this articulate kitchen, it does not make its way into the dining room. One can relax and over-indulge in a dessert of Maui gold pineapple upside down cake with macadamia nut ice cream and toasted coconut. If there is magic in Maui it is certainly enhanced by its cuisine.
While days can be filled with outdoor adventure, the ultimate nighttime drama is Wailele, the Polynesian Luau, a multi-course feast with traditional dishes. As the sun sets, torches are lit, the drumbeats begin, and vibrant dancers perform fire-knife vignettes and ancient dances depicting the basics of life, love and war.
Nothing embodies relaxation more than time at the Heavenly Spa. I spend my last afternoon in this hushed section of the Westin. The Island Lavender Body Butter Treatment and the Helani Tropical Indulgence are two of the spa’s luxurious services that include Maui-grown lavender.The dining out scene in Maui is special, exciting yet at the same time, very laid back. For decades, The Lahaina Grill has received a parade of awards, including Maui’s Best Restaurant. Innovative new American cuisine uses the freshest ingredients from local farms and dairies. It embodies the spirit of aloha by delivering impeccable food and service within a casual bistro setting. From the sea, three petite lobster, shrimp and ahi cakes and crispy Shanghai spring rolls. Mahi-mahi is sautéed with Gorgonzola and pancetta. And from the land, Kona coffee roasted rack of lamb and Snake River Farms Kobe steak.
A signature sampler of desserts that include Hawaiian vintage chocolate cake; chocolate sour cream mousse and macadamia nut caramel, and Oreo-crusted Kona coffee ice cream pie. This last dinner of my vacation sends me on my way to the airport fulfilled by the luscious cuisine of this special island. The perfect ending to a perfect vacation.
Sara Waxman is an award-winning restaurant critic, best-selling cookbook author, food and travel journalist and has eaten her way through much of the free world for four decades, while writing about it in books, newspapers and magazines. She is the Editor in Chief of DINE and Destinations magazine.