By Kim Gray
When people refer to their “happy place” in the context of global travel, what are they saying exactly?
I, for one, am saying there’s somewhere in the world that I long for — a place that, when I’m there, fills me with a profound sense of well-being.
That place for me is Maui, Hawaii. And when I consider how this came to be, it’s clearly my mom and dad who are to blame.
Mere mention of the archipelago’s second largest island, which has a longstanding history with Western Canadians given its Pacific Ocean location, conjures up images of my parents at their happiest.
For years, they swapped frigid Canadian winters for summery annual visits.
Their daily rituals included morning chess matches on the beach, afternoon tennis games and evening photography sessions with sunsets the colour of mandarin oranges.
In my mind’s eye, my parents look content and relaxed and as their daughter, I appreciated seeing them so carefree.
Eventually, my husband-to-be joined us on a Maui vacation and before long, he and I returned — married and with two small children in tow — to enjoy, as Mom and Dad did, the island’s spirit of aloha and vibrant culinary, arts and culture scene.
As our daughter and son grew, so, too, did the intensity of our regular Maui adventures.
Brightly coloured beach toys morphed into boogie boards for body surfing and instead of trips to the Maui Ocean Center (hammerhead sharks were a huge hit when the children were small), we opted for hikes along the island’s spectacular coastline.
Our last trip, with no shortage of teen-friendly activities to choose from, was the most adventurous yet.
We balanced our holiday between two popular hotels on Kaanapali Beach — starting with the Sheraton Maui Resort & Spa where, as a family, we learned to snuba (a scuba diving and snorkelling hybrid where you breathe through a hose attached to a floating tank) and where my daughter and I would soak up Polynesian essential oils during a mother/daughter massage at the hotel’s Spa at Black Rock.
Impressively, our son joined the ranks of his older sister and dad and became a certified scuba diver while at the hotel, celebrating with a spooky ocean night dive.
To be honest, it felt like we were signing our teenagers’ lives away on waiver forms on a daily basis.
Sampling Maui’s food scene on this last visit also proved to be an adventure to write home about.
One evening, we dined at the Sheraton’s Teppan-yaki Dan — renowned for its contemporary Japanese cuisine and high-energy “culinary theatrics” — where guests watch their meals chopped, prepped and grilled right in front of them.
On another night, from the appropriately named Cliff Dive Grill, we observed the Sheraton’s dramatic cliff diving ceremony, a hotel tradition since 1963 featuring a ritual that involves Hawaiian chanting and the soulful call of a conch shell.
The spectacle finishes with a young diver leaping off the sacred cliffs of nearby Black Rock, or Pu’u Keka’a.
We eventually moved over to the Hyatt Regency Maui Resort & Spa, where we signed up for a cosmic Tour of the Stars (who knew this Hyatt was named one of the world’s top hotels for stargazing?) and the Drums of the Pacific Lu’au — an event that includes a hearty feast, pulsating Tahitian drum dances and an unforgettable Samoan fire knife performance.
Our kids, by the way, loved the access to snacks and drinks throughout the day at the Hyatt’s Regency Club.
Over the course of our vacation, our culinary exploits continued (hungry teens and all) at the nearby family-friendly Hula Grill Kaanapali for coconut calamari, fire-grilled ahi steak and hula pie, a macadamia nut ice cream dessert featuring a chocolate cookie crust, toasted nuts and whipped cream.
And we savoured our sweet and smoky huli huli chicken with upcountry greens at Leilani’s on the Beach.
Back in Canada — and on the heels of an unforgiving winter, not to mention a challenging few years given the global pandemic — memories of this Maui trip and others before it play prominently in the photographic flip book of my mind.
I see my parent’s faces, full of life and radiant from their time in the sun.
I feel the heat of the sand through our towels as my future husband and I snuggle on the beach with our books under a Pacific sun.
I hear our children’s laughter as they play in the waves of a welcoming, warm ocean.
It turns out, my “happy place” has become a means by which to measure the stages of my life and the lives of those I love.
For this, I blame my Mom and Dad. I expect, one day, our kids will do the same.
Note from editor: We were, in part, guests of Kaanapali Resort. This story was not reviewed or edited before publication.
As well, readers may be interested to know that Hawaii now offers a Malama program, where visitors “give back” during their stays, sometimes in exchange for a free hotel night. Travellers to Maui are also encouraged to take a pledge before or upon arrival to the island.
Finally, we’d like to mention Alii Nui Sailing Charters, which we’d hoped to join for a whale-watching expedition but were unable. Cheers for the invitation. Next time!
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