Tropical gardens add to Ka’anapali Beach Hotel’s calm. (Julie L. Kessler/Special to S.F. Examiner)

Tropical gardens add to Ka’anapali Beach Hotel’s calm. (Julie L. Kessler/Special to S.F. Examiner)

Kicking back in Ka’anapali, Maui

The beauty of the Valley Isle is most poignant in the post-COVID era

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When the lockdown was ordered I‘d only been back in the U.S. a few days following three weeks overseas on various assignments, including review of a new Airbus delivered to Fiji. Having my air wings summarily clipped and being unable to engage in my regular work coupled of course with the fears, uncertainties and the sad new normal of COVID, made, to state the obvious, an exceedingly arduous year.

To keep busy and maintain my sanity, I wrote about cars and SUVs, American road trips and camper vans, the virtues of road tripping with Rerun the lovable Labrador and virtual world travel liaising with a laptop. As it turned out, I’d experienced isolated things I never would have in COVID’s absence: Utah slot canyoneering, Texas’ tasty tacos and a Wyoming wheelhouse. So there’s that.

Once fully vaccinated, it seemed fitting that my first flight since the pandemic-era grounded me — and a few hundred million of my closest friends — would be home to Hawaii, where I’d spent my formative years.

Since I hadn’t touched my 20-inch carry-on in 13 months, I had to actively think about packing, while pre-COVID, it was a rote maneuver steeped in long standing muscle memory. While I’m never one to underestimate the sadism of fellow passengers, I’m happy to report the flight to Maui was smooth in all regards. Indeed it was the perfect choice to ease back into the skies.

The bed

The Ka’anapali Beach Hotel on Maui’s west coast opened in 1964 and has long been considered the most Hawaiian hotel because of its continuing commitment to cultural integrity and sense of place that few other places in Hawaii possess. That may also be aided by the fact that KBH has had the same general manager for 35 years.

In keeping with its cultural commitment, the lobby houses some excellent historical photos of Hawaiian royalty. It’s also where Hale Ho’okipa is located, where guests can sign up for one of several complimentary cultural activities such as Hawaiian language, hula and ‘ukulele.

Many of KBH’s 432 rooms have been refurbished in Phase One of an extensive, multi-million dollar refresh to the property. The hotel’s expansive gardens provide a peaceful tropical respite and face a three-mile stretch of the blue Pacific with the Hawaiian islands of Lanai and Molokai visible in the distance.

Refreshed rooms have ocean views at the Ka’anapali Beach Hotel. (Courtesy photo)

Refreshed rooms have ocean views at the Ka’anapali Beach Hotel. (Courtesy photo)

Refreshed rooms have comfortable bedding, furnished lanais to enjoy ocean breezes, tea kettles, coffee makers and marvelous, skin-kissing rain showers. Perhaps most important, the spirit of aloha remains KBH’s guiding principle and is ever present. No small wonder KBH has so many repeat guests. kbhmaui.com

The meals

Huihui — the gathering place — is set to open at KBH June 1 and will contain 5,000 square feet of elevated, oceanfront dining with unimpeded views. The talented executive chef Tom Muramoto will be at Huihui’s helm serving modern Hawaiian cuisine using locally sourced seafood and organic produce.

Sampling some of chef Muramoto’s signature dishes in advance of the opening was akin to hitting a culinary jackpot. The Poke Holokai with ahi, crab, fish roe and wasabi on taro lavosh resembling ship sails had me swearing undying allegiance to the ocean.

Poke Holokai is chef Tom Muramoto’s signature dish at the soon-to-open Huihui Restaurant. (Julie L. Kessler/Special to S.F. Examiner)

Poke Holokai is chef Tom Muramoto’s signature dish at the soon-to-open Huihui Restaurant. (Julie L. Kessler/Special to S.F. Examiner)

However, the smoked and wok-seared Molokai venison with pickled seaweed, scallions and Hawaiian chili pepper was ethereal, reminding me that the a’ina — the land — should never, ever be ignored. That along with the venison burger — low fat, high protein and delicious — and ending with a banana bread and macadamia nut ice cream sandwich proved there are countless ways I can fall unequivocally in love, culinarily speaking.

Huihui’s banana bread and macadamia nut ice cream sandwich is reason enough to consider exercise. (Julie L. Kessler/Special to S.F. Examiner)

Huihui’s banana bread and macadamia nut ice cream sandwich is reason enough to consider exercise. (Julie L. Kessler/Special to S.F. Examiner)

If you’re craving carbs or planning on running the Maui Marathon, Taverna Maui in neighboring Kapalua has wood oven-fired pizzas and tasty bread made in house by pastry chef Courtney Mae Galarita that’s served with Hawaiian sea salt and olive oil.

Breakfast at KBH’s Tiki Terrace amid the gardens served with private label, locally grown coffee ensured each day started as it should, deeply caffeinated.

The finds

Hale Huaka’i is KBH’s beachfront ocean activities center, run by Iokepa (Kepa) Nae’ole. Kepa is a direct descendent of Hawaiian Chief Nae’ole, the most trusted personal attendant of Kamehameha’s mother, who was responsible for safeguarding the future unifier of the Hawaiian islands.

With Lanai in the distance, blissful waters grace Ka’anapali Beach. (Julie L. Kessler/Special to S.F. Examiner)

With Lanai in the distance, blissful waters grace Ka’anapali Beach. (Julie L. Kessler/Special to S.F. Examiner)

I opted to stand up paddle board with Kepa. On smooth early morning waters, I quickly realized there was almost nothing I could ask Kepa about paddling, canoeing, the water or Hawaiian history that he couldn’t deftly answer with profoundly deep knowledge. Many Maui youth are fortunate to have Kepa as their outrigger canoe teacher, mentor and coach as he honors his rich legacy.

Hoping to see some whales toward the end of the season, PacWhale Eco Adventure’s Sunset Dinner Cruise on their Ocean Quest departing from nearby Lahaina didn’t disappoint. With COVID rules in place, the Ocean Quest had just 32 socially distant passengers, instead of the usual 64. As if a Hollywood director yelled “action,” in the middle of a surprisingly good four-course meal, we spotted several whales, including a cow and her frolicking calf. pacificwhale.org

A whale calf swimming by at sunset is seen from PacWhale’s Ocean Quest dinner cruise. (Julie L. Kessler/Special to S.F. Examiner)

A whale calf swimming by at sunset is seen from PacWhale’s Ocean Quest dinner cruise. (Julie L. Kessler/Special to S.F. Examiner)

Six miles from KBH in Kapalua are some good hiking paths. The coastal trail has breathtaking views and passes Namalu, Oneloa and Honokahua Bays.

Pleasant hiking awaits along the Kapalua Coastal Trail. (Julie L. Kessler/Special to S.F. Examiner)

Pleasant hiking awaits along the Kapalua Coastal Trail. (Julie L. Kessler/Special to S.F. Examiner)

The lesson learned

There are enough reasons to love Maui as there are stars in the sky. Departing KBH, I was treated to a farewell lei kukui ceremony. The singer Ho’Onui had such a beautiful voice I got weepy eyed and what locals call chicken skin — goose bumps.

Like a woman of a certain age, the KBH is a grand dame and a gem, worthy of deep respect. A hui hou — until we meet again.

Julie L. Kessler is a journalist, attorney and the author of the award-winning memoir: “Fifty-Fifty, The Clarity of Hindsight.” She can be reached at Julie@VagabondLawyer.com. Some vendors hosted the writer however content was not reviewed by them prior to publication and is solely the writer’s opinion.

Travel advisory

As of press time, to avoid a 10-day quarantine, the state of Hawaii mandates a negative COVID PCR test taken by a “Trusted Travel Partner” within 72 hours of departure to the islands. Additionally, starting May 4, 2021, travelers to Maui (airport code OGG) will require a second, cost-free, rapid test on arrival to be administered at the airport. Fully vaccinated Americans are not yet exempt from either testing requirement, though Hawaii Gov. David Ige indicates that may change in the near future. There is also a statewide mask mandate in place with which all travelers are expected to comply. HawaiiCovid19.com/travel

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