Unconventional Maui at the Old Wailuku Inn at Ulupono

A historic inn feels like a step back to 1920s Hawaii By: Chanize Thorpe
The Old Wailuku Inn is the historic 1924 Lufkin House. // © 2011 Bruce Wheeler
The Old Wailuku Inn is the historic 1924 Lufkin House. // © 2011 Bruce Wheeler

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Old Wailuku Inn at Ulupono

Rates from $165 per night, including breakfast
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When i drove away from Maui’s Wailea resort area and headed uphill to Wailuku town, I wondered how this next experience would compare to the sunny, sandy Eden I had just savored. Was I trading in paradise for a cute but boring bed and breakfast experience? As the mini malls and highway disappeared behind my rental car, I entered a town that seemed barely touched by time. Obeying my GPS instructions, I turned into a residential area and said, “I must be lost.” 

But I wasn’t. Indeed, Old Wailuku Inn at Ulupono isn’t what many vacationers picture for a Maui getaway. But for history buffs, artists and those who prefer low-key charm rather than a cookie-cutter corporate hotel, the inn is a natural choice.

I parked my car, grabbed my key from the mailbox and entered my new home. No check-in desk or bell service to help with my bags — just a note with instructions and the rules of the house. 

In 1997, Tom and Janice Fairbanks restored the historic 1924 Lufkin House, owned by a wealthy banker named Charles Dexter Lufkin. The couple decided to turn the great house into a haven for those seeking a vacation in old Hawaii. The name Ulupono means “to grow and flourish in righteousness,” and the inn has remained a success. Its mostly under-the-radar location is what attracts anti-resort clients who crave a more authentic island experience. 

Each of the seven rooms in the main house is named after flowers from the works of Hawaii’s poet laureate Don Blanding (the separate Vagabond’s House is a three-bedroom ode to the artist) and all are meant to resemble 1920s Hawaii. The plantation-style inn is washed in pastel colors, country-chic prints, eucalyptus wood floors and wicker furniture. Individually decorated rooms offer a king-size bed or two twins. Ours was the Lokelani Room, which had built-in bookshelves lined with tomes on travel, ancient Hawaii and vintage furniture. At night, we cuddled up in bed with the inn’s pride and joy — handmade quilts that cut out the late-night chill. 

Being up in the valley and seemingly closer to the sun, I did lament the lack of a pool at the inn around high noon. Still, with a strong air-conditioning unit, I managed to cool off quickly and learned that mid-morning and late afternoon were the best times to hang out on the outdoor porch. It faces the back of the house and doesn’t have a view of the valley like the breakfast room, but there’s no finer space to veg with a book and a glass of the pineapple wine you have chilled in the inn’s free-for-all fridge. The owners also provide complimentary colas and juices — such as pineapple-orange or passion fruit — and should guests get peckish, there’s a container filled with snacks. 

The laidback inn is decidedly geared to the adult set. There aren’t entertainment options for children, and the environment is very quiet. My not-so-typical 16-year-old teen was able to seek solace in the cable television and free Wi-Fi. Also, the beach is only a short drive away. 

Breakfast is served at 8 a.m. only and it’s a community affair, where guests instantly feel like ohana (family). Innkeeper Janice helps with breakfast service and greets guests by name, talking to them as if she’s known them forever. During our visit, the family-style table was surrounded by a couple from Alaska and a gentleman in town for business. The first few minutes were awkward, but that shyness disappeared as we listened to everyone’s stories and chimed in with our own island tales. 

Even for a late-sleeper like me, the gourmet meal was worth getting up for. I expected some ho-hum granola and maybe some uninspired eggs, but the two-course meal was positively decadent: a fresh fruit cup with local strawberries, mangos and pineapples, followed by a hot dish. Our first morning we had Belgian macadamia-nut waffles with homemade coconut syrup, and the second breakfast was an enormous enchilada filled with smoked turkey, eggs, cheeses and topped with a bright green Mexican sauce and a tangy salsa. My daughter — a vegetarian — was easily and discreetly accommodated, receiving the same meal as everyone else, minus the meat.  

Early-morning breakfast gave us a jump-start on the day. Some guests headed out to explore nearby Lahaina. Others, like us, put on comfy walking shoes and strolled through a town that hasn’t changed much since its humble beginnings. As we walked along the tree-lined streets, we learned that Maui has many sides and we felt lucky to have experienced them. 

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