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Maui's heavenly Hana is more than just a road trip

Bethany Jean Clement, The Seattle Times on

Published in Travel News

HANA, Hawaii -- Hana, on the east side of the island of Maui, might not be literally a one-horse town, but it is tiny, with a population of 1,258. We saw only one horse, looking over the fence at us next to the Hasegawa General Store. The horse blinked and chewed, not much interested, then returned to mowing the verdant field, mouthful by mouthful. My friend Sarah and I stood in the sun and watched awhile.

Hana is most famous not on its own merits, but for the coastal road to it, which is a winding, unbelievably gorgeous tropical adventure of two very narrow lanes. A lot of people make the drive out, eat at one of Hana's numerous food trucks -- the main accommodation made for tourists there -- and drive back the same day. But for the kind of resounding peacefulness that can be rather evasive at a "relaxing" resort, it's a magical place for an overnight stay.

The family-owned general store, with peeling green paint and a rusting corrugated roof, celebrated a century of serving Hana back in 2010. The bulletin board outside listed local job openings, summer band camp, Tahitian classes, a "nice Maytag electric dryer" for sale and much, much more. Inside, under not-too-glaring fluorescent tubes, was every necessity. We picked up a couple cold tallboys of beer and some apple bananas (Sarah, who grew up on Kauai, said I would love these, and she was correct -- smaller, firmer, more tart, like a Granny Smith found a way to make sweet love to a mainland banana, producing these joyous offspring). The man in front of us in line was buying one large-sized bolt and the nut to go with it. "I think you have a package," the cashier said to him, disappearing for a minute to go check. "You don't have a package," she said, returning.

ISLAND TIME

Time slows down in Hana, in the best possible way, if you have all day. Sarah walked to look at the stately little white Wananalua Congregational Church, which, according to its National Register of Historic Places nomination form, is one of the best remaining examples of a typical mid-19th century Hawaiian stone church building, and also typical insofar as it was "constructed of local materials by Hawaiians under the supervision of a missionary." (It made it onto the register.)

Meanwhile, I waited in the shade at a bright-red picnic table while the guys at the bright-orange Surfing Burro food cart made our lunch. Everyone, by unspoken mutual accord, was comfortably on island time. A disused trolley car in the Surfing Burro parking lot, framed by palms and potted plants, offered the dubious proposition "BUY 1 SQUARE FOOT OF MAUI $24.99," but no one was there to sell it. The breeze offered a peekaboo view of the sea through the lush trees. The ahi tacos, served on a paper plate, were great, and the BYO beer seemed like a stroke of sheer genius.

We checked into the Hana Kai Maui, our own little condo with bamboo furniture, a balcony with a postcard panorama, and louvered windows for ocean airflow. Naps happened, then walking and talking and just throwing rocks on the beach. When there's less to do, you have more time to do it.

When dinnertime rolled around on this slightly offseason weeknight, all the food trucks seemed to have gone fishing. It wasn't hard, however, to find what seemed to be the only game in town, the Hana Ranch Restaurant, owned by the nearby Travaasa resort. It was pricier than it should have been -- a decent ahi sandwich for $22, an all-right $18 cheeseburger, margaritas that tasted like mix for $10 each -- but the server was very sweet, and whole families were jubilantly celebrating their fresh high school graduates, some wearing specially printed T-shirts to mark the occasion. Inside, one wall was decked out with hanging ukuleles, like promising pieces of musical fruit; a table outside offered an absurdly lovely vista that stretched into infinity as the sky and water darkened together. Hana lets you know that not everything has to be perfect to be wonderful.

Sleep was accompanied by the sound of the surf, plus a terrific downpour in the middle of the night, forgotten until, in the morning, the roads and the rooftops and the palms and the hillsides sparkled, freshly washed.

ON THE ROAD

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