The new Hana-Maui is gentle, sophisticated, and very Hawaiian, a quality not always easy to find in Hawaii. It's smaller than before, with only 66 rooms—some the original Bay Cottages, clustered around a pretty lawn, but most the larger Sea Ranch Cottages of the Rosewood era, with lanais and Jacuzzis and ocean views. The public areas feel clubby, with a lovely bar, a ravishing pool lighted by flaming torches, a small library that you won't use but which sets the right tone, and, by fall 2003, a big spa that will be reason enough to make the long trip. There are new chefs and impressive new menus in a very relaxed dining room that's never crowded, as well as another restaurant at nearby Hana Ranch.
For your own good, some things have been left out. There are no televisions, no clocks, no radios, and no air conditioners in the rooms, and there's no USA Today in a plastic bag on your doorknob each morning. The mini-bar contains only water, juice, and Coke, and it's all free. The pool scene is low-key, and the golf scene doesn't exist. And then there's the staff, not the usual recent graduates of Happy School, but almost entirely Hawaiian. Hana is their universe.
It took a moment to accept being deprived of CNN and The Sopranos, and another to convince myself that a ceiling fan would really keep me cool. Then I discovered that the mattress was topped with a feather bed, and the pillows had just the right loft. And before I knew it, my eyes were closing. When I awoke to the fragrance of the lei I had left on the bedside table, I was already thinking that four days would not be enough.
"It's just a little bit...rustico," says Hunton Conrad, the interior designer responsible for the hotel's redecoration. A third-generation Hawaiian, he knows how he likes Hawaii to look: the period from the twenties to the forties, before it all became cartoonlike, back when mainlanders arrived on the SS Lurline and took up residence in Honolulu's Royal Hawaiian for weeks. Conrad has designed many a house but just one other hotel (Waikiki's Coconut Plaza), and he says, "My innocence assisted me." He does not believe that a great resort begins with giant sofas. "I wanted a residential scale. I wanted people to feel they could live in these rooms."
I'd never seen colors quite like his. The greenish yellow of bamboo, the reddish orange of volcanic earth, the fresh green of new tropical foliage, the particular blue of the Pacific—such Hawaiian colors. Conrad designed all the new teak furniture, not highly polished but rough-hewn and even cracked, as well as bedspreads with the feel of bark cloth and curtains with traditional kapa patterns. You read yourself to sleep propped against a headboard of padded raffia, and walk around your room barefoot on lauhala mats. Some of the details are simply amazing: the bathroom sconces have shades made of young-coconut shell, Conrad explained, while the tissue box covers are made of mature-coconut shell. A shrewd Christian Liaigre-esque touch here and there keeps it all from going over the edge.
Everything on the walls at this hotel is actually worth looking at. Forgotten in some storeroom for decades was a rather serious collection of Hawaiian art, notably by Arman Manookian, who painted Gauguin-like canvases for a few brilliant years before drinking poison at a house party at the age of 27. According to his obituary in the Honolulu Advertiser in 1931, "The artist had refused to take part in games being played by a group of guests at the home, and had gone to his room..." Three rare Manookian paintings inspired the new public areas, while contemporary Hawaiian art brings a special energy to the guest rooms.