For most Maui visitors, taking the road to Hana is top of the list of things to do. It takes about a two-hour drive from the resort-filled west side of this Hawaiian island to reach the sparsely populated east side Hana area. One of the popular aspects of the journey is taking the winding road along the lush, scenic east coast. With the ocean far below, the views are spectacular.
Much time is spent taking the pull-outs to the many rushing streams and plunging waterfalls flowing down the mountain sides. After reaching the old town of Hana, day-trippers usually continue on a few miles to Oheo Gulch, commonly called the Seven Sacred Waterfalls.
On the drive back, a stop in town at Hasegawa’s General Store is in order. Established in 1910, Hawaii’s oldest family-owned business is famous for its eclectic range of merchandise from novelty items to hardware. Yes, groceries can be bought here and are a mainstay for the locals. Sometimes, however, many do take the hour-plus trip to a new big box super market.
Our first time there 25 years ago, we walked from the store to see the historic Hana Hotel with its lush grounds and scenic ocean views. We vowed to return and stay. Last spring, more than two decades later, we finally went back for a three-day stay. As a result, we can definitely say this is now our favorite place on the island.
On our return, the first thing that struck us about this little country town, population 709, is that this is what Hawaii must have been like in the old days. No busy highways here, such as we left in the Wailea, Kan’anapali and Kapalua areas on the west side. Small, as it is, there are enough attractions here to keep vacationers busy with many side trips. The town and hotel’s history go way back. A boom in the sugar cane-raising industry came in the late 1800s, and Hana reached its peak in 1940 with a population of 3,500, with 15 different stores and several movie theaters.
In 1946, though, a tidal wave hit the Hana coast, killing 12 people. At that point the plantations closed down, with much of the population moving. That same year Paul Fagin, retired entrepreneur, opened the Ka-`uiki Inn (later to become Hotel Hana) in an effort to draw tourists. Over the years, the hotel went through several hands until 2001 when Passport Resorts purchased the property. Passport owns such premium properties as Post Ranch Inn in Big Sur, California, and Jean-Michel Cousteau resort in Fiji. Since that time the hotel’s fortunes have gone up. Now officially named Hotel Hana-Maui and Honua Spa, the resort has been designated by AAA as Four-Star Diamond, a luxurious vacation retreat for those who want to get away from it all into unspoiled nature-a great way to appreciate Hawaiian heritage. The resort’s lavish accommodations include spacious bungalow-style Bay Cottage Suites with patios, and plantation-style Sea Ranch Cottages, where we stayed. These cottages are modeled after the original dwellings used on the sugar cane plantations. For us, the big attraction was the wide porch, overlooking a seascape of waves crashing against a rocky shoreline-the perfect place for evening cocktails. “Ah, this is what it’s all about,” we reckoned.
Rustic but elegant is the best way to describe the cottage. Our rough-hewn wood bed was topped with fine linens and sumptuous pillows. The bedroom/living/dining area had wood floors, plantation shutters, and wall-to-wall sliding glass doors that opened onto the porch. In the dining area, a tiled counter held a coffee grinder and maker, tea kettle and a selection of fine teas and local coffee beans. We put the mini-fridge to use with some of our leftovers from the dining room.
The al fresco dining room features fresh, local seafood and meat as well as vegetables and herbs grown in the neighborhood. While dinners were excellent, a highlight was breakfast, one of the items being an omelet filled with local fern, tomatoes and onions. These curly fern added crunch and color to the eggs, as well as conversation at the table.
A big draw for the resort is the Honua Spa, the perfect place we found to luxuriate in a massage after a day of hiking and snorkeling. The spa also features steam rooms, a cold plunge, aquatic therapy, aromatherapy and a lava-rock whirlpool.
When you’re not pampering yourself in the spa or relaxing in a lounge chair around the pool, there is a lot to do in and around Hana.
A short distance away, Hamoa Beach, is a beautiful sandy stretch where the hotel provides umbrella-lounges for guests. Swimming and snorkeling, along with sun-bathing are good here. We saw a psychedelic wrasse, only the second one we’ve ever seen. Prime snorkeling, though, is at Hana Bay, a walk or short drive away. The hotel itself takes guests there by boat. There is also a lovely wide beach here, popular with locals. We liked to go in at the pier for an easy swim to where the water becomes crystal clear. Amidst the coral, a multitude of colorful fish and an occasional turtle were seemingly on display. We deemed it one of best snorkel spots on the island.
On anyone’s Hana agenda should be a visit to Waianapanapa State Park, 15-minutes north of town. At the park, the power of natural forces is on display. Sculpted from lava by water and wind are jagged cliffs, rainbow arches, spewing blow holes and eerie caves. A path leads to a black sand beach from which we saw a couple of adventurous boys swimming out to an island. After that we went south of town 20-minutes to see the impressive stair-step group of seven waterfalls at Oheo Gulch. Attracting many was the short walk up to Infinity Pool for a refreshing dip before starting back.
We drove back to Maui’s west coast where we checked into the Maui Prince Hotel at Makena Beach. This is our favorite place in the Wailea area, located at the extreme southern end of the main highway, away from the traffic.
The beach is perfect and the accommodations are first rate. Adjacent to the Prince is very long and wide Oneloa (commonly called Big Beach)-a great place for walking and shell-collecting. Another plus, where the paved road ends, there are several good spots to snorkel off the lava.
Up at the northwest corner of Maui, the popular Kapalua area is experiencing a boom of its own. The Ritz Carlton is now closed for remodeling to become bigger and better than ever. As well, with three courses, this is one of the best golfing areas on the island. Up here, we like to stay in one the 290 Kapalua Bay Villas, consisting of one, two or three-bedroom units. Some overlook the courses, others the ocean. One thing, it is always peaceful here, the weather comfortable and the sunsets great.