My Dream Vacation in Maui

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!

Parrots in Lahaina

Parrots in Lahaina

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.

Waianapanapa State Park

Waianapanapa State Park

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.

Ka'anapali Beach sunset

Ka'anapali Beach sunset

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.

Beautiful blue waters of Maui

Beautiful blue waters of Maui

Even lava rock is fertile on Maui

Even lava rock is fertile on Maui

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.

Ka'anapali Beach Hotel

View from our balcony, Ka'anapali Beach Hotel

The torch lighter

The torch lighter at the Four Seasons resort, next door to KBH.
He lights all the torches after sunset.

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.)

Black Rock

Black Rock. Great snorkling here.

Hawaiian graffiti

Hawaiian graffiti

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.

Hamoa Beach

Hamoa Beach at the base of the mountain

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.

Hana Sunrise House

Hana Sunrise House, standing in the entrance looking toward the front porch

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.”

Koki Beach

Just us and our view on Koki Beach

Behind Koki beach

Behind Koki beach

Seaside village

We came across a little village near this shoreline during one of our drives.
It was so beautiful there. Great Macadamia nut brittle too!

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.

The legend of Waianapanapa Caves

The legend of Waianapanapa Caves at the Waianapanapa State Park

View from cave exit, Waianapanapa State Park

View from cave exit, Waianapanapa State Park

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.

Hana Sunrise House

View from Hana Sunrise House


Hana Sunrise House

Ka’anapali Beach Hotel


Betsy Villanella

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.

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  1. I can see why this was your dream vacation Betsy, so glad you got to go despite the circumstances.

    I think Hana is definitely on my list of places to visit now 🙂

    • Betsyv says:

      Thank you! I am so glad you enjoyed it.
      I am happy to say Mike is now with a job he loves. If at any time you get a chance to go to Hana, take it! You won’t regret it. It is heaven on earth!

  2. I am so glad you were able to go to Hawaii
    Great pictures too
    Loved your blog
    Keep writing

    • Thank you Dawn,
      Hawaii is the perfect place to vacation, and I would go again ANYTIME!
      Not my blog, but Milli is nice enough to give me a venue for my articles! I love writing about the places I’ve been!

  3. Wow, Betsy, What a story! It strengthens my longing to go to Hawaii. It’s the only state I’ve not visited. Your article makes me want to set a date and go!
    Most of my trips have been on the budget plan. I think it makes trips better because I see things I wouldn’t see if I had bottomless pockets. (Of course, its a trade off for something else you don’t see.) It thrills me to hear you went anyway in spite of a job loss. Hana and Hana Sunrise House look like places where time stands still and perspective changes! You’re right this is the stuff dreams are made of! Thank you for sharing and great photos!

    • Terri,
      I am very happy you liked it. I love sharing my dream come true. As a matter of fact it helps me relive it.Go ahead and set that date. There is never a better time then the present. budget or not, I guarantee you will love it, and you will finish your list of states you have visited. I have many more states to visit to finish mine,but Ill get there eventually.
      Thanks for your comments.

  4. Really liked your story. I agree, you don’t have to spend a fortune to have a great time.

    • Thank you Mike,
      Yes, As long as I can get to a place. I don’t need to do all the expensive touristy stuff. I just enjoy the land, and what is around me. That doesn’t cost a thing!

  5. Andy McMenemy says:

    Beautiful article about a beautiful location. So glad you and Mike didnt find a Bad Luck Tiki Statue while you were there! lol!

    • Betsyv says:

      So glad you liked it. No tikis were taken by us. We weren’t taking any chances.
      Thanks for the comment.

  6. Oh, Betsy, *what* a dream vacation! I’m so glad you finally got to go and it was all you had hoped for, and more. Hawaii truly is one of those magical places that has to be seen to be believed. Your photos certainly did it justice and I am immediately going to look up Hana Sunrise House… Just in case I get to go to Maui again. 😉
    Your post also brought back some lovely memories for me. Hawaii — Maui and Hana in particular — was one of my mom’s favorite destinations. I grew up in Canada’s Arctic and we took a family vacation to a sunny place every winter; if Mom had her way it would have been Maui and nowhere else, year after year!

    • Lisa,
      I’m so glad this article brought back Happy memories! It will always be a wonderful memory for me, and like your Mom I could go back many, many more time without getting tired of it. Hana Sunrise House was the highlight of our trip. It was hard to leave it.
      Thanks so much for reading and commenting on this. I just love to read all the comments!

  7. Hi Betsy! What a great article and your photos are amazing! I love your descriptions and you could almost taste your longing to visit Hawaii! Thanks for sharing such a life changing trip!

    • Ann,
      Hawaii is a wonderful place and so easy to write about.
      It was a fun article to do.
      Thanks for your comments. You have always been so supportive! A true friend.

  8. What a great story. I am so glad that you decided to go to Hawaii anyway. I think I would have done the same thing. My husband got laid off from his job of 10 years a few days after we had gotten back from Seattle. I had always wanted to visit Seattle; it was my dream vacation — nothing like Hawaii, but still an incredible amount to see and enjoy. We enjoyed our vacation in complete oblivion about what was about to come down the pike and I’m so glad that, like you, we had the opportunity to vacation.

    Your pictures are gorgeous. I hope to go back to Hawaii again soon but will definitely go to a different island just for some variety.

    • Thank You! It was the best vacation so far.. I will try to change that, but its not going to be easy! I’d rather have the memories, then not go and always wish we did.

      Thanks for reading and the nice comments!

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