Circling a rotund tower of vibrant coral, I spotted a Hawaiian green sea turtle, tucked snuggly under a shelf in the ornate tangle of reef beneath me. A grouchy-looking, dappled moray eel poked its open mouth and bright eyes out from a hole in the collection of lobe coral beside me while a school of endemic Hawaiian damselfish fluttered above, sparkling in shafts of streaming Maui sunlight.
The sea turtle deeper below had stirred, meanwhile, gliding out into open water now and rising toward the surface. Able to hold their breath for hours, Hawaiian green sea turtles are often at their most graceful when they swim up for air.
During a recent stay at the Montage Kapalua Bay, I snorkeled each morning shortly after sunrise, when the wind and ocean are generally most calm, and discovered several turtles snoozing in various voids in the reef.
"It really is a great snorkeling spot," said Ray Benevides, a senior business development manager for Classic Vacations. "The way the reef is close to shore lets you see a lot of fish and coral and other underwater animals all very close to the beach."
Benevides, who grew up in Hilo on the Big Island of Hawaii, first visited the 24-acre Montage Kapalua late last year.
"The property was just magnificent," he said. "The way it's designed, the feel, it's just like a very luxurious home away from home."
For Silla Kaina, who was born and raised in Kapalua and serves as the hotel's Hawaiian cultural ambassador, the area has been like home for her family for quite some time. She said tide pools on the northern end of Kapalua Bay were known for surprising physical performances by one of the ocean's most intelligent creatures.
"If you wanted to see an octopus walk in the tide pools, that was the place," she said. "One time, I couldn't believe it. I was so shocked [because] I saw this he'e [octopus] walking on the rocks right in front of me, with its arms extended the whole time."
The resort’s 60 units all include a large living room.
Even Richard Holtzman, vice president and managing director of the Montage Kapalua, has a tie to the location dating back decades. His father helped to open the original Kapalua Bay Hotel.
That resort was leveled in the mid-2000s to make way for the collection of oceanfront buildings lying immediately north of Kapalua Bay today, a venture originally run as a Ritz-Carlton Club & Residences.
Montage acquired the property a few years after the project was forced into bankruptcy and renovated it before opening its first hotel in Hawaii on the site last summer.
Holtzman told me he still hears almost daily from someone who absolutely loved the old Kapalua Bay Hotel.
"Fortunately, I've yet to have one of them say, 'You guys went and screwed it all up,'" he said. "I think they really like what's been done with the place."
Along with the location's tremendous ocean access, the Montage Kapalua Bay offers 60 spacious units, composed of either one, two or three bedrooms that all include full gourmet kitchens and large living rooms; en suite washers and dryers; and a collection of some of the largest lanais in the Hawaiian Islands.
Agents can also earn a commission booking about 15 four-bedroom, 4,000-square-foot grand residences from the property's ownership pool that are managed for visitor rental by Montage.
Holtzman offered a candid description of travelers he feels are best suited for the property's various accommodations.
"Our room product is a double-edged sword," he said. "If you fill those suites up with family or friends, they often look at it as a great deal financially, [and] it's also a great option for a couple of couples traveling together. But if it's just two people, you have that risk of them not feeling great about the value."
Benevides agreed that the Montage is terrific for multigenerational family bookings while raving about the property's spa and top-notch Cane & Canoe restaurant. But he said Classic is also booking affluent couples there who want to spread out.
"One whole floor might be one unit," he said. "And some people who can afford it really want all that space."
Oceanview units start at $1,085 a night. Visit www.montagehotels.com/kapaluabay.