In 2003, shortly after a crazy wedding that included a bridesmaid going into labor at our rehearsal dinner (and her husband, the best man/my brother, rushing her away to deliver their first born), my wife Hailey and I headed to Hawaii for our honeymoon. We had initially considered Trinidad & Tobago, but when a travel agent specializing in T&T told us to go to Hawaii instead (thereby giving up any hope of a commission), we saw it as a sign: This place really must live up to the hype.
Still high off the pura vida of a 2002 trip to Costa Rica, I insisted we focus on the wet sides of the Big Island and Maui. I was fascinated by jungles, wanted nothing more than to see waterfalls, and was happy to dodge the crowds and trade in postcard beach scenes for rocky coastlines and black-sand. I was also, sadly, going through a tropical shirt phase thanks to a sale at Mervyn’s. (Yes, I just wrote that).
Long story short, we ended up spending five nights at the Palms Cliff House north of Hilo, and four nights at the Hotel Hana Maui, now rebranded as the Travaasa Hana. It was time to return, family in tow, and reconnect with the rugged coastline and end-of-the-earth splendor of Hana.
Half the attraction of Hana is the highway to get there. The other half is the serenity of being this far removed from everything. When the sun rises here, on the eastern edge of the island, it feels as though you are the first person on earth to wake up. When it rains, you stop to listen to the pitter-patter sounds. Night is inky, dark and only punctured by the sounds of rolling waves and the light from 10,000 stars. “Retreat” doesn’t do it justice.
Delightfully little has changed with the hotel. If anything, it has improved. Part of Travaasa’s appeal lies in the activities they offer — cooking classes, cultural demos, guided adventures, yoga and more. These things weren’t offered back in 2003, and its added life to what was, back then, a rather sleepy resort.
We were pretty road weary by the time we rolled in off the Hana Highway. Varenna had spent part of the previous night in the ER with an ear infection (which in hindsight was probably barotrauma from ascending Haleakala), and so despite the improvement she’d had due to amoxicillin, she was wiped. Michael was ready to stretch his legs after riding much of the route in the back of our rented minivan, and every one of us needed to decompress, rinse off, and don a lei.
The welcome at check-in was quintessentially Hawaiian. No phony positive energy or forced smiles. This was real, authentic hospitality, like we had just arrived at a close friend’s home. Why yes, I’d love another glass of tropical juice while we take the resort tour…
We were staying in the Garden View Suites since Varenna was with us (the gorgeous Sea Ranch Cottages which overlook the ocean have an age limit of 18). After getting settled, unpacked and cleaned up, all five of us attended the cocktail hour at the resort’s art gallery before heading to the Paniolo Lounge for dinner. Tonight, there was live entertainment, which kept Varenna from a wiped-out meltdown of toddler proportions. Her love for music goes back to her first months. It has always seemed to transcend any kind of circumstance. So while CJ Helekahi and his friends played beautiful Hawaiian folk music, she sat transfixed in her chair. CJ (pictured above) has a heavenly voice. They were accompanied by two hula dancers, who swayed hypnotically like the waves. Varenna was out like a light when we got back to the room.
We approached the next few days on an hour-by-hour level. I would get up at dawn and photograph the sunrise, Varenna and Hailey would chase the myna birds across the expansive grass lawns, and Hailey’s parents would read on their patio or look for birds. A few times we headed down to the pool, splashed a bit and absorbed some sun. Diana and Michael watched Varenna for a few hours here and there, allowing us to duck over to the Sea Ranch Cottages side of the resort and take a dip in hot tub, or indulge in a juicing class.
None of us are Loafing-at-a-Resort types, but this was pretty nice … and somewhat needed.
On day 2, we headed off property and checked out the local seen on Hana Bay at Hana Beach Park. There we found a sprawling black sand beach, and … well, let’s just say that’s all you need to have a happy kid.