Finding the Wowie in Maui

MAUI

Warm-weather romantic vacations often include lots of sedentary activity (save for sex): sleeping late, languid days at the beach or pool, and lots of drawn-out, darkly lit meals.

For our third anniversary, my partner and I tried to combine what was, ostensibly, a romantic vacation on Maui with a very ambitious itinerary. The goal was both bonding and adventure, with bickering and stress kept to a minimum. (A tall order!)

As a Hawaii-phile, I’ve always regarded Maui as the state’s sweet spot. It’s less crowded than Honolulu’s urban bustle, less secluded than Kauai, and more manageable than the relatively giant Big Island. While there’s zero gay nightlife in Maui, a clothing-optional, queer-friendly beach exists (Little Beach, in the southeast corner). The one hotel that exclusively catered to Maui’s LGBT travelers — the Kohea Kai in Kihei — now welcomes all open-minded adults.

Before our trip roared into full throttle, we had a relatively quiet first day. After enduring rental car hell (be prepared for a typical hourlong line at the Kahului Airport’s overextended rental car kiosks), we had lunch in the charming hippie village of Paia and checked-in at the Kohea Kai before dinner at the Hotel Wailea, Relais & Chateaux.

After checking in and wandering the grounds, it was clear the mini-resort of Kohea Kai was still pretty gay, regardless of how the new owner now marketed it. Neighbors on either side of our roomy second-floor suite were almost exclusively gay — we ended up making friends and eating breakfast every morning with a group of guys from Dallas and New York. Much of the staff — both male and female — seemed to play for our team, which, for me, is always a plus, both for comfort and safety reasons.

The dinner at Wailea could not have been more traditionally “romantic,” nor more unforgettable. The quiet dining terrace offers front-row seats to one of the world’s most spectacular sunsets. After nearly overdosing on Kona Kampachi, we silently watched day turn into night with a sunset of orange, pink, and purple occupying our field of vision; it was like a meditation session with martinis.

The quiet was over the next day as we made our way to the old cowboy town of Makawao so we could satisfy my boyfriend’s desire to zipline. After grabbing some Mexican at Polli’s (quite good!), we headed over to the lush Piiholo Ranch for its seven-line Canopy Zipline Tour.

I’m not certain how attractive it was when I freaked out on the second canopy and froze with fear. My boyfriend had already made it across, but the extreme height of our platform — a giant tree several stories up from the forest floor — induced vertigo. It took some encouragement from our patient guide before I closed my eyes and launched myself successfully.

Afterwards, a dune buggy tour of the lush Piiholo Ranch, which the zipline partly occupies, was a bumpy, beautiful experience. Ranch owner Susan Baldwin drove us up to her herd of horses, who let us stroke their manes as they serenely munched on grass. We then raced to dinner at Mama’s Fish House, the island’s most famous eatery. The fish is as fresh as you’d expect, but the prices gave us pause. MFH feels a bit like an upscale tourist trap, and one you can skip without guilt.

Bed was early, since our alarms were set for 2:40 a.m. The day before was all about the sunset, but now we were checking out the sunrise from Haleakala National Park, via Polynesian Adventure Tours. After a quiet bus filled with foggy tourists climbed to the peak, we huddled in our hoodies and jackets staring into the chilly darkness. As the sun ascended, locals gathered nearby and sang Hawaiian chants as the crowd was stunned into silence. What a way to start a day!

After lunch, we crashed, waking up with just enough time to make it to the Kai Kanani Sunset Champagne Cruise. We perched on a grassy hill as our boat docked, then hiked our pants up, and sloshed through the ocean to climb aboard.

Some might think of a “booze cruise” as cheesy, but this two-hour tour was a highlight. We nibbled on bites, sipped bubbly, listened to a ukulele player, splayed out on the deck, and pointed out details of the tiny islands that dot the southwest Maui coast. When the crowd yelled at my boyfriend and me to kiss, I demurred, suddenly self-conscious. But as another Hawaii day left us in typical dramatic fashion, I made my move.

From idyllic embraces to whirring rotors — the next day we were up at 6 a.m. for our Blue Hawaiian Eco-Star helicopter tour. My adventure-prone partner adored this journey, with its dips around mountains, waterfalls, and the glittering coast. I enjoyed it too, but recommend a good night’s sleep and lots of coffee before beginning your day rocking around an extremely loud whirly bird.

It was time to hit the Road to Hana, the island’s infamous twisty cross-island thoroughfare. We made plenty of pit stops along the way, hiking around a rocky creek in the middle of God knows where, holding hands and strolling at the Garden of Eden Arboretum, and having the best lunch of the trip at the blink-and-you’ll-miss-it Hali’imaile General Store, which offered a Sashimi Napoleon that made my eyes roll back in my head. With the Road to Hana, don’t rush it, and take those curves very slowly.

If you want to experience life at the edge of the world, Hana is ideal. The town of 1,200 is completely isolated but filled with a smattering of charming restaurants, food stands, a convenience store, and one of the loveliest hotels on all the Hawaiian islands: the Travaasa Hana.

We were lucky enough to snag an Ocean Bungalow, with a lanai looking out to the Pacific. The room is stocked with banana bread, but no television, which you’ll appreciate. We found ourselves seriously slowing our pace in Hana; taking in a yoga class at the activities center, filling up at Travaasa’s exceptional restaurant, the Preserve Kitchen + Bar, or just lanai lounging and conversing like we did when we first met.

A day of swimming and reading at nearby Koki Beach Park introduced us to an unexpected visitor: a sleepy monk seal that my partner almost sat on, thinking it was a rock. Even with a small crowd assembling to take photos (keeping a safe distance), the big guy didn’t seem bothered, just stretching and relaxing until his fans got their shots. After a plated lunch at Huli Huli Chicken, we headed back to our last night in Hana, and in Maui.

We used our last day to explore the historic whaling city — and former Hawaiian capital — of Lahaina. Getting across the Road to Hana and the western end of the island was probably too much to squeeze into one day, but we pulled it off after a few quibbles and quarrels. After trying to grab dinner near the airport, we got lost, and tired of driving. I returned the car and we ended up eating at Sammy Hagar’s Beach Bar and Grill inside the terminals. It was an inauspicious ending to an incredible trip, and now a shared memory we both warmly chuckle at regularly. Now, that’s romance.

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