Great Escapes: Maui, where luxury means giving back to the land
Many travel destinations are still struggling after the pandemic hit tourism, but longtime hotspot Maui, known for its beautiful beaches and high-end resorts — and Hawaii at large — suffered from an unusual problem: A quick recovery that led to an influx of irresponsible and disrespectful visitors last year.
News agencies reported misbehaving visitors who are hostile to locals, clog roads and devastate the land. Now the Hawaii Tourism Authority is working to bring responsible travel back into the state using the Hawaiian concept of “malama,” which means “to care for” or “to protect” in Hawaiian.
The new Malama Hawaii program encourages visitors to embrace and consider Hawaiian culture during their stay and pass it on through volunteer activities.
On Maui, the Malama concept goes hand-in-hand with luxury. Hotels like the Ritz-Carlton Maui, the Andaz and the Grand Wailea offer free hotel nights in exchange for local community service activities like beach clean-ups or volunteering with the Pacific Whale Foundation or the Lahaina Restoration Foundation through the Malama Hawaii program. The message is clear: visit and enjoy the island, but be respectful and conscientious.
Kalei Uwekoolani, cultural program manager and leadership educator at Maui’s Grand Wailea, says the concept of the malama is deeply embedded in Hawaiian culture and is a responsibility that visitors share with locals.
“We [locals] are guests here in the country, just like the visitors here in the country, so it’s important that we, the people who were born and raised here, continue to take care of malama, of the land, of the water – all of those things were here before us,” she said. “If we are not stewards ourselves, who will take care of it? We are guests like our guests.”
Maui’s luxury resorts are located in two areas of the island: Kapalua and Wailea. Northbound Kapalua is relatively remote compared to Wailea, which is in the center of the island with a strip of eight resorts.
The Ritz-Carlton Maui is located on Honokahua Bay, near Kapalua Bay. The hotel has a unique history: during its construction in 1987, it was discovered that part of the land bordering the bay was the resting place of more than 2,000 Hawaiian ancestors, dating from the 850’s to the early 1800’s. The Ritz redesigned the hotel, moving it inland and working with local cultural figures to rebury and preserve the remains. Today this land is restricted to those performing ceremonies and protocols.
The 22,000-acre resort is perched on a hilltop and offers beautiful ocean views, two golf courses and miles of hiking trails including the stunning Kapalua Coastal Trail. Be sure to take a guided walk with the Ritz’s environmental ambassadors, who can provide information about the local flora and fauna and the history of the area. Whale season is a special time when there are so many humpback whales that you can even spot them over dinner at the hotel’s Banyan Tree restaurant.
The Andaz in Wailea is Hawaii’s first LEED certified hotel and features an elegant design with contemporary architecture. An entrance bridge over the water leads to an open-air lobby with breathtaking views of the sea.
The hotel has five pools, including three cascading infinity pools with ocean views, a lagoon pool, and an adults-only quiet pool, in addition to a well-maintained beach area with a kiosk for rentals or rentals of gear like snorkel gear, bodyboards, and kayaks.
Less than a mile away is the Grand Wailea, a Waldorf Astoria resort. With Hawaii’s largest private art collection and 100 acres of tropical gardens, the hotel is a landmark. Founded in 1991 by developer and avid art collector Takeshi Sekiguchi, the resort features unrivaled landscaping with winding pathways through tropical gardens containing more than 600 species of plants, including endemic plants, pineapple plants and cacao trees.
The 2,000-foot pool area with nine pools on six levels features five interlocking slides, caves, and a rope swing that make the resort especially kid-friendly. The property features three bedroom Ho’olei villas ideal for families.
The Grand Wailea offers weekly Hawaiian cultural activities led by Uwekoolani. A new Wine and Dine series highlights winemakers and vineyards through paired dinner events and supportive programs.
The Ritz, Andaz, and Grand Wailea all have cultural advisors or specialists who help the resorts respect and celebrate local culture and customs; In fact, the Ritz is home to the annual Celebration of the Arts, which has brought together dozens of Hawaii’s finest artists, educators, cultural workers and speakers for 30 years.
Celebrities and locals alike love Mama’s Fish House, which has been serving fresh, locally sourced fish since 1973. Paia Restaurant and Inn is an open-air beachfront restaurant and offers local twists on classics like bouillabaisse with local seafood and macadamia nut crab cakes. The Polynesian dessert, Black Pearl, is Instagrammable, but staff swear by the banana and macadamia nut crisp.
For visitors to Kapalua, Cane & Canoe at the Montage Hotel offers fine, farm-to-table dining with locally sourced ingredients, such as Maui-raised trout or salads made with local produce, and stunning views of Kapalua Bay.
If you’re planning to explore inland Maui, the Hali’imile General Store in Makawao is a must.
The airy restaurant, helmed by local celebrity chef Bev Gannon, serves flavorful renditions of nostalgic dishes like Kalua pork enchilada pie and chopped Chinese chicken salad.
You’ll see local beers from Maui Brewing Co. all over the island, but you can tour the craft brewery in Kihei. The company also has restaurants in Kihei and Lahaina, where the beers are used as ingredients in many dishes.
Monkeypod is one of Wailea’s most popular restaurants — perhaps for its signature mai tai with macadamia nut orgeat topped with lilikoi foam (local passion fruit). The restaurant does not take reservations, so expect long waits.
Admittedly geared towards tourists, luaus are still a fun way to experience and learn about Hawaiian traditions. The Feast at Mokapu at the Andaz and the Grand Wailea Luau both focus on Hawaiian culture as opposed to Polynesian culture overall, with local storytelling, music and dance performances, and traditional foods like poi (fermented taro root) and kalua pork. The Feast at Mokapu overlooks the sunset over the ocean and free portraits, while the Grand Wailea Luau has activities for kids, like temporary tattoos and a station to learn Hawaiian games.
As seen on HBO The White Lotus, outrigger canoes have been around in Hawaii for thousands of years. Take a spin and learn about the narrow, nimble boats on a tour with Maui Pacific Tours—you’re likely to see peaceful sea turtles at sea.
The dormant Haleakala volcano sits more than 10,000 feet above sea level and can be seen from all over Maui. Floating above the clouds, it’s a stunning vantage point to watch sunrises and sunsets. be sure to book a ticket if you plan to visit at sunrise.
The Garden of Eden Arboretum in Haiku, featured in jurassic park, showcases Hawaii’s native and native plants, as well as exotic plants and trees from around the world. The Arboretum offers lush walking trails and scenic ocean views.
Maui Ku’ia Estate Chocolate is a sustainable cocoa farm and chocolate factory in Lahaina. Many of the candy bars are made from the Maui Ku’ia Estate’s own cocoa and the factory is 100% solar powered. Whether you’re purchasing the Dark Mango Candy Bar or the Maui Mocha Cappuccino Bar, 100% of the brand’s profits are donated to local charities and non-profit community organizations.
You’ll find designers like Gucci and Prada at Shops at Wailea, but for a more unique experience, boutique Lilikoi in Paia brings together well-known luxury beach brands like LoveShackFancy and Xirena with local designers like Lokahi and Tai Swimwear. The writer was a guest of the Maui Visitor and Convention Bureau