Forget every thing you’ve come to envision about Hawaii: the loud patterned shirts, the flower leis, the grass skirts and the roasted pig at the luau. Those are just hokey props for the uninitiated. You may be a mainlander, but you’re ready to delve into Hawaii’s hidden depths, where each island offers a distinct character that resonates more strongly than any cheesy ukulele serenade.
Maui — Despite its increasing development and tourist presence, the unique soul-healing solitude of Maui can’t be underestimated. Aviator Charles Lindbergh retreated there to live out his days after the notorious kidnapping and murder of his child, and when diagnosed with cancer in New York he defied serious health risks to return to Maui, saying, “I’d rather spend a day in Hawaii than a month in New York.”
Lindy’s lava-rock-covered grave is at the Palapala Hoomau Congregational Church in stillremote Hana, not far from the Hotel Hana-Maui. The premier luxury locale on the island, a favorite of Hollywood icons Clark Gable and Greta Garbo, opened in 1946. After a brief fall from grace, the hotel has been restored to glory, wowing contemporary biggies like Keanu Reeves, Oprah Winfrey, Hillary Clinton and daughter Chelsea (they stayed at the Plantation House) and the industryites attending the Maui Film Festival. New amenities include the intimate, state-of-the-art spa with signature treatments like the Honua Ali’i hot stone massage; it uses smooth, heated lava stones, nourishing Honua oil, and soothing ti leaf to achieve healing, centering and rejuvenation.
Over on the white sand shores of the Makena coast is the Maui Prince Hotel, with its immaculate Japanese gardens and tranquil koi ponds; it’s a special haven for whale watchers hoping to glimpse humpbacks during breeding season. An even more enlightened and ecological experience can be had at A’Ala Pua Mahina, a 10-acre estate featuring two luxurious three-bedroom rental homes with high-tech non-polluting solar electric systems. Skyhouse, at $3,100 per week, has a koa-wood floor, wrap-around deck and fireplace, while Oceanhouse, at $3,500 per week, offers a two-story redwood ceiling above 17-foot-high picture windows and a stone fireplace. Unique experiences exist for even the most Maui-savvy visitor, like tasting pineapple wine at Ulupalakula Ranch’s Tedeschi Vineyards. The Tasting Room, featuring an 18-foot-long bar cut from the trunk of a single mango tree, is inside the historic King’s Cottage, built specifically for a Hawaiian monarch in 1874.
Kauai — Kauai delivers on the state’s truly primeval, Eden-like appeal, perhaps best captured by three dense and exotic National Tropical Botanical Gardens: Limahuli Garden, on the wet north shore where taro flourishes on 700- year-old lava rock terraces; the diverse McBryde Garden on the south shore, known as a Noah’s Ark for rare and endangered tropical flora; and Allerton Garden, filled with cosmopolitan garden art and home to the majestic Moreton Bay figs past which the T-Rex stomped in Jurassic Park. For further outdoor adventure take Aloha Canoes & Kayaks’ tour of the Huleia River: Paddle into the heart of a wildlife refuge, hike the towering forests of Kipu Ranch and swing from a rope like Indiana Jones (“Raiders of the Lost Ark” was filmed here) into a pristine mountain pool, all before a gourmet lunch alongside a picturesque waterfall.
The Makaleha Mountain Retreat seems as if it could have naturally sprung up out of the island, save for its uniquely Alpine qualities. Set against a magnificent mountain range near Kapaa, eight minutes from the beach, the two-bedroom cedar-paneled rental home with a wrap-around deck, hot tub and waterfall views is complemented by ginger-scented air and a surrounding bamboo forest filled with freshwater springs. The Princeville Resort is Kauai’s most romantic getaway: The Bachelor’s Aaron Buerge wooed one of his gals in the opulent $4,800 Royal Suite overlooking Hanalei Bay, where Mitzi Gaynor washed Rossano Brazzi out of her hair in South Pacific in a hard-to-find cove on Lumahai Beach. To locate some of the many film locations shot in Kauai, turn to Hawaii Movie Tours to escort you by land, sea or air to spots featured in such films as Donovan’s Reef, Honeymoon in Vegas, Jurassic Park — even the long-shuttered Coco Palms hotel from Elvis Presley’s Blue Hawaii.
Molokai — The most rural, rugged and overlooked of the islands, Molokai offers a retro glimpse at Hawaii — complete with macadamia farms, coffee plantations and the remnants of the famed leper colony. The Molokai Museum & Cultural Center in Kala’e offers tours of the historic, restored R.W. Meyer Sugar Mill, the oldest such plantation in the state: Meyer built it in 1878 after marrying the island’s high priestess. Not quite so rustic are the lodgings at the nearby Molokai Ranch & Lodge, a gorgeous 54,000-acre resort with a timeless 1930s ambiance offering two distinct forms of lodging: the cozy, private 22- room Hawaiian Lodge with panoramic views of the still-unspoiled coastline, or the fully furnished canvas bungalows alongside Kaupoa Beach for a more outdoorsy stay.
Mid-island, the Polynesian oldschooler Hotel Molokai offers visitors an opportunity to mix and mingle with the locals of Kaunakakai; while on the west coast, the more modern Kaluakoi Villas, a 72-unit condominium resort offering studios and onebedroom units for an even more secluded retreat (the condos are phone-less) off Molokai’s pristine white sand beaches. Another oasis of condo serenity is the Marc Ke Nani Kai resort, where guests can unwind in the island’s only jet spa or largest swimming pool after working up a sweat on the tennis court.
Hawaii — Fans of reality TV may have unknowingly fallen in love with breathtaking Hapuna Beach on the Big Island of Hawaii while watching Average Joe’s Larissa Meek cavort on its white sands with her schleppy suitors and their hunky competitors. Larissa lived in the lavish, 8,000- square-foot Hapuna Suite adjacent to the 350-room Hapuna Beach Prince Hotel, nestled into the bluffs of the Kohala coastline. The hotel has decided against creating a special “Average Joe” package, however, given that the Hapuna Suite — which ranges from $5,500-$7,000 per night and comes with its own private drive, porte cochere, a gourmet kitchen, private pool and jacuzzi, $1 million in art and furnishings, suite attendants and a chef on request — offers very little that’s “average.”
The red-hot lava flows of Hawaii Volcanoes National Park offer a steamy glimpse into Hawaii’s primordial origins 70 million years ago, including Mauna Loa and Kilauea, the world’s most massive and active volcanoes, respectively. Two miles from the park the elegant, comfy Inn at the Volcano offers Asian, European and African themed suites (the only jacuzzi-equipped suites on the island) with romantic fireplaces to warm up amid the Big Island’s cool, wet environs. Absolute Paradise is a gay, clothing-optional bed-and-breakfast covered in bougainvillea near the nude-sunbathing haven Kehena Beach. If all-over tanning isn’t adventurous enough for you, try “Flumin Da Ditch” in Hawi, a leisurely kayak excursion through the historic Kohala Sugar Plantation irrigation system, a series of open ditches, flumes and tunnels.
Oahu — It’s hard to imagine anything undiscovered in Oahu, the undisputed epicenter of the Hawaiian travel scene, but you just need to know where to look — like the North Shore’s secluded snorkelers’ paradise Secret Island, or the Chinaman’s Hat atoll in Kaneohe Bay off the shore of Kualoa Ranch. And while it’s no secret that the J.W. Marriott Ihilani Resort & Spa — a secluded getaway nearly an hour from Waikiki — offers some of Oahu’s finest spa services and the lush links of the Ko Olina Golf Course, the Ihilani is also home to Azul, its signature dining room and one of the most romantic restaurants on the island, serving up innovative Mediterranean and Pacific Rim cuisine.
To truly locate the undiscovered side of Oahu, simply dive deeper, both literally and figuratively. On the literal side, the Outrigger Catamaran — the biggest, fastest, most comfortable boat on the island — offers a lengthy Eco Sail & Snorkel Tour exploring the crystalclear waters of Waikiki’s outer reefs, part of the National Marine Sanctuary. The ship takes a lengthy high-speed sail past Diamond Head alongside dolphins and giant green sea turtles, then anchors for guests to plunge into a snorkeling tour of reef and coral formations brimming with magnificent marine life. If you prefer to travel the curls above sea level, the major Outrigger properties offer “Catch a Wave”: A five-night stay earns you a free surfboard rental and lesson from one of two esteemed surf schools (the slightly less adventurous can claim an outrigger canoe ride for two or a 90-minute catamaran sail).
Oahu also provides for deeper environmental or cultural explorations of its rich surroundings. The lobby of the Outrigger Reef Hotel in Waikiki houses the Humpback Whale Info Kiosk, a 600-pound custom-designed display shaped like a whale tail with computer and touchscreen monitor providing free access to a vast database of info and photos on Hawaii’s National Marine Sanctuary and the humpback whales that visit the area from November to April.
The recently renovated Outrigger Waikiki on the Beach brings the heritage of Hawaii alive with workshops dedicated to traditional healing techniques and a complimentary traditional marriage vow renewal ceremony — “Ho’i Hou Ke Aloha” (“Fall in love all over again”). But the hotel’s commitment to custom and history is best exemplified by its exhibit of museum-quality artifacts, including koa wood daggers, rare women’s hair combs made from wood and turtle shell, a whale tooth necklace worn only by local royalty and wooden fish hooks and an octopus lure dating back even prior to Captain James Cook’s arrival in 1778.