Like many visitors to Hawaii, Maui had become a favorite island. But, for this trip, I decided to go beyond the usual basking in the lush beauty of the beaches. My wife and I did not want to forego that glorious experience entirely, to be clear, but this time we wanted to peer below the surface of what the island offers. We wanted to immerse ourselves in the extraordinary culture that has sustained the island for centuries.
We visited upcountry, a perfect alternative to the usual beach setting. I didn’t do a lot of research about our first destination before we arrived. After an all too early flight from the mainland, by the time we reached Lumeria Maui Retreat Center I was pretty knackered. All I wanted was to find some restorative hammocks and as if by magic there they were. Under the swaying pine trees, lying in one of the hammocks with the warm healing breeze was a delight. Culture could wait a day.
The Lumeria compound was originally built in 1910 and has been extensively renovated. It remains the oldest wooden structure on the island, and it has been lovingly preserved. The fairly isolated venue caters to folks seeking alternative and experiential learning. Indeed, overnight lodgers must enroll in Lumeria’s daily classes or be part of a focused retreat group. A sampling of the activities on offer the week we stayed will give you a sense of what to expect: the gentle martial art of Qi Gong, restorative Yoga, something called Dream Journey Meditations (with someone called Sheridan), Clarity Breathwork, lots more yoga options, and the ancient, somewhat mystical healing science of Ayurveda.
Lumeria’s onsite restaurant, The Wooden Crate, serves farm-to-table meals. Our breakfast was fresh and delicious, anchored around a bracing açaí bowl. We spent an evening in the meeting room, enjoying cards and a board game surrounded by tropical island plantation style décor.
Our room, a bit less luxurious, had a modern walk-in shower and a plush poster bed. Upon arrival at Lumeria I was a bit skeptical that the “timeless spiritual energy of Hawaii permeates the property,” but I left a believer.
We came down from the hills and stayed at the Kā‘anapali Beach Hotel. Touted intriguingly as “Hawaii’s most Hawaiian hotel”, over the course of our stay we found out why. The hotel has the requisite beach front location, a fine swimming pool, an open air restaurant overseeing the water and sprawling lush green lawns.
By getting to know some of the staff, our eyes were opened to the customs and traditions of the islands.
For instance, Melako oversees the hotel’s water activities and ensures visitors are aware of the nuances of the surf that might be overlooked. He said he would be soon undertaking a Pacific Rim voyage in a traditional Polynesian vessel, which sounds precarious, to focus on helping preserve indigenous culture.
One of his colleagues gave a fascinating one hour talk on the ocean currents and the learnings from the sea that have accumulated over generations. He recognizes that a lot of learning has been lost over time, but with a calm and steady effort, he has been informing both locals and visitors about the depth and breadth of the natural and spiritual world we are all visiting on these islands. He eloquently discussed the wisdom of jumping from the western-most rocks on an island. In Maui tradition, the spirits jump from there into the next world. He often jumped there as a teenager, but having learned more of the culture he no longer does so.
Another of the many cultural lessons offered by the hotel was about mele, providing us deeper exposure into the music of Hawaii. Naturally, that included the lore around the ukulele. We learned how to strum and play a few chords. More importantly, we learned the respect expected of a student — for example one should not pick up the instrument without asking permission. I am hoping I follow through on my vow to continue lessons back on the mainland.
A staff member pointed out that the carpet design and bed coverings are based on traditional patterns reflecting hospitality and comfort. So, a bit more thought put into it than picking up some bed and floor coverings at Bed, Bath and Beyond.
The hotel’s signature restaurant is Huihui. The exceptional appetizers practically outshone the entrées. The lobster dumplings had a combination of flavors and textures that were incredible: lemon grass cream reduction, chili oil, sweet soy with micro greens. Similarly, the poke was far more complex and enjoyable than the usual cubed chunks of fish on rice. It was a blended mix of seasonal fresh ‘ōpelu (mackerel), ‘ahi (tuna), pāpa‘i (crab), tobiko (fish roe), mayo, avocado, seaweed and wasabi dressing. The clever cocktails included a smoked tequila that came with a flaming volcano presentation, adding a dusky counterpoint to the tartness of the lime juice and Hāmākua calamansi sour.
The best entree was their signature Seafood HuiHui, a bouillabaisse of several shellfish (lobster, scallops, shrimp) with seasonal vegetables in a unique milky broth. Big credit to our waiter Jaime who ensured all was well with our meal. (Hot tip: ask for table 49).
We broke up our lazy days on the beach with a tourist attraction that was better than expected, the Atlantis Adventures submarine, a passenger submarine. We had a grand time. With a capacity of 36 passengers Captain Ken and first mate Alexa kept us informed, calm and excited during a very unique excursion. For a reef purpose-built by Atlantis, the company sunk a ship offshore at a depth of nearly 100 feet. The wreck has attracted growth, and several sharks and rays that were the highlight of our voyage. Amidst all of the attractions on offer on Maui, travelers should generally cast a wary eye, but this exceeded our expectations.
The third property we stayed at, The Plantation Inn, is tucked away on a leafy side street, a block and a half from the relative hustle and bustle of Front Street in Lahaina. With only 18 rooms, the Inn provides a pleasant alternative to the mega resorts that dot the oceanfront. The old world charm has been sufficiently updated, providing a pleasant balance of rustic elegance and modern charm. It is one of the few places you will find with a 24 hour swimming pool, FYI.
It provided a perfect base of operations as we explored the town, a former whaling port. Lahaina means “cruel sun” — the area only receives about 13 inches of rain a year. Not far away in the mountains the rainfall jumps to over 400 inches annually, making Maui one of the wettest places on earth. Nonetheless, Lahaina has some of the most expensive real estate in all of Hawaii.
For our last evening on the island we had a perfectly splendid meal at Fleetwood’s on Front St. The drummer of Fleetwood Mac has a restaurant that leverages his musical fame with, happily, tremendous food and service.
Several of the hand crafted cocktails are named after his band’s songs, which is, you know, cute, but it is the food that excels. We started with fresh shucked oysters and one of the best crab cakes I’ve ever had, a simple concoction of Dungeness crab and lemon basil aioli. As entrées, the excellent herb and panko crusted mahi-mahi was accompanied by jalapeño corn purée and roasted fingerlings. The signature entrée, Mick’s Cioppino, featured local seafood, seared scallops, mussels, clams, shrimp and fennel all blended in a perfectly balanced tomato broth. Maui, as the legendary chef Mark Ellman pointed out in WONDERLUST, has some of the freshest seafood on the planet, and is the remotest inhabited place on earth — it’s a five hour plane ride to the nearest land.
Now, Mick Fleetwood didn’t eat like this growing up as a struggling blues musician in England (did any of us, really?), but in his stardom he undoubtedly kept his eye on fine cuisine. As you would expect, the music is a cut above the rest, and through the evening we were treated to the sounds of Paul West. He was able to strike a balance between classics like “Into the Mystic” with his own originals, mostly because the latter were so compelling.