Gundy looks like a musician from my favorite bad boy band ZZ Top, with a long curly beard, wild wavy blonde hair, and a charming Julia Roberts-style smile.
“Welcome to Maui, Sharon,” he grins. “Ready for the best zip-line ride of your life?”
Who could resist that smile?
We strap on our harnesses, clip on our army-style helmets, and climb into Gundy’s all-terrain Jeep. We swerve and skid straight up a heart-stopping narrow muddy mountain trail.
At the top, we admire lush valleys decorated with red ginger and purple orchids. Serene cows nap on peaceful sugarcane farms. The sapphire Pacific teems with humpback whales, flipping their V-shaped tails.
On the wooden platforms, Gundy and his team give us our final training: “Sit upright in your harness, legs straight out,” “step slowly off the platform,” and “don’t worry, we’re going to catch you at the other end.”
Gundy clips me securely to the zip line and gives me his optimistic “Everything’s going to be all right, Sharon” smile. I swing off the platform. Swoosh! I’m airborne. Planet Earth is a Kodachrome blur. Delight erases terror. Clouds move in and out, shaping into angels and parrotfish. Getting to heaven is easy; just say yes to zip lining on Maui.
“Quick, Sharon! Come out here,” calls my fiancé, Ken, early one glorious morning. “I found you more whales.” Elegant humpback whales glide through the turquoise Pacific, spraying water plumes like giant fountains. We’ve seen them far away from our zip lines, but from our balcony we see how massive they truly are. We envy the kayakers and paddle boarders, close enough to touch the whales, which seem to slow down for their admirers. What a morning wake-up call: whales off our balcony, rainbows glowing over fragrant gardens. It’s just another perfect day at the Fairmont Kea Lani, Maui.
By 9 a.m., the Fairmont bursts with life. Bikini babes work on their tans while fitness buffs huff through pool aerobics. Hikers stroll the beach; snorkelers ogle sea turtles and pink parrotfish darting among the coral reef offshore. Yoga lovers balance in tree pose on the lawn, kids swoosh down the waterslide into mom’s waiting arms, and adventure lovers paddle out in longboat canoes.
In Hawaiian, Kea Lani means “Heavenly White,” an apt description of this exquisite open-air resort along the deep blue ocean on Maui’s southern shoreline. The staff genuinely cares about your happiness; there’s no request too large. Discover secret spots: a shady bamboo garden in the lobby, a wish-upon-a-star koi pond, a hammock between two perfect palms that frame a cobalt-blue sky, a paved walkway along the Pacific. The hotel is magical lit by fire torches, and the scent of jasmine is seductive.
Every morning, we enjoyed a fantastic buffet, which offered treats including apple crêpes, buttery smoked salmon, succulent fresh pineapple, yogurt parfait, chicken sausage, and made-to-order omelets. Muffins are irresistible in flavors such as blueberry, cranberry, bran, and macadamia nut. Forget about dieting, you’ll work it off surfing, snorkeling, and zip lining.
At night, we savored mojitos at the open-air Luana Lounge, watching the sunset turn the Pacific a deep blue. At Ko Restaurant, we savored delicious Chinese, Filipino, Portuguese, and Hawaiian appetizers.
Guest rooms are elegant, spacious suites, with two flat-screen televisions, double closets, two sinks, comfy king-size beds, a lounging couch, a writing desk, and sliding glass doors onto balconies with superb ocean views. Sip your coffee and watch for whales.
One of the most popular resort activities is the “Hawaiian Cultural Program” led by cultural coach Jonelle Kamai. “We teach guests about local cuisine,” she enthuses, “as well as Hawaiian music, celebrations, and language. Come experience the true spirit of Aloha, which embodies friendship, trust, and welcome.”
Maui’s international cuisine features Italian, French, Japanese, Chinese, Portuguese, and American influences, not to mention island-style Hawaiian treats such as just-picked pineapple and chew-it-now sugarcane. At a luau, we enjoyed grilled yellowfin tuna, pork steamed in a pit, barbecued chicken, poi, and passion fruit.
All the food was fresh and fabulous, but our favorite restaurant was Mama’s Fish House.
Tables face the turquoise Pacific, where waves crash on the ivory beach. Wild ginger flowers are artfully arranged in blue ceramic vases, monkey pod trees grow through the roof, romantic jazz plays softly as waitresses glide by in floral gowns. Walk around and enjoy sculptures of fertility gods, nautilus shells, and murals of Hawaiian surfers and sunsets.
On a Friday at lunch, every blue batik-covered table is taken, as guests dine blissfully on Maui’s freshest seafood. When was the last time you were treated to a menu like this:
“Ono, caught by Kurtis Chong Kee off his Jet Ski, grilled in a ti leaf with mango, chili pepper, and coconut rice.”
Or how about “Mahi mahi, caught by Ryan Thomas on the ‘Kai Akua’ from Lahaina Harbor, stuffed with lobster and crab, baked in a macadamia nut crust.”
We ordered island prawns with vanilla and little neck clams, both bursting with flavor. Then we had green salads with palm hearts, cranberries, goat cheese, and candied macadamia nuts. None of us could resist the mahi mahi from Ryan Thomas, absolutely one of the best dishes of our lives.
We were too full for dessert, until the chef sent out his signature “Polynesian Black Pearl.” A huge pastry arrived, shaped like a giant pearl, filled with a soft pillow of Liliko’I fruit-flavored chocolate mousse. Stunning. There are times when a dessert intensifies the joy of being alive. Today was that day.
That’s heaven on Maui. Maybe it’s like the real heaven, something you wait for and know will be absolutely divine.