No trip to Maui would be complete without visiting the pristine, upscale Wailea area in south Maui. I stayed at Fairmont Kea Lani (4100 Wailea Alanui Dr, Wailea, HI 96753; 808-875-4100) in one of their suites (the hotel only has suites and villas).
The property is spread out over 22 acres. My suite included a living room with a queen sofa bed, a separate bedroom, an HD flat-screen TV, free Wi-Fi, and a large marble bathroom with double pedestal sinks, a deep soaking tub and a walk-in shower. There was also a wet bar with a refrigerator.
24-hour pools and a swim-up bar
The Fairmont has three 24-hour pools (one with a swim-up bar!) and a 140-foot waterslide that’s enticing to kids and adults. There are also two hot tubs. I found myself at the pool bar at Ama Bar & Grill with an awesome fruity cocktail, enjoying counting how many times certain adults took a ride down the slide (hey, not judging).
Poolside cabanas are available for rent at the adults-only pool. There’s something awesome about sipping a cold beverage, under your own private and shaded cabana, that never seems to get old for me. In fact, this was the most relaxation I found on the whole Maui trip! Unlimited sodas (you have to purchase your cocktails), water, fruit and ice cream kept coming to my cabana. I couldn’t have been happier.
Plantation Era-inspired Hawaiian cuisine
While the hotel has six different places for a meal (plus in-suite dining), Ko (translating to “sugarcane” in Hawaiian) restaurant was my favorite dinner spot. The restaurant was rebuilt last year as part of the hotel’s $70 million renovation.
The rebuilt Ko highlights Plantation Era-inspired Hawaiian cuisine. It’s interesting: Just looking at the menu felt like taking a cultural journey. There are Hawaiian, Chinese, Filipino, Portuguese, Korean, and Japanese options. I sampled the lamb chops (mango mint salsa, marinated in coconut milk, soy sauce, and a hint of curry), the “Makai Catch” with the special fresh fish of the night with lemongrass coconut broth, wok-simmered with garlic rice and seared ahi, which I seared myself using the hot stone I was presented with at my table.
It’s a great menu, and includes an intimate touch: Executive Chef Tylun Pang has added some of his family’s recipes to the menu while utilizing the island’s fresh produce, beef and seafood—with a contemporary twist, of course.
Unique craft cocktails with Aaron
The Fairmont’s lobby bar, Luana, also got a huge revamp as part of the renovation. I was happy as long as mixologist Aaron Alcala-Mosley was there to mix up some of his distinct cocktails. I’m not going to lie: As a vodka-lover, I hadn’t really found a cocktail that made me really like gin, but of course at Luana, Aaron made me an awesome gin cocktail called the Basil Shmasil—and I was in love.
Aaron has been in the cocktail scene in California and Hawaii for nine years. I watched him make his famous “The Training Room” cocktail (bourbon, yellow chartreuse, bitters) for a few guys, and he told me after that it was the drink that got him hired at the Fairmont. Throughout my nights there, I met locals frequenting the lobby bar for Aaron’s drinks and the nightly live music. It’s a real gem of a spot for a sunset, even if you aren’t staying in the hotel.
The Kea Lani Restaurant offers a beautiful buffet each morning and it also has an exceptional a la carte menu. I dined in the open air next to the adult pool (overlooking an area close to where my cabana was). The buffet contains fresh and local fruit, pastries, breads such as mango and banana nut bread freshly baked in the resort’s pastry shop, and an omelet station.
If you have time to get in the water, I recommend using the Fairmont’s water activities hut, where the guys are super nice. They tell you exactly where to go to see some friendly sea creatures. I took out a kayak and saw some turtles and even followed some locals to see a manta ray. The guys at the hut also gave me some great recommendations regarding places to visit on the Road to Hana (see below!).
Health and wellness
There are many health and wellness options at the Fairmont, from the fitness center with its awesome fitness class schedule (with classes like “Mind Body Barre,” “Boot Camp,” “Meditation Breathing,” and “Aqua Fitness”) to the newly renovated Willow Stream Spa and its wave massage table. The women’s room offered Vichy shower treatments with infrared technology, full-sensory-experience showers inspired by Maui rain, steam and sauna, and a soothing pālolo (mud) bar. The pālolo bar was something I would have tried had I only had another day, but alas. I’m told they even do seasonal well-being excursions, which include floating yoga!
Adventure: The Road to Hana
The Road to Hana travels along the east side of the windward coast of Haleakala.
The approximate driving time (considering stops for sightseeing) from the Fairmont to Hana is 3.5 hours (then remember you have to return). I had to do a shortened version of the Road to Hana since time was limited. The locals working the water activities at the hotel told me about the bamboo forest on the drive and wow—that hike was the highlight of my day. The forest is at the beginning of the Road to Hana (Highway 360) between mile markers 6 and 7 and is part of the Na’ili’ili Haele Stream & Waterfalls. The hike passes by many waterfalls and ends with a plunge into a fresh water pool before seeing the final waterfall.
I met a local guy named Spencer at the middle point of the hike who’d recently started a business taking people around hidden hikes in Maui (check out the website here). The company is right up my alley: The idea is to make friends with locals and get to know Maui while seeing its lesser-known hikes and gorgeous waterfalls.
Another easy stop along the road was Twin Falls. It’s a favorite for families but also a really easy one to get to if you don’t have much time but want to experience the Road to Hana. It’s only 0.2 miles past mile marker 2, and there’s a local food stand there for lunch.
In part 3: Kaanapali Beach.