By OCInSite Site Admin | August 30, 2012 3:07 PM
By Judy Tsuei
What makes Maui truly beautiful is more than the breathtaking beaches and lush landscapes—much can be attributed to the welcoming aloha spirit within residents who open their homes as bed and breakfasts to tourists from all over the globe. Rather than staying in chain hotels or vacation home rentals, my beau and I decide to explore Maui on a subtler and deeper level, choosing to stay with the people who live, work and breathe Hawaii. Within the subtext of the tried and true tourist “must-sees,” we discover an island that has us also wanting to call this place “home.”
We arrive at Kahului Airport, rent a silver car that happily transports the surfboards we’ve lugged from California, and begin to drive away from the ocean—the opposite direction of where most tourists immediately head upon arriving. Instead, we’re motoring towards Upcountry Maui, a quieter region known for its intimate towns, such as Makawao, Haiku, and Paia. Widely regarded as “hippie-ish” and “granola-y,” these distinctive enclaves give us a unique sense of island living, namely one that is rooted in a way of respecting the old while bringing it into the new.
Check-in isn’t for a few more hours, so we park our car on the mainstreet of Makawao—Bower Avenue—and realize the entire downtown can be traversed in one leisurely afternoon stroll. Yoga studios, acupuncturists, herbalists, natural markets and artisanal crafts cluster in cozy proximity to one another, and faces are friendly, especially at Maui Master Jewelers, where John Eckhart engages us in intriguing “talk stories” about ancient cultures around the world. The talk story is how folks on Maui like to refer to genuine conversations and sharing of life experiences. John exemplifies by taking us through intriguing descriptions of the exquisite jewelry showcased in his sparkling shop.
We’re especially drawn to an artifact of a whale bone in the back corner of the store. “There are only seven of these known to be in existence around the world,” John explains, excitement dancing in his eyes as he tells us how these were once used as protective and emblematic medallions for native South Pacific cultures. “I specifically choose artists who preserve their cultural traditions and make it relevant to today’s times, people who put an interesting spin on bringing the past into present.”
The ethos of Maui Master Jewelers becomes a focal point throughout our trip, where history and modernity continually intertwine in diverse and intricate ways. And, when we say “aloha” to John an hour later, we’ve already developed a more intimate understanding of what makes Maui memorable.
A short while later, we arrive at Hale Ho’omana Spa, owned by Jeana Naluai and her husband Justin Tarfuri. Located on the slopes of Mount Haleakala where roosters roam free, the spa is designed to be a cozy retreat center specializing in Hawaiian healing therapies and spa services. “ho’omana” means to be empowered, which is exactly what Jeana and her sweet staff aim to do, by offering services that not only bring you to a state of true bliss and well-being, but also by becoming an education center for people to learn how to truly live healthy from the inside out.
For real aloha spirit and a tenderly sweet retreat in the quietness of Upcountry, Hale Ho’omana is the place to go. Our next-day couples Lomi Lomi massage is soothing, yet even more delightful is the time I spend chatting with Jeana one-on-one. The handcrafted, locally-produced products she creates are inspired by intuitive understandings she has learned from ancient healers.
“All that my auntie was doing, I’m still doing. I took her formulas, mixed it with Western herbs, and put it in a mist hydrosol. The delivery is different, but the energy is the same,” Jeana says with an ebullient joy and deep appreciation for her culture.
As we chat in the high-roofed spa treatment room, she tells me of how Hale Ho’omana came to be and why it was so important to her that the spa offerings are rooted in an honoring of what Hawaii is all about, such as guided tours to Maui’s sacred sites for interested guests.
“I couldn’t breathe when I came into this room. I saw myself here; I saw it all. Halfway through building Hale Ho’oamana, we ran out of money, so we held these Kapuna conferences,” Jeana re-tells in a way that shows how challenges can truly become blessings. “‘Kapuna’ means elder, and they would come and speak about a lot of different things—Ho’oponoponopono (an ancient Hawaiian forgiveness technique), how to perpetuate Hawaiian culture, a lot of healing talks. The community came in to listen and learn. From there, we took half the profits and gave it to the elders, while the rest went into building this place. After we were done, we started doing workshops and Lomi Lomi massage trainings to continue to cultivate our culture. Now, we have a Lomi Lomi apprenticeship program that doesn’t exist anywhere else on the island!”
The next day, I wake up early before sunrise and nudge my beau, who chooses to sleep until daylight actually does appear, so I visit Makawao Yoga for an invigorating morning class. With a renewed sense of body and mind, I walk into the local grocery store where they readily blend fresh fruit smoothies and wheatgrass shots. It’s easy to be healthy on vacation in Upcountry, but because I believe in balancing everything with indulgence, I pick up a couple of warm traditional Spam musubi treats and make my way back to my beau for the rest of the day’s adventures.
We spend the day in Paia, strolling through shops imbued with a surfer vibe. We move in and out of air conditioning until hunger strikes at an opportune moment as we’re already near the well-known Paia Fish Market. Fresh seafood and savory smiles abound all around, and we eat at picnic tables with elbows bumping into our neighbors from places afar.
To burn off a few calories, we continue strolling through Paia after lunch and suddenly discover the unassuming and absolutely wonderful, Maui Dharma Center. The small and simple sign out front reveals that when the Dalai Lama visited Maui in 2007, this is where he came. The tiny temple features a Tibetan prayer wheel that you can spin as you walk around the murals of deities painted on the walls. And, while the gift shop has sporadic hours, we happen to arrive just a short while before it opens. Touching knick-knacks here and there, we find a Tibetan singing bowl that causes the volunteer shopkeeper to tear up when we start to play it. “There have been so many prayers that have gone into that bowl,” she says with a gentle smile. “You can hear how special it is.”
The volunteer also informs us that meditations happen twice a week, at sunup and sundown. Excitedly, we return a few days later before dawn, only to find that things in Maui happen on island time, or don’t happen at all if the surf is good. “Island time” is a phenomenon that is both perplexing and enjoyable all at once. Even though my beau and I like to do many active things, we quickly find that the more you try to plan in Maui, the more disappointed you’ll be by the fact that things will often happen on entirely different flow than the original schedule you had in mind.
The next day, we head up to Hana and stop along the side of the road to check the surf. By the time we get back into the car, we find we have a flat tire and though we call the only mechanic in town, who tells us to put on a spare and come to his shop, by the time we get there, he’s gone.
“I thought you weren’t going to show up!” he tells my beau on the phone. We shrug rather than get frustrated, and while we never do make it all the way through on the Road to Hana, we do find ourselves back at the airport to swap out our rental car. It’s things like this that can either put a kink in your day, or perhaps re-route you onto an adventure that you may not have discovered otherwise. If we didn’t have to call it quits early because of our flat, we wouldn’t have found a secret waterfall hike in the midst of warm rainfall, which proved to be my favorite experience of the entire trip.
All along the way to Hana, there are plenty of signs demarcating the starting point of various types of hikes. We decide that not following a guidebook might serve us well, so we simply stop the car at an opening that looks inviting. With the water coming down from up top, the green around us seems to grow even more lush and the more we walk, the more quiet that surrounds us. Up, down and all around, we bob and weave on what appears to be a foot-path, until we reach a point where we can hear water cascading down in greater volume. And there it is, a gorgeous waterfall, a feature of nature that seems to always inspire a moment of solitary gratitude.
On our second to last day in Upcountry, we venture over to Haiku. We’re lucky that Windward Garden B&B is hidden in a location that’s actually central to quite a few local wonders, including Maya Yoga Studio where well-known teachers regularly come to instruct. Ho’okipa Beach Park is also nearby, home to world-class windsurfing, kite sailing and surfing. Owned by Susan and Chris Gebb, Windward is an ideal place to call home, even if only for a few days.
The Gebbs are unbelievably friendly and knowledgeable, and the more you chat with them, the more you realize that they’ve been in Maui long before it was fashionable to be there. Self proclaimed former hippies, these two spent their younger years working on a boat catering to David Crosby (of Crosby, Stills & Nash), living on the floor of a grocery store while making their way from the east coast to paradise, and a number of other stories that one can only smile vicariously through.
The Gebbs loving attentiveness to making their dream come true is apparent in every detail of Windward Garden, having built a property where every nook and cranny is meant to be enjoyed. Everything from the rooms named after their sons to the private recently completed honeymoon detached home, demonstrate that they are a family-business valuing what’s really important in life. And, Susan creates breakfasts as delicately simple as they are superb.
From the inside out, Windward is an architectural gem. All of the landscaping features the fruits of decades of loving labor. Everything is designed to be as green as possible to honor the local land, including hosting a generator on-site, which is why you’re warned not to use a hairdryer as it requires too much power. Plus, doesn’t everyone look better au naturale in Maui anyway?
That night, we go to dinner at Colleen’s at the Cannery amidst a quick unexpected tropical thunderstorm. When first walking into this desolate strip mall, we wonder if we’ve made the wrong choice, but once through the front door of the restaurant, it’s as though we’ve been transported to a quaint little neighborhood in any favorite metropolitan city, the kind of restaurant you know you want to be at. The menu infuses traditional American fare with island flavor with an impressive beverage list to match.
We spend a few more days relaxing on our balcony with palm fronds swaying hello, and be sure to get in a local fix of loco moco—a rice/hamburger patty/egg/gravy dish that may sound like a mess of flavors—which it is. At North Shore Cafe, across the way from Colleen’s, hidden behind what looks like a single tower of a power plant, is the most amazing and unassuming food shack of sweet and savory foods to be found. To complement our loco moco, we order fluffy pancakes that come with a melting macadamia nut sauce that goes down wonderfully with a bit of local java.
Our last night in Upcountry is spent at the Paia Inn, perfect for folks seeking a trendier place to stay that still has a local vibe. Designed to be a boutique hotel with private access to the ocean, rooms can come in bungalow type houses with everything from free wireless to flat screen TVs. The Paia Inn is genuinely in the heart of everything Upcountry and pleases those with discerning tastes, but not in a fussy or stuffy kind of way. Restaurants hug the Inn on left, right and front, while the back is a gorgeous sandy wonderland just for guests.
We decide it’s time to head towards where everyone else tends to go and find ourselves in Kihei. Luckily, we’re able to escape the tourist centers with the bits of local advice from Eva Tantillo, who owns What A Wonderful World B&B with her husband, Jim. Eva has a personality just right for making people feel welcome, and when she says to not hesitate in calling her for anything, she means it. Based on her advice, we hike to La Perouse Bay, along lava rock that the ancient elders used to walk on for miles upon miles. Barefoot.
We have no idea how this is even possible, because in our rugged thickly padded hiking boots, we still feel like ankles are turning and feet are hurting. I love things that carry with it history and meaning, which is why the two of us are walking along an incredibly long path of reddish burnt-colored sharp remnants of previous volcanic eruptions. It’s hot, and our sunblock is melting, but it’s also beautiful and an experience unlike any other. We go for miles, passing by abandoned heiaus (temples) and outcroppings of isolated beaches. We are at the southernmost tip of the island. To our left are lush mountains, to our right the cerulean sea, and all above us is the feeling that we are walking along a path from generations past that we would not have known about unless it was suggested by someone who understands the island.
The next day, we hike through Waihee Mountain Ridge Hike, another recommendation from Eva. This proves to be my beau’s favorite outdoor adventure during the trip, where we arrive at the top with a 360-degree view of Maui. It’s not an arduous hike, but it is one that takes you up a few inclines, and when we’re through, we celebrate with ahi poke purchased from the local grocery store chain Food Land, and placed in our cooler along with a bit of seaweed salad and Hawaiian beers. A few tourists pass by us and ask how the hike was. We exude its virtues.
“Is it hard?” they ask. My beau and I look at one another. “Not really, just bring some water. There are plenty of places to take breaks and enjoy the view.”
While we’re eating our late lunch, we see the group who asked us questions come back down 15 minutes later. We assume they’ve changed their minds. That’s the beautiful thing about Maui— there’s definitely something for everyone, whether you want to relax, be active, enjoy the ocean, or eat. And, when you’re staying at bed and breakfasts throughout the island, you get recommendations that may have taken you years to discover.
Bed and breakfasts afford an opportunity to get to know travelers from other destinations, so perhaps a seed gets planted for your next vacation. The best part about staying “local” is that you can continue to see the world through a personalized view and create friendships that you can also bring with you for the trip home.