Sign Up for Our Monthly Hawaii Newsletter
The east Maui town of Hana has always been about the journey. Some 1,300 years ago, ancient Polynesians sailed more than 3,000 miles across open ocean to reach the shores of Hana Bay, in the most remote and isolated archipelago in the world.
Indeed, flying into Kahului and negotiating a scenic, twisting two-lane road (often a one-laner at bridges) with 56 switchbacks is a relative cakewalk compared to what those early visitors tackled. Furthermore, I was able to regroup and revive after that edgy haul, thanks to the authentic attitude at Travaasa Hana.
When the former Hotel Hana-Maui was purchased in 2010 by the Denver-based Amstar Group, the company rebranded the 69-acre oceanfront retreat within its Travaasa Destinations portfolio, which incorporates authentic elements from each locale into guest experiences. My first impression after the rainy two-hour-plus, 52-mile ride from Kahului Airport is that the all-inclusive East Maui resort is on the right track.
As we eagerly unloaded from our van, the staff greeted us with a cool lemon-scented towel and a glass of passion fruit, orange and guava juices known as POG. The casual, unscripted welcome set the tone for how this entire journey played out.
Flipping the concept of adding “experiential elements,” Travaasa develops resorts around those experiences. According to Chris Manning, Amstar’s vice president, the resort presents locally infused programming that encourages immersion within five core pillars — adventure, food, culture, fitness and spa.
“We’re trying to target people who strapped on a backpack in their 20s and traveled around Europe with no agenda,” said Manning. “They ate the food, lived it and experienced it. It’s been 20-plus years since then, and they still look back on that as the best travel they have had in their lives.”
According to general manager Mark Stebbings, since Travaasa has rebranded, guests have been drawn to the all-inclusive Total Travaasa package.
“When you factor in all of the adventure, culinary, culture, fitness and spa/wellness experiences we offer, the Total Travaasa package presents guests with an incredible value,” Stebbings said.
Accommodations include 47 plantation-style Sea Ranch Cottages sprawling toward the ocean and 23 bungalow-style Garden Suites on the upper grounds near the reception area, spa and restaurants. Since the property is so expansive, I never felt like I was on top of anyone else.
While I was initially shaken by the fact that my spacious cottage was void of familiar distractions like a television, radio and Wi-Fi access, the sound of the surf helped me adjust. That said, it might not be for those who need to be connected at all times. But for those requiring merely an occasional fix, the library features a large, flat-screen television and complimentary Internet access.
I opened the shutters to let the ocean views and tradewinds filter in. My hideaway was furnished with a king-size bed, kitchenette stocked with whole bean Hawaiian coffee and teas and an oversize bathroom with a meditation area just outside. Select cottages feature private jet spas on the lanai.
While accommodations designed for escaping, the main building is the social hub. Just off the reception are sign-up sheets for daily programs, which drew us into Hawaii’s rich cultural heritage. Options gave us hands-on experiences with staff like Andrew Park, who led our group through the ancient Hawaiian art of throw-net fishing. Park is so proficient with his instruction that no one ends up embarrassed or tangled in the net.
There are also sunrise yoga sessions, guided coastal walks, horseback riding, archery, hula, ukulele lessons, lei making, coconut husking, shuttle service to Hamoa Beach, Hana tours and digital photography lessons.
At our mixology class, our multitalented instructor encouraged us to let our creativity flow as we concocted the hoku dori, a sinfully delicious libation of fresh-squeezed star fruit juice, Malibu pineapple rum and Midori melon liqueur garnished with a fresh star fruit wedge.
The crowning jewel of the all-inclusive plan is a daily treatment at the nine-room Spa at Travaasa Hana. The tranquil facility and its therapists celebrate the incredible bounty of Hana, utilizing natural body and face treatment products from abundant plants and minerals.
On the culinary front, executive chef and “local boy” Barry Villiarimo presents his farm-to-table fare at Kauiki Restaurant. In-season ingredients grow amok here — locally sourced taro, breadfruit, sweet potatoes, coconut milk and fern shoots that also nourished ancient Hawaiians. At dinner, the chef spoiled us with pohole fern shoot salad and lilikoi mahi with Hawaiian sweet potato and ginger lime coconut sauce.
In the evening, this community “hot spot” found us interacting with staff, fellow guests and local residents who gathered to sing and spontaneously dance the hula. For clients comfortable with unplugging and going local with a “no rush, no worries” attitude, Travaasa Hana rewards with a genuine sense of place.