My Dream Vacation in MauiHAWAII, ISLANDS, LODGING, MEMORIES, OUTDOORS EATING, Scenic Wonders, STAFF — By Betsy Villanella on November 29, 2011 at 01:29
Story by staff writer Betsy Villanella. Photos Copyright © Betsy Villanella.
WHEN I WAS a teen, I found out that my parents were going on a vacation to Hawaii to meet my brother, who would be there for R&R during his service in Vietnam. It disappointed me greatly when I was told I couldn’t go too, because of school. Hawaii seemed so exotic, tropical, and so different from home.
“You’ll have plenty of chances to go when you’re older,” my mother declared.
In those years “older” seemed so far away. I dreamed about Hawaii often, as time marched on like a herd of turtles. Even in my youth I had a travel bug, and back then it felt like I would never get old enough to explore all the places I’d like to.
I felt a need to see as much of this world as I could during my life. I loved to watch shows about faraway places. Being like lots of kids, I used to leaf through National Geographic magazines—unlike most of them, I actually wanted to see the pictures of places, not the scantily-clad natives. To me, Africa was another wonderland, on par with Australia—and of course Hawaii!
Because of my father’s jobs, during my childhood I was able to live many places in the U.S. Then, soon after my husband and I got married, he joined the Air force. His first assignment, after tech school in Texas, was San Vito De Normanni, Italy. We lived and explored there for nearly two years. I really enjoyed the experience, even with toddlers in tow . . . but it wasn’t Hawaii.
So I continued to wait, until one day—after many years had passed—traveling to Hawaii was finally in the planning stage. After months of research we decided to vacation on the island of Maui at the end of September. I had a year and a half to plan it out, and I was giddy with the anticipation of it all.
I bought books on Maui. I checked out maps for the best snorkeling and, of course, the many photos of Maui sunsets and waterfalls. I was like a kid in a candy shop, surrounded by all my favorite treats.
The day came to actually buy the flight tickets. My dream was starting to become a reality. I think I looked at those tickets daily for the next year. Nothing could stop this trip now—except maybe something off the wall that would never actually happen, such as Mike losing his job of 30 years. Nope. That was too far-fetched.
Then one day in February Mike came home from work to inform me that he did indeed get his pink slip. I got an awful feeling in my gut. The kind of feeling I had when I was a kid and I flung myself out of a high-flying swing, only to realize in mid-air that I was going far too high and fast for a safe landing, knowing it was going to really hurt when I hit the hard ground, and also knowing it was way too late to do anything to stop it.
It was such a blow to our lives. The trip was not the only big worry here, but we did have a lot already invested in it, and it was just seven months before we were supposed to go. We tried to cancel, but we would not get most of our money back if we did. We decided to go anyway, and we prayed everything would work out.
I am so glad we did. It turned out to be a dream of a dream trip. We went on a budget but had a blast! I found a very nice hotel on the west coast of Maui, Ka’anapali Beach Hotel, where we spent the first five days of our vacation driving around, being tourists, enjoying the sights and sounds.
This hotel was not as fancy or commercial as the big resorts, but it was in one of the best locales for great snorkeling. That was what we most wanted to do, and it was a highlight of that vacation. I can’t begin to describe how it felt to swim with giant sea turtles. They are so friendly they’ll swim right up to you. I did a lot of backpaddling as it’s against the law to touch them. (I guess no one told them that.)
Being the touristy side of the island it was very crowded. It was an adventure but not very relaxing. I knew this would be the case, so I planned for our last five days to be on the quieter east coast of the island, in Hana.
Hana is quite remote and situated in a rainforest—the most beautiful place I have ever been. The drive to Hana is famous for the beautiful vistas and waterfalls along the narrow, serpentine Hana Highway that runs between the mountain’s cliffs and the ocean. Many spots have only room enough for one car, so there’s a lot of pulling over to let others go by. Passing the tour buses was particularly challenging.
While most visitors take day trips to Hana, then go back to the west or south sides of Maui at the end of an afternoon, we stayed. There are few hotels in Hana, but back when I was researching I found a small house for rent partway up a mountain, at the base of the rainforest. Hana Sunrise House looked peaceful and exotic. Its perch on the side of the mountain above Hamoa Beach, one of the top-rated beaches in Hawaii, made it the perfect location.
Driving up the dirt road with its hump of grass in the middle to this remote spot at the edge of the rain forest, I prayed we wouldn’t scrape the bottom of the rental. Turning into the yard of our little bungalow, we saw trees laden with fruit. Star fruit, avocado, guava, plus others I couldn’t name. As we walked in the door Hawaiian music played softly, welcoming us. The effect was immediately calming, and the view from the screened wraparound porch was both peaceful and inspiring.
I looked down the mountainside, past our little jungle of tropical plants and flowers. A large herd of Black Angus cattle were grazing with egrets riding on their backs. Farther down I saw an ocean vista with a small rock island jutting out of the water, with one lonely palm tree growing at the top.
Later that evening as the sun set, the egrets flocked and flew to the trees above us like a white cloud traveling above the pastures to roost for the night. We fell asleep to the sounds of lowing cattle in the soft, warm night air, and woke up the next morning to a sunrise that painted the sky in pink and purple hues, with the sound of birds singing a welcome to another day. It made us not want to leave our temporary home—but to stay there would be to miss all the fantastic sights around Hana. I could easily see why they call it “heavenly.”
The owner provided almost everything that was needed, yet hard to come by for visitors staying in this secluded area. There were beach chairs, boogie boards, coolers and all kinds of picnic supplies. This allowed us to spend our time enjoying the countryside and beaches.
We would pack a picnic with foods we bought at Safeway before making our trek to this side of the island, and then tour all around, stopping whenever we felt hungry, eating fresh fruit, crackers, and peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. We even indulged ourselves with the small complementary bottle of champagne we had received from the hotel.
What a wonder to sit on a white powder beach, all to ourselves, drinking champagne from plastic cups and eating fresh-cut, locally grown pineapple, with the bluest of skies above us, the aqua ocean crashing to the shore before us and the green mountains of the rainforest filled with birdsong behind us.
This is the stuff dreams are made of—and mine came true!
Hana Sunrise House and Hana made our stay on Maui even more magical than expected. If we can ever return, Hana will be on the top of our list of places to stay. If it wasn’t on an island so far from the mainland, and Hana being so remote on the island, I would be temped to move there.
Our Disney specialist Elizabeth Villanella has lived in the Montrose, Pennsylvania area most of her life. Betsy married her high school boyfriend in 1973. As an Air Force wife, she has lived in Texas, Italy, and Virginia. Between the two of them, her sons have given her fourteen grandchildren and counting. Betsy and her husband currently live with Albert K. Ninestein, a mini Schnauzer who’s as smart as his namesake. She loves to travel and wants to experience (and share) as many places in this world as she can! Betsy tweets as @betsy_v.