At the moment I discovered that my room at Honolulu’s 1,634-room Sheraton Waikiki opened onto a balcony with a stunning view of Diamond Head, I was entranced.
After unpacking, I met up with several other writers — all of us hosted by Meet Hawaii for a press trip to Oahu and Maui on Sept. 5–11 — at RumFire, the Sheraton’s chic indoor-outdoor beach lounge. After a few cocktails, those of us from the East Coast called it a night.
The next day we visited the Manoa Heritage Center on the outskirts of the city to see the Kūka’ō‘ō Heiau, a Hawaiian temple dating back hundreds of years, and learned about its importance to the island’s early settlers. After a quick stop back at the hotel, we headed over to the 1.1-million-square-foot Hawaii Convention Center (HCC), which stands out for the sheer amount of natural light that filters through its glass-fronted façade and the Hawaiian art showcased throughout.
As the sun set, the Corks & Forks gala — part of the Hawaii Food & Wine Festival — began on the HCC’s rooftop. The chefs present came from as nearby as downstairs — the HCC’s executive chef, Gary Matsumoto, served up beef-heart tartare on grilled country bread — and as far away as Scotland.
THE NORTH SHORE
A two-hour drive brought us to Oahu’s fabled North Shore, where we toured Turtle Bay Resort, a low-slung, low-impact property that is equal parts elegant and relaxed. In addition to more than 25,000 square feet of indoor meeting space, the resort has almost five miles of private beachfront, two golf courses, and riding stables. After our tour, we sat down to a three-course dinner in Turtle Bay’s outdoor pavilion. Some of us headed to the resort’s Surfer, The Bar afterward for cocktails and karaoke. The laid-back establishment attracted guests and North Shore residents alike, including a local woman named Marian who sang a soulful version of Frank Sinatra’s “My Way.”
In the morning, I went ocean kayaking with a few others from the group. I didn’t manage to spot any giant turtles in the tranquil bay, but a short hike along the shoreline led to a tiny World War II pillbox guard post overlooking the Pacific. That took care of the novelty factor.
After a short flight out of Honolulu International, we landed on Maui, then drove south along the coast to check in at the Andaz Maui at Wailea. The property’s open-air lobby is on the fourth floor, and the stories below are carved out of a hillside leading down to the ocean, giving the hotel a cozy, romantic feel.
The abalone risotto and the breadfruit gnocchi were two of the highlights of our intimate dinner at Isaac Bancaco’s Kaana Kitchen, one of the hotel’s three restaurants. Kainoa Horcajo, the Andaz’s cultural director and a former host of TEDxMaui, shared his knowledge of Maui’s cultural history and talked about Kahoolawe, the island just a few miles away from Wailea Beach that served as a bombing range for the U.S. military for almost 50 years.
The next morning we drove up into the hills to see Maui Hawaiian Village, a traditional Hawaiian community that has recently begun to welcome small groups. After a three-quarter-mile hike from the road, we saw demonstrations of how clothes, building materials, and poi were made. These history lessons were rounded out with dinner at the Old Lahaina Luau on the other side of the island, where stories dating back to creation myths and up to the 1920s were told through dance.
On our last night, we sat down to dinner at Migrant Maui, a restaurant at the Wailea Beach Marriott Resort & Spa run by “Top Chef” finalist Sheldon Simeon. The order of the evening was “one of everything”: raw tuna in a bath of lemon olive oil and sambal; hangar steak with nuoc cham sauce and shallots; and “KFC” (Korean Fried Chicken), followed by a round of noodle dishes. And for dessert: ube ice cream, made from bright-purple sweet yams.
Even with the rapid-fire pace of the itinerary, I had time for one last walk on Wailea Beach, the moon still bright in the early-morning sky, before I had to leave for the airport.