KA'ANAPALI, Maui - It's hard not to have a great day on Maui. There's a million things to do, even on the odd day that it rains, which is probably why this island always gets so many top awards from travel magazines and travelers.
There wasn't any rain in sight yesterday on the shores of west Maui, even though the second wettest spot in the world is only a few miles inland. Most of the rain falls on the misty slopes of Pu'u Kukui (mountain), so that's why Lahaina, which means "merciless sun" in Hawaiian, is almost always warm and dry. Very warm yesterday.
I got up and had breakfast at the Ka'anapali Beach Hotel, where I've bedded down the last two nights. It's a great spot; right on the beach next to the trendy and fun Whalers Village shopping centre. There are big hotels all around, but this is a fairly low rise affair that puts the capital H in Hawaii with tons of great touches. All guests on their first full morning at the hotel are greeted with a Hawaiian chant in the lobby, then get serenaded by a group of a couple dozen singing staff members for 10 minutes before having a free breakfast. There's free concerts every night, too, out on the patio, and folks come even if they're not staying here.
The hotel offers tons of activities, such as lei making or ukulele lessons. They also chipped in and, with a bit of a hand from some experts, built a massive outrigger sailing canoe that took four months to finish. It's quite something, and it sits proudly in the massive garden in the middle of the hotel's property.
I took advantage of Sam Ako's generosity (his Hawaiian name wouldn't even fit on this page; I think it had at least 70 or 80 characters) and learned (kind of) to play a few chords on a ukelele. It's based on a small guitar called the braghina, I believe, that the Portuguese workers brought here a hundred years ago or so. The Hawaiians thought their fingers looked like jumping fleas on the frets, so they called the instrument uke (flea)-lele (jump). I love that story.
I wrote about this in Star Travel a couple years ago, but ukelele making has become a prized art in Hawaii, with the best ones going for thousands of dollars and with an 18-month waiting list for some companies'. It's a testament to how Hawaiians have rediscovered their history, as is the building of the canoe and other, bigger ones that will be used to sail to Tahiti, re-creating the paths ancient Polynesians took when they settled these isolated islands (the most isolated in the world, by the way) centuries ago. It's fascinating stuff. Anyway, Sam lent me a ukelele to play so I have to thank him for that.
Later in the morning I had a walking tour of historic Lahaina and a nice chat with Theo Morrison of the preservation society, who has done great work keeping this small city's history alive. It was a critical part of ancient Hawaii, partly because of its gentle harbour, proximity to fresh water and growing fields and because it's easily accessible from other islands in the Hawaiian chain. It was the capital of the old Hawaiian kingdom, as well as the place many missionaries came to teach Christianity (and probably ruined a lot of what Hawaii had going for it). It was a wild place in the whaling days, and there are old jail walls and courthouses and all sorts of touches, not to mention historic homes and lovely churches, such as Maria Lanakila; the best place on earth for Easter Sunday with its Hawaiian music, sunny weather and adorable kids.
I finished it up a beer at the best seaside bar in Hawaii; the SeaHouse restaurant patio at the Napili Kai Beach Resort on Napili Beach; still the best beach in the world that I've seen. I started going there when I was 12 (thanks Mom and Dad) and still love it. We stayed at a small hotel called The Mauian that's hugely popular with folks from western Canada, as I could hear talk about hockey when I roamed the grounds late last night. It turns out that the public relations woman at the Napili Kai is married to a guy whose family built the Mauian, so we had a drink together last night and chatted about the hotel. They've done quite well, and it's really been fixed up. The Napili Kai looks as good as ever, and it's got one of the best views of any hotel in the islands (see photo at left.
After that it was a fabulous dinner at Merriman's in nearby Kapalua, where they use some incredibly fresh seafood and also serve a ton of Hawaiian produce. There are peaks that tower 10,000 feet in Hawaii, which means cool growing conditions for everything from strawberries to sweet potatoes, lettuce, onions, remarkably tasty beets (best with a dab of goat cheese) and bright, red tomatoes.
I had a fresh fish I'd never tried before called monchong, and it's terrific; firm and not fishy. We also had help from Merriman's Sommelier, the colourful Jason "Cass" Castle. He brought out some great Italian wines, including a Pinot Nero with a nose to die for and a fascinating white-borderline-rose from Slovenia. He's extremely knowledgeable but not stuck up about wine as far as I could tell. The entrees and appetizers are great, and so are the desserts; especially the "chocolate purse," which is basically molten chocolate that's silky sweet in a phyllo-style pastry that bursts out when you hit it with your fork. Yum.
Read more about Maui in a couple weeks as part of the Star's Grand Tour of classic destinations....