Experienced Maui travelers often describe the small community of Hana as a remote escape, secreted away on the Valley Isle's lush eastern shore, where the little town is usually a welcome sight for drivers at the end of Hawaii's most famous twisting coastal highway.
But "remote" is one of those words with many interpretations. For Travaasa Hana Maui resort general manager David MacIlwraith, a veteran of the U.S. National Parks who's worked at properties at the Grand Canyon, Grand Teton and Death Valley, Hana features a collection of unfamiliar comforts.
"This is the closest I've lived to a gas station and a post office and a bank in a long, long time," he said.
MacIlwraith took over as the Travaasa Hana's general manager about a year ago, moving from the same position at the Volcano House hotel in Hawaii Volcanoes National Park on the Big Island of Hawaii.
"It's the biggest town I've lived in during my hospitality career," MacIlwraith said of Hana, which is home to about 1,200 residents. "It's the biggest school my son's ever gone to, for sure. ... In Death Valley, he went to a one-room schoolhouse with just five other kids."
Travaasa management was looking for somebody with remote-destination experience last spring, according to MacIlwraith, and for good reason. Separated from Maui's largest town of Kahului by a 52-mile stretch of narrow highway, one featuring 620 curves -- a number of them hairpins -- and nearly 60 small bridges, the drive to Hana usually takes the better part of two hours to complete without making any stops. And despite the post office, gas station and bank MacIlwraith mentioned, Hana isn't home to a great deal more than that. You can throw in a few small restaurants and the historical Hasegawa General Store, for all your grocery and hardware needs, but that's basically it.
Guests of the Travaasa Hana resort can swim or sunbathe at nearby Hamoa Beach.
It's that sense of seclusion, however, and the distance from some of Maui's larger, busier vacation-resort communities that provides the Travaasa Hana resort with such a distinctive charm.
"Hawaii is pretty glitzy now in many places," said Brad Fisk, a Hawaii product development manager for Classic Vacations. "But Hana has that simplicity, and you feel like you're in the country there, because you are, [but] it offers a truly Hawaiian experience in a five-star property."
Situated in a naturally stunning and culturally rich locale, Hana has also been a longtime home for many of the Travaasa's employees. They make up another key component of the property's appeal, according to Fisk.
"Just about everyone is local," he said of the staff. "And oftentimes, they've lived there for generations, and they all have relatives working at the hotel, so there's very much a sense of family."
The 70-acre resort is also a wonderful place to unplug. Although complimentary WiFi is available in each room, guests won't find any TVs, clocks or radios in their accommodations.
"It's very much an activity-based property, but you can do absolutely nothing and be totally happy," Fisk said. "I've done that there for two or three days, just sitting by the pool, ordering a fluffy drink and reading my book while occasionally admiring the amazing views."
Longtime fans of the resort's unique blend of laid-back and relaxing authenticity are likely to be pleased with a $12 million refurbishment that wrapped up at the property last month. All 71 guestrooms received new furniture, soft goods and artwork along with renovations to many of the bathrooms. MacIlwraith said, "It was time for a refresh," and the overhaul made use of as many sustainable materials as possible while maintaining the resort's unique Hawaiian design aesthetic.
"The new furniture does have a more modern, cleaner look, but we definitely kept that Hana feel," he said. "We really wanted to avoid that generic, modern look so many hotels have now. So we worked hard to maintain that sense of Hana and sense of place, which is why so many of our guests come."
The resort, with 71 units spread across 70 acres, finished a $12 million refurbishment to all of its rooms last month.
Folks familiar with the Travaasa Hana will certainly remember the resort's distinctive Sea Ranch Cottages, which are now called Ocean Bungalows but have retained their inviting, plantation-home feel. Long an attractive draw for romantic getaways, the two-key, stand-alone units are outfitted with connecting doors, making the spacious, high-ceilinged accommodations a great fit for larger families.
Previously limited to only adults, the Ocean Bungalows were opened to families traveling with children by the property's management last July.
MacIlwraith said last summer that the resort had seen increased demand from families and noted, "We'll be switching from king beds to two queens in some guestrooms to provide that family option."
Along with the substantial guestroom refurbishment, the Travaasa Hana has also renovated its two on-property food and beverage outlets, renaming them the Preserve Kitchen + Bar. Both the restaurant and the lounge feature open-air seating and views of Hana Bay, but guests will now be able to enjoy more food and products grown locally, according to MacIlwraith.
"There are a bunch of organic farms up and down the coast here," he said. "And we are trying to source locally as much as we can. We're at about 75% locally sourced product right now, but we're trying to get that number higher."
MacIlwraith said that much of the resort's beef is supplied by nearby Hana Ranch, and "we buy our fish right off the boat as it comes into Hana Bay."
Resort officials have also added some new cultural activities to the property's already long list of Hawaiian experiences, which includes options such as bamboo-pole fishing, Hawaiian throw-net fishing, ukulele lessons and now a Hawaiian fire-making lesson or spear throwing.
"They teach you how to throw the spear the traditional Hawaiian way," MacIlwraith said. "You learn [by throwing at] a target, and then you graduate to a banana tree, which is the traditional way people would train. It's a pretty satisfying moment when you stick that spear into the side of a banana tree."
Although complimentary WiFi is available in each room, guests won’t find any TVs, clocks or radios in their accommodations.
Guests considering a stay at the Travaasa Hana can book a couple of options: an a la carte plan where folks pay separately for meals and spa treatments or the Total Travaasa plan, which includes the cost of all meals (excluding alcoholic beverages) and a daily spa treatment allowance worth about $175. Double occupancy rates in an Ocean Bungalow start around $450 a night in the a la carte plan and run $950 a night for the Total Travaasa.
You certainly don't drive all the way out to the Travaasa Hana just for the inclusive package, although it can be a good value for the right traveler. You go for the remote, authentic charm of Hana.
"Here you'll find a laid-back, true Hawaii," MacIlwraith said.
"I was just on the other side [of the island] at one of our competitors' hotels, and I was at the beach with more than 500 of my closest friends," he added with a laugh. "When you come here, there are 30 people at Hamoa Beach, and when you go snorkeling in Hana Bay, you are the only two or three people out there. We are 71 rooms on 70 acres, so even when we are sold out, you have that remote sense of just being alone on the property."