I’ve stayed in many wonderful hotels on gorgeous beaches, but this low-key, low-rise, plantation-style resort on secluded-by-Maui-standards Napili Bay was so perfect for us that when I turned in our room keys, I felt like flinging myself over the reception desk and begging the staff to let me stay.
Napili Kai had everything we as a couple love: a quiet, sandy beach with good snorkeling; luxurious but unpretentious accommodations; cultural and environmental appreciation; a good restaurant with fresh, local ingredients; friendly people (both staff and other guests); and all-included resort amenities like beach chairs, towels, parking, and many activities (the hotel’s motto is “we don’t nickel-and-dime you.”
Blissing Out on Ocean Time
Ken and I stayed in casual luxury in a beachfront studio unit: king-sized bed; fully equipped kitchen; huge, two-chambered bathroom with walk-in shower; and a lanai—oh, the lanai with its unparalleled ocean view facing west for excellent sunsets. Two of the three nights we spent at Napili Kai, we got Thai takeout and enjoyed Panang curry and cold Aloha Beer (brewed in Honolulu) in the loungers on our lanai while watching the sun sink below the horizon.
At night, we turned off the air conditioning, opened the lanai doors, and slept to the sound of waves lapping against the black lava rock outside. Because our internal clocks were three hours ahead of the time zone in Hawaii, it was easy to take advantage of early morning at the beach. Each day, Ken and I watched green turtles surfing near the shallow rocks close to shore. Their heads bobbed on the surface; fins flapped above the whitecaps. Occasionally one rolled in the surf. I assume it was for fun and not hunting, because green turtles are herbivores. As they munched on algae and seagrass, they seemed to savor the act of cavorting in the waves.
We got to view the turtles from an underwater vantage when we snorkeled along the two reefs in the fairly calm waters of Napili Bay. The first thing we saw was a trio of Moorish idols, the most impressive and elegant of tropical fish. We also spotted puffer fish, a dragon eel, butterflyfish of several varieties, red sea urchins, and purple or yellow coral. But the most unique experience was snorkeling with a pair of turtles. They glide through the water so gracefully that they seem more like angels than reptiles.
Riding the Wave of Hawaiian Culture
What sets Napili Kai apart from many other beach resorts is that it highlights traditional Hawaiian culture. Most mornings, the hotel serves coffee, tea, and fresh pineapple in the Beach Cabana and presents cultural demonstrations such as lei making, wood carving, tapa cloth making, and palm weaving.
Napili Kai also also helps to honor and continue the Hawaiian culture through its support of the nonprofit Napili Kai Foundation, which shares Hawaii’s cultural legacy with Maui’s children. Every Tuesday, Napili Kai guests can attend a free, onsite hula show in which young kids and teens perform authentic songs and dances of Polynesia with live adult musicians. Though the performances aren’t as polished as a professional hula show, I must say that the teen performers were extremely good. The costumes are colorful, and the representation of Tahitian, Samoan, Maori, and Hawaiian cultures is satisfying and educational.
But here’s even more Hawaiian culture to love: Napili Kai presents the Masters of Hawaiian Slack-Key Guitar concert series every Wednesday. Hosted by Grammy winner George Kahumoku, Jr. (who was featured on the soundtrack of the movie, The Descendants), this was an opportunity for Ken and me to hear live, island vocal and guitar music. (By the way: “Slack-key” is a style that originated in Hawaii, in which the player loosens the tuning of the guitar strings.)
We loved the sound. Hawaiian guitar music has a gentleness and warmth that can only come from hearing the waves and feeling tropical sea breezes on your shoulders.
Now, whenever the temperatures are below zero on the United States mainland, just hearing Hawaiian music takes me back to Napili Kai, my ideal place for relaxing Maui style.
Add to that fresh, locally sourced food in the restaurant, a weekly mai tai party, and beach loungers that beckon in the shade of the palm trees, and you have a world-class vacation location that really can’t be beat.
—Laurel Kallenbach, freelance writer and editor
Originally published February 1, 2014