Maui’s Travaasa Hana Hotel: Luxury and Simplicity
All photos courtesy of Travaasa Hana.
When we think of luxury hotel construction projects, images of cranes and concrete come to mind. We might think of months, even years, of intricate building that aims to transport guests into a beautiful, yet ultimately contrived, luxurious setting.
For the Travaasa Hana, the only luxury hotel at the end of the Road to Hana, things were quite different. Basically, all they did was mow the grass on a hillside overlooking the ocean. Then they plopped down Hawaiian-style wood cabins, built from the same resources as the family-owned ones you see around town, dark green with brown accents. Some bamboo furniture was put inside. After, they cleared some space in between the cabins and cleverly put the pool at just the right place on the hillside so that its vista aligns with the ocean.
And voila, there you have it: The Travaasa Hana, the best luxury resort experience Maui has to offer.
It’s fitting that a simple place had such a simple beginning. Over the years, much of the Travaasa Hana’s appeal has come as a product of its convenient location at the end of the Road to Hana, a drive that tops must-do lists for travelers on Maui. Formerly known as the Hana Hotel, the Travaasa is the only true resort in Hana, a four-star property that lacks little. Think Q-tips on the bathroom counter, a dry bar in the living area, golf carts to get around, an indoor/outdoor spa, and private hot tubs on the decks.
These assets, along with the lack of competition, make it a favorite for luxury travelers and honeymooners spending the night at the end of the long, winding road. To spout off these attributes in a vacuum would make one think the Travaasa is just another expensive Hawaiian resort, built as a respite from the outside world after a long drive. There was a time when I believed this, too. But now, having completed my second stay in the span of three years, I’ve discovered the Travaasa Hana is onto something much deeper.
To better understand what I mean, you must first understand Hana. It is considered by many to be the last old-school Hawaiian stronghold on Maui, the last place development has yet to find. The appeal of the Road to Hana is that it transports you out of the concrete and corporate chains of Kahului back to a place that still embodies the traditional Hawaiian lifestyle. Despite all the other investments and development that have poured into Maui, Hana has resisted anything that detracts from its community-driven environment.
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Posh golf courses are a good example. Not only are they banned by local ordinances, one local told me that one “would be burnt to the ground” even if it did somehow get approved. Locals here love their land, and they are serious about protecting it.
Knowing that, you might wonder how a luxury resort could find a home in a town so opposed to modern establishment. The answer is again in the details. The Travaasa found a home because it has knocked on the door, asked for acceptance, and provided opportunity. Of the 1,000 or so Hawaiians that live in the Hana area, 200 of them are employed by the hotel.
In a close-knit community like Hana, everyone knows someone – a brother, sister, friend, or auntie – who earns their livelihood here. In the restaurant, fish caught by local fishermen and beef raised by local ranchers are what’s on the menu. Art painted by local artists of local places is what’s on the walls. From the front desk clerks to the spa coordinator, everyone has a passion for ensuring this property remains personal, that it reflects what Hana represents – that coconuts, rocks, bamboo furniture, and wood carvings dominate the décor, that homemade banana bread awaits every guest in their room upon arrival, that the horses be left to graze the coastline in front of the rooms.
To do it any other way would put Hana on a path to becoming just another hotel in the dense chain of impersonal mega-resorts you find around Maui, one employee told me in private. For me, this attitude and involvement results in a luxury hotel that’s run with the charm and passion of a bed and breakfast.
Another thing the Travaasa has done extremely well is that it has not come in and barricaded itself with walls. Its construction is remarkably incorporated into the outdoors and the community, ensuring that the components of luxury merely aid – not dictate – the way you experience Hana. Look no further than the fact that you have to pass by the local elementary school to get from the lobby to the cabins on the grass hill. You literally walk right by the playground, where the children run around during recess. I can’t think of another luxury resort in the world where that is the case, where a school separates one-half of the property from the other.
Ultimately, it’s that lack of separation that separates Travaasa Hana. Last night, as I was sitting at the lobby bar listening to live Hawaiian music, a man walked in. The waitress called out to him, “Hey Hans.” He waved back and sat down next to me. The Travaasa has one of only two bars in Hana, and on a weekend, you might see as many locals as guests. We started chatting.
He went on to tell me about his business, the one he runs from his car. He said he can’t get Internet and cell reception at his rural home, so he parks near the dock, down at Hana Bay, to get a signal. I had a good laugh with him about it. When I asked him if life was really that simple here in Hana, he didn’t hesitate.
Something tells me that is not going to change anytime soon. And neither will the Travaasa Hana, because the locals would never allow it.
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