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Laura Hunt

Romance in Maui

by Mindy Sitton-Halleck
Photography: Mindy & Joe

Legend holds that on the island of Maui, in the "time before," birds were invisible. The flutter of their wings, and the sweet melody was known only to Maui, the magical hero of the Pacific Islands. Many tried, but none could see or hear the elusively romantic angels in the wind.

When my husband, Joe, and I ventured from Seattle to Maui in early December, we were greeted by warm tropical breezes, the floral fragrance that permeates the islands, and the sweet sound of tropical birds somewhere in the far-off distance. With our chilly senses warmed, we tucked our heavy sweaters into our suitcases and left the airport for the west end of Maui, where we checked into our ocean-front room at the Sheraton, and relaxed into romance.

Since we arrived late in the afternoon, we set out for a walk along the beach and dinner at sunset. In winter, the days are shorter, but still unhurried, warm, and sun-filled. Legend says that the demigod, Maui, lassoed the sun to slow its journey across the sky. I think he did. It painted a petal pink and cerulean blue sky as it progressed slowly to the horizon. "Island time" set deep into our bones within the first few hours.

The meandering walkways, gardens, water falls, lilied lagoons and swaying palm trees led us through the Sheraton's twenty-three tropical acres to the soft, sandy shore of Ka'anapali Beach. Hawaii's signature scent, white plumeria filled the air. Holding hands we walked into the water, lifted our faces to the sun, and let the warm water rush over us. We were worlds away from the dreary Seattle rain.

Ka'anapali Beach (the rolling cliffs) is nestled next to Black Rock, which curves at the end of the sandy stretch making a protected harbor. We watched a wedding ceremony that was underway on the shore, and remembered our own. Light reflected from the sea danced around us, as the bride and groom ran off down the beach towards their new life together.

A light warm rain fell for a moment, and then was done before we headed back to the hotel. For our first evening we decided to indulge in one of the most romantic dinners Maui has to offer: the Sheraton's "dinner under the stars." We left our room and strolled across the wooden bridge outside the hotel's main dining room, the KEKA'A Terrace, and we found ourselves surrounded by an exotic Koi pond where tropical plants and white swans were thriving among floating lily pads.

The beautiful aroma of gardenia greeted us as we approached the edge of the walkway and met our personal waiter, Japhet. He led us to the beach where he seated us in a tent fit for a king. Winter evenings on the islands can be a bit breezy, so the tent flaps and the torch lights were angled to protect us from the winds without obscuring the perfect view of the ocean.

At sunset, the historic cliff diver ceremony began at Black Rock from the ancient sacred place called Pu'u Keka'a. It is believed that the souls of the dead leap from this world to their ancestral spirit land. The ever gracious Japhet, discreetly delivered our wine as we watched the divers light the torches against the backdrop of the darkening sky. We could hear occasional whispers from outside our tent,
     "Who is it?" passersby would ask. Discreet Japhet stood guard, politely nodding hello to them, but not answering their questions.
     "Celebrities?" They'd ask. Still he remained silent. It was fun to be the subject of such curiosity and mystery.
We listened to the ancient Hawaiian chant as the torches were lit and carried by the divers as they entered the ocean exactly just as the sun fell into the water. It was as if they were dousing the day's light themselves. A storyteller in the courtyard began to tell the story of King Kahekili, a great warrior who journeyed across the white sands of Ka'anapali. Japhet delivered our unbelievable six course meal.
The stars glistened in the ebony sky, the sand was warm beneath our toes, the crescent moon danced on the ocean not ten feet from our table. We'd found a truly romantic experience our very first night on Maui. It's no wonder such a magical place was named after a young hero with mystical powers.

At 2:00 AM the phone rang. "We're waiting downstairs," the man's voice told me.
    "You have ten minutes."
Unbeknownst to Joe, I had pre-arranged for us to be kidnapped. I do think the element of surprise is important in keeping romance alive. But I had no idea what a thrill the following morning would bring to us both.

I quickly wakened my sleepy husband and rushed him into his clothes. Still dressing, we ran through the open veranda, down the long palm-lined hallways, and into the moonlit front lobby, where the van was parked in the drive. As we climbed in, I explained that we were going to the top of Haleakala (Maui's 10,000 ft. volcano) and then riding bikes 38 miles down to the sea. "You're kidding me!" Joe's eye's bulged. Then he smiled. My husband loves an adventure.

For two hours we rode in the back of the van, stopping at other hotels, waiting ten minutes for other willing victims to appear sleepily out of the shadows and join is as if we all were sneaking off to some clandestine church camp with the two tattooed wise men riding shot-gun up front. Newcomers nodded or said hello in Japanese, German, or Wisconsian.
We watched from the back seat as ubiquitous ABC stores flashed by on the freeway. Then as we began our winding ascent up the mountain, flashes of headlights on the road, careened into rocks and sidewalls as the van angled upward into the darkness.
Soon the milky moon gave way to a richly colored crimson and gold sunrise that glittered with leftover stars. We felt we were on the top of the world. The winds blew violently as we clung to one another in the weatherproof gear they provided. As the new day was born, we watched from the summit with the other twenty or so participants of our midnight kidnapping.

This would be a great place to propose; that is, if the wind doesn't knock you down.
After all the oohing and aahing, we had a continental breakfast and prepared for the bike ride down the mountain led by Jason; our driver Drew, followed with the van. These guides are full of local lore and historical information, not to mention much humor.
 The one thing I had not considered in this escapade was my fear of heights. The first twenty minutes of the ride were terrifying for me. Jason stayed close, and I appreciated it. While everyone else was yelling "Look at that!" and pointing to the depths and heights, my eyes were fixed on the road ahead of me; my hands were gripping the handlebars. But after descending several hundred feet, I became calmer and started to enjoy the view. And then I loved it!

We continued down the mountain, through nine climate zones. This trip is a great way to see the natural wonders of Maui It was like going from the Antarctic to Mexico. The aromatic eucalyptus fields were revitalizing. We stopped for traffic and cattle that meandered across the road as we neared the seaside town of Paia where we ate a fabulous breakfast at Polli's Mexican Restaurant with our new friends from Japan.
Just as we finished breakfast, the tropical rains hit. All the other riders decided they didn't want to continue, as the rain was falling sideways and hard.
But I, the oldest of the group, and most reluctant rider of them all, finished with Jason as my private guide. We rode the remaining 45 minutes down to the sea. With a mud covered face and rain soaked clothes, I climbed off my bike and ran along the beach, thrilled by the exhilarating experience. Muddy, but exhilarating!
My more timid husband and the other riders sleepily climbed out of the van into the sunshine. (Rain storms don't last long and generally are quite warm).
"She grew up on the Oregon coast," Joe told them. "This is nothing new to her."

Both Joe and I agree that the Mountain Riders bike ride from the Haleakala to the sea was one of the most memorable things in our lives. Check them out at Romance is built on a foundation of memories. This is a great one.

The next day was for snorkeling. I love where the Sheraton is located on the island; there's no need for a boat or driving directions if its water sports you want. Just pin your room key inside your bathing suit, walk down stairs to the beach, rent your snorkel gear, and jump into the ocean. Surrounding Black Rock is some of the best snorkeling on the island. In particular, watch for the sea turtles.
After a few hours of snorkeling we headed to the dining room for the most amazing breakfast buffet we'd ever seen. The 1997 remodel of the Sheraton has turned it into one of the top resorts on Hawaii, but it's the people that will keep us coming back. With his own unique sense of humor, the maitre d', Edmund, who seemed to be there 24-7, graciously greeted Joe and me, honeymooners from all around the globe, and families visiting the island for Christmas. Edmund traveled from table to table dispensing whatever friendly advice he deemed fit. People laughed and enjoyed the friendly conversation with this sage island interpreter. Edmund, I discovered, also is an ordained minister. What a gem for all who visit the KEKA'A Terrace!
Great service comes in small things. Edmund always remembered our names and where we liked to sit. During our stay we never ate breakfast anywhere else but on the terrace next to the koi pond, where Edmund would stop by and entertain us for a few moments each day. We looked forward to his smile.
There is so much to do in Maui in December, or any other time of year. We hired a boat and a knowledgeable skipper and went an hour out into the ocean to scuba dive. Well, Joe dives, I snorkel. I floated in the warm deep blue waters and watched Joe's group with their yellow scuba tanks descend through the clear blue-green. From the surface, I watched them submerge beneath me: 40, 50, and then 60 feet; then they disappeared into murkiness.
I felt peaceful. Around me, yellow tangs and other tropical fish went about their business. Then suddenly it dawned on me I was alone. I couldn't see Joe or anyone. I looked up and noticed I had floated a considerable distance from the boat, and the ocean was taking those deep breaths that let you know something is about to happen.
I quickly swam back to the boat and joined the captain, enjoying the view from the safety of the deck.
"Gettin' a little choppy out there!" he said.
"Where I grew up, when the ocean breathes, you get away from her," I shared.
"It's no different here." He tossed me a towel, and directed me to the top deck.
He turned on the red light beneath the boat so the divers would know it was time to resurface. During the hour-and-a-half trip back to Maui, the ocean nearly toppled the boat. A tropical storm hit, waves raged over the gunwales, the skipper ordered us to secure ourselves and hang on.

 It was a rough ride, much rougher than any I'd experienced. Most of our group of ten was terrified. We watched as some of our gear rushed away, devoured by the sea. No one spoke. We watched the ocean waves build, and we looked helplessly at one another. But, thanks to a great skipper, we were delivered safely back to Lahaina, just in time to grab lunch.

 We always attend a good luau when in the islands.the entertainment is incredible. The luau recommended to us was at the Hyatt along Maui's romantic oceanside promenade. We enjoyed the lavish experience with more new friends from Australia. We laughed all night. Going to events where you join other curious travelers from around the world only adds to the fun. They were in Maui on their third honeymoon. Yes, their third! Apparently they take a honeymoon every other year. Now there's a tradition I could go for!
"Maui is the most romance for the money," they told us. We agreed.
The walk along the promenade has a breathtaking view. We stopped into all the hotels and enjoyed the art, the amazing grounds, and the shops that stay open late.
The next morning we took the commuter bus into Lahaina and went Christmas shopping at Helo Hattie's. We had a blast in their festive atmosphere. We then visited the Wo Hing Museum, watched the hula dancers greet the cruise ships, and thoroughly toured Old Lahaina.
Christmas in the tropics is a new experience when you're from a cold winter area. Joe kept taking pictures of the tropical Christmas decorations, a strange fascination, but that's Joe.
Our final night there we indulged ourselves with massages at the Seaside Salon in the Sheraton. As the cool breezes swept through the outside deck, the hula dancers performed by the pool. We sipped mai-tai's and were skillfully pampered by two masters of massage. This is a real treat!
That last morning I let Joe sleep late in the large comfy bed, with the ocean breeze wafting through the room. By sunrise I was on the beach below our deck, doing yoga with two or three others along the stretch of sand. It was a glorious morning, my favorite time. When I finished, I turned to see Joe, wrapped in the blanket, watching me from the deck. I often fall in love with him again; that was one of those moments.
 He soon joined me on the beach and we walked for two hours as the island sounds came to life. The "ca-coo" of tropical birds sang through the crisp morning air. We walked the entire property of the Sheraton, along the golf course, then down to the private beach at the back of Black Rock.

There, we threw the lovely lei's we'd received at the luau into the ocean. Legend says if they return to shore, so soon shall we. Mine immediately returned. We gave up on Joe's as it bobbed in the waves, a true scuba diver's lei, refusing to come out of the water.

Once again at breakfast we sat on the terrace listening to the birds and to Edmund's friendly conversation with a couple in their eighties.
The magic of Maui's legend of the wind still holds true today. By week's end Joe and I had heard the romantic angels of the wind that had been known only to Maui and were awakened each morning by the tender melodies that young Maui held so dear in the "time before."
There on the soft sand, surrounded by Ka'anapali, and nestled at the foot of the sacred place called Black Rock, we found what we were looking for: island romance.

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