Dear Maui – you aren’t nearly as touristy and kitchy as I thought. I’ve avoided visiting you over the years, choosing to travel to the understated lush island of Kaua’i instead.
I was wrong to judge you. Choose the right locale for lodging and places to eat carefully and a more-authentic Hawai’i trip is yours.
Our two weeks in Maui went like this: we stayed in the little town of Haiku, in what is called Upcountry. This is far from the condo and resort coasts on the west and southwest (but heck if you stay there that’s a-ok too). The first week of our trip was with our teenage son, adult daughter and her boyfriend, so we opted for a house rental in a Haiku neighbourhood. There, we had privacy, room to move, a lanai to observe the lizards and listen to the neighbourhood roosters and a great home-base to explore other parts of the island.
Our first week eating adventures included a surprisingly sophisticated selection of eats in small town Haiku, including:
Colleen’s – we stumbled into Colleen’s after our jet-lagged sleep on our first day. Awesome egg breakfasts, lattes and service. The locals all stop by for a take-away coffee on their way to work. Opens at 6 am. We went back more than once.
Nuka – a lovely sit-down neighbourhood sushi joint. (Coming from cheap sushi-saturated Vancouver, I’m biased in my sushi opinions. Nuka was solid, but expensive – but then everything on Maui is expensive).
Baked on Maui – we giggled at the name, and had strong coffee and baked goods.
Sala Dang Thai Kitchen – the best Thai food I’ve ever had, hidden in a little building behind the power grid in Haiku. Super fresh and bright.
Up the road a few miles is Paia. This is a happenin’ little hippy surfer town with many tourists stopping on their way to Hana. Do not let that deter you. Here’s where we ate.
Flatbread Company – a boisterous place – part bar/part restaurant with friendly servers and straight out-of-the oven flatbread pizzas.
Toby’s Shave Ice – I love myself some shave ice. Get with it with macnut ice cream and condensed milk on top.
Paia Coffee Company – Dreamy open air coffee shop with dark coffee and freshly prepared breakfasts.
We tootled around Upcountry, too – going to the Ali’i Lavender Farm, Surfing Goat Dairy and tracking down Oprah’s house. One day in Makawao, the cowboy town, while Aaron was sitting on a step, minding his own business and eating his doughnut on a stick from T Komoda Store & Bakery, a chicken leaped up and stole part of his doughnut. Lesson learned: watch out for the chickens in Makawao.
We did a bit more than just eat. We ventured to beaches in Kihei (Kamole Beach Park III), Makena (Makena State Park or Big Beach), Kaanapali Beach and Kapalua (D.T Fleming Beach). Our favourite beaches were closer to home at Paia – Baldwin Beach, Baby Beach and Sugar Cove. Ho’okipa was fabulous for watching surfers and spotting turtles, too.
We took a satisfying snorkelling trip to Molokini, where I became so enamoured with the peace of snorkelling that I was the last person back on the boat (me, a non-swimmer, go figure).
One night we went to Sheraton Black Rock Luau. I will confess this is me going cheap on an expensive holiday – we opted for the ‘cocktails and show’ version and skipped the dinner. Still got dessert and Mai Tais. The ocean-front sunset location can’t be beat and the fire dance was gasp-inducing.
In Lahaina, we ate at Take Home Maui (sit on their shady lanai in the heat of the day and eat nice fluffy sandwiches), Star Noodle for ramen and pork dumplings, and adult shave ice at Breakwell Shave Ice.I had the hottest meal in my life sitting in the parking lot outside Tin Roof in Kahului (weather hot not spicy hot) but it was worth it for this fan-girl to go to Sheldon Simeon’s restaurant. The Mochiko Chicken was the best.
Week two was what Mike and I termed our second honeymoon. Our first honeymoon 14 years ago was in Montreal and we brought 5 month old Aaron with us. I would not recommend this (he didn’t sleep a wink the whole trip). This time we did it up right. My daughter and her boyfriend generously agreed to fly back to Edmonton with our youngest son in tow, and the two of us were giddy and Hana-bound in a convertible VW Beetle for five glorious adult days.
The drive to Hana is both harrowing and magical. Mike swam under a waterfall and we watched local kids jump off cliffs into the clear water below. It took four hours of meandering to get there. We sampled banana bread at little roadside shops along the way. (You must eat banana bread on the way to Hana).
Once there, we discovered that Hana is a sleepy town, and we ate almost exclusively in our little cottage with the drop-dead gorgeous view. (Recommendation: check out Hana Oceanfront Cottages for the best couple accommodations ever).
The honeymoon nature of this part of our trip will not be discussed. However, I can tell you that I had the best Mai Tai in Maui at the very exclusive Travassa Hana Hotel. On our last day we ate rib-sticking chicken, rice and mac ‘n cheese salad lunch on the side of the highway at Brahhah Hutts BBQ Grill food truck (I have eaten some of my favourite meals sitting on the side of a highway – Red Hot Mama’s in Kaui (now closed) and of course Tacofino in Tofino).
On our last two days of our two week trip, we stayed at the Paia Inn, a little boutique hotel with lux amenities including private beach access at the back. We also ate at Mama’s Fish House, where I consumed the most expensive meal I have ever had. (My husband wouldn’t let me see the final bill). I saw hype online and was ready to hate Mama’s Fish House, but we were seated at a prime beachfront table, the service was impeccable and the fish was out of this world (Mahimahi stuffed with deep sea redcrab went down very smoothly). It was like Disneyland – yes, touristy with a touch of kitch, but everything done so well that all was forgiven (until our Visa bill comes in). I’d say Mama’s Fish House is a save-up-for-a-special-occasion kind of place. It was a perfect end to our decadent trip.
If you read my other blog, you will know we’ve had a tough year. This trip was exactly what I wanted to celebrate the end of my cancer treatment – sitting on a beach in tropical paradise with the people I love. And in-between beach sitting, we ate some pretty good food too. Aloha (and mahalo), Maui.