By Joan Larsen
Home once again, we always will have that one last farewell toast to our latest journey with my favorite champagne. It never fails to feel like I am tasting stars. Returning once again from the island of Maui, our most lasting “forever” memories are the moments when we are heading to Hana, a bastion of unspoiled beauty, a lost horizon, a true Shangri-La, literally at the end of the road. I cannot say enough.
Just GO!!! You won’t be sorry.
Hana offers a low-key alternative to the tropical mega-resorts and the skyscrapers of Waikiki. Did I mention that the adventure is in getting there?? The Road to Hana is a narrow, twisting, sometimes one lane road (forget about a shoulder) with an estimated 600 turns and 54 mostly one-lane bridges… in only 52 miles!
Around every bend are sweeping ocean vistas, black sand beaches, rushing waterfalls and mile after mile of leafy, Hawaiian jungle. The road may be narrow but there are plenty of pull-offs for hiking trails, overlooks, and chances to take photos like those below.
This piece of Hawaii is magic… a place to be soaked up slowly as you will find it is hard to be matched for beauty and serenity. But a word to the wise: start out early on the road – really early – bringing along all the food and drink you want for your entire first day. Try to be a step ahead of the day-trippers who tend to clog the road later… and remember, you can pass up places on the way to Hana, knowing that you will have another chance at them on the return trip.
Plan on staying a night or two. It is the only way. In late afternoon, when the day-trippers have left, a Zen-like calm comes over Hana, and it once again belongs to the 1800 residents… and the relatively few visitors who share this most magical of places. It’s a place soaked in Hawaiian history and culture, and for the most part, I find it unaffected by the mass tourism that has transformed the rest of Maui.
There are guesthouses and B&Bs to stay at as well, but we made a wise choice in staying at the upscale new Hotel Hana-Maui, taking full advantage of the extras they provided.
Dinner was scrumptious… but the show afterwards was the most special I had seen on the islands since childhood. Almost every night some members of the hotel staff perform in the bar or restaurant. That night it was a group of six, all of whom work in housekeeping and catering when they are not playing the guitar and doing the hula. Some of the women were big, really big, and the bigger they were,the more we couldn’t stop looking at them. Their sway was – well – hypnotic… and to me, it brought back the very old days when the dances were “real” and not a show for tourists.
We went on a guided walk, provided by the hotel, just for a few of us. The spot was little-known, unbelievably beautiful, and we swam in a cool, freshwater pool and sat under a postcard-pretty waterfall. Alone. Bright pink impatiens and ferns clung to the steep rock wall beside the falls, glistening in the early morning sun. I promise that it is the only one of those along the Road to Hana that you really need to see.
The second day – another treat. A resident of Hana took us on a personal tour of his town – one he provides only for hotel guests. We were introduced to the locals by name, and he showed us the secret corners of the town, from the lush gardens, to the thundering private coves, and the black-sand beaches. We came back with private memories of life in Hana that we have found that no one else has.
For the first time since childhood, we took an hour-long horseback ride that ventured out on a lava outcropping with the surf below. The horses seemed to know we were middle-aged, treating us kindly in the most gentle of manners. Again, if I can do it, you can.
I once knew novelist James Michener and have always followed his lead. When he said that Hamoa Beach, three miles south of Hana, was the only beach in Hawaii that looked like it belonged in the South Pacific, we arranged to be taken there. He was right. It is surrounded by palm trees and lush vegetation much like the island of Bora Bora, and we were lucky enough to be there on the day that the weekly luau that was thrown by our hotel was offered. What can I say? Never to be forgotten.
Though I happen to not want to miss anything, there is a sense of tranquility here that one doesn’t find often. In the late afternoons and early evenings, it is “our time” – a time to kick back, and watch the afternoon sun sink into the ocean as we order another mai-tai.
As we have done before and will do again, we will make the trip back down the twisting highway – back to civilization. But we know that the road to Hana and Hana itself will be waiting to be re-discovered and treasured with all the joy that comes from finding that special place at the end of the winding road that truly feels like home.
Hawaii is not a state of mind, but a state of grace.
– Paul Theroux
Writer Joan Larsen has spent a lifetime searching for the most remote places on Earth. But it is the polar regions of our world that she has been drawn back to again and again. She has done research in these lands of ice, and considers Antarctica to be her “other home.”