Need a recipe for romance? Mix a little moonlight and champagne with a Hawaiian island, add your most significant other, and allow the aloha to sweep you away.
Seawater and trade winds can be a potent love potion, especially if they’re swirling around a tropical island. When it comes to the islands of Hawaii, I’m powerless. It was here, beneath a cascading waterfall, that my husband James proposed to me—swimming toward me across a deep pool of water at an ancient royal bathing site, presenting me with a glittering sapphire ring. A year later, we returned to Hawaii, and were married just as the sun set, on the deck of a private sailing yacht moored off the coast.
Any romantic like myself will caution that a successful recipe for seduction includes a lot of personal ingredients. You’ll have to write your own script, but if you’re searching for the ideal setting, it’s hard to imagine a place more perfect than the islands of Maui and Lana’i. James and I return as often as we can, making the scenic drive along the northeast coast to Hana on Maui, swimming lazily in lagoons, hiking the fragrant uplands, or making the crossing to quiet Lana’i to snorkel and relax.
The lush slopes of Maui are a million shades of green. The island is actually comprised of two distinct land masses, divided by an isthmus. Dominating the island’s larger, eastern side is Haleakala National Park. Here, within the verdant surroundings of Iao Valley State Park, the 2,250-foot tall Iao Needle points toward the heavens. Long ago, this rock pinnacle served as an altar to ancient Hawaiians. Now, hikers and lovers stroll the paths, making their own unique connection to this place.
For this visit, we’ve chosen the tranquil Wailea Beach Marriott Resort & Spa near Mokapu Beach Park, about a half hour’s drive from the airport in Kahului. Positioned on the island’s southern shore, it offers spectacular views of the nearby islands of Lana’i, Molokai, and Kaho’olawe (the smallest—and uninhabited—of the eight main Hawaiian Islands).
Fruit and Whales
The next day’s dedicated beach lounging on the resort’s smooth, sandy expanses is interrupted only by a visit to the hotel’s Mandara Spa, where we treat ourselves to a shared Lomi Lomi massage in the luxurious Couple’s Suite. Windows open to the outdoors, and a gentle breeze fills the space. There’s also a shower for two, and a soaking tub big enough to comfortably accommodate a couple. We order room service treats to be delivered directly to the suite, including a bowl of strawberries and papaya, and a bottle of chilled wine so we can sip while we soak.
Later, our therapists join us, customizing the smooth rolling and kneading motions of this ancient Hawaiian massage technique—once reserved for royalty—to our individual physical needs, as we listen to the soothing, rhythmic sounds of the nearby sea.
The sea, as a matter of fact, has been very much in my thoughts. We’ve deliberately timed this visit to coincide with the return of the humpback whales that winter around Hawaii. In the morning, we head out to participate in a whale-watching cruise with Pacific Whale Foundation, a research and education group that offers a variety of seasonal eco tours.
In the company of a marine naturalist and a dozen or so other whale-watchers, we board an environmentally friendly catamaran and head out into the channel separating Maui from Lana’i. In less than ten minutes, the naturalist points out a mother humpback whale and her young calf, barely a hundred yards from the bow, explaining that the young whale was born quite recently, following the pod’s return from its 3,500-mile annual migration from near Alaska’s coast.
Following a long swim in the warm sea and a change of clothes, James and I return to Lahaina, where we’ve made reservations for a sunset dinner at I’O restaurant. With an outdoor terrace that’s mere steps from the water, I’O is one of the more popular fine-dining establishments on the island. I’O—and its sister property, Pacific O—is owned and run by Executive Chef James McDonald, who sources his own multi-acre organic farm on Maui for kitchen ingredients.
Accompanied by a warm trade wind and the sweet scent of frangipani blossoms, we dine on Pukalani Salad made of organic garden greens from Chef McDonald’s farm, and topped with shaved red Kula onion, fresh feta, and passion fruit tarragon dressing. After our main course of Crispy Ahi, served with a green papaya salad, creamy soy ginger vinaigrette, and radish sprout aioli, we stop to thank the chef for the outstanding meal, then head back to the hotel for a beachside stroll beneath the floating Hawaiian moon. The locals would say this has been a day of Aloha nui loa, or much love.
The next day, we prepare for our departure from Maui to Lana’i aboard the Expeditions Ferry leaving from Ma’alaea Harbor. The ten-mile crossing, which takes a little over an hour, reveals more whales playing in the sea.
The sheer bluffs of Lana’i’s coast slowly reveal themselves as we sail into view, though the 3,370-foot peak of Lana’ihale mountain remains typically obscured beneath its wreath of mist. Legends tell of Prince Kaulula’au, the son of Chief Kaka’alaneo, being banished to Lana’i as punishment for a long series of pranks he’d played. Then, Lana’i was believed to be populated by fierce ghosts. Armed with a magical ivory spearhead, the prince vanquished the unfriendly spirits, making it a safe place for the Hawaiian people—and redeeming himself in the process.
Other legends suggest that Lana’i was once the realm of Lemuria, and was home to an advanced civilization that thrived and then disappeared, much like Atlantis. Regardless of what’s true and what’s romance, there seems to be a strong feminine energy on this island. The presence of Hina, a Hawaiian goddess who represents growth, reproduction, and womanly fruitfulness, is abundant.
In the early 1920s, the entire island of Lana’i was purchased by James Dole, who transformed its fertile terrain into a gigantic pineapple plantation. As we board the shuttle at the harbor that will transport us to Lana’i City and its historic hotel—once a getaway for Dole executives—we’re both amazed at the difference between this island and the others. It’s as though the ferry was a time machine, and we’ve somehow sailed into Hawaii’s past. With merely three hotels, one small village, a year-round population of 3,000 residents, and a local grocery store selling everything from fresh fish to gifts, Lana’i is defined by peacefulness, quiet, and a sense of graceful calm.
The historic Hotel Lana’i proves to be less resort than inn, with eleven rooms and a rather amazing restaurant. It’s also within a short walk of the island’s handful of shops and cafes, so we spend the rest of the afternoon perusing them before enjoying an intimate meal at the property’s Lana’i City Grille. The kitchen is under the domain of celebrity chef Bev Gannon, who was one of the original founders of the Hawaii Regional Cuisine movement.
When daylight returns, we discover that the Lana’i Culture & Heritage Center is located nearby in the Old Dole Building. Cultural Historian Kepa Maly graciously gives us a tour through the facility, which showcases artifacts, historical documents, photographs, and maps from the island, along with a wide assortment of archaeological relics discovered here.
Where romance is concerned, Maly tells us that marriage was important to the early Hawaiians, especially the chiefly families. “They were selected for marriage—or betrothed—at an early age,” he explains. “After the marriage ceremony was performed, the couple would be escorted into a house made from the lama tree, sometimes also called Hawaiian ebony. The lama tree represents light and enlightenment, so consecrating the marriage surrounded by lama wood was believed to bring light and enlightenment to the union.”
Luxury on Lana’i
To get a full sense of the island’s offerings, we spend a night at the Four Seasons Resort Lana’i at Manele Bay. The island’s only other hotel is the Four Season’s sister property, The Lodge at Koele, a sprawling plantation-style estate located a little further inland. The grounds of the Lodge include lush gardens and a beautiful pagoda that overlooks the resort’s Reflecting Pond. The resort is a popular destination with both visitors and residents who come to enjoy the traditional afternoon tea service.
The Manele Bay property is breathtaking. A blend of Victorian, Chinese, Polynesian, and Mediterranean architecture, its design includes five exquisite, themed gardens. Rare and valuable antiques from throughout Asia fill the downstairs lobby, which opens onto a seaside terrace, but it’s the colossal wall murals that immediately captivate us. These line the lobby, and include a series of hand painted murals depicting the exotic wedding party of an emperor and his princess bride.
The hotel overlooks the beach cliffs and a marine reserve famous for the green sea turtles and spinner dolphins that populate the waters. After breakfast, I head out for a relaxing swim, and James dons his snorkel gear. While I float on my back by the shore, enjoying the songbirds that fill the trees close to the water, James is almost immediately surrounded by an enormous pod of spinner dolphins. Seemingly unfazed by his presence, they surround him, languidly approaching and retreating during the hour or so he swims among them.
For our last evening in Hawaii, we’ve arranged for our own moonlight cruise aboard one of the beautiful catamarans belonging to Trilogy Excursions. Once we’ve found a spot on the deck, we relax and watch as the sails fill with a soft, steady wind, and the boat slips into the deeper water at the island’s edge.
For several hours, we sip our cocktails, watch as the stars slowly come out above the cliffs along the shore, and devise a plan that involves running away without telling anyone how to find us. We’ll live beneath the palm trees beside the sea, with fresh mango and papaya for dinner every night.
Once a romantic, always a romantic, I suppose. At least, while the stars are out, and I don’t have to face the prospect of trading fruit and coconuts to keep my shoe collection up to date. James just smiles, pointing out that we’d need a refrigerator, too. It is, after all, really the only practical way to keep champagne adequately chilled.
Wailea Beach Marriott
Resort & Spa
Four Seasons Resort Maui
Pacific Whale Foundation
Four Seasons Resort Lana’i at Manele Bay
Four Seasons Resort Lana'i
The Lodge at Koele
(808) JEEP-808, ext. 23