WE CAN’T FIND anybody on Maui who doesn’t want to be here. Many of this island’s inhabitants have schemed long and hard to get a job on this sun-drenched isle. And now that they’re here, they’re here to stay. Hank the cabbie, who hangs out at the Kaanapali Airport, wouldn’t have it any other way. He’s from Boston. But that was 15 years ago. A lifetime ago. Now, he drives fares up and down the Honoapiilani Highway and lives by the beach.
The hotel and restaurant staffs are Hank’s kindred souls. Offer them a job in Houston or Dallas and they just smile: Thanks but no thanks. Even the humpback whales choose to spend their winters off the coast of Maui. We felt the same after only a day here-and so do 40 percent of all visitors to Hawaii.
It’s easy to see why Maui is often called the spoiled rich kid of the Hawaiian isles. Its beauty is only surpassed by the opulent accommodations and outdoor adventures that can be found in the old whaling port of Lahaina and the surrounding luxury resorts. Water excursions of every variety abound. We picked Captain Nemo’s 58-foot catamaran for a scuba/snorkel ride, and watched humpback whales play while we trolled for gamefish on our way past Molokai to Lanai. We chose to take our own underwater pictures, but a local company, Friend’s Video Fantasy, was on hand to film our oceanic experience for playback on mainland VCRs.
But for dry-land excitement, nothing compares to the Haleakala downhill bicycle excursions of Cruiser Bob. Start the morning at the top of Maui’s majestic volcano, then spend the day cruising the mountain side. It’s an exhilarating tour. You’ll end up back in Lahaina, where you can quench your thirst at any number of the town’s 28 bars-the same number it had during its whaling heyday.
KAANAPALI-The calling card of the Kaanapali Beach Resort is a 3-mile stretch of white sand that connects six luxury hotels. The Hyatt Regency Maui anchors the south end of the beach in a lush, tropical setting. The top three floors are devoted to the hotel’s Regency Club-posh accommodations for the well-heeled travelers that the resort attracts. The interior of the open-air hotel features birds of every description. The hotel even has a full-time employee to care for the exotic creatures.
Also at Kaanapali are the hotels Maui Marriott, Kaanapali Beach Hotel, Maui Surf, Royal Lahaina and Sheraton-Maui, in addition to five condominium projects. All the hotels have beach facilities.
Most agree that the hottest nightspot on the island is Spats at the Hyatt Regency Maui. At midnight on Mondays and Thursdays, passion dancers, a troupe of “street jazz” dancers, take the stage for a show of pulsating jazz-rock dance. Next door, at the Maui Marriott, the Banana Moon disco has a dance floor and wide-screen video. Night owls should check around: More than one club stays open until 4 a.m. on Maui.
But save the day for fair-weather diversions. This is truly an island to be experienced outside. The Kaanapali Resort area has 36 courts, and at the Royal Lahaina Tennis Ranch, there is day and night tennis on 11 championship, all-weather courts with nine lighted for night play. Most major hotels can rent equipment and give lessons for skin diving, scuba diving, water skiing and windsurfing. And at the Kaanapali Dau Lio Stables, budding equestrians can meander into the Maui uplands and the tropical rain forest. Sportsmen regard the fishing here as excellent, both directly offshore or aboard long- distance, deep-sea charters out of Lahaina. (The favorite catches are marlin, mahimahi, skipjack and yellowfin tuna.)
WAILEA-Called “Wimbledon West,” Stouf-fer’s Wailea Beach Resort spreads out over 15 beachfront acres, with 14 tennis courts (three are grass). Although the resort finds the grass courts hard to maintain, they make for the most enjoyable tennis. The grass slows the ball down, and there’s less glare.
The surf on this end of the island is ideal for windsurfing. But, if you’re not up to tackling the rolling waves offshore yet, windsurfing demonstrations on a dryland simulator are offered daily.
It seems to be quite routine for Stouffer’s to win the coveted Five Diamond Award for exemplary accommodations. This is their fifth award in a row. The outstanding restaurant, Raffles, is one good reason why.
Stouffer’s neighbor, Maui Inter-Continental, was the first major hotel to be built outside the Kaanapali area. It has recently gone under some renovation, although it still fills its reputation as a repost in elegant privacy.
KAPALUA-“Disappearing architecture” best describes this luxury resort on the other end of the island. With only 194 rooms built into the landscape-not on top of it-the hotel does not obscure the view of the neighboring islands of Lanai and Molokai. Its feeling of privacy is achieved by its secluded bays, the surrounding ocean vistas, 19th-century pine trees and pineapple fields. In addition to excellent golfing, another enticing feature of Kapalua is its annual wine symposium, in which wine tasters from across the country sample a multitude of wines and their culinary complements.
HANA-The long and winding road to Hana has been the subject of many a tale of adventure. But the big news here is that Dallas-based Rosewood Corp. has bought all the outstanding shares of stock of the Hana Ranch, a4,500-acre ranch with about 9,000 head of Hereford cattle. The ranch also operates the picturesque Hotel Hana-Maui, one of our favorite spots in all of Hawaii. The Dallas company plans to expand the hotel’s operation and upgrade the four-decades-old rooms. (Frankly, we like the property just the way it is. It speaks for an era long gone by, and one that we long to return to-if only for a few days.)
MAUI COUNTY-The island of Molokai is rugged, beautiful terrain with a background that is as rich in history as its harbors are with tropical fish. Its relatively small size (38 miles long, 10 miles wide) gives it the sizable advantage of being easy to know. The mostly low terrain is traversed by one main highway that a visitor may feel he owns. And this entrancing sliver of paradise is well worth knowing, from the dramatic cliffs above Makanalua peninsula to the arid hills of the Molokai Ranch. For off-beat adventure, ride the Great Molokai Mule Train down the famous Jack London Trail-three miles of winding, rocky path entrenched in lush vegetation, with 26 switchbacks and a few perilous views of the straight drop to the sea 1,500 feet below. Once down, you’ll visit the notorious village of Kalaupapa, once home to more than a thousand victims of Hansen’s Disease. The view of the Pacific from here is as hypnotically beautiful as any in the islands. And from the patio of the Sheraton Molokai resort on the other end of the island, you can see the glittering lights of Waikiki and Diamond Head some 25 miles across the Kaiwi Channel.
And despite the small tourist traffic to Lanai, we found some of the best snorkeling in Hawaii off the coast of the pineapple island. Its shoreline is dotted with underwater grottos.