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Wailea - Why Not?

Consider the allure of Maui, second-largest of the Hawaiian Islands. It beckons you to bask on its sun-drenched beaches with a tall, cool tropical drink in hand; peer into the clear waters of the Pacific, alive with sea turtles, manta rays, and fishes of every color. About the toughest decision you’ll have to make may be when to apply more sunscreen. Now consider Wailea.

Big Beach in Makena La Perouse State Park, image
Photo caption
Big Beach in Makena La Perouse State Park is a wide swatch of sand and gentle surf.

While Maui is in no way short on options for those seeking to balance the quintessential Hawaiian vacation with spare change, Wailea is for those less concerned about spare change. This is, after all, the land of four- and five-diamond properties.

Wailea, on Maui’s southwest coast, is set beneath 10,000-foot Haleakala, largest dormant volcano on the planet, along a string of pristine beaches. Before development, the area was basically scrub. Fortunately, someone realized that natural beauty should be the centerpiece of this community and made it so. In an area three times the size of Waikiki, you’ll find stately homes, condos, and five first-class hotels. Makena, a sleepy little area with a resort of its own, the Maui Prince, sits just to the south. Views take in the partly submerged volcanic crater of Molokini and the islands of Lanai and Kahoolawe.

If a hotel’s style and substance rate high on your list, you’re in luck. Lush tropical gardens, outdoor sculptures, and an informal touch of class grace the Renaissance Wailea. The low-key Aston Wailea, beach in Wailea Maui Hawaii with comfortable low-rises and gardens, may seem a step behind its neighbors. Don’t let the unpretentious style fool you. The Aston, oldest of the five, still provides high-quality service. The Grand Wailea evokes a feeling of high-end gaudiness. Mosaic tile, Botero sculptures, and artificial waterfalls are fine, but where a little will do, the Grand does a little more. The Kea Lani’s Moorish style, with rounded corners, domed roofs, and fountains, is unexpected—which may be its appeal. The Four Seasons has a more restrained tone, characterized by well-placed marble and subdued architecture. All employ a combination of open-air lobbies, terraces, walkways, and ocean panoramas.

A paved pathway links the hotels and Wailea Shopping Village. Above the shoreline, the pathway is also a great place for spotting migrating whales in winter or stealing kisses on sunset strolls.

As to cuisine: The high-end air of Seasons, at the Four Seasons, is complemented by its fresh seafood specialties. There’s the moderate Kea Lani Restaurant, specializing in regional Hawaiian cuisine, or the Renaissance’s Palm Court for Mediterranean. Japanese fare can be found at the Renaissance, Grand Wailea, and Makena’s Maui Prince. Luaus—with Hawaiian music and dancing—are held at the Renaissance and the Aston Wailea.

Mention things to do and most will be motivated just to find a hammock and tune into the sound of surf. But the resorts also offer fitness rooms, boogie board and scuba mask rentals, and programs for kids. There’s also the Wailea Golf Club (three courses) and the Makena Golf Course (two courses), and two local tennis clubs.

Should you require other stimuli, you’ve more options than you can shake a pineapple at. Take a snorkel cruise to Molokini and imagine you’re part of a giant aquarium. Rent a bicycle in neighboring Kihei. South of Makena, explore both Makena La Perouse State Park, the island’s largest undeveloped white-sand beach, and Ahihi-Kinau Natural Area Reserve, where the lava flow has a strange, moon-like surface. Day-trippers can head upcountry to sample pineapple wine at Tedeschi, the state’s only winery. Or to Haleakala National Park, with endless views above the clouds, rare plants, and trails into the crater.

Photography courtesy of Travisthurston/Wikimedia Commons

This article was first published in March 1998. Some facts may have aged gracelessly. Please call ahead to verify information.