The most remote island in the world is Tristan de Cunha, a British territory in the south Atlantic with 250 or so hardy souls all living without an airstrip, some six days’ journey from Africa by boat. The capital — such as it is — is called, rather marvelously, Edinburgh of the Seven Seas, and the harsh climate is decidedly Scottish, too. (Technically, it’s an archipelago, and one of the outlying islets is called “Inaccessible Island,” which should tell you something.) Buffeted by wind and rain, it’s a difficult place to make a life — although property is held in common and nobody worries much about student loans.
It’s not for everyone, clearly. You don’t have to be a curmudgeonly hermit to find remote islands appealing, though. And if you’d rather inhale tropical breezes than brace yourself against gale-force winds, there is Maui, 2,300 miles away from the foggy coast of California. Known as the “Valley Isle” for the isthmus that separates the mountains in the western and eastern halves, it benefits from being less urbanized than Oahu, smaller than the Big Island, less overtly trendy than Kauai, and, unlike the unfortunate Kaho’olawe, free of unexploded ordnance from the Second World War.
Maui is both remote and not remote. It’s a few hours away by plane, granted, but across the sheltered intra-island channel known as Lahaina Roads, you can see Molokai and Lanai rising from the oceans, their summits often obscured by the clouds they generate in the trade winds (depending on the time of day). And the best place to do it is from a wa’a, or outrigger canoe, launched from the beach opposite the Kā’anapali Beach Hotel, voted “Hawai‘i’s Most Hawai‘ian Hotel.”
Out there, on the water, you feel free. Cutting through the waves at even four or five knots feels like a breakneck pace, but experienced crews have been known to go three times as fast in competitive races. Paddling rhythmically through the impossibly clear ocean under the wa‘a’s blue-and-yellow sail, under the guidance of Captain Ray Glauser and his crew, you can crane your neck and gaze upon four of Hawai‘i’s main islands, something you can’t do anywhere else.
Venture out far enough, and you can also glimpse Molokini, a crescent-shaped volcanic crater that looks like half of a sunken coliseum and functions as a snorkeler’s paradise. But that’s barely venturing “out” at all, as wa‘a are now used to replicate the journeys that Polynesian explorers took centuries ago. Ponder how daring humans came up with an accurate way to ascertain longitudes, which had long bedeviled sailors, well before the invention of the marine chronometer — and then head back to the beach, where you left your shoes near the hotel’s property line.
Built in phases during the 1960s, the 432-room Ka’anapali Beach Hotel (KBH) is exactly the right balance of mellow and lively. It’s not a thumping resort with EDM blasting poolside until the wee hours, and it’s not some off-the-grid jumping-off point for survivalists who want to test their mettle in nature. It’s open and welcoming to all, remote and yet plugged-in.
You can sit in the grass at a poi-making demonstration and watch a serene expert bliss out while working the purple taro root with his pōhaku ku‘i ‘ai (a pestle made from volcanic rock) against a papa ku‘i ‘ai (a wooden board) to fashion that staple of Hawai‘ian cuisine. It takes some time to mash it into the proper texture, and requires both a fair amount of water and a fair amount of nuance.
Further, you can put yourself under the tutelage of the amiable executive sous chef Chris Napoleon, KBH’s award-winning poke master, as he demonstrates the proper technique for making three types of ahi poke with plenty of ginger and sweet Hawai‘ian onions. Only take this on if you’re prepared to ruin yourself on that pale imitation of poke you get at the kiosk in the mall, of course.
KBH is famed for its Sunday Champagne brunches ($50 for adults, $28 for children), which draw visitors and locals in equal measure. Beyond mainland staples like carving stations and fruit plates, heaps of poke rest cheek-by-jowl with other Hawai‘ian favorites such as kalua pig, smoky from the traditional ti leaves. And not for nothing, but a glass or two of bubbles will make you want to enjoy the rest of the afternoon at leisure, either idling away the hottest hours by the Tiki Terrace or venturing up the beach to nearby Black Rock.
Save that excursion to the summit at Haleakala National Park for another day, in other words. But Lahaina, the historic whaling town and former capital with a number of architecturally unique houses of worship dating back as far as the early 1800s, is only a few miles down the road. Amid the multimillion dollar properties and galleries like the one belonging to “metaphorical realist” painter Vladimir Kush are mature breadfruit trees and spots for a quick snack. Lahaina, ensconced in the rain shadow so that it gets fewer than 15 inches of rain in a year, means “cruel sun” — but when that sun hits your forearms, you might have a different interpretation.
Maui has a number of unique traits. Hawai‘i is one of only four states to have been a sovereign nation, and the only one whose independence lasted for more than just a few years. There are no snakes, and almost no tides. It’s incredibly chill, even from the perspective of Northern California, in many ways one of the more laid-back regions on the mainland. And with its emphasis on professionalism inflected with ‘ohana — the term for family — KBH is the very distillation of that island spirit. It’s remote, sure, but not so much that you won’t wish to return.
As the sign says when you depart at last, “A hui hou” — or, until we meet again.
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