- The Washington Times - Saturday, January 5, 2008

HANA, Maui, Hawaii — Along the fabled Hana Highway, we descend into the mists of a tropical valley of lush rain forest, passion-fruit tress and bamboo as the narrow two-lane road winnows down to an aging concrete one-lane bridge over a rushing stream beneath a thundering waterfall. This is the Road to Hana, 54 miles of switchback and hairpin turns to the central east coast of Maui.

There are dozens of these one-lane bridges between Paia and Hana, 54 to be exact, and a similar number of valleys and gulches that are pristine reminders of the Hawaii of a century ago. Usually it is a three-hour drive, but we are making haste — as much as we can — as the sun is falling and tropical twilight descending.

Maui is an island that has been developed and despoiled with vigorous splendor in other parts, but we are heading to Hana, a bastion of unspoiled beauty, a lost horizon, a true Shangri-La, literally at the end of the road.

It is dark when we arrive at Hotel Hana-Maui, 66 acres of retreat from the perils of mankind. We are taken by golf cart to our Sea Ranch Cabin. In the blackness, the ocean is pounding, and the sky is filled with a multitude of stars in a brilliant Milky Way so clear it seems near enough to touch.

We are tired, but hungry, so we walk across the lawns to the Paniolo Lounge, the hotel bar, for a light meal. A trio and a hula dancer are performing for a roomful of happy guests. A kalua pork sandwich and a Kobe beef burger are fantastic with a couple ice-cold beers. We return to our oceanside bungalow and drift into a slumber of the gods as the pounding surf wills us into serenity.

Welcome to Hana — Hawaii as it should be, an isolated beacon of what life is meant to be. We rise with the sun to a world of tranquil emerald rolling lawns, the crystal-blue roiling sea, a scene even more astounding than it sounded in the darkness. This is paradise.

Hotel Hana-Maui has 69 units, including 47 Sea Ranch Cottages done in plantation style. The hotel is owned by Passport Resorts, which also owns the Post Ranch Inn in Big Sur, Calif. Hotel Hana-Maui is a relaxed outpost of luxury reflecting the spirit of its origins and the charm of its unique location. Hana is not just a separate end of the island of Maui, it occupies its own time and space.

Our bungalow is, in a word, enormous, with a sumptuous platform bed, 15-foot chalet-style ceilings, a large comfortable sitting area, a large bathroom with sunken bath and separate shower, and a spacious back deck with built-in private hot tub overlooking a sprawling field of grass and the Pacific Ocean. A beautiful swimming pool sits at the apex of a rolling lawn, and with two wellness centers, the full-service Honua Spa, two restaurants, shops and the sublime location, Hotel Hana-Maui is a fabulous resort. Guests feel the charm of an island apart — the rooms have no television — suspended in a vision of a Hawaii from the past that still exists, wondrously, all around.

After an early breakfast, we set off 10 miles even farther down the road to exotic Kipahulu. We are going to the Pools of Oheo, a series of ponds connected by waterfalls leading up a jungle trail to the majestic Waimoku Falls. Along the way, we pass over another dozen or so one-lane bridges, past stunning open ranchland, several roadside waterfalls and a parade of secluded homes.

Hana began as a sugar plantation in the 1800s, became a massive cattle ranch with the founding of Hana Ranch by Paul Fagan in the 1940s, attracted a number of hippies and those seeking an alternative lifestyle in the ‘60s and ever since, and over the years has attracted any number of celebrities seeking to really get away from it all.

One of its most celebrated residents was Charles Lindbergh, the famed aviator, but George Harrison, Jim Nabors, Woody Harrelson and numerous others have called Hana and the surrounding area home. In the midst of this is a thriving community of Hawaiian descent that is the dominant cultural milieu into which the hippies and the celebrated integrated. Today, close to 3,500 people call Hana home.

We park at the base of Haleakala National Park and begin our ascent to Waimoku Falls, two miles up a steep trail that is well-marked, well-traveled and still quite an effort. Halfway up, a series of stunning waterfalls cascade into what until recently was called Seven Sacred Pools. Across two wooden bridges we reach a bamboo forest, and for half a mile or more, we are deeply covered in towering bamboo, the wind wildly bringing the tops together.

Emerging from the sun-dappled blackness, we find ourselves along the banks of a highland stream with mossy rocks that serve as steps up a steep hillside. Then it’s twice across the glistening brook, leaping rock to rock, and up a trail, and then our destination emerges: Waimoku Falls. A torrent of water cascades hundreds of feet down a sheer cliff face from a tiny crevice in the rocks above and into a shallow pool.

A constant mist fills the air as the stunning waterfall makes the trek not just worthwhile but spectacular. The approach goes right up to the falls, where hikers can crane their necks to see the top. This wonder is an icon in our vision or sense of Hawaii. We linger a while as one triumphant hiker after another arrives, each wearing a beatific smile.

Back in the car, we go on to the very end of the road, to Kipahulu. Throughout the trip, we have been listening to the Pure Slack Key guitar genius of Mountain Apple recording artist Jeff Peterson, whose dulcet tones complement the surrounding countryside.

We stop at Laulima Farms, 13 acres of organic produce that supplies a good deal of the food served at Hotel Hana-Maui. There, at a roadside stand, we have a fresh salad, coffee and a smoothie blended by bicycle power.

The surrounding fields overflow with exotic lettuces, arugula, papaya, star fruit and guava. Our smoothie is the smoothest ever.

Just around the corner from Laulima Farms is Palapala Hoomau Church, founded in 1846 and the final resting place of Mr. Lindbergh. It is widely believed that he escaped to Hana to avoid the American press and notoriety.

The truth is he came to Hana because of his close friend, Sam Pryor, a principal executive of Pan American Airways, who bought a large estate in Kipahulu in the late 1940s, after World War II. Mr. Lindbergh was enthralled with Hana and Kipahulu, and Mr. Pryor sold him five acres of his estate in the 1960s.

Mr. Pryor was quite a character himself, rich, well-bred and with a collection of pet gibbons that were his constant companions. His nephew Leokane Pryor is a concierge at Hotel Hana-Maui.

In 1974, when Mr. Lindbergh was dying of cancer, he returned from treatment in New York to die in Hana. He and Mr. Pryor are buried yards apart in simple graves in the courtyard of Palapala Hoomau Church, near Mr. Pryor’s five gibbons.

The church itself is a lovely, old, somewhat small lava-rock structure with a stirring signature, a stained-glass Hawaiian Jesus.

We return up the road from Kipahulu to Hana. It is impossible to overstate just how remarkably beautiful this stretch of highway is, how infinitely spiritual. The only parallel I can think of is Big Sur; it’s as remote, as spectacular.

Pristine fields and scenery glide by in immeasurably brilliant colors, a pastiche of sea and land, jungle and stream, waterfall and azure sky.

We stop at the Arabella Ark gallery of Gail Bakutis, up a private driveway, where she creates ceramic art with an Oriental air. Arabella, as she prefers to be called, is symbolic of many who have transplanted their lives to Hana, following their muse and passion as they integrate themselves into the community. Her work is fiery, inspired by raku, oxidation and reduction methods of ceramic art, but it captures the spirit of her personality and independence in its clarity of design and brilliant glaze work.

Approaching the hotel, we stop at Homoa Beach — novelist James Michener called it one of the most beautiful crescent beaches in Hawaii — and watch locals surf the outside break.

Dinner is in Kauiki, the signature restaurant in the hotel, where chef John Cox creates a new menu each day based on the fresh catch of the local fishermenand meats and organic produce from surrounding farms.

Chicken with a miso glaze and black rice is outstanding, and lilikoi-glazed snapper on purple sweet potatoes is phenomenal. Set in an open-air space with views of Hana Bay, Kauiki is a triumph of local cuisine and the talent of a master chef at home in his culinary environment.

At dawn, we go horseback riding along the coast. Jolynn Piimauna, a third-generation horsewoman and wrangler, takes us for a spectacular ride through the open fields of Hana Ranch along the pristine coastline. We cross hundreds of acres of grassland while thunderous waves pound the shore. Miss Piimauna loves country music, cattle roping and Hana, not in that order. She exemplifies part of the spirit of Hana, a large extended family, a true ohana, with deep roots in Hawaiian culture.

Back at the hotel, Stephen Sinenci takes us on a personal tour of Hana, which he conducts for hotel guests, that is as intimate as his family history. Mr. Sinenci knows everyone in Hana by name (and the names of their pets, as well). For three hours, he shows us secret corners of the town, from black-sand beaches to lush gardens to thundering private coves along the rocky coast.

Then it is time for a couples massage. The Honua Spa is a full-service wonderland of personal indulgence. We are rendered helpless under the masterful hands and body manipulations of master therapists. A steam, a plunge and a shower later, we retire for the afternoon to relax in limp splendor in our bungalow by the sea.

Toward sunset, we head for the Hana Ranch Restaurant, an institution in Hana for years, for dinner. This down-to-earth steakhouse, across the street from the hotel, has an earthy charm. Tako poke (spicy octopus) with kimchi and Maui onion is a delightful starter. New York strip loin with a large scoop of steamed rice is out of this world, tender and succulent. A duo of Hawaiian musicians keep the crowd enthralled with pitch-perfect harmonies, and in the middle of it all, a local man in the audience joins the band by performing an intricate and very masculine hula.

The ocean still pounds outside our bungalow. Tomorrow we will make the trek back down the twisting highway away from Hana, back to civilization, leaving Shangri-La behind. Hana, though, is no Lost Horizon. It is right there, over the horizon, waiting to be discovered, embraced, savored and treasured with all the joy that comes from finding that special place at the end of the road that truly feels like home.

•••

AAA’sVia magazine advises traveling the Road to Hana in early morning to beat the crowds. Via also advises starting out with a full tank of gas, guidebook, mosquito repellent, lunch, and beachwear. Call 808/579-8276 to check on any road repairs that may impede travel.

ATA Airlines (www.ata.com or 800/435-9282) offers connecting service from Washington to Kahului, Maui, as well as to Honolulu; Lihue on Kauai; and Kona and Hilo on Hawaii, the Big Island. This no-frills airline is filling the gap in trans-Pacific flights to Hawaii with excellent service and comprehensive schedules.

Hotel Hana-Maui: www.hotelhanamaui.com; 800/321-4262

Kauiki Restaurant, 808/248-8211

Hana Ranch Restaurant 808/270-5280

Arabella Ark Gallery, www.arkceramics.net; 808/248-4890

Jeff Peterson, Pure Slack Key, Mountain Apple Co., www.mountainapplecompany.com or 808/597-1888

Haleakala National Park, www.haleakala.national-park.com

Laulima Farms, 808/248-8320

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