In the winter of 1988, with all of four months under my belt as travel editor at Golf Magazine, I assigned myself the task of visiting Hawaii, specifically the Big Island, Kauai and Maui.
Like any jaded New Yorker with a few stamps in his passport, I traveled to Maui under the impression that the Valley Isle’s reputation as a barefoot paradise had long since faded.. I figured beautiful Maui had morphed into overbuilt MOW-ee. At the time, this storied atoll in the North Pacific had more millionaires per capita than Palm Springs, as many art galleries in Lahaina as humpback whales in its offshore waters, and more ritzy hotels along its Kaanapali strip than anyplace east of Waikiki Beach.
The hubris of youth was expunged the moment I stepped foot on Maui. What I didn’t expect was a dazzling amalgam of fuzzy green mountains, verdant gorges, desert savannahs, splendid beaches and ocean views from everywhere. The biggest surprise were the happy-to-be-alive-and-living-in-Maui natives, who far outnumbered tourist-weary akamai (in the know) residents. Mauians, it turns out, genuinely like visitors, if for no other reason than to let them know who’s number one in the state. But never a trace of braggadocio will you hear in the expression, “Maui no ka oi”—Maui is the best. It is said matter-of-factly, and always with a smile.
Totally won over, I couldn’t wait to find out everything I could about an island that had a dormant volcano big enough to swallow Manhattan. Actually, Maui is two islands in one, with a dozen microclimates between them. The island began as a pair of bubbling volcanoes that fused eons ago and are now joined by a fertile isthmus. I headed west to Kapalua, I wandered east to Wailea, making frequent stops along the way. I made copious notes, took lots of pictures and talked to everyone I could.
What I learned on my inaugural trip to Maui is that the two most important things to the Hawaiian people are aina (land) and ohana (family). Aina is source, identity, continuity, a gift to be respected and enjoyed. What I discovered is that I needed to look–really look–at my surroundings while I was playing golf. Maui’s natural beauty doesn’t just put the score in perspective. It is the perspective.
As a one-man department, I decided to send myself to the Aloha State every other year. I missed Maui in 1990, but I made a second visit to the island in 1992. I remember having a cheeseburger in paradise at a café in Lahaina and writing postcards (remember those?) to friends and family. Right then and there, I felt like leaving my return ticket on the bar counter, signing up for a windsurfing class and finding a place in the hills where I could live off the land.
Incredibly, it’s been over 20 years since I’ve seen my island princess. I doubt she’s aged, and if she has, she has maybe a couple of smile lines and is more beautiful for them.