For those of us that live in or hail from the United States, Hawaii might not be the most exotic of destinations — that is, for an island situated in the middle of the world’s largest ocean, thousands of miles away from the contiguous USA. We’ve seen it in movies, we’ve dressed up as hula dancers for halloween, we’ve been to luau themes parties and we listen to Hawaiian music. We’ve already placed Hawaii on a pedestal, but a lot of people aren’t totally sure why — sure, living the island lifestyle must be nice, but it’s more of a caricature than reality. Isn’t it?
It’s not all a facade. The tropical state of Hawaii proudly boasts several titles that, even at the very first glance, can impress the most stoic and critical traveller: The longest life expectancy in the entire United States, at 81.3 years. The state with both the lowest obesity and depression rates, at 19% and 17% respectively. A government that builds and maintains paths for hiking and biking, and keeps its beaches safe and clean…. Well, at this point, reality easily becomes stranger than fiction, and we easily find ourselves falling under Hawaii’s spell. Hawaii makes a lot of sense after all, and it’s hard to be critical in the face of such an appeal to logic.
That’s because what Hawaii, specifically Maui, is known for is not its gleaming statistics and various #1 trophies. It’s fecund climate and the proximity to the lushness of the natural world that first come to mind, and it’s the same mental image that lingers far after you return home. The visions of emerald greens and azure blues blend together to represent a place that has become less of a spot on the map, and more like a state of mind. The true beauty of nature, artfully confined within eight islands in the middle of the remote Pacific, melds with your mind and body in a way that feels right. It is deliciously simple and quickly overtakes you. It boosts you into another level of existence that many people call bliss, which results from a life lived in alignment with mother nature and the push/pull of the universe, with a heavy dose of gratitude and without much resistance.
It feels so good and so pure that, in fact, a lot of people who travel to Maui never make it back home — they’re oh-so-willingly planted in a beach chair with a bowl of fresh poké in their lap, probably for life. The reality of being far away from home, while feeling your absolute best in both mind and body, as you enjoy the best of what tropical rains and volcanic soil has to offer, certainly has travelers spellbound… but what is it exactly about the island of Maui that has cultivated a such a culture and community of wellness-minded lovers of life?
Hawaiian Cuisine: A Way To Devour Culture
For for those who hunger for culture, food provides one of the most intimate and sensual ways to experience the nature of a place. Nothing can better encapsulate Maui’s spirit than the way its food is grown and prepared, with all the cultural nuances that go into every step of it. Hawaiian cuisine didn’t always reflect the heart of the islands; in fact, for many years, a majority of the foods available on Maui were imports, shipped to the island by boat and consumed weeks after it was harvested. The options were few, being the remote islands that they are, but recent years have seen a resurgence in sustainable efforts food growth and, subsequently, a growth in pride in the local food culture. Hawaiians see food not just sustenance that must be consumed in order to survive, but a way to celebrate Maui, celebrate wellness, and celebrate one’s body.
The onus is now on local farmers to provide a majority of the food that is consumed on the island — small, quality family farms grow cattle and major crops, taking advantage of the truly favorable conditions that living upon a volcanic island provides. There are now a number of breweries that craft local beers, and even hard liquors. Maui grows, harvests, roasts and sells all their own small-batch coffee. The results are food that’s less expensive and far fresher, with colors and nutrient profiles that would make your doctors gasp with glee. It’s a benefit that’s felt in people’s bodies as well as their wallets, and it’s a great cause of dignity and honor for the people of Maui.
The fanaticism with locally grown, farm-to-table cuisine has even trickled down into people’s personal homes; it’s incredibly common for the everyday Hawaiian to cultivate their own home garden and to share tips (or seeds) with neighbors. For those who either don’t have the space or are simply visiting, the local chain stores (like Costco) make the conscious decision to represent local farms in their stock and stores, making these foods available to all those who desire it. There is also a burgeoning private chef culture, so families can enjoy fresh, local dishes on a daily basis, infused with a very-Maui sense of indulgence. The cuisine itself draws inspiration from the land, the sea and the Polynesian culture — and if it feels a little reminiscent of your favorite asian flavors, well, that’s because it is. Many people from East and Southeast Asia migrated to Hawaii during the plantation days, and they brought their many traditions with them.
Maui restaurants such as Pacific’o Restaurant, Mala Ocean Tavern and Fork & Salad are great examples of Hawaiian cuisine, at its healthful, local best. Pacific’o actually sources all of their ingredients from their own farms located on the islands — but each restaurant offers a wide selection of colorful ingredients set against a beachfront background and deliciously relaxing vibes. If you’re the traveller interested in seeing everything that goes into the creation of your food, farm tours are a huge hit. We recommend checking out Surfing Goat Dairy, Ali’i Kula Lavendar Farms and O’o Farms.
Maui Midnight: A Life Spent Outside
When you visit Maui, you’ll notice that it’s not the type of place that spends its nights partying until the early hours of the morning. In fact, when the sun goes down, most of Maui’s people tuck back into their homes to get a good night’s sleep, nice and early. It’s certainly a departure for those travelers who are used to active night lives, but not without its reason. During Hawaii’s daylight hours, visitors and locals make the most of the warmth and the vibrancy by being outside and moving their bodies — that leaves nighttime for comfort, slowness and rest so that the next day can be, once again, lived to the fullest.
The people of Maui know how to best fill their soul and they love to share the delights of mother nature with those who travel to appreciate it. To them, true happiness and fulfillment comes from thriving in one’s body and feeling the sun and salt water against their skin. It’s very ‘Maui’ to indulge in a healthy bit of escapism by shirking big cities, clogged roads and busy beaches to find your own slice of solo paradise. Then, there’s nothing else to do besides be entirely in the moment, whether that means surfing, hiking, chatting with friends or lounging under a palm tree with a good book.
Those with a taste for adventure will love the road to Hana. Somewhat isolated from the rest of Maui, it’s a great chance for travelers to road trip down the 52-mile winding road and discover the many wonders of ra more emote Maui all of their own. Waterfalls abound, as do those little tropical enclaves with swirling fresh waters that just beg to be swum in. Here, you’ll also find a hiking trail through a bamboo forest that can only be described as ‘uber-zen.’ The sound of wind rustling through the tall bamboo shoots is enchanting and well worth the small detour. If you prefer an element of delightful surprise, why not visit Makawao? It is a small town nestled in Maui’s foothills, but you can also hire tour guides to take you all the way up to the summit. In the same vein, you might find the massive Haleakala Crater similarly astounding.
The hikes on Maui are gorgeous and plentiful, but the true spirit of the island lies in its surfing. There are beaches for advanced surfers, as well as “nursing grounds” where new surfers can find their sea legs. “There’s something for every surfer on Maui,” says Lulu of SwellWomen, “and the best part of it is that anyone is welcome to come try.” Lulu recommends new surfers to hire a surf coach and head to Breakwall in Lahaina or go on a retreat that will really allow you to develop your skills. Surfing not your favorite? Napili Bay — with its white sand beaches — is great for beach chilling and snorkeling.
A Conclave Of Healers Out In the Middle Of The Ocean
Though most of Maui’s natural pleasures are understandably hedonistic, it’s not all about feeling the sun on your skin or the waves beneath your board. Sometimes, the work has to be accessed on a deeper level — and that usually requires some guidance.
Hawaiian culture is deliciously spiritual. The ancient Polynesian religion characterized nature and brought the lessons to life — they believed in mana, what we would know as energy or life force, and knew the ocean to be a distinctively sacred place. These ideologies remain true, even if the face of a rapidly modernizing Hawaii, and are instilled into the Maui culture we see today. The Maui of today is an interesting blend of native Polynesian, Asian and Latin American; a melange that plays out not only in their cuisine, but in the all-encompassing nature of Hawaiian spirituality and healing.
It seems that this little island, situated far away from any sort of significant land mass, attracts healers and wanderers of all types. It’s almost as if every person you meet has brought an offering the island in terms of healing; there are a significant number of therapists and holistic doctors, practicing herbal and ancient methods. Here, working with nature and the energy of the earth plays out in entirely new ways. You might be recommended to see an acupuncturist, or a float in a sensory deprivation tank, or get a cranial evaluation. There’s enough talent and knowledge to go around, and it’s very rooted in history as well as brought together by the eclectic expat group that Hawaii has amassed.
Though private therapists are always available upon request, spas are generally Maui’s go-to meccas for healing the mind and body. These are far more than a place to receive a massage (as divine as those are) and a tropical mani/pedi (I mean, I’m not complaining…), but temples dedicated to the accessing and soothing the soul through means of the body. For instance, The Spa Montage in Kapalua Bay integrates you with nature through its thoughtfully designed treatments and products, and the Grand Wailea offers a grandiose spa for therapies you didn’t know you needed, like traditional Lomilomi massages and their signature termé healing waters circuit. If you’re adventuring out in Hana, the Travaasa Resort boasts a spa where the healing experts use their knowledge of plants and natural forces to rest and revitalize the soul whole overlooking the remote Hana Bay. If you desire an extended healing experience which immerses you in a week of perspective-shifting experiences, you might want to try a Maui-based wellness retreat.
The people of Maui are oh-so aware of how blessed they are, and they don’t intend to squander their good fortune. Here, it’s all about maintaining balance — and perhaps that is because many of Maui’s permanent inhabitants (and visitors) and people who desired to escape the rat race back home and have no intention of bringing that inclination here… or, what’s more likely, is that is just the magic of Maui.