Jump in: Pailoa Bay at Waianapanapa State Park in Hana
DESTINATION Maui, Hawaii
DISTANCE FROM CHICAGO 3,200 miles
OUR GUIDE Chef Carol Wallack
WHAT SHE LOVES ABOUT MAUI The surf, the sun, the smell of flowers when you step off the plane
Carol Wallack thinks she should start a website. It would be a much easier way, says the chef and owner of Sola, to tell friends—and friends of friends—about where to go and what to do when visiting Maui. Indeed, the peanut-shaped island, the second largest in the Hawaiian chain, may have no better booster: Wallack has owned a house in Wailea since 2001 and visits at least six times a year, typically staying for two weeks at a time. As a displaced Angeleno and a surfing nut, she reveres the Pacific Ocean and can direct you to the ideal Maui beach for whatever activity you might like to try.
And naturally, she has a chef’s radar for finding the best food—no matter where it is. One of her favorite places to eat is a makeshift stand near the entrance of the main public park in Hana, where a local woman cooks spectacular Thai curries and noodles. “She’s got patio furniture set up, and she’ll make five different things for $5 or $8 a plate,” Wallack reports. “We always get one of everything. So good, so delicious.”
Back in 1995, Wallack moved to Chicago from Los Angeles, trading a successful career as a private chef in Hollywood for a new adventure. “My sister was here; my father had just passed away,” she recalls. “I thought I’d meet a nice guy.” But, as she soon realized, you can take a surfer away from the ocean, but she won’t stay put for long. “I was like a fish out of water,” says Wallack, who grew up catching waves near Malibu as a teenager in the 1970s and often vacationed in Hawaii with her family. She did meet a nice guy—Steve Stauber, a local businessman, whom she has been with for 12 years—and adjusted, slowly, to the winters while keeping busy at Deleece, a casual restaurant that she opened with her sister, Lynne. In 2006, Wallack struck out on her own with Sola, her celebrated fine-dining spot in North Center.
The Seven Sacred Pools in Hana
Every chance she got, Wallack traveled with Stauber to Maui—staying in hotels all over the island with an eye toward eventually buying something. They purchased a condo in Kihei but soon outgrew it. In 2001, they took the plunge together on a three-bedroom house in Wailea, an affluent resort area. The house is her oasis: The big kitchen flows into a breezy living area; papayas, mangoes, bananas, and pineapples grow in the backyard; and the sound of the waves at nearby Keawakapu Beach lulls her to sleep at night.
Days begin reliably with a latte and the news—the morning surf report. “If you’re over 40 and you still surf, you go to Maui because the surf is tamer,” she says. “Although we do have Jaws.” Located on the north side of the island at Peahi, Jaws is a spot where during high-surf season the waves are so large that even professionals—including the legends Laird Hamilton and Rush Randle—must be towed into position by Jet Skis. Kinder, gentler wave riding can be found at some of Wallack’s favorite spots: Olowalu on the west side, Honolua Bay, and Hookipa, which is also a world-class windsurfing beach. Novice windsurfers, she notes, would do well to start at Kanaha Beach or take lessons at Cove Park in Kihei.
Protected from the waves by a reef, H. A. Baldwin Beach, on the north shore, is popular among parents of nonswimmers, and Wallack sometimes exercises there, either swimming laps or running on the sand. She also likes in-line skating and recently discovered a beautiful stretch of new pavement—a road that parallels the runways of Kahului Airport and also skims along the beach. “It’s really windy,” she says. “So when you [skate] in one direction, you’re facing the wind. It’s a really good workout.” For snorkeling, she recommends the Ahihi-Kinau Natural Area Reserve, south of Makena, for the water’s startling clarity.
On rainy days, Wallack likes to hike “upcountry,” which is a loose way to describe the elevated terrain on the north side of the island. She and her girlfriends often tackle a place they’ve named Kill Hill. The four-mile walk up and back down starts near a working horse farm called Piiholo Ranch (325 Waiahiwi Rd., Makawao; 808-357-1755). Wallack and company leave the car at the base of the valley and trek on foot into Makawao Forest Reserve. After that, croissants and coffee at La Provence (3158 Lower Kula Rd., Kula; 808-878-1313) are a great reward.
But her very favorite thing to do may be visiting Hana, the tiny hamlet stranded on Maui’s east side at the end of a two-lane dirt road—the famous Hana Highway. “I love it there because it’s beautiful, it’s not built up, it’s country,” says Wallack, who every September runs with a team in the Hana Relay, a 52-mile race along the rugged coast. Even if you have a hotel room elsewhere, she recommends staying overnight in Hana so you have time to soak up the vibe; Hotel Hana-Maui (5031 Hana Hwy., 808-248-8211) is pricey but extremely romantic. Although home to the Seven Sacred Pools and Hamoa Beach, both famous for their sheer natural beauty, Hana itself embodies a Maui arrested in time, a vestige of earthy island life before shiny, spectacular tourism took hold. Where else in Hawaii can you find chef-loved Thai food sold from a tent? Do try the salmon curry.
Visiting Haleakala, Maui’s active volcano, is a must-do. Besides beaching and eating, Wallack recommends shopping for local goods. Designing Wahine (3640 Baldwin Ave., Makawao; 808-573-0990) offers jewelry made from native shells and other little treasures. In Kahului, HI Tech Surf Sports (425 Koloa St.; 808-877-2111) and NeilPryde (400 Hana Hwy.; 808-877-7443) are the places to go for hard-to-find West Coast brands of board shorts for men, Maui Jim and Kaenon sunglasses, and surfing equipment. Maui Girl (12 Baldwin Ave., Paia; 808-579-9266) and Letarte (24 Baldwin Ave., Paia; 808-579-6022) sell sexy bikinis for women.
WHERE TO STAY Wallack hates the congestion of Lahaina and Kaanapali, Maui’s large tourist areas. Instead, she recommends lodging in her neck of the woods. Stay at the Grand Wailea (3850 Wailea Alanui Dr., Wailea; 808-875-1234) if you have kids; the Four Seasons Maui (3900 Wailea Alanui Dr., Wailea; 808-874-8000) if you don’t. But she has also sent visiting friends to Mama’s Fish House (799 Poho Pl.; Paia; 808-579-9764), a popular seafood restaurant on the island’s north shore that rents one- and two-bedroom cottages, a few of which are right on the beach.
WHERE TO EAT Flatbread Company (89 Hana Hwy., Paia; 808-579-8989), an East Coast organic pizza chain, is a genuine hangout for locals. Wallack also likes Paia Fish Market (2A Baldwin Ave.; Paia; 808-579-8030) for its “fabulous” fish tacos, and she says Café des Amis (42 Baldwin Ave.; Paia; 808-579-6323) does a great lunch. Her favorite sushi place, Sansei, has two locations on Maui: one at the Kapalua Resort (600 Office Rd., Lahaina; 808-669-6286) and one in Kihei (1881 S. Kihei Rd., Kihei; 808-879-0004).
Photography: (Hana Coast) John Elk III/Lonely Planet; (Seven Sacred Pools) blaiz/istockphoto.com; (Wallack) Anthony Tahlier