Tiny Hana, Hawaii, charms at its own slow, steady pace.

By Steve Millburg
April 22, 2005
Douglas Peebles

Two teenage girls lob a ball back and forth on the tenniscourts―or, more often, swing and miss, then collapse in fitsof laughter. On Hotel Hana-Maui's croquet pitch, a young couplespend more time looking into each other's eyes than lining up theirshots.

At the Wellness Center, equipped with all manner of fitnessmachines and free weights, a woman strides firmly on a treadmill,transfixed by the Pacific view through the open walls. Nearby,motionless sunbathers lounge around the infinity pool. One man hasactually entered the water. He floats, eyes closed, face atpeace.

A casual observer might mistake all this languor for laziness.Not so. Instead, consider it the triumph of traditional Hawaiianculture over 21st-century busyness.

At Hotel Hana-Maui, guests pay luxury prices for spacious,breezy rooms with no air-conditioning, no TV, no high-speedInternet access, no radio―not even a clock. In fact,especially not a clock. "You can tell when guests start reallygetting into the spirit of the place," says Leokane Pryor, whoworks at the activities desk. "They stop wearing watches."

This may sound like one of those experiences politely describedas "not for everyone." Except that practically all visitors seem tofind the hotel and its surroundings deeply satisfying. "In thethree years I've been here," says general manager Doug Chang, "I'veprobably had three guests say they would not be back because of thelack of what I call 'disturbances.'"

Hana, home to about 3,500 people―counting the"suburbs"―hugs the coast at the east end of Maui. Mosttourists know it only as the destination of Hana Highway, thetwisty, scenic, roughly 50-mile road from Maui's main airport. Ifday-trippers linger at all, they might stop at Waianapanapa StatePark for a quick hike to the caves or a little relaxation on theblack-sand beach at Pailoa Bay.

After all, why waste more time in a town with just threerestaurants, a bank that opens for an hour and a half per day, andexactly one place to go for nightlife: the hotel's Paniolo Bar?

The answer becomes clear only gradually, as the friendliness ofthe place begins to soak in. Cars stop in the middle of the streetso drivers can chat with pedestrians. Clerks at the two generalstores ready orders for regulars the moment they walk in the door.No one seems to make any distinctions between old-timers andnewcomers, or tourists and residents.

Basically, it's Mayberry with palm trees―in lush,living-and-breathing tropical color, not the fuzzy, fictional blackand white of the old TV show.

Hana's serenity seeps into everything. The hotel's spa, forexample, offers an incredibly relaxing Hawaiian style of massagecalled lomi lomi, which involves long, flowing movements by thepractitioner. "My teacher would get frustrated when I wasn't beingsmooth enough," says head therapist Miracle Walker. "She'd say,'It's lomi lomi, not poke-y poke-y.'"

This easygoing lifestyle, pervasive not so many generations ago,can seem alien to today's frenetic multitaskers. "I tell peoplefour days, minimum," says Doug. "Four days in Hana. It takes mostpeople two days before they can slow down and be receptive to whatis going on here."

Of course, Hana inhabits the real world, not some nostalgicfantasyland. The town puts on Hana Aloha Week every October. Thecelebration concludes with a Saturday-night luau at Hana Bay, thelocals' favorite beach. Traditional Hawaiian bands headline toappreciative audiences. Away from the tents, kids group togetheraround stereos playing salsa and hip-hop.

Then comes the reenactment of the Hawaiian royal court'straditional procession. Some of those youths parade solemnly pasttheir families and friends, wearing traditional costumes andcarrying cherished symbols of their office or rank. They stand talland, most of all, proud.

At that moment, a mainland visitor understands the customs andsimple principles that have sustained Hawaiians through generationsof near decimation of their culture. The Hawaiian ways seem soself-evident: Relax. Take your time. Treat everyone like family. Beserious about what's important. Otherwise, laugh at life.

And take a look at your wrist. Do you really need thatwatch?