I’d by lying if I said that I knew anything about Hawaii before my third visit just a few weeks ago. I’d been to The Big Island twice, spent some time sequestered away at two pristine resorts, clinking celebratory glasses of champagne as I toasted two separate friends’ and family weddings.
But Maui was a new island for me, certainly one that I’d been excited to visit. I’d heard the stories of long-ago spring break vacations, Maui being the destination of choice for my West Coast family. But through the open nature of Instagram and the world wide web, new stories emerged from friends who actually grew up there. I heard of the tide and the flora, the wild beauty, the technicolor sunsets. It seemed so lush, so vivid, and who doesn’t dream of having a coffee plantation in her backyard.
When invited to visit the newly-revamped Montage Kapalua Bay Resort in Maui, I jumped at the chance. The itinerary was filled to the Hawaiian gills with adventures both at the resort and beyond, letting us explore the island’s varied microclimates, from Kapalua Bay to Upcountry Maui, giving us a true sense for Mother Maui herself.
My husband, always keen to have a copy of my itinerary when I travel in case of emergency, asked me to forward my information to him at work. The file somehow became ensnared in his company’s firewall, requiring tech team intervention. In order to make sure that the information was legitimate, Rodney had to answer a set of questions regarding the material in question. “Is your wife going on a wellness trip?” Yes. “Will your wife be doing yoga?” Yes. “Lomi Lomi massage?” Yes. “Snorkeling.” Check. Although pure conjecture, I can imagine that in synchronized fashion, both Rodney and the chief firewall engineer were savoring frighteningly poor career choices.
After a glorious few hours with my nose stuck in a book, basking in the legitimacy of flight-induced work-free indulgence, I touched down in Kahului Airport. It was late afternoon, that time of day when sun and haze comingle, encasing Maui’s verdant mountains with a golden-hued mist. I was thankful for a lane closure in the highway which doubled our commute time to Kapalua Bay, allowing me to take in Maui inch by inch, mile by mile.
As now seems to be customary, my first glimpse of the Montage Kapalua Bay bore no resemblance to the pictures that I’d perused online. And how could it? Revealed in 3-D splendor, the 24-acre resort was magnetic. Relatively unpopulated, the resort’s 50 units are perched amongst a network of lagoons and palms with the scent of local flowers – hibiscus, white plumeria, orchids and protea – filling the air. From a single vantage point in my suite’s broad lanei, I could see pools and vegetation, sea and clouds, the essence of the tropics in a single blink.
Though I spent most of my time photographing the resort (as my husband will testify, the more beautiful location, the more intensely I work to capture the space, frustrated that no single image can ever quite distill the sentiment of being there in person), I did find a few quiet moments to relax on the lanei, taking in the sights and sounds and orchid-heavy/ready-to-be-bottled scent of Hawaii.
As part of a small group of women visiting the resort, we were treated to a range of activities that centered on Maui’s vivid culture and food. At the Montage Resort’s Cane & Canoe restaurant, delicate head-on Kauai prawns were followed by seared local ahi tuna. Not usually one to rave about Mai Tais (my apologies for any heretical comments made in this post), I succumbed to several on my visit, because, Aloha, Hawaii. If you’re in the Kapalua region lusting for a Mai Tai, make sure to beeline to the Hana Hou bar where their orgeat-inflected version will encourage you to have another, and another, and another. Ensuring that you’ll wobble back to your residence, wondering if you have enough ingredients on hand to make nachos.
This didn’t happen to me. I stopped myself at a single Mai Tai but hankered hard for another. Self-limiting only with the knowledge that a sunset viewing session at the resort’ famed Cliff House sipping Veuve Cliquot’s Rich Rosé champagne was in my very near future. Side note, it’s the 200th anniversary of rosé champagne (!), so if you’re caught drinking too much rosé champagne this summer, just remind your captor that you’re solo-celebrating a very big event and that he/she should probably join you.
A highlight of the resort’s food offering are the new Be Well by Kelly menu options, an exclusive partnership with celebrity holistic nutritionist and health coach Kelly LeVeque. At the most beautifully-styled luncheon, we feasted on salad options from Kelly’s menu – free of my usual trigger foods such as wheat and dairy – and filled with seasonal greens, healthy fats and locally caught + harvested proteins. Thank you Kelly!
I’d be remiss if I weren’t to mention the poke-making class with the resort’s executive chef Chris Damskey. Chef Damskey trained underneath the man, the myth, the legend himself, Jean-Georges Vongorichten, not to mention a serious stint with Alan Wong, who himself knows a thing or two about regional Hawaiian cuisine. So don’t let his Minnesotan background fool you – you’ll be hard-pressed to find better food in Hawaii than Chef Damskey’s cooking. He brought his A-game to our poke class, showing up with 20 lbs of raw fish, from sustainably-harvested king salmon, a block of big eye tuna, and two giant kampachi. Rounding out the spread, Chef Chris had set up dozens of garnishes, including chili oil, salted ground kukui nuts, and my all-time favorite furikake. His catering of the Veuve Cliquot Cliff House event the night before was the stuff that dreams are made of – oysters with bright mignonette, tuna tartare with slivered radish and avocado, a strawberry/goat cheese/beet salad that had me yelping out loud with appreciative expletives. We got fancy at that Veuve Cliquot party, let me tell you.
More food and more fun awaited us in Upcountry Maui. Our destination: Kula, an hourish drive from the resort, up the mountains and into the mist. Up at high elevation, it wasn’t as misty and cold as we’d predicted so my layers of clothing and bulky leather jacket were redundant as we hiked around the Ali`I Lavender Farm, taking in the broad vistas and inhaling the fragrant scent of 45 lavender varietals.
From the lavender farm, we visited O`O Farm, an 8-acre parcel of no-till land, home to citrus groves, a small coffee plantation, row upon rows of organically-harvested greens. There, seated square amidst the rich vegetation, nestled next to a wood-fired oven, we grazed on the fruits of the farm’s labor: salads, crispy tofu, local fish, and chicken – perfectly seasoned, smoky and moist from its blast in the wood oven.
Food isn’t the only game in town, as most people will tell you when you visit Maui. There was yoga, a catamaran snorkeling adventure, a sinfully relaxing outdoor Lomi Lomi massage (a traditional Hawaiian offering with rhythmic movements featuring the forearms as well as the hands); and speaking of movement, I was able to showcase my inexorable lack of rhythm when we tried our hands (or shall I say our hips) at hula dancing. Which followed a lei-making class with the Montage Resort’s resident cultural ambassador Silla. Who sternly corrected me with “Aloha” in response to my chipper “Hi!” before helping me weave an orchid-filled lei, hugging me to her breast, and telling me with tear-stained eyes that it was an honor to meet me. I don’t know how quickly one can fall in love with someone, but I’m now confident that it can be done in 90 mins or less.
It was an adventure, all of it. The food, the friendships, and that eponymous Maui sunset that launched a thousand ships (er, direct flights from LAX). Mother Maui, it was real. You deserve every bit of praise that you’ve earned. Thank you Montage Kapalua Bay for treating us to a few days of unfettered indulgence. Hula and poke and champagne sunsets will never be the same again.
This post was written in partnership with The Montage Kapalua Bay Resort. All opinions are my own.