You shouldn't have to ask anyone twice to come to Hawaii. But for me, it was more like five or six times. To my ongoing chagrin, I tried in vain for a full two years to visit the most beautiful of the United States. But anticipation can be a wonderful thing, especially if the payoff is worthwhile. My time in Maui delivered on its promise so completely that the often-repeated motto of the island, "Maui no- ka 'oi" (means "Maui is the best" in Hawaiian), just dissolved into a law of nature. Day 1Courtesy Of Lumeria
After a couple of energizing days on Lana'i, the smallest populated island in the archipelago, I took the ferry service to Lahaina, Maui. Lahaina and Kihei, further to the south, and Kahului (in the valley between the two mountainous cones that comprise the island) are the more developed regions with shopping and hotels, but my destination was the North Shore. I picked up my rental car in Kihei and drove past Kahului, past the beach town of Pa-'ia. Two and a half miles up the Haleakala- highway is Lumeria
I was introduced to the estate by Melinda, who showed me the 24-room compound on a lush and refined six-acre property. She described the history of the place: The structure of five lodge buildings, connected by a covered lanai, was originally built in 1910 by the Baldwin sugar-
cane family for a son who was sick with tuberculosis. It eventually housed aging plantation managers and laborers who had worked the cane fields, housed military personnel during World War II, was dorm housing for Maunaolu Women's College in the 1950s and '60s, and was later housing for Maui Land and Pineapple workers.
In one of the largest historic renovations on Maui in 2012, a century of use was stripped away. In its place an oasis was created, brimming with indigenous tropical flora and edible organic gardens (used in Lumeria's farm-to-table dining hall), meditation gardens, fire pits, a blessed lava stone labyrinth, a saltwater swimming pool, and a spa. The property also includes many spaces for Lumeria's essential progams: a large yoga shala, yoga/meditation rooms, and an outdoor yoga platform abutting a broad, picturesque lawn.
Melinda showed me the menu of options and activities that require booking in advance, as well as the week's schedule of group yoga and guided meditation programs (including hula -- the real thing, I was assured -- on Fridays). All of the programs are available to Lumeria guests, and also to non-guests for a fee. I selected a few that sounded intriguing to me.
My room was elegant and sparse, with high ceilings and many windows. And no television
. A little trill of panic ran through me, followed by a sense of liberation; I'm too easily consumed by TV, and I was soon glad that that potential time-sucking diversion wasn't an option. The sound of the wind through the whispering pine forest just outside my window was a little hypnotic, and I instantly knew that a day spent on the grounds would be a fully, wonderfully unplugged experience. As an inveterate fidgeter with a short attention span, I was determined to melt into the experience. I grabbed my Kindle, sat down on the bench outside my room that overlooked the great lawn, and read for a solid hour for the first time in a year.
The dinner on the lanai outside Lumeria's dining room included a vegan,
gluten-free Caesar salad, and grilled chicken with pesto-like herb dressing, grilled fish skewers with onions and bell peppers, roasted squash, and sauteed kale; much of the produce is from the on-site garden, and the offerings change daily to take advantage of fresh, local ingredients.Day 2Courtesy Of Mama's Fish House (Macnut Ono)Courtesy Of Lumeria
The big bonus that comes from jet lag is the opportunity to see a new place when few other people are awake to experience it. My first few days in Hawaii while still on New York time were like this: early mornings, sunrise, and the feeling of achievement that comes from even the most leisurely of activities completed before most others throw off their sheets.
My scheduled guided sunrise meditation with Karin Koepcke began at 6:45 a.m., but I'd been awake for an hour by then. We sat on the floor, cross-legged, and Karin asked about my experience with meditation: fleeting but interested.
As I lay on a mat, Karin guided me through a meditation from which I occasionally slipped away, beyond the reach of her voice (that was meant to happen, she said). Inner peace is a multi-step process, so I wasn't holding my breath for that, but nevertheless I remained calm and still, and my eyes remained closed throughout the experience -- and I could not imagine doing that just days earlier. I opened my eyes at the end of the hour, relaxed and recharged, and feeling accomplished before breakfast.
Mid-morning I sat in the Jacuzzi outside the spa while a warm rain began to fall through the sunshine. My next appointment was with Melissa, who found me and invited me to one of the massage rooms for my Pohaku (sacred hot stone) Lomi Lomi massage appointment (90 minutes, $200). It began with a traditional prayer of invocation of healing and thanks for the earth. After the prayer, the experience was a familiar -- but very skilled -- manipulation of my muscles and pressure points for relieving tension.
In the evening I dressed and drove the five minutes downcountry to Pa-'ia, and to Mama's Fish House
), where the drinks are colorful, the fish is fresh and consummately prepared, and the menu includes the name of the fisherman who caught it. The restaurant is nestled into a tiny cove all of its own, so the views from all tables are of palm trees, torches, and waves. Our waitress was wearing a vintage band-collared floral muumuu -- all the waitstaff were clad in authentic Hawaiian attire, the women all with fresh flowers in their hair. The decor was a fantasia of bamboo, sea glass, rattan, palm leaves, ukuleles, surfboard sculptures, and odes to Hawaiian art from the traditional to kitsch. After a copious sashimi, beef Polynesian (served in a papaya), Opakapaka (Hawaiian pink snapper fish) steamed with ginger, and lots of drinks served with umbrellas, I headed back upcountry to Lumeria.
The air came in warm and rain-scented through the open windows, and I fell immediately asleep.Day 3Courtesy Of Lumeria
My yoga experience began with kundalini (meditation, mantras, and a focus on breathing) yoga in college, long before there were group classes in every gym chain, at a time when it was still generally considered a bit woo-woo. But I loved it and I continued it sporadically, including hot-yoga classes in Santa Monica that promised a glimpse of regular participant David Duchovny in yoga pants (unfulfilled promise, alas).
I was excited to try again -- and a touch anxious about what postures my body would agree to. Ashtanga Vinyasa yoga with Ashley was a series of beginner-to-moderate positions, including some rather advanced jump-throughs, and a slight growling technique called hot breath. It was invigorating and challenging, and, as with the meditation, I was inspired to reintroduce it to my life upon returning home.
After lunch I met Douglas Drummond, Lumeria's general manager. He's a tall, broad-shouldered man with a baby face and a distinct New Zealand accent untempered by his years in Manhattan before his move to Maui six months ago.
"It's a bit choppy for windsurfing today. Feel like a hike instead?" he asked. Sure, I answered. "I'll meet you at 3 p.m. and we'll go to the bamboo forest. You're going to get wet!"
We took the winding road toward Hana to the 6 mile marker spot, parked his truck, and climbed through a small gap in the bamboo thicket at the side of the road. Inside was a dense, tall bamboo forest, almost concealing a narrow, muddy path leading down a hiking trail to a river's edge. We scrambled over boulders and up a rickety ladder about eight feet tall to a place where it was possible to step again into footholds in the rock, climbing up over a waterfall. On the walk Drummond told me more about Lumeria's history, noting that the renovation included carting out five full truckloads of beer bottles left by sugarcane workers. Since his arrival there, Lumeria has done workshops with injured soldiers and their spouses as part of the Wounded Warrior Project, as well as other community events.
"Were you into the esoterica before coming to Lumeria?" I said, trying to ask in as neutral a way as possible. "Oh yeah," he said. "I grew up with it." Drummond's father was a lawyer, and his mother was a longtime practitioner of yoga and alternative therapies.
The New Age atmosphere at Lumeria is evident from the menu of offerings -- particularly the metaphysical therapies including Reiki healing, shamanic acupuncture, and quantum healing hypnosis therapy sessions. I'm a nonbeliever, just generally -- but specifically in most things that cannot be studied and quantified. God, spirit guides, crystals -- they have no inherent magic for me. Whatever they do for us -- or to us -- is our own doing. But I don't believe that alternative therapies are wasted effort or imaginary. Those who know my skeptical nature might have guessed that Lumeria and I would be fundamentally at odds: energy fields and vibes versus a cynical editor. But no one at Lumeria attempted to indoctrinate or convince. And while we don't have a complete scientific understanding of how meditation affects the mind, it doesn't mean there's nothing there.
"We can leave our shoes here," said Drummond after about a mile and a half of hiking.
He stashed our shoes in some underbrush, just hidden from view, then led the way again. He was quick, so I momentarily lost sight of him. Another few dozen yards through the sodden path, and suddenly he was gone, and I heard a splash from below. He'd jumped off a rock ledge about 12 feet into a beautiful swimming hole in the river, flanked by verdant cliffs. "Don't worry, it's deep here." I closed my eyes and jumped into the cool water. Swimming upstream just a bit, we encountered another waterfall crashing down into another pool. Hikers can climb to the top of that waterfall too, but for me that would have to wait for another trip.
Back at the hotel I cleaned up, not sure how to dress for a Maui benefit for earthquake victims in Nepal. "It'll be a real Maui Wowie experience," Drummond promised.
I parked outside the Temple of Peace Maui
) in Ha'iku, a modest-looking metaphysical center with a facade strung with prayer flags. I spotted Drummond inside the front building, sitting on a folding chair. I kicked off my slippers into a pile of sandals and walked in. I shouldn't have worried about what to wear. Though we seemed to be on the early side, soon people of all ages, all very casually dressed, came in to sit on the floor. The event began with chanting from a quartet who sat cross-legged on the low stage, as images of Nepalese children flashed behind them in a slideshow. Several longhaired women with jangly bags released small children into the room to run about; gray-ponytailed men and women smiled blithely when a little girl got her hands on a set of maracas and joined in the performance. Outside in the courtyard, a silent auction was underway, featuring woven scarves and rugs, carved chimes and bells, some patterned wall hangings and other goods. Total Maui Wowie. We stayed to listen to Drummond's soul singer friend, then met just up the road at Nuka restaurant
) for some wonderfully fresh sushi including the house signature roll, with jalapeno, snapper, and ponzu.Day 4Courtesy Of Lumeria
The next morning's Anusara guided yoga with Chrissy was more strength-oriented, with rigorous poses including a headstand. I opted for an assisted wall-stand in which my hands were on the floor and my feet up on the wall at a right angle. Another class member sat on the floor supporting me by pressing her heels into my shoulders. I know it may be difficult to find such good classes again at my local Manhattan gym, but I recommitted myself to trying.
After a quick shower I met Elisha in the spa for my shamanic acupuncture (90 minutes, $250) session. "Wow, you've got...seven, eight spirit guides in here with you already," she said, a little startled, as I sat on the massage table, "and I haven't even invited them in yet." Elisha and I focused on a goal I'd like to have for the session -- I silently chose writerly inspiration -- and she ushered me into a guided meditation, after formally inviting my spirit guides into the room. A "crap-ton" (her words) more of my spirit guides joined our session that culminated in my first, tingly experience with acupuncture.
That evening I drove upcountry to Makawao
, a town on the slopes of Haleakala- Crater with clothing boutiques, art galleries, and a history of ranching that comes out in the art and the July 4 rodeo and parade. I stopped for fish tacos at a stand at the top of the main drag, and finished the day with a guava malasada
(doughnut) from the bakery.Day 5Courtesy Of Hawaii Tourism Authority / Tor Johnson
My departure day had one item on the agenda: the beach. Pa'ia Bay
has a nice long stretch of quiet beach -- until the waves roll in, and then surfers and bodyboarders quickly fill your view. To the east of the parking lot at Baldwin Beach Park were dozens of bearded drummers, tightrope walkers, and tumblers, and it seems to be a regular scene there. East through a pine glade was a silent, empty stretch of sand where I lay my beach towel. The water was warm and clear, with gentle swells rising five or six feet. I saw only occasional passersby, some couples with dogs, and one or two solo swimmers.
I considered whether it was feasible to call in sick to work for the next month, and decided I'll simply have to make the trip again as soon as time will allow.