COURTESY OF THE BANYAN TREE HOUSE
The Banyan Tree House in Upcountry Maui can be rented in its entirety or by the room.
Living it up for a weekend takes extra effort
Kamaaina rates are not much of a bargain at some luxury hotels
Gone are the days when you could pick up the phone on a Friday and book a last-minute weekend getaway at the Turtle Bay Hilton (or its earlier incarnation, the Hyatt Kuilima) at a decent kamaaina rate.
The North Shore hotel, now called the Turtle Bay Resort, underwent a $60-million renovation in 2001. Since then, it boasts 375 "luxury" guest rooms, 26 suites, and 42 beach cottages and ocean villas. With special offers, the cheapest rate now is $229 per night, about twice what it was before the makeover. The beach cottages, surely a slice of paradise, typically go for $383 during the week and $532 on weekends, plus tax.
Similarly, The Kahala, formerly the Kahala Mandarin Oriental, formerly the Kahala Hilton, has lost none of its appeal under the new management team that took over March 1. The grounds are lovely, the rooms well-furnished and the service splendid. The dolphins in the courtyard lagoon add an exotic ambience to the pool and cabana area.
My wife and I spent one night there in March after we attended a pupu and silent auction fundraiser for her school in the downstairs banquet room. Our third-floor room was very comfortable but nothing spectacular: From our window, we could see a slice of ocean over the top of the parking garage across the front-entrance driveway.
The kamaaina rate was $260, plus $29.68 room tax. Internet service on the television cost another $10.36. Morning room-service (juice and coffee -- we brought our own strawberries and banana bread) came to $21.54. We found a free newspaper outside the door.
Perhaps the best kamaaina deal in town remains at the Ala Moana Hotel, where our Hana Hou membership gets us a room in the renovated Waikiki Tower for $139 per night, plus tax. The Hana Hou card is good for 20-percent discounts at the hotel's restaurants and a self-parking pass.
The pool has reopened, but renovations are still under way at the fitness center.
Plenty of aloha still radiates through the Ala Moana Hotel, but it caters increasingly to business clientele. The environs would not be mistaken for a tropical paradise.
SOMEDAY I'd like to stay at the Turtle Bay beach cottages, but for that kind of money consider this alternative:
Hop a flight to Kahului, Maui, rent a car and take a 30-minute drive Upcountry.
On Baldwin Avenue between Paia and Makawao, you will find a charming 1920s-vintage property called the Banyan Tree House.
Once occupied by Ethel Baldwin, wife of Maui Agriculture Co. President H.A. Baldwin, the Banyan House proper is a plantation-style country house with three guest rooms (each with private bath), a large common kitchen, cozy living room with fireplace and TV, sun room/game room with piano, and a big yard perfect for a picnic or game of catch. A swing hangs from a huge banyan tree.
The pool and Jacuzzi area offers a fantastic view of Kahului/Wailuku and beyond.
The house can be rented in its entirety for $390 per night, with a minimum three-night stay, making it ideal for family getaways, special birthdays or reunions. When available, rooms can be rented for $140 per night, plus $15.75 tax.
That's what my wife and I did on a recent Thursday night and we found the accommodations quite pleasant. This area is superbly rural, perfect for relaxing and catching up on your reading or finishing up a work project without interruptions. The entire house has free wireless Internet.
But the quiet works for and against this retreat. You will hear no urban noise, so it's great for a nap when other guests are absent.
But any conversation elsewhere in the house comes across clearly or as a merciless murmur. You can hear water running in the other bathrooms. At night it was so quiet, my wife remarked, she could hear one guest's cell phone in vibrate mode! (At least we think it was his phone.)
That's why when we go back we want to stay at one of the four cottages also on the property. These have their own kitchenettes and TVs and, at prices ranging from $110 to $135 per night, are even cheaper than the main house rooms. My guess is they have a bit more acoustic privacy than the main house when other guests are about.
Makawao town, with its artsy-craftsy shopping scene and restaurants, is a five-minute drive away.
We also stayed at another pleasant B&B near Makawao, Hale Hookipa. It's in a more residential neighborhood, so you may hear a dog or two, as well as roosters and doves. The complimentary breakfast of yogurt, cereal/granola, fresh fruit, juice and coffee was excellent.