By New York Travelin’ Gal Maxine Albert
My fascination with Hawaii began when I first saw the movie ‘ South Pacific’ and its idyllic island ‘Bali Hai.’ The movie – and the real life Bali Hai - was filmed in Hawaii, a tropical paradise that intoxicates with palm fringed beaches, impossibly blue waters, rainbows, spectacular sunsets and balmy trade winds perfumed with the fragrance of exotic flowers. Not surprising that a recent survey found the happiest person in America lives here. From the moment I arrived, I was smiling and buoyant – uncharacteristic for us New Yorkers. The friendly aloha spirit was delightfully contagious.
Maui, the most diverse island, boasts palm lined shores, red and black beaches and dramatic contrasts between mountain and sea. Rent a convertible and explore the scenic landscape. There are plenty of spots to pull over, take a dip and bask in nature’s beauty.
The west coast is famous for world class resorts and The Westin Maui Resort & Spa, is a standout with five pools, a premier beach and stylish ocean front rooms. The open-air lobby has its own lagoon replete with pink flamingos, black and white swans and a banyan tree. The Wailele Polynesian Luau, known for its astounding fire knife dance finale, can go up against any Broadway spectacular I’ve seen.
Located on Kaanapali Beach, the resort will arrange any water sport you want. I cast fear to the wind and took both a surfing and stand up paddle lesson. It was a blast. Thousands of whales migrate to Maui’s warm waters each winter so you should bring binoculars so that you can see them spouting from your room. For a real thrill, hop on the Gemini whale watching catamaran in front of the resort, and see the celebrated humpbacks swim next to the boat, pop up and breach. The best snorkeling in Maui is a two minute walk to Black Rock, at the Sheraton. Not only did I see coral and colored fish, I swam beside a sea turtle! After a hard day of fun in the sun, I pampered myself with an island indulgence treatment in the Heavenly Spa, using lusciously scented locally grown lavender. It was pure heaven.
Food lovers will be impressed with the superb cuisine emphasizing sustainable and locally sourced foods. I relished a dinner honoring the Hawaiian ‘Ahupua’a’ from different climate zones. Oceanside, with flickering tiki torches, I dined on delicious blue opae, (freshwater shrimp) onion risotto with goat cheese and beets, paired with cocktails, instead of wine. You have not lived until you have indulged in liquid joys like the okole wow and the nutty Hawaiian.
Don’t miss the legendary road to Hana for some of the most ravishing scenery on the planet. The starting point is the funky town of Paia with astanga and bikram yoga studios, galleries, outdoor eateries and quirky shops. You’ll pass stunning waterfalls and breathtaking views of ocean, coast and fertile forest all along this fifty-five mile highway.
Kaua’i, ‘the Garden Island,’ is known for its lush rainforest, unsurpassed wilderness and some of the most beautiful beaches in the world. If you like pristine secluded havens with swaying palms and sapphire blue water, this place is for you. Dramatic sea cliffs, balmy trade winds and verdant trees create a magical, mystical, romantic aura.
The four hour hike on the legendary Napali trail to Hanakapei Beach, offers magnificent vistas of the coastline. Ke’e Beach has the best sunsets; Hanalei Beach will take your breath away. The town of Hanelei, has a laid back tropical East Hampton-like vibe, with its chic shops, trendy eateries and lively music at night.
Kauai’s cachet has risen as it was home to George Clooney in the Oscar winning movie, ‘The Descendants.’ Some scenes were filmed in The St. Regis Princeville Resort, on the gorgeous green northern shore of Kaua’i, where I stayed. Sometimes, something impresses you so much, that attention must be paid. As soon as I entered The St. Regis, I was smitten.
Built into the cliffs above Hanelei Bay, with views of mysterious Bali Hai, the mountains and the sea, the resort is a tropical oasis. The lobby’s gold leaf walls, wood fish scale screens, raffia coffered ceilings, frescoes, artwork by local artists and Murano crystal chandelier, create an elegant ambience of luxury in harmony with nature. The St. Regis Bar with nightly music and delectable edibles has floor to ceiling windows perfect for viewing rainbows and magenta sunsets.
With exquisite rooms and exceptional suites designed to create an island-sea tableau, butler service, marble bathrooms, divine amenities and a fabulous pool, I was happy. The exceptional taro pohaku stone massage, in the zen-like Halele’a Spa sent me into a state of bliss.
Superb ahi tuna, onaga, moi and hapuupuu fish were standouts on Jean George Vongerichten’s inspired menu at Kaua’i Grill. Dine al fresco at Makana Terrace with excellent sushi and Pacific Rim cuisine. A highlight was the sublime romantic sunset dinner on a private balcony overlooking the bay, with stunning leis presented to my boyfriend and me. It’s not surprising that guests call this the most beautiful spot on earth.