To Hana with Love

by Ilona Kauremszky
Ensemble Vacations Magazine
Fall 2009

“I fell in love with my soft-hearted Hana,
She entered right in through my heart,
And now although we're miles apart
I still feel her.”

George Harrison

Hawaii, MAUI - Life couldn’t get any better I thought.

Under a Maui sunset with waves lapping around our catamaran the melodic pu conch was paying tribute to the end of the day. “You are surrounded by the sea of love,” smirks longtime director of po’okela, Lori Ululani Sablas, the love coordinator at the Ka’anapali Beach Resort.

We were sailing to a crescendo bellowing from the conch in an ancient Hawaiian ritual in Ka’anapali (“Ka-ah-nah-pah-lee”) on Maui’s western side.

The day before it was a couple’s massage in nearby Wailea that softened knotty muscles using locally made oils to help us reach a Nirvana that one could only find on a chain of islands whose nearest landmass is 3,000 km away. And to boot, who knew during our one week road trip that new discoveries were to ignite the senses each day.

But that’s how it was. Before our arrival, my only introduction to the Earth’s most remote archipelago (Hawaii is comprised of 137 islands) was through pop cultural references and by friends who visited.

With the exception of big hotel names like Four Seasons, Fairmont and the Marriott as examples, there are no big box stores or big cities in Maui. Blessed with lush jungle foliage, exotic wilderness, remote beaches, and trade winds charging from Haleakala, which sits over 10,000 feet and is considered the world’s largest dormant volcano, the island life’s slow ebb and flow submerges you in its eternal beauty. They say Maui is as close as you will ever get to paradise on the planet.

“When people come to Maui they never want to leave,” explains Lori as she gestures toward the naupaka-fringed golden beach that she later revealed holds a strong Hawaiian legend with its white-flower laden bushes.

My other half and I were desperate for an eco-break so last winter we packed our bags and had a plan to head for Hana, a tiny town clipped on Maui’s north shore. A population of roughly 1,800, time virtually has stood still and that’s how the locals who are big on ohana “customs” like it.

Situated on the rainy slopes of Haleakala the craggily black lava coastline butts against the thickly covered grassy hillside where Herefords now graze. Hawaiian legends remain strong here too. The locals revel in how Hawaii’s favourite queen, Queen Kaahumanu was born in Hana at a nearby cave; and how among Hawaii’s numerous islands, only one is named after a demigod in this kingdom of royalty. Maui, a fearless Odysseus-hybrid, created the Hawaiian Islands when he fished the islands from the ocean floor.

For centuries Hana was cut off from the rest of the island. But in 1927 that all changed when a dirt road connecting Hana to Kahului opened. In the sixties a narrow two lane road rife with 600 hair-pin turns and over 50 one-lane bridges was paved over streams, cliffs and jungle forests.

We left the windsurfer town of Paia and drove along the “highway to heaven” as the locals describe the Hana Highway on route 36 preparing to see some of the most awesome panoramic vistas in the world. Dubbed one of America’s most scenic drives build in plenty of time despite the 53 mile trip and leave early so that you can stop by the countless lookout points.

Throughout the drive, groves of African tulip trees, mahogany, and guava hugged the mountain slopes mired in prehistoric lava protrusions that were riddled with freshwater streams rupturing over the cliff tops. For company we played “Soft-hearted Hana” by the late George Harrison who lived in his own secluded paradise off the Hana Highway at Nahiku.

For our eco-retreat, our temporary abode was a restored cottage, a left-over from the sugarcane plantation days overlooking Hana Bay. Now part of the exclusive Hotel Hana-Maui, this privately-owned property offers an assortment of complimentary daily activities and guests have access to the steam room, the outdoor hot tub and the cold plunge pool at the hotel’s Honua Spa.

Up by the crack of dawn, it was over to the Wellness Centre Pavilion for a morning yoga session followed later by horseback riding at the Maui Stables. Jolene was our local guide and ear to the stars. “You know Oprah Winfrey bought 102 acres and today you are riding on her land,” she quips and adds how she recently had the pleasure of taking Britney Spears, Woody Harrelson and Kate Hudson horseback riding.

My celebrity wrangler takes us past a herd of cows grazing beneath banyan trees while the surf crashes into the sharp lava rocks ahead.

Remembering Lori’s mysterious love story on the naupaka, Stephen and I decided to consult with Jolene. “Oh the naupaka,” she grins. “These are half-shaped white flowers that relate to a Hawaiian legend. A princess in the mountains fell in love with a common fisherman. Her father disapproved and as she was leaving her lover, she tore a flower symbolizing her infinite love and gave him half. Next time you’re by the ocean, watch for these incomplete half white-flowers facing down; while in the mountains, watch for naupakas whose half-flowers face up toward the sky. The two half flowers represent love when joined together. Yet the two have never met.”

The next morning, we headed upcountry to the Haleakala National Park in search of this elusive native flower. As we negotiated sans guardrail curves with severe switchbacks, the road suddenly narrowed to one lane. After about 11 miles from Hana the park finally appeared. At the ranger’s office we checked on weather conditions and things looked good. Haleakala meaning rising sun is notorious for quick and steady rainfall so it’s always advisable to check at the ranger’s office on trail closures and weather forecasts.

Armed with insect repellant, hiking shoes, bottled water and a bagged lunch, off we went into the thick of the 2-mile Pipiwai Trail, one of the best trails in Maui. Abundant waterfalls, streams and tropical flora and fauna, all add to this isolated paradise.

We ascended a dirt path towards Makahiku Falls, an ancient volcanic outcropping hurling a torrent of whitewater over its edge into a lush green valley. “That’s nothing. Wait until you get to the 400 foot Waimoku Falls,” explains a fellow hiker.

Passing an ancient banyan tree, we trekked onward teetering at times between the rocky inclines, hiking by more mountain streams and feeling the effects of higher altitudes. The Pipiwai Trail gains 650 feet in elevation.

In the distance, a hollow clanking sound amplified the closer we got. A nefarious bamboo alley was studded in towering bamboos that swayed like an ominous harbinger. “Geesh, I don’t know if I want to keep going,” I murmured as the thick canopy blanketed the sunlight above. “Sure you do,” Stephen said, taking the lead.

Deeper into this bamboo forest we trudged and then it was over. The bamboos were replaced by a rocky stream. We jumped on the rocks and made it to the other side. Ahead the Waimoku Falls displayed its towering girth in all its glory and lodged between the basaltic rock cracks a hearty bush presented white-half flowers. The fleeting mountain naupaka was home. “To Hana with love,” I thought.


Photos: Stephen Smith

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