My very first memory of life itself takes place beside this beach. It’s so delicate, so simple, that sometimes it frightens me to think too much about it, as if doing so could break such a fragile thing. I couldn’t have been more than two years old then, but I can see it like I’m there now. My mom had placed a tiny tent made of mosquito netting over me. I was laying in the grass on my back, peering up through the netting, watching the sun shine through the trees. Shadows from the leaves danced around on my little face. I would close my eyes but the rays of light would make their way through as I drifted in and out of sleep, feeling the breeze and listening to the sound of my mom’s voice speaking to someone nearby. I’ve never felt more peaceful and safe in my entire life.
But there are times on this beach that I felt scared too. Like a few years later when my dad put me on a boogie board for the first time. I held on but the wave curled so tight it wrapped me up in it, tumbling me beneath the water. I couldn’t tell which way was up. When I emerged gasping for air my eye sockets were bulging packed full of sand. I spent the next several hours in the local urgent care facility getting them flushed out and the rest of the trip becoming accustomed to the displeasure of eyedrops. To this day my dad tells me how bad he felt putting about the whole incident.
And then there are the sort of memories that are everything in between, all from my childhood here at Napili Kai. Half of the photos of my sister and I as little girls must be at this very place. When my parents were married we would come to this same resort as often as four times a year. Sometimes with friends, sometimes with my cousins, sometimes on our own. Every morning began with a mandatory head-to-toe covering in sunscreen. We hated this part but it was the only way we were let out to go swimming. If it was raining we would stay inside and play with Play-Doh manufacturing fake bubble gum in our imaginary factory. We ate mint chip ice cream from the snack shack next to the miniature golf course at least once a day, and at night watched geckos on the walls. We ran around catching toads in the buckets we used for sand castles, and pretending to know how to play with the giant checker board next to the bungalows. I would spend minutes at a time marvelling at the simplest things, like the way the hibiscus floated in the lava rock pond next to the lobby. I could go on and on, but all of these memories took place on or next to this very beach. They are simple but they are grand.
I can’t tell you when exactly because it seemed to last forever, but at some point after all that my parents ended up divorcing. We stopped going to Napili Kai as a family and eventually we stopped going to Maui at all. There was this one time, maybe twice, where my parents managed to coordinate some elaborate child exchange on overlapping trips with their new significant others to opposite sides of the island. We even tried other islands, but Hawaii just didn’t feel the same. To any of us I think. In my mind these attempts were preceded by drama but perhaps that turmoil was just a general cloud of uncertainty lingering over life at that time, gathered from the stress and confusion of what felt like years of our lives falling apart. Those memories are foggy in my mind but the ones from Napili over twenty years ago are as crystal clear as the water here. Perhaps we stopped going back to Napili Kai because it was sad for all of us. Maybe we just couldn’t afford it anymore. Or maybe, it was all just too complicated. Most of all, for my sister and I as children, it was all just out of our control.
And so, I was slightly surprised when my sister chose to have her wedding in Maui, and that we would all stay at Napili Kai. It’s not like it was something I had ever decided, but I just kind of assumed Napili Kai was tainted for us. That it was a place in our past and that was where it would remain. Symbolic of some paradise lost. But my sister chose to come back here on a trip with her future husband a few years ago wondered why we ever stopped coming here in the first place.
When I arrived last September for her wedding, it was like stepping into a time machine. Nothing had changed except for maybe a few appliances and a bed spread or two. Everything else was exactly as I remembered it. The putting green, the beach, the yellow and orange bungalow, even the beach towels. But I had changed. There I was a full grown woman having paid my own way to Hawaii, checking myself into the hotel at a desk I couldn’t even see over the last time I was there. I stopped outside the lobby on the way to my room to look at the fountain outside. It too was exactly the same, lava with a blue bottom and three hibiscus flowers floating in it.
Even more strange, as I walked around I just kept running into all the people I had childhood memories of here. My cousins, my aunts and uncles, my parents, and so on. And of course my sister. But it was even better because now there were these new people too; husbands, wives, kids, and amazing friends we had collected and made a long the way. It was like all these paramount people in my life suddenly appeared on this beach in paradise, as if we had died and gone to heaven and found ourselves altogether in the most perfect place that we could think back to — Napili Kai. Throughout the week we would come and go as we pleased, gravitating towards one another at the beach. I’d be alone in the sand writing in my journal in the morning and all of a sudden I would look over and see my dad walking down the beach. A few minutes later we would see my sister, sitting on her lanai drinking coffee, and before we knew it my mom coming down for breakfast. I drank beer with my cousins, caught toads with my dad, paddle boarded with my mom, and took pictures with my sister. Day in and day out that week we would sit around in the sun making dinner plans and life plans. It seemed so natural I had almost forgotten why we were all there until the day of the wedding my sister asked me to leave early with her to go to the venue and help her get ready. For me, the upside of an emotional childhood is that I’m quite pragmatic when it comes to controlling my emotions these days. And so, I was the chosen one, as she knew I wouldn’t cry tears of joy all day. When she asked me to steam her Dior wedding dress I almost couldn’t believe it. I have been known to spill makeup all over her rug, food all over her clothes I’ve borrowed, and even once leaked black ink all over her white sofa after I managed to fall asleep on top of a ballpoint ben. I have never been so laser focused in my life as I was steaming that dress. I had one task and I did not let her down on her big day.
The wedding itself was perfect, but it was so much more than a night. It was a whole week on this beach in paradise and everything about it felt so right I never wanted to leave. I actually considered not leaving, for a while at least, but I needed to go back to California to file paperwork at the French embassy for my new visa. Life has literally taken me so far in the other direction, I never thought I would end up back here in the middle of the pacific ocean for my sister’s wedding. If someone had told us as little girls that one day we would all be at Napili Kai to see her get married, we would have giggled and never believed them. Everything in our life had changed since we were little girls here. There was bad and good, worse and better. There were times I felt safe, and times in life that I was so afraid nothing would work out for us, but in the end we all did alright. There we were as a family, albeit some stranger version of one. Two decades later it’s like we came full circle, so different and yet kind of the same, our lives happening before our very eyes right here on this beach.
I have traveled all over the world and Maui is in my heart and in my mind one of the most spectacular places on this earth. There is no place like it, not even the other Hawaiian Islands. It merits a trip at least once if your life if not over and over again like me. It is so alive and vibrant, and yet completely at peace, igniting everyone one of the senses. There is no place more deserving of the name paradise than here. There is everything you need, even a Whole Foods, and probably more importantly an international airport easily accessible from all over the world. Hawaiians are so kind and welcoming, and you will find like me that Maui is more than an island, it is a state of mind.
My sister’s wedding took place at Haiku Mill. As its name suggests, the venue was once an old mill, and today has been converted into a romantic ruin next to a beautiful ranch house and cottage that serve as facilities for the events here. The cottage is used as the bridal suite for getting ready, and the ruin is the centre of ceremonies. Haiku Mill is one of the most celebrated wedding venues in the business, and with good reason. It’s old world Europe meets the natural splendour of Maui, and I couldn’t have imagined a more stunning place for Britta to get married.
Despite the numerous times I’ve been to Maui there are still so many things I haven’t done. This was my first trip to Upcountry Maui, which is located on the fertile slopes of the Haleakala volcano. Here you’ll find old ranches, precious general stores, botanical gardens, a lavender farm, and sweeping views down across the rest of the island. You can spend a whole day exploring this central part of the island, and even more if you want to do the sunrise hike up the volcano.
Maui’s rugged North Shore begins just up the road from Napili Kai and after Kapalua. We usually do this drive once on the trip. There are many beautiful places to stop and see, including the Nakalele Point with its crazy and somewhat terrifying blow hole, hence the signs. This is the first sign that this road it quiet savage, winding, and sometimes dangerous if you are not paying attention, but it really makes for a family adventure if you’re into that sort of thing like me. There are some villages along the way to get fresh juice and local snacks. On the days when surf is up, it’s fun to head out to drive the North Loop and see how high the waves get and which surfers are brave enough to ride them.
The Napili Kai story began over 50 years ago when the original land was purchased and the resort was incorporated by a handful of Canadian investors in 1960. Over three decades they expanded the operation into a resort. Originally called Napili Kai Beach Club (named for the joining of a crescent of sand and sea), the name transitioned to “Napili Kai Beach Resort” in the 1990s. Napili Kai remains faithful to the Founders’ original ideals to create an unpretentious, low-rise, traditional style resort with a philosophy of no nickel-and-diming guests, and treating every like their “Ohana” (family). They also have a commitment to perpetuating the Hawaiian culture through their Hula Foundation, support of the Masters of Hawaiian Slack Key Concert series and the non-proﬁt Napili Kai Foundation.