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Feb. 9, 2008 by Marti

Four Days on Maui

Everyone is defined to a certain extent by their geography and roots. What we experience on a daily basis does, in fact, affect the person we become and how we see the world. New Yorkers carry a vastly different perspective than, say, Montana cowboys. Their respective environments have everything to do with it. Which is why I think it's fair to say that islanders are different from mainlanders.

It occurred to me only recently, after living in Maui 5+ years that my life-long affiliation with my Midwestern roots is at risk. Nowadays, when I meet someone new, it's obvious I'm more closely associated with Maui, my current home, than I am with my former home. Chicago may have laid the groundwork for what I would become, but to know me one also has to meet Maui.

Proof positive is that those family and friends who have managed to make the trek to Maui to visit me in my new culture and environment are the people who have come to know me best. It's not just a matter of witnessing the beauty of my island home; it's that a visit offers the chance to soak in the sense and spirit of the islands that has become part of me as well. Maui's magic is something no photo or description can equal. One simply must experience it and let the essence seep into their skin and permeate their being, as it has with me. At first blush, they won't even know it is happening as the full impact will not take hold until they've left the island and are met with the stark contrast of the world "outside." I believe this, more than anything, is why Hawaii is referred to as "paradise." Not only because it is so beautiful but because it is so far removed that it casts an other-worldly spell.

When a friend from the mainland recently made the long jaunt to see what it was all about I had a mere four days to swaddle him in the best Maui has to offer. The visit would be a baptism by fire, Maui style. Narrowing down the myriad exceptional choices of "what to do," "where to eat," and "where to go," when on Maui for such a short time – a time that was dampened by foggy, raining weather three of the four days - was a real challenge. Given that he has since returned to the mainland and reports having been utterly captivated by Maui's magic, I suspect the plans I outlined were successful. Thus, I share with you the choices I offered my guest so you, too, can know exactly what to do the next time someone visits you on Maui for four days.

Day One

Let's set the stage. Imagine for a moment you've never been to Maui. After five hours in the air you spot the twin peaks of the Big Island - Mauna Kea and Mauna Loa as they burst through the high level clouds and greet you at eye level on your approach to this remote spot of land in the middle of the sea. You look down and observe a thousand shades of blue in the water and reefs below, then the brilliant stretches of green, the craggy mountainside of Maui. You touch down in spite of all that wind through the valley - and it all seems a miracle not only because the plane is actually on the ground at last but because you had begun to suspect there was no land at all in that vast expanse of Pacific. You stagger off the plane, already somewhat dazed when, it hits you - the scented breezes, that sweet warm air; the first heady manifestation of Maui's sensuality. No sooner have you gathered your bags, you are whisked off to the most idyllic palm-fringed cove and served the best lunch of your life. (I think that's what he said.)

Since I live on the Westside, I would typically take my visiting guests to my favorite island-style restaurant, Mama's Fish House, for dinner prior to their evening flight home. However, this visitor was flying in and out in the morning. Fortunately, Mama's is also a fantastic place for lunch, perhaps even better as daylight offers stupendous views for the full duration of the meal. Hence, two hours into the trip and Maui had already exceeded expectations.

Oh, but we were just getting started! Midway along the scenic pali drive to the Lahaina side we pulled over at McGregor's point for a "photo op." It's best not to let on to your visitor that you are setting them up to see their first humpback whale in the magnificent wild waters beyond. With 10,000 of the mammoth creatures plying the channels, sightings are nearly guaranteed. Watch, scan the sea and sure enough, thar' she blows!

Three hours on island and Maui is sinking in.

From there, settle into any number of great hotels or condo suites and make a date to rendezvous at Black Rock before sundown. For a first time visitor, the haunting sound of the conch shell, the drama of the torch lighting ceremony, the grace of the cliff diver, and the glorious setting of the sun on a first day visit to the islands is something never to be forgotten. Finish this first paradisiacal day with a flourish. Saunter down the Kaanapali boardwalk to Hula Grill. Order a mai tai (or two!) and beach burger. Since everyone should be totally relaxed by now, sit at the bar and hobnob with the other locals, assuring a successful first day initiation into island life.

Day Two

It's vacation time so sleep in! Then mosey on up to the Plantation House restaurant to enjoy its famed brunch (offered any time of day.) From this glorious perch at the base of the West Maui Mountains it's a hard-hearted soul who isn't captivated by the ocean views framed by distant Molokai and Lanai.

Follow the Cook Pines to the Ritz Hotel and belly up to the new lobby bar where a river of lava runs through it and an aura of cosseted luxury abounds. It's not all about eating and drinking, you know! So wander down to Fleming beach, take a hike out to Dragon's Teeth and reverently explore the ancient burial grounds and highlighted signposts scattered throughout Kapalua's manicured environment.

Get ready for a night on the town - old Lahaina Town, that is. Arrive in time to stroll Front Street's many galleries. Stop into a few gimcrack outlets and try your luck finding a pearl in an oyster! Make your way to 505 Front Street and check into the Feast at Lele's, Maui's most upscale version of a luau. As the sun tucks itself in beyond Lanai, the conch shell blows and hearty paddlers in traditional garb arrive at the beachfront luau site in outrigger canoes. Tiki torches glow, mai tais flow and the elaborate multi-course feast arrives timed for languorous enjoyment between rounds of entertainment meant to represent all the cultures of the South Pacific.

Day Three

I suggest starting the day as we did - with breakfast at the Gazebo, where fried rice enjoys cult status among locals and visitors alike. At beautiful Napili Bay accept the invitation to play checkers with coconut shells or a round on the putting green course at Napili Kai. (If the weather hadn't been threatening, we'd have ventured into the waters for a little snorkeling or body surfing.)

Wander around Whaler's Village after brunch and hang out at the beach, labeled "Dig Me" for good reason. Here you will find some of the island's best shopping and people watching.

That evening, head back to Lahaina town for dinner at my personal favorite, Lahaina Grill. Jurg Munch manages to consistently maintain the restaurant's lofty reputation for the best meal on Maui and our visit there was no exception. It's not only the food that garners such worthy praise; I recall my guest proclaiming that was the best martini on the planet. Must have been the blue-cheese stuffed olives!

Day Four

Maui regaled herself with a Chamber of Commerce show on the last day of my friend's visit. The skies were clear, and puffy white clouds danced above the neighbor islands. This called for celebration, beach style. After a breakfast at Castaways, the most delightful hidden gem nestled into that most glorious stretch of beach in Kaanapali, do as we did - book a seaside cabana and watch for whales. Enjoy a good beach read, doze off, and count your blessings you are so lucky to be here. We did.

More energetic souls may venture into the crystal blue waters in brilliantly colored kayaks, while fellow beach goers are sent into high alert whenever whales or sea turtles are sighted. It's nearly impossible for visitors to contain their enthusiasm for such things, thankfully, for when it comes to wildlife sightings, it's good to share!

All too soon it will be time to gather up your things and head down to catch a sunset sail on the Kapalua Kai. It's my firm belief that all visitors to Maui should experience the island from the water, which always casts a new perspective on the now-familiar shores. Plus, it's one thing to sight a whale from shore – it's quite another to get out into their playground alongside them.

On this day the sea was perfect. We plied the waters, just the slightest and most welcome hint of motion as the catamaran went in search of its favorite ocean buddies – humpback whales. After the crew explained a few basic ground rules guests are invited to enjoy the open bar and a pupu fest of kalua pork, nachos, eggrolls and other local style delicacies. Lacking a blender for authentic pina colada prep, the bartender touted her exclusive Nauticolada – a sumptuous concoction of colada mix and rum - which promptly ran dry before the end of our cruise.

Did we see whales!? There were whales to the left of us (port), to the right of us (starboard), from helm, and stern. In due time, snap happy photographers gave in and relinquished their cameras, content to merely watch the massive creatures, giving up on the futile attempt to capture their every move. As if timed to this surrender , a soothing calm took over when the sun lowered itself slowly into the warm ocean bath while a shock of rainbow arose simultaneously in the opposing sky. And then, it was suddenly dark. We stealthily returned to shore. The sand had grown cooler since we left terra firma in the bright afternoon sunlight. We gathered our abandoned shoes and were greeted by the bustling lights of Kaanapali.

We wrapped up the day with a visit to the Whaler's Museum (on the third level of Whaler's Village.) The small but comprehensive display provides an insightful history into the nineteenth century whaling industry and pays tribute to both man and beast in their battle for supremacy of the seas. By the looks of things in present day Maui, the clash appears to have ended in a win/win. The whales are thriving in Maui waters to the delight of tourists and locals alike.

Like most people who visit Maui and experience the most fun, cherished, no ka oi island in the world, my friend vowed to return...

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