Changing Hawaii

By Diane Yukihiro Chang

Friday, June 18, 1999

Maui wasn’t so wow-ie

IT was no coincidence that, just before leaving for a three-day summer vacation on Maui, I saw the 1991 film "Enchanted April" on cable TV. The movie -- starring Miranda Richardson and Joan Plowright -- follows four women from England who holiday at an Italian villa and the wondrous effect it has on their humdrum lives.

Would my first visit to the Valley Isle in more than a decade, and the first with my kiddo, be similar in plot? Uncertainty reigned.

No offense to its residents, but Maui has always been my least favorite county:

Bullet Oahu is home sweet home, and I love its fast-paced, big city beat.

Bullet Kauai is venerable and where many of my relatives still reside.

Bullet Hilo and Kona are so different that driving from one side to the other is like hitting two different countries.

But Maui? I've always avoided the place since it seemed so -- if you'll pardon the expression -- hokey. Trendy. Touristy.

Am I being too cruel? Sorry, Maui. But you know how the films and TV shows portray the venue. Some snotty couple from Beverly Hills or Manhattan will be bragging about their trip to the islands and say, "Dah-ling, we stayed on Mau-wee and it was simply dee-vine!" Gimme a break.

Yet the things we do for our children, huh? Intent on discovering with her the relatively new Maui Ocean Center -- billed as the biggest aquarium in the state -- we hightailed it over to Linda Lingle country for a brief summer respite.

The 45-minute drive from the airport to Kaanapali was pleasant enough. One minute you're in Wailuku/Kahului, which looks more like Waikele/Kapiolani, and the next you're speeding past miles of cane fields and undeveloped lands.

Our beachfront hotel was postcard perfect. Part of my first day was spent blissfully on the balcony, gazing at the ocean, as my Honolulu stress factor racheted downward.

Watching the palm fronds wave in the breeze and the miniature-looking figures frolicking on the sand, I thought to myself, "Holy cow, I'm in Hawaii!" Funny how you forget that when you live here.

Then, whoa, your memory returns big time when you stop admiring nature and attempt to buy something. Three bucks for a can of fruit juice? Eight dollars for valet parking? Outrageous!

It's no wonder Hawaii has gotten an unsavory reputation for gouging the traveling public. Local hotel owners and operators had better re-evaluate their prices if they want to woo non-millionaire guests.

Even the highly touted Maui Ocean Center cost an eye-opening $17.50 per adult ($12 kamaaina rate), which was very nice but hardly very large. The little one and I had planned to spend half a day there, but saw everything in a little over an hour. Now what?

FOOLISHLY, we decided to walk along Front Street in Lahaina. Bad move. This is not the place to go unless you want to seriously bond with all the tourists on the island.

It's a dusty, funky version of Kalakaua Avenue, with a hodgepodge of shops and eateries staffed by people trying to act friendly but not necessarily succeeding.

The good news is that all the visitors seemed to be having a swell time. In restaurants, they'd be chattering exuberantly about how much fun they were having and what they wanted to do tomorrow.

I knew exactly what I wanted to do: Go home. And when that jet landed at Honolulu Airport, I realized the true value of a vacation: to impart appreciation for your everyday and, yes, even humdrum existence.

Any month is enchanting when you finally come home.

Diane Yukihiro Chang's column runs Monday and Friday.
She can be reached by phone at 525-8607, via e-mail at, or by fax at 523-7863.

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