Mana in Hana: Maui's Mystical Eden

Road to Hana

Road to Hana

Myth holds that Pele’s bones are buried here. Queen Ka’ahu-manu, the favorite wife of King Kamehameha I, was born in a cave by the bay. Charles Lindbergh made his last flight from the mainland to die and rest here for eternity. And a Beatle called it home. What spot had the power, or mana, to draw both celebrated mortals and immortals alike? Hana, Maui’s jaw-droppingly beautiful eastern edge.

Embarking on the 56-mile drive from the Kahului airport along the Hana Highway, you’ll find the trippy Bohemian town of Pa’ia, where an international mix lines up for the local catch-of-the-day at the favorite communal eatery, the Fish Market. Then pass the windswept north shore and Ho’okipa Beach, where sunny climes and tradewinds make it the ultimate spot for kiteboarding and windsurfing. Pineapple fields and ranchland fill the views of Haiku, where big wave surfer Laird Hamilton’s favorite break—Jaws, or Peiha—lies directly off the coast.  Continuing on, the long serpentine road navigates the rugged coastline proffering sweeping views of the azure sea, where humpbacks spray and playfully breech. Inland (or mauka, as locals say) under a canopy of vines and greenery, you traverse the rain forest where Jurassic Park jungles and thunderous waterfalls mesmerize.

A narrow ribbon of asphalt that merits respect, the Road to Hana slows the pace of adventurers as it crosses 54 single-lane bridges, many wet from the spray of the falls. The environs hold mystery and magic, hidden secrets and raw undisturbed beauty; unassuming dirt roads lead to palatial estates, organic herb farms, and fragrant orchards. Crashing waves blast through coastal rock arches; gold flecks glitter in the black sand beaches; taro grows blissfully in the wetlands. Many who reside in Hana are off the grid, literally and metaphysically. Life moves at another rhythm here. There is plenty and nothing to do.

Finally arriving at Hana about three hours later (depending on how  many photo-ops you stopped for) you encounter a sleepy, one-stop-sign outpost of civilization.  You can’t help but feel you’ve entered a time warp.  It’s old school Hawaii at its finest, untarnished and pristine. No ABCs, high-rise hotels or Pink Palaces.  Rather, you’ll find one family-owned general store, Hasegawa, opened in 1910, and rebuilt after a fire in 1990. Three-generations have run it, and today, the store boasts a potpourri of Hawaiiana ranging from local sea salt, poi, and spice rubs from local farms, to Pringles, Budweisers, and flip flops.  A fire station, art gallery, gas station, barbeque spot, canoe club, and two churches round out the picturesque town. At the epicenter of it all sits the glorious Hotel Hana-Maui.

Hotel Hana Sea Cottage

Hotel Hana Sea Cottage

Once a sugar plantation, Hana became a massive cattle ranch when retired San Francisco entrepreneur Paul Fagan bought 14,000 acres and brought over some Herefords from his ranch on Moloka’i. He created a small ranch hotel, Ka-‘uiki Inn, for friends to enjoy, hoping to attract tourists as well. He even flew over the minor-league team, the San Francisco Seals, for spring training.  As Fagan created jobs in the community and was generally well-regarded, the community set a giant cross on the hill overlooking the hotel in his memory after he passed in 1970. Over time and with various managements, the hotel has expanded and reinvented itself, but at its core remains the essence and spirit of place and deep respect for Hawaiian culture.  Rolling green lawns lead to the crashing sea and pastures where horses graze and laze on fields now owned by Oprah Winfrey.  Sea cottages dot the landscape with epic views (on a clear day you can see the Big Island and its snow capped volcano), that rarely include a boat, as beneath these beautiful but treacherous waters separating the islands lie one of the ocean’s deepest trenches.

Here, relaxed elegance permeates the forest green plantation-style cottages which feature colorful linens, sunken tubs, spacious living rooms, local art, bamboo hardwood floors, and stellar private lanai jacuzzis ideal for deep soaks while whale-watching or drifting under a celestial canopy at night.

Breakfast,  served by friendly aunties on the porch, means fresh upcountry omelets with Big Island goat cheese, Hamakua mushrooms and sweet Maui onions, along with mango smoothies and marscapone-stuffed crepes jazzed-up with tropical fruit and vanilla bean sauce. Each day fishermen arrive with the local fresh catch-of-the-day and the surrounding organic farms like Ono bring gems from the soil.  Chef table dinners or “Hana Harvests” are served family-style in the main dining room of Ka ‘uiki. The farm-to-table meal features savories like fiddlefern salad in sesame soy dressing, steamed Moloka’i sweet potato cloaked in coconut cream, ahi poke, traditional poi and whole wok-fried Moi, a fish formerly for royals only.

Hotel Hana pool

Hotel Hana pool

The infinity pool sits serenely atop of the hill where entranced visitors float and drink in the views. Abundant plumeria carpet the grounds. Free early morning yoga classes are held in an open-air studio with a birdsong symphony. The Honua spa overlooks a tropical garden and guests can do free water circuits of steam and cold plunges to revitalize the soul, and then soak in the lava rock whirlpool overlooking the bay. A Hawaiian lomi lomi massage or island sea salt scrub both appease the most demanding sybarites.  When you are able to tear yourself away from the property, the hotel delivers guests to nearby Hamoa beach, a perfect crescent, where surfers, dogs, locals, and guests enjoy the  rolling waves. At night, tiki torches illuminate the grounds, as the winds carry notes of the ukulele, laughter from the Paniolo Lounge, and the beats of pounding surf.

You cannot help but to feel the sacredness of space in Hana.  Volcano Goddess Pele’s remains are said to be here.  Even the earliest people of Maui gravitated to Hana.  The local Heiau (a Hawaiian temple), built by Chief Pi’ilani sometime around the 15th century, is Hawaii’s largest, measuring two football fields of  lava rock carried and placed by hand.  Located in the magnificent Kahanu Garden that showcases the ‘canoe plants’ first brought to Hawaii, the Heiau’s exact use in the past remains a mystery—perhaps a sacrificial site or burial ground of the chief’s bones—but the locals speak and take care of it with great reverence.  The Haleakalā National Park Pools at Ohe’o Gulch are a miracle of nature and not to be missed.

Those who are wise will realize it is a privilege to be in Hana; the terroir has a life force of its own and has been known to “spit” people out who do not belong. So tread lightly kind visitors.  If fortune finds you, perhaps you will tap into the mana of Hana.

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