Girls gone soft on Maui spa getaway

Flip Flop this way sign at Makena Grill

Maui’s Wailea is home to Joe’s and the roadside Makena Grill

Cowhide surfboards. Bathtubs brimming with something akin to lime Jell-o. A waiter who acknowledges every request with a throaty “my pleasure” suggesting something even naughtier than the dessert menu.

Maui certainly serves up surprises on a girls’ getaway.

When my L.A.-based sister Robyn and I decide to abandon our men folk and kids and enjoy four days of female-oriented rest and recreation, we join a booming number of women who are choosing to do the same. Women-only travel, whether independent sojourns to local resorts or organized group trips to far-off lands, has grown steadily over the past ten years, with no signs of abating.

And why should it when such travel can be such fun.

Maui, and its resort area Wailea, is an easy choice for an escape. This exotic yet familiar locale can be easily reached from our west coast homes. It has sun. It has sand. It has spas and shopping and martinis. Really, what more do we need?

Say spa-ahh

“I’m jumping in the green Jell-O first,” Robyn announces as we survey the five extra-large bathtubs in the hydrotherapy area of the Grande Wailea Resort’s Spa Grande. I watch my sister slide into the lime green water, then drop my towel and step into a tub of weak, warm coffee.

OK, so the baths aren’t actually filled with Jell-O and coffee (we’re in a green papaya enzyme bath and Moore Mud bath respectively). But I’m feeling a bit giddy with good fortune. This Romanesque spa — 50,000-sq-ft of marble floors, tiled baths and statues including Aphrodite at the check-in counter — is the first of three spas we’ll visit.

The specialty baths are part of the spa’s Termé Wailea Hydrotherapy area that includes a Japanese Furo (bath), a whirlpool tub, a cold plunge pool, sauna and steam rooms with iced towels and cucumbers outside the doors, a waterfall shower, and Swiss jet showers that we christen “the beat-the-crap-out-of-you showers” because of the exceptionally powerful streams of water.

Bathing suits are optional and Robyn and I decide that we can handle being naked bathers. We cannot, however, handle being naked strollers and so we wrap towels around ourselves as we move from bath to pool to steam room.

When it comes time for our spa treatments, I surrender to the magic hands of massage therapist Joette. My 80-minute Pala’au  Journey incorporates lomi lomi massage techniques and local products cultivated by Native Hawaiian healers (pala’au means “to heal with plants”). Robyn opts for a Volcanic Ash facial that includes exfoliating, cleansing, extracting, moisturizing and, according to my glowing post-facial sister, “the best scalp massage ever.”

On a different scale

Our second spa visit is scheduled for our second morning on Maui. Preparations are straightforward: Wake up in our one-bedroom suite at the Fairmont Kea Lani. Drag ourselves out from under crisp white sheets and textured rose-colored spreads that cover our double beds. Pull on fluffy robes. Open drapes to reveal requisite swaying palm trees and sun on azure seas. Sip fresh brewed coffee while lounging on sea foam-colored couch in living room. Slip on flip-flops. Walk to elevator. Travel six floors down to the spa.

Comparing the Kea Lani spa to the Grand Wailea spa is like comparing David to Goliath (albeit a very nice Goliath). The Kea Lani spa is small and simply elegant. Both our spa treatments involve getting slathered with lotion — rich body butter for Robyn during an Ala Lani Signature Body Experience and “caviar firming body complex” for me during a Moana Mana treatment – then being wrapped in a warm cocoon of blankets. We both drift into blissed-out stupors.

For our final spa visit, we hop in our rental car and drive five minutes up the slopes of Wailea to the Diamond Resort (now called Hotel Wailea). We have trouble locating the spa, which is housed in an unassuming outbuilding. Inside it is all Asian tranquility with two treatment rooms and a Japanese/German hydrotherapy area with pools and showers.

My 60-minute Pohaku Facial involves a relaxing facial massage with warmed Hawaiian lava stones and – I don’t believe my therapist Lula when she first tells me – a cleanser incorporating ground-up nightingale droppings. Robyn doesn’t get to experience the restorative properties of bird poop (said to repair and beautify skin), but she does enjoy a fabulous therapeutic massage. At the end of our treatments we raise cups of green tea to toast our good health.

Cheers

Green tea is the healthiest liquid we drink on our mini vacation. Although we are not so much girls gone wild as girls gone soft, we enjoy sampling the local libations. At the Fairmont Kea Lani, it’s the popular Lava Flow, a Piña Colada with bottom layer of strawberry liqueur that rises like lava when the bartender slams the glass down.

At Joe’s Bar and Grill, located above the Wailea Tennis Courts, we order Sextini martinis that come in cone-shaped glasses nestled in small ice-filled fishbowls. It is a hard-to-find restaurant, the winner of the Best-kept Secret category in Maui Magazine’s 2007 Aipono Awards. We find the cuisine eclectic – the menu ranges from ahi carpaccio with lemon dill aioli to Joe’s favorite meatloaf with Texas barbeque sauce– and the portions large.

Overly generous applications of salad dressings and sauces have us wishing we’d asked for liquids on the side. But with a glass of Solena Cellars Pinot Grigio from Oregon in our hands and a soft breeze cooling the open–air restaurant, it’s easy to love Joe’s.

Our most memorable meal is at the casually elegant Pineapple Grill on Kapalua Bay Golf Course in West Maui. Although the Pacific island-styled cuisine is exceptional – the pistachio and wasabi-pea crusted ahi steak and the Asian braised short ribs are to die for –, what stands out is our waiter.

Every time we thank him for filling our wine glasses or delivering the next course, he makes intense eye contact and murmurs  “My pleasure.” At the end of the evening, I dare Robyn to write on the Visa slip, “No really, the pleasure was all ours.”

Upcountry

Rather than stroll the chi-chi shops at Wailea, Robyn and I drive 30 minutes to Upcountry Maui and the little towns that sit on the leeward slopes of Haleakala volcano.

Our first stop is Kula and the Surfing Goat Dairy where we taste delectable cheeses from this award-winning farm. Then it’s up, up, up to Ali’i Kula Lavender farm. We find all the fuss about lavender a bit much (sorry lavender lovers) but do enjoy a delicious glass of lavender iced tea before heading to the town of Makawao.

Once a dusty paniolo (Hawaiian cowboy) outpost, Makawao is now a lively community of artists and entrepreneurs. We stroll through umpteen art galleries and studios including the friendly Hot Island Glass. Artist Miles Dreyer is fashioning a glass jellyfish and I ask the young woman behind the cash register how often visitors can see this art in action. “We blow six days a week,” she replies sweetly.

Amidst all this art we find a reminder of Makawao’s roots, the Aloha Cowboy Western Wear and Tack shop. The place is full of cowboy hats, cowboy shirts, cowboy boots and Wrangler jeans  — “the only place you can get Wranglers on the island” owner Rene Wineland tells us proudly. We admire the bridles and saddles, then ask Wineland about the cowhide-covered surfboard hanging from the ceiling. Sadly, it’s not for sale.

Too soon

Four days fly by. At the airport I hug my sister and thank her for running away with me.

She stares into my eyes, lowers her voice a few octaves and says with mock seriousness, “My pleasure.”

An earlier version of this article appeared in The Oregonian in 2008.

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