Travel & Culture

More Than Mai Tais: Fairmont Kea Lani Welcomes Visitors Back To Maui In A Meaningful Way

April 16, 2024

Like anyone dear to us who is grieving, and we consider beautiful Maui very dear indeed, approaching a visit should be handled with compassion, empathy, and respect. The island of Maui experienced a traumatic event last August and is understandably still recovering. The Fairmont Kea Lani, located in Wailea, invites guests to experience the Ho‘omaka Hou (A New Beginning) transformation of this iconic hotel and to support with purpose.

The vibe is less about Mai Tais and more about mindfulness with the most significant new space just unveiled and the timing couldn’t be better. Called Hale Kukuna, this lobby-located area feels like a sacred space and is dedicated to sharing Hawaiian culture. Led by a team of cultural practitioners, spiritual leaders, and advisors, including Kamahiwa Kawaʻa, manager of Hawaiian culture, who says “the opportunity to create and share a space dedicated to Hawaiian culture at the heart of Fairmont Kea Lani is an honour that comes with immense kuleana. Our vision and intention for Hale Kukuna is to serve as a space for both poʻe hoʻokipa and malihini to create meaningful connections with the culture, history, and spirit of this place – and in doing so, develop a deeper respect for this ʻāina and place we call home.” Guests are welcome to look through a collection of Hawaiian books, artifacts, ritual art pieces and take part in the cultural programming and workshops that are ongoing.

The Fairmont Kea Lani 413 suites and 37 villas have all been reimagined as well, with contemporary furnishings that have a peaceful, restful feel. A blend of ancient Hawaiian traditional pieces with modern sensibilities results in the perfect balance of old and new.

If you’ve visited this resort in previous years, one step into the new lobby, still breezy and open aired, will stop you in your tracks. You remember it, but this has had a breath of fresh air in a big way. Take a deep inhale and look up into the signature dome that’s always been there. It feels different, yet still the same. Seating areas are intimate, and purposeful. The lush garden throughout the lobby and rain walls adds a soothing atmosphere, while the swing chairs allow one to take it all in while you sway and twirl gently.

Also in the lobby is brand new Pilina, named by the resort’s cultural advisory committee which nods to the land and fishing villages of ancient times located here. Pilina is an ocean-facing restaurant and bar with jaw dropping views that tie in with the adjacent cultural centre by honouring and supporting Maui, including a culinary-focused cocktail menu that features 90 percent Hawai‘i sourced ingredients. Try the Mauka, a heady concoction of Fy Hawaii gin, ʻŌhiʻa Lehua honey, Aliʻi Kula lavender, butterfly pea flower and smoked Big Island bee pollen. The food menu celebrates seafood, mostly as raw or sushi dishes. The Poisson Cru with lilikoʻi, whipped coconut, and salted cucumber is exceptional.

Kō Restaurant is unchanged, and as the signature restaurant at the hotel, we love it that way. Recently named Maui’s Restaurant of the Year, the menu is a blend of dishes that represent the many cultures that make up Maui’s residents. Try the Ahi on the Rock, the green papaya salad, and if Monchong is the fresh catch of the day, grab it.

A meaningful, and fun experience to consider is to get out on the turquoise ocean with the resort’s outrigger canoe guided tour. Ho‘okele (navigator) Sol provides a short tutorial, then offers a blessing and traditional conch blowing before you hop into the outrigger, paddling and taking in the view that only is provided from the water.

Especially during this tender time of healing in Maui, the torch lighting ceremony every sunset seems even more significant. For centuries, Hawaiians have prepared for the evening this way, including a spiritual chant that expresses gratitude and grace. As the sun sets and the silhouette of palm trees brings a sense of peace and calm to the resort, you recognize that Fairmont Kea Lani seems to be doing right by their local Maui staff.

The hotel has set a new tone for those of us who want to visit. And we applaud them for it. —Catherine Dunwoody

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