Having been to the Big Island of Hawai’i and Kauai, I can tell you from experience, the allure of these magical islands never diminishes. For some, just hearing its name conjures images of swaying palms, exotic wildlife and a treasure trove of natural wonders, even if you’ve never before visited. From the Mars-like, 10,000-foot high summit of the Haleakala crater on Maui to Molokai’s towering sea cliffs, the islands invite you to explore their rich history, culture and wondrous surroundings.
Now is probably the perfect time to visit Hawaii as the infection rate is quite low in spite of the new, Omicron variant. Add to that, Hawaii’s strictest health mandates of any U.S. State (safe travels form and vaccination cards to gain entry into restaurants) and you have a minute chance of getting infected. And rest assured because everyone on your flight to Hawaii must be vaccinated plus everyone staying at your hotel is vaccinated so you’re in kind of a protective bubble, shielded from the virus.
HYATT REGENCY MAUI RESORT & SPA
The Hyatt is a spectacular, newly renovated 40-acre complex of pristine beachfront, enticing pools and tempting restaurants. If you decided not to visit any other place on Maui, you’d be perfectly content staying put for the duration. But, if you have kids of any age, they’ll be entertained (you as well) not only by the 25-foot water slide and graceful waterfalls, but the abundance of wildlife on the property including a koi pond, flamingos, majestic swans or a penguin feeding every morning at 9:30 a.m. with the resident, African Black-Footed Penguins. Don’t forget to chat with an array of exotic birds perched in the lobby who actually engage in conversation with you!
The oceanfront rooms will calm your nerves with their minimalist decor, clean lines and zen-like ambiance to ensure the most striking sunrise and sunsets. Taking a stroll through the meticulously manicured grounds rewards you further with endless photo-ops of lush tropical gardens, gazebos, swaying palms and the sweet sound of the surf.
If you want a little time away from your kiddos, Camp Hyatt is there to entertain your 5-12 year olds in grand style any time of day with activities that emphasize Hawaiian culture. If your brood desires to spend the day at the pool, inner tubes, rafts and pool noodles can be rented.
Regarding restaurants, go no further than Hyatt’s Japengo, an incomparable crown jewel of Asian fusion fare. With its grand view of the ocean and its open air and socially distanced seating scheme, you are assured safety and privacy. On another evening, check out Son’z Steakhouse for elegant dining overlooking swans swimming amongst multi-colored waterfalls.
For your ultimate relaxation, book a couples massage at the Marilyn Monroe spa with the best massage therapists in Hawaii. Afterwards, relax and rejuvenate in their special indoor-outdoor
rehydration room overlooking the turquoise waters of the Pacific.
The Ka’anapali Kai Golf Course is a short walk right outside the hotel as guests have full access to this championship, 18 hole course overlooking the beauty of the Maui mountains. For further fitness pursuits, the 24-hour Moana Athletic Club is a full-service gym with state-of-the-art equipment that hosts a variety of daily classes in a private studio.
The Drums of the Pacific Lu’au is a thrilling entertainment of historical significance and is performed with high energy by the talented cast of singers and dancers while you enjoy unlimited drinks and a delicious dinner. From soup to nuts, you can’t possibly go wrong at the Hyatt.
THE MAUI OCEAN CENTER
The Ocean Center is considered one of the ten best aquariums on the planet and it shows. Abundant sea life is the norm, with graceful stingrays, rare turtles, sharks and the world’s largest display of Hawaiian corals. But the most fascinating aspect of the center is a captivating 3-D film on humpback whales. The circular screen is 58 feet in diameter allowing the whales to be viewed at their astounding size. One of the true highlights of our trip!
THE PAIA INN & VANA PAIA RESTAURANT
If you’re planning on driving the road to Hana, a perfect layover point is the Paia Inn in the funky little surfer town of Paia. The Inn is a Zen-like boutique hotel right in the heart of town and offers convenience and an exceptional Japanese restaurant right on the premises called Vana Paia which features the most creative sushi fare in a hip, party atmosphere. Along the two main thoroughfares of Paia town, there’s a plethora of window shopping including art galleries, jewelry stores, coffee bars, souvenir shops and places to eat.
THE ROAD TO HANA
Before you depart, there are plenty of places in Paia that will pack a delectable lunch for you. As for the road itself, it’s winding and a bit treacherous so you’d be hard pressed to find many places to stop and take photos, but if you make it to the end, definitely check out Koki Beach Park. The beach is beyond spectacular where you can indulge in a picnic lunch but don’t swim there. The surf is dangerous but beautiful to look at!
HALEAKALA NATIONAL PARK
For a pleasant drive through the serene, Maui upcountry, make the trek to the Haleakalā National Park and travel to the summit; but bring a jacket. At 10,000 feet, it’s cold but exceptionally mind-blowing. You are truly above the clouds here as the landscape is Mars-like, but more colorful. They also have a nifty little gift shop. Forget securing a sunrise parking pass as it is nearly impossible to obtain, but luckily, you can enjoy the park at any time of day.
PacWhale Eco-Adventures is a great place to book a dolphin- or whale-watching adventure, world class snorkeling or a fabulous sunset dinner cruise. We went on a fascinating celestial cruise where our astronomer guide, Harriet Witt, provided a wealth of entertaining yet informative trivia on everything from how the Polynesians of yesteryear used the stars to find the Hawaiian islands to where Venus, Saturn and Mars situate in the night sky. The tour includes cocktails and delicious appetizers and since you are closer to the equator, the stars seem that much closer! It’s an amazingly unique experience you won’t soon forget. All profits raised support Pacific Whale Foundation’s education and conservation programs to protect dolphins, whales and our precious oceans.
The island is stunningly beautiful for one of the lesser traveled islands, but as far as amenities, there’s only one market and very few restaurants, so plan your stay accordingly. We flew here from Maui on the only airline that flies to Molokai, Mokulele airlines. The planes are 6-8 seaters, but their safety record is flawless and the scenery from above was breathtaking. While on Molokai, Papohaku beach should be on your bucket list—it’s 3 miles long and 100 yards wide of pristine, white sand beach and it’s usually deserted, so you’ve got this whole oasis of coastline all to yourself. For dinner, check out Hiro’s Ohana grill at the Hotel Molokai for surf and turf fare. We stayed at one of two Dunbar beachfront cottages and they were fantastic. You have your own private beach and the cottages are roomy with full kitchens and multiple bedrooms. If you venture out into the backcountry of Molokai, you’ll be rewarded with high elevations and great views of the Pacific!
FYI: Pack ample trail mix and dry snacks before you fly to Molokai from other islands.
We had never been and only had about 7 hours before our flight back home, so we checked out the impressive Pearl Harbor exhibits and took a tour of the USS Battleship Missouri. After that, we hung out at the beach in Waikiki, had a great lunch at Tikis Grill and Bar in the Aston Waikiki Beach hotel and then drove up to Diamond Head for some scenic views and photo-ops.
Having visited every island of Hawaii now except for Lanai, I can honestly say this magical chain of islands has become our home away from home as it is a place to relax and unwind. A place steeped in history and local culture. A place of immense beauty and spectacular landmarks. A familiar place to return, again and again.
IF YOU GO
IMPORTANT: Individuals fully vaccinated in the US may enter Hawaii on domestic flights without pre-travel testing. However, you must fill out all info from the Hawaii Safe Travels Form, download your vaccination record and fill out the questionaire 24 hours prior to departing to Hawaii.
Richard Atkins is a travel writer, photographer, playwright, screenwriter, actor and pianist. He can be reached at: email@example.com
All photos by Richard Atkins ©2021