The road to Hana challenges like few other around the world, curving approximately 600 times along 52 miles on the northeast coast of Maui and passing over 59 bridges, more than half of which narrow to one lane. The constant back-and-forth movement is compounded by bus and car loads of tourists, who enjoy spontaneously hopping out along the highway for short hikes in the woods, banana bread and coconut water from roadside kiosks, and photos of the ever more beautiful vistas and waterfalls trickling or gushing (depending on the season) alongside and under the highway. In fact, the temptation to admire such stunning nature can easily distract enough to plow into a tour group or over the sheer embankments to certain death below if not careful. Add in a heavy rainstorm (as I experienced), and knuckles quickly whiten on the wheel.
So although there’s significantly less natural grandeur to herald your arrival in Hana, a palpable feeling relief is felt as the road returns to the straight and narrow. Often considered the most “Hawaiian” part of Hawaii, Hana managed to stay isolated from the rest of Hawaii and indeed the world into the 20th century, when it was only reachable by boat until the 1920s and without television until 1977. Isolation has kept tourism development low, as well, at least in comparison to the large scale resorts along the west coast of Maui.
The only major resort is Travaasa Hana, which opened in 2011 in the former Hotel Hāna. Intake begins at reception, where the lay of the land is explained, before guests and belongings are packed onto golf carts for transportation across the 69-acre property. The main common areas are adjacent, including a library, arts and crafts shop, and the Ka’uiki Dining Room. Behind, to the east, lie the spa, outdoor pool, tennis courts, Makana activity center, three-hole pitch-and-putt golf area, and garden and Waikoloa family suites.
The choicest portion of the property is to the south, across Hauoli Road, where 23 Sea Ranch Cottages slope gently down and open green area to the jagged, crabby shoreline at the ocean, which is great for morning exploration. If early enough, you may see hotel staff greeting the sunrise in Hawaiian tradition. Just beyond the gate to this section is a private pool and wellness center, only open (as are the Sea Cottages) to guests over 16+ (apart from designated family weeks).
However, it’s really not until stepping into the cabin (starting at $600 per night) that the luxury element of Travasaa Hana begins to assert itself, but not in the usual ways. Compared to the glitz and glamor of most luxury resorts on Maui, Travaasa Hana adopts a subtler approach that impresses first with spaciousness and airiness. The bed area just inside the front door immediately opens up beyond to a large living space with sofa, arm chairs, dining table, and kitchenette, all of which are directed towards three large wall-sized windows facing to the ocean. Slide one open, step on to the back patio, and the effect continues, helped by blinder walls left and right, which both add privacy and direct the vision further to the ocean.
The bathroom too is a charmer, with a pinkish wash over white tiles that both climb the walls and the tub and twist around the corner to a shower. Much of what makes spending time in there so delightful is the product, all of which are handmade on Maui—shampoo, conditioner, lotion, and bath salts by Island Essence, and goat milk soaps from Rainbow Ridge Farm.
Taken together, along with the purposeful removal of radios, clocks and televisions, the room can be surprisingly difficult to leave. But up and at ‘em you should, as the resort prides itself on its activities for guests, including yoga, Pilates, bicycle tours, lei making, hula lessons, horseback riding, throw net fishing, horseback rides, archery, ukulele lessons, and martial arts, many of which are included in the room rate. A daily schedule hangs near reception.
When the rain falls, (as it often does in Hana), the best remedy is at the spa. If immersing yourself in the bubbling lava-rock whirlpool, frigid plunge pool, or steaming dry sauna don’t do the trick, the treatments should, including the Hawaiian Lomilomi massage, Pohaku Wela Hot Stone, or ‘Hnainai Pa’akai Sea Mineral Salt Scrub. The effect is levitational and indeed one of the best spa experiences of my life.
The last point of inspiration at the Travaasa is in the Ka’uiki Dining Room. On a clear day, the windows are opened to the back, revealing romantic ocean views. Otherwise, there’s plenty on the menu to dazzle, with “Hana fusion” dishes like Hana-grown annatto seed and turmeric-marinated chicken breast, Hawaiian black seabass with braised cannellini ceans, and an udon noodle “Hot Pot” with Hana Ranch Farm’s bok choy, Tokyo turnips, and soy braised Shiitake mushrooms. The restaurant is also a great place to update your mini-umbrella and swizzle stick collection from the range of exotic and potent drinks like Hamoa Sunrise, which blend dark and gold rums.
Just as the rooms are hard to leave at Travaasa Hana, so too is the resort. As with the best of them, it more than successfully creates not just accommodation, but an entire world. Hana itself, plays a significant role in this, but the resort expertly creates a symbiosis that makes it feel both integrated and separated with the whole. So too does the sensation of both disconnecting and reconnecting with reality and fantasy simultaneously, but ultimately, at check out (and when the bill comes), it’s Travaasa Hana that becomes the dream, which few wish to wake up from.
Mike Dunphy stayed as a guest of Travaasa Hana
All photos by Mike Dunphy