The island of Maui is truly one of the most beautiful and restorative places in the United States, if not the world, with its luxury resorts and retreat centers, amazing food, a plethora of activities to bring you back to center, and --best of all--the Aloha spirit of the native Hawaiian people that says all are welcome. Here are suggestions for the best ways to enjoy all that Maui has to offer.
WHERE TO STAY
If you’re looking for a vacation resort, you cannot beat The Fairmont Kei Lani in beautiful Wailea, Maui or The Ritz-Carlton in Kapalua. Both resorts have made it a priority for guests to experience authentic Hawaiian culture, and they take pride in incorporating that culture and history throughout their resorts. If you want a non-traditional vacation experience, however, Lumeria Maui Retreat Center is the place to be.
The Fairmont Kea Lani: When you walk into The Fairmont Kea Lani on Wailea, it will seem like some kind god dropped a palace in the middle of paradise and invited you in. Sure, there are many luxury resorts on the strip of ocean Wailea sits on, but The Fairmont surpasses them all. Aside from the beauty of the open-air, hacienda-style architecture, designed by Mexican architect Jose Luis Ezquerra, with Mediterranean and Middle Eastern influences, you still feel a distinct Hawaiian spirit as you walk the ocean-side resort grounds and swim in one of its three pools. Hawaiian history and culture are infused into every part of the experience at The Fairmont, from the fine and casual dining and the art on the walls to the spa and activities it offers guests, like canoeing, before which you'll witness a Hawaiian blessing of your trip before departing and learn the Hawaiian words for stop and go, as well as the wildlife you'll see on your journey, like honu (turtles). The family-friendly, all-suite and villa resort will give you ample time to relax in luxury while learning about the beautiful and storied history of Maui and the Hawaiian islands.
Read more about my experience at The Fairmont here.
The Ritz-Carlton: The name and brand are internationally synonymous with luxury and great service, and the Ritz-Carlton at Kapalua more than lives up to that reputation with its ocean views, multiple pools, fine dining opportunities, spa and club-level rooms. These are not what make this Ritz-Carlton special, however. Under the direction of The Ritz's cultural advisor Clifford Naeole, the resort has become a part of the Hawaiian community, hosting an annual Celebration of the Arts, where the history and culture of native Hawaiians. When the resort was first being constructed more than twenty years ago, The Ritz became the first hotel to move its prime oceanfront location out of respect to protesting native Hawaiians and the burial ground that existed there, and as a result, the Ritz set precedent across Hawai'i that businesses could no longer build on sacred sites.
It is because of that deference and continued showing of respect, inclusion and immersion in Hawaiian culture that the Ritz has become a place where native Hawaiian history, language and cultural arts are heralded and supported, whether during the annual Celebration or any day, when guests can participate in cultural and environmental activities like and ceremonies, like the sunrise spiritual purification ceremony Hiuwai led by Naeole on the beach. Guests have many opportunities to leave The Ritz-Carlton not only restored, well-fed and well-served but also with a greater respect and a new appreciation for nature and the spirit that dwells in all living things, and a better understanding of the history of Hawai'i and its people.
Stay tuned for more about my transformative experience at The Ritz-Carlton, Kapalua.
Lumeria Maui: There is no greater escape from the traditional vacation experience than the unique and restorative stay you'll have at Lumeria Maui retreat center. With 24 rooms of various designs, a Sanctuary for reading by the fireplace, meditating, chanting or socializing with other guests, a hot tub and pool, yoga studio and restaurant, Lumeria Maui offers you a chance to get zen in a spiritual, garden paradise where all are welcome. While there, I enjoyed a three-course farm-to-table dinner made with ingredients from Lumeria Maui's garden and a healthy, organic breakfast buffet, along with a renewing, 1.5-hour yoga session and on-my-own deep meditations. If you're looking to get back to nature, reconnect with God and deepen your spiritual life in a quiet, affirming and alluring space, Lumeria Maui is the place for you.
WHAT TO DO
Haleakala Crater at sunrise. You’ll have to get up early in the morning to watch the sun rise at the top of Haleakala Crater, a 10,000 foot high mountain and hallowed ground for native Hawaiians—but the trip is well-worth the effort. I was fortunate enough to travel there with Kamaka Kukona, an award-winning vocalist and hula performer with Kumu Hula, and cultural specialist who, after the massive sunrise crowd dispersed, performed in the stillness a beautiful chant for the rising of the sun, E Kane Holani E, which remarks on the power and revitalizing impact of the sun. The experience was so amazing that I made the trek to the top again a few days later so that my best friend could witness it.
Though she wouldn’t get up in time for sunrise, Haleakala Crater during our early afternoon visit was just as majestic as it is at first light, but in a remarkably different way. In the fullness of the sun, it looks like a completely different place; where the early morning gives you a sense of renewal and excitement and rebirth, the early afternoon view is like experiencing the manifestation of your most incredible dreams. You’ll have to pinch yourself to be sure that what you’re viewing actually exists before you, in real life. Whether you’re an early riser or not, both experiences are surreal and worth it.
Iao Valley State Park Second only to Haleakala, as far as mountainous spots of natural beauty on Maui goes, is Iao Valley State Park. Where Haleakala is an incredible canvas of red and brown rocks, blue skies and white clouds, Iao Valley is a lush, green mountain range with a rocky stream running through it. Hike up to the look-out point and take pictures with Iao Needle as a backdrop, or hike down off-trail into the valley and have a picnic by the stream. With an Iao Valley museum nearby, you can spend the whole day learning about the significance of this sacred valley to native Hawaiians. But what I did after my hours of hiking was to sit in a field overlooking the park and sing, “How Great Thou Art”. When you witness such divinity, when it’s blooming all around you, what else can you do?
Surfing Goat Dairy Farm Tour. Though I’ve always loved cheese, goat cheese was never a favorite—until now. Surfing Goat Dairy’s fresh cracked pepper goat cheese (named the “Ivory Coast”) made me a believer. Besides being healthier than cow’s milk cheese, Surfing Goat Dairy’s award-winning, melt-in-your-mouth cheeses are incredibly good. My favorites are Rolling Green, Men’s Challenge, Olé!, and Garden Fantasia. But Ivory Coast just might change your life. Luckily for me, The Fairmont Kea Lani sold many of the cheese right in the hotel’s cafeteria—perfect for my late-night cravings—and many of the local restaurants incorporate Surfing Goat Dairy cheeses into their meals. Local businesses supporting each other: now that’s the Aloha spirit!
Ocean Vodka Distillery Tour Right next door to the Surfing Goat Dairy Farm is the organic Ocean Vodka Distillery, where you’ll get to sample what Ocean Vodka calls “the purest water in the world.” This pH-balanced water, along with sugar cane, is distilled continuously to make the smoothest vodka you’ll ever have the pleasure of drinking. Take a tour of the distillery and the beautiful sugar cane plantation with an awesome, Upcountry view of the ocean and the Maui sunset and top the experience off with a sample shot of Ocean Vodka that will slip down your throat with no bite at all. Best of all, the organic vodka distillery uses eco-friendly, sustainable products and practices and makes their bottles from recycled glass, guaranteeing you'll have the most guilt-free vodka experience you've ever had!
If that’s not magical enough, Ocean Vodka and Surfing Goat Dairy have teamed up to make goat milk chocolates flavored with Ocean Vodka martini recipes, like lychee and strawberry basil lemonade, which you can sample after your tour. Many of the local restaurants use Ocean Vodka as their official vodka as does Hawaiian Airlines. If you’re lucky enough to be flying Hawaiian Airlines, you’ll be able to sip and savor Ocean Vodka all the way back home.
Ali'i Kula Lavender Farm: While you’re in Upcountry, you must visit the beautiful Lavender Farm. With panoramic views of rolling hills and the ocean in the distance, Lavender Farm has become a go-to destination for everything from intimate weddings to a momentary get-away. I spent twenty minutes sitting in the garden doing a guided meditation on stilling and quieting my soul. With such a perfectly peaceful backdrop, I set a personal record for how fast I could turn myself over to quietness and allow myself to be enveloped by pure beauty. But with all of that stillness, I worked up quite the appetite, and enjoyed some fresh scones with Ali'i's unbelievably delicious lavender jelly and washed it all down with their signature lavender lemonade. Beauty, peace and good eats equals an afternoon well spent.
Stand-Up Paddle Boarding with Hawaiian Paddle Sports: There are many companies that offer paddle boarding lessons, but Hawaiian Paddle Sports not only has highly skilled and knowledgeable guides, but also emails its patrons the epic pictures from your time paddle boarding around the reefs off the coast of Oluwalu Beach. Whether it’s your first time like it was for me or your fiftieth, you’ll love the full-body workout you’ll get, along with the fish and sea turtles you'll spot in the clear water. If you come before April, you might even see some whales out there. Ask for SUP instructor Curtis.
Waterfall Rappelling with Rappel Maui: Waterfall rappelling with Rappel Maui is an adventure like no other. Plan for a full day to strap into a harness and rappel down a 50-foot and then a 30-foot waterfall in the rainforest off the scenic Hana Highway. As a nervous first-timer, the extremely patient guides assured me of my safety and made my experience relaxing and fun. Now, whenever I'm feeling nervous, I remind myself that I've rappelled off of a waterfall in the rainforest. Twice. It's empowering beyond belief! Once you rappel, you swim in the cool, fresh water swimming holes at the bottom of each fall before you hike through the rainforest back up to the top and enjoy a picnic lunch with a view of the falls and the ocean way down in the distance. It's an amazing opportunity for even the only occasionally athletic person, like me.
See "'Ulalena" at Maui Theater: The most moving experience I had (indoors) while visiting Maui was viewing the award-winning show 'Ulalena at the Maui Theater near Kapalua. 'Ulalena tells the story of Hawai’i, combining the myths and legends of the islands with the history of America’s impact. The performers speak, chant and sing in native Hawaiian, and offer breath-taking performances with top-notch special effects that will leave you devastated by the powerful reenactments of historical events, empowered with the truth and hopeful for the future of this beautiful island culture and spirit. You can only experience this show on Maui; do not leave the island until you've seen it!
WHERE TO EAT
Food can make or break your vacation, which is why I’ve chosen to highlight only the best places I ate at while on Maui.
Pineapple Grill: If you’re in Kapalua, run, don’t walk, to Pineapple Grill and order yourself the Pineapple Upside Down Cake. As soon as I hit Kapalua, every person I met told me I absolutely had to go to this restaurant and have this cake—and they were not lying. My dreams of Maui consistently include this delectably sweet dessert whose tangy fruit, caramel drizzle and macadamia nut ice cream swirl together in your mouth to create an immensely satisfying after-dinner experience.
Humuhumunukunukuapua'a Restaurant: This award-winning, open-air, thatched-roof restaurant named for the state fish of Hawai'i sits on stilts over a 1 million gallon salt water Koi pond with a section for lobsters that you can pick out for supper yourself. With a wide array of surf-and-turf options, my favorites were the sea scallops in garlic butter appetizer and the tender steak and succulent lobster entree.
Kō: The incredible seer-it-yourself Ahi tuna appetizer at The Fairmont Kea Lani's Kō restaurant is only the beginning. Here, I discovered the Hawaiian white fish, monchong, which was served in between two lamb chops, and knew that I'd experienced something special. While this meal inspired me to eat monchong wherever I could find it--and with any kind of preparation--nothing ever compared to that first bite at Kō.
Lahaina Grill: Continuing my quest for first-time experiences, I enjoyed my first taste of moonshine at the Lahaina Grill just a few blocks away from the Maui Theater where I saw 'Ulalena. The Moonshine was mixed into a lavender cocktail with a sugar rim and went perfectly with my unbelievably delicious pink snapper entree. Unfortunately, I had to box up the snapper because I had gorged myself on Lahaina Grill's offerings of sweet bread with rosemary and basil butter before my meal could arrive. Fortunately, the rest of the snapper made for a great next-day breakfast, along with Lahaina's out-of-this-world Kula Lime Tart.
Kai Sushi: What are your favorite kinds of sushi and sashimi? Name it and Kai Sushi at the Ritz in Kapalua has it. I sampled at least three of everything and it was delicious raw seafood and rolls heaven. The ambiance is also great, with carefully selected paintings portraying various aspects of Hawaiian culture and history and prominently featuring an image of the first canoe Hawaiians used to retrace their ancestors' voyage from Tahiti in 1976.
WHERE TO SPA
Spa Grande at The Grand Wailea: Nothing beats the amazing array of bath options available at The Grand Wailea’s Spa Grande in Wailea. Arrive an hour before your appointment in order to treat yourself to the full-body scrub service, the multiple sea salt soaks, the high-pressured showers and the hot and cold tubs to jump-start your circulatory system. With an East-Meets-West theme, you'll experience European bathhouses and Asian-inspired treatments all under one, fabulous roof. While my massage was fantastic, the highlights were definitely preparing for the service and lounging on the shaded, outdoor post-treatment deck overlooking The Grand Wailea's pools and the ocean.
Brooke Obie is Editor-at-Large for EBONY.com. She visited Maui courtesy of the Maui Tourism Board and the spots she enjoyed the best on her trip are featured above. Read about Brooke's transformative journey on Maui here. Follow her travels on Twitter and Instagram @BrookeObie.