Two-way bet on Maui
A pair of resorts offer different experiences on this popular Hawaiian isle
ONE property features a simple, rectangular pool lined with craggy, deep black lava rock and an Irish green, notso-well-mowed three-hole golf course. The other has a marbled entry, and multiple swimming pools with gushing fountains and sits amid the most expensive property on Maui.
Hotels on this lovely Hawaiian island come in a variety of styles and colours and tastes. But few exemplify the different ways one can interpret the word luxury more than Travaasa Hana, an old-school spot that delights in the slow reveal of lush, tropical details, and Four Seasons Maui, which screams new-world money and doesn’t mind flashing off its curves.
Even the geography and climate and the way you get to the two resorts are opposites. Unless you spring for a short flight from Kahului on Maui to Hana’s postagestamp airport, you’ll probably take the famed (and now much improved) road to Hana. You’ll go around dozens of curves and traverse 54 bridges, many of them one-way, passing few buildings but many kilometres of deep green trees, with waterfalls often sparkling in partially hidden valleys and dramatic views of deep blue ocean water crashing into ancient lava rock. This is Maui’s rainforest, and the weather is unpredictable, alternating life-giving rains with glorious sunshine that should give your convertible car’s opening-and-closing device a workout.
Several hours’ drive away, and on the opposite side of the island, Four Seasons Maui sits on the shoulder of mighty Haleakala, the towering inactive volcano that throws a mighty rain shadow over the Wailea side of the island, where you’ll find cactus sprouting out of brown grass and perhaps the more dependable, driest weather plus smooth, straight highways leading to perfectly manicured resorts.
There are tons of similarities between these two hotels, such as renowned spas, lovely furnishings and great food. Travaasa Hana has wonderful amenities, and the Four Seasons is in a lovely spot. But I think of the former as a resort offering the luxury of place, and the latter as one offering the luxury of things. Depending on your mood and what you want in a tropical getaway, either one might be the perfect Hawaiian holiday spot.
FROM the open-air, low-key check-in area and casual lobby to the main restaurant, everything about Travaasa Hana (formerly Hotel Hana Maui) is elegant but simple, which is why it’s sometimes called the most Hawaiian resort in the state. Units are spread around spacious grounds with minimal to moderate landscaping and well-placed palm trees and bougainvillea. Sea Ranch Cottages feature a pair of well-appointed guestrooms that can be connected into a huge suite, with a hot tub on one side. These timber buildings have been painted green and allowed to weather just enough to look rustic.
Decor is simple, with lots of natural wood and earthy colours, and very little sparkle or shiny surfaces. Walk down to the waterfront and watch the waves crash to shore or wander to a simple wire fence and admire the horses (which I’m told belong to Oprah Winfrey).
On a clear day, you can see Hawaii, the so-called Big Island, rising off to the south. Sunsets are nice but this is the eastern side of the island, so you’ll be better rewarded with an early sunrise casting gold across the bay and washing the cottages in deep, cotton candy pinks and purples. The spa is lovely but also understated and the main pool is a simple affair lined with lava rock. There’s another pool next to the activity centre, where you can pick up snorkels or banged-up golf clubs to play the three-hole diversion that’s adaptable to nine with different tee boxes. It’s fun, and great for families and casual golfers. There’s also an area for croquet.
The restaurant menu features excellent local seafood and great smoothies at breakfast, and there are lovely views towards the water. There’s no attempt at anything resembling molecular gastronomy or trendy bits of foam on the plate — just simple, lovingly prepared and tasty Hawaiian cuisine. More: travaasa.com.
TO the other side of the island and a different kind of luxury. Wailea isn’t a subtle kind of place, and neither is Four Seasons Maui. The lobby is open-air but the ceilings are massive and the floors covered with fine Italian marble. There are lots of fantastic touches, and guestroom ensuites are even larger than those at Travaasa Hana, and that’s saying something. There is a spa in the main building, but romantics might prefer a couples massage in a thatched-roof building overlooking the golden sands of Wailea Beach. A therapist even fixed my wife’s wonky knee with some extra treatment for no charge.
Dinners are outlandishly good, with fantastic Hawaiian-Italian-Asian takes on classic dishes. At Duo, the steakhouse, we have an amazing hamachi (yellowtail) tartare with Fuji apple, fennel and sweet shoyu, as well as snapper with peppers, nine-grain garlic rice and pineapple dashed with Korean spices. At Ferraro’s, we dine under the stars after a picture-perfect sunset on tender mahi mahi fish and luscious short ribs.
The resort offers packages with extras, such as learning to paddle an old-fashioned Hawaiian outrigger canoe in the calm waters off Wailea Beach. Our guide tells me that humpback whales come every winter to frolic in the waters and mate. “Just like the tourists,” I reply. Many guests emerge early to stake out the best covered cabanas, or head to the adults-only (no music or mobile phones) Serenity Pool, with its swim-up bar. Pampering is the word here, with plenty of staff to arrange your beach towel just so on your lounger and bring you chilled water. More: fourseasons.com.
Jim Byers was a guest of Travaasa Hana and Four Seasons Maui. • gohawaii.com/au