It’s on your list, you’ve checked it twice and yep, Maui is definitely where you want to spend the holidays or even ring in the New Year in 2012. 

So where do you start?

There are a number of roads that will lead you to quite a few different experiences on one of Hawaii’s most popular islands.

On my recent trip to Maui I started with cocktails and a lu’au at one of my favorite properties, the Grand Wailea, the better to get acclimated. 

First things first, Freddie the lead Mixologist at Grand Wailea whipped me up a couple of specials like the Dragonberry Bomb (rum based) and a few drinks that were yet to be named. Let’s talk about how he combined the tequila, ginger liquor, cilantro, mango puree and lemon in the first one and then served me a second with Stoli, elderflower, pinot, fresh strawberries, lime, passion fruit and the kicker – cayenne. 

Each drink in its own right is going down in my drink history book. Besides, that’s what I love about those fancy schmancy mixologist these days, they will mix anything and it tastes good.

Next stop was the lu’au and, like all good lu’aus it’s the history of the island, fire throwers, the whole garb and yes, it is worth it. In fact, the lu’au at Grand Wailea comes highly recommended.

Staying at the Westin Maui I headed back there after my first night out with the Westin spa high on my list for the next day. 

Besides, that’s what a good holiday is all about – spa, food, good drink and family and friends.

That is what my Hawaii was all about too, so it was a perfect match.

I indulged in the 50-minute Heavenly Body Wrap at the Westin Spa with an eye toward relaxation and exfoliation using a native island sugar scrub infused with Maui lavender and passion fruit oils. Westin is known for its spa experience and there are some recommended packages I would definitely treat myself to for the holidays. The hope, dream, wish or heaven packages all include a signature massage and in some cases a facial or mani, pedi. 

The Heavenly Organic facial is another go-to choice since it is 99 percent natural with certified organic ingredients. Of course there are also more advanced facials offered for mature or sun-burned skin so don’t limit yourself. 

With every good spa day a person certainly deserves a good dinner. With a front row seat of the ocean and the sunset the Honu Maui was all about shrimp, fresh chowder, seafood and even a hazelnut bread that I would have loved to have taken home in infinite amounts – particularly for the holidays.

The next morning being the pleasure junkie that I am, where else would I go but a nice brunch at what is called the Pineapple Grill at Kapalua Resort (doesn’t that just sound Hawaiian) and then on to Kapalua Spa for more pampering like the day before.

At the Pineapple Grill the menu will make your head spin, but in a good way. This is a must visit experience and the property and restaurant have been there a while so the food is mouthwatering from the breakfast choices like smoked salmon and spinach (I ordered that) to my second and third choices that I didn’t order; Crabby Cakes Benedict or Chicken and Apple Sausage.

If you check in for lunch highly recommended are the Crispy Lump Crab Cakes or favorites like the Grilled Mahi Mahi or the Ahi Club Sandwich.

Did I mention the tasty Triple Bogie Bloody Mary or a selection of Mimosa’s from Maui Wowie to Maui Bellini… you get the idea.

A couple of Bloody Mary’s later and I was indulging yet again and this feels like the kind of place I could stay for longer than my hour-long treatment. Surrounded by Kapalua Bay, the Kapalua Spa is 30,000 square-feet and is all about nature and natural set amid the idea of the healing property of water with 19 treatment rooms and bungalows, I experienced the latter. There are stone soaking tubs and the bungalows are amid a fragrant garden, it just feels like Hawaii should feel when you think about it. Views of the ocean and the island of Moloka’i in the distance make the entire spa experience at Kapalua Spa transformational and, even better they serve a light lunch menu by the pool if you are so inclined.

While the food and the spa pampering can happen in any place in the world, Maui just enhances the experience and you really can feel the energy and power of the island if you allow it to embrace you. This is particularly true at the Ritz-Carlton, Kapalua, where it was my second time to visit as I arrived pampered and already completely overindulged. 

This property is built on sacred Hawaiian grounds and every effort was made to keep the culture intact taking care to respect the earth. At dinner that evening I ate at the Banyan Tree Restaurant with a culture advisor for the resort named Clifford Nae’ole. I can’t write enough about Nae’ole. He is Hawaiian in every sense of the word and has more knowledge about Maui than anyone I have ever talked to on the islands. 

He is at the resort often so this makes staying there for a night or week even more attractive. He also had some interesting stories about the island’s ghosts called Night Walkers, if you believe in that sort of thing (and even if you don’t) visiting this particular property will give you chills as you walk to the beach and feel the presence of what I believe Hawaii once was and still is to those willing to look a little under the surface for the real culture that exists there.

Taking an even more interesting turn, I drove to the other side of the island the following day to a property called Travaasa Hana. It was a three-hour drive, but worth it to spend a few nights. It was given to me on good authority this is where the celebrities live on Maui since it is less crowded and basically, ultra bohemian. In brief, it’s the kind of area where if you don’t want to be found, you won’t be found.

The drive is remarkable and worth the three hours as you experience what I think is the non-touristy version of Maui. At the Travaasa Hana I stayed in what was called a Sea Ranch Cottage and opted for the Total Travaasa Package, that meant, you guessed it, a spa treatment as well as dinner in the Ka’uiki Dining Room.

Complimentary activities at Travaasa Hana include bicycles, croquet, tennis, golf and even cultural activities like Hula lessons, Ukulele lessons or Le Making Lessons. 

The spa stood out for me because while I was there having a reflexology treatment on my feet, the therapist was just a bit intuitive and began to tell me all sorts of things about my life. She was getting all of it from just reading my feet (sort of like reading palms) so the treatment was about as unique as any I have ever experienced. Normally, reflexology is about stimulating points along the meridian paths of the feet and hands that is meant to be soothing. If that’s not your thing there are also treatments like Pohaku Wela Hot Stone or the always popular Hawaiian Lomilomi massage using a local healing tradition. Translated lomilomi means “break apart,” as in all that stress that you don’t need.

Before going further in Hana, there is one place that must be visited Kahuna Gardens. It is a place that is hard to describe and again, magical. There are a number of eco-systems found there and the gardens are located in the only tropical zone in the United States. With 2,000 acres of gardens and preserves the plants flourish abundantly on a daily basis and many unusual plants can be found here. 

Tours are available in the gardens, but I walked through alone to discover some of the ancient culture. There is the Pi’ilanihale, which is a lava-rock structure that is said to be the largest ancient place of worship, called a heiau, in Polynesia and it’s also a National Historic Landmark.

The gardens also offered me one of the most spectacular views I had during my trip of the ocean from a cliff high above the water. It was just the way I feel it is supposed to be in Hawaii when thinking of those ancient cultures living in this area of the world so long ago. 

Sure surfing and snorkeling and all the Maui “things to do” are on the list, but more so are the things that are not so tourist-friendly, that’s what I was looking for and found it in Hana. Besides, Hana, is a community wrapped up by the mists of ancient Polynesia anyway, so much so in fact, that it was not until the 1920s that the little community was even accessible by any way other than the sea. 

No matter if you decide to try all the different flavors of Maui from Grand Wailea and Westin; those classy environs, to the culturally-correct Ritz Carlton in Kapalua or the secrets of Hana and the Traavasa Hana sea cottages – Maui is for everyone and for the holidays who doesn’t want to spend their week or even weekend in the ultimate paradise. 

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Rita Cook is a free lance travel writer whose articles appear frequently in the Waxahachie Daily Light.