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    Remembering Maui

    By David Landis, The Gay Gourmet–

    Paradise burned. Within minutes.

    I couldn’t believe it. My friend Michael had friends in Maui who told him about the fires even before the news media reported it. And I was in shock.

    How could the place that we remember as a tropical refuge be gone—and so quickly?

    So many lives lost; so many homes destroyed; so many families upended, even if they’ve survived. As someone who has been visiting Hawaii since 1960, it was an emotional roller coaster.

    I cried. And cried. And cried.

    But I want to remember the good times. When my editors Betty and Jen asked me to write about Maui, how could I refuse?

    The famous passion-fruit topped Mai Tai at Monkeypod in Maui

    So here goes.

    My first trip to Hawaii was in 1960, but my first trip to Maui was in the early ’80s. It was the heyday of gay liberation, I was single, and I met Ken. He is a marvelous man from Powell River, British Columbia, and we had a lovely romantic affair that made me also fall in love with the island. That was my first exposure to the magic of Maui, and I won’t forget it.

    I stayed that trip at the Kaanapali Shores condominiums, with a direct view of the aquamarine ocean. It was before Kaanapali is what it is now. I don’t remember the walking trail lined with cafés and bars and other hotels, but it was still quintessential Hawaii.

    Ken and I did all the touristy (but fabulous) things: sunrise at the Haleakala Crater, where you are suspended more than 10,000 feet above sea level, watching the glorious daylight break over the island; driving the road to Hana, a twisty, lush, and annoying, nearly 3-hour drive that deposits you (finally!) at the seven sacred pools with waterfalls that are a slice of heaven; and most of all, visiting Lahaina—a small but historic fishing village filled with independent restaurants, hotels, and shops that beckoned visitors from all over the island.

    Lahaina’s famous 150-year-old Banyan Tree

    No one knew Lahaina back then—but it’s known worldwide now. The attractions (the old Pioneer Inn, the Lahaina Grill, and more) were all significant, but the most important and iconic destination was the 150-year-old Banyan Tree in the middle of town. We still don’t know the fate of that beautiful tree, but we’re hoping it survives to signify rebirth for this beautiful burg.

    My next memory? Our dear friends Robin and Tommy got “Maui’d” (married) at the Fairmont in Wailea. We weren’t there, but they have since regaled us with the stories of a wedding on the beach and abundant mai tais to celebrate.

    Sean Dowdall and David Landis with friends Keri and Neil at the Honu Oceanside

    I didn’t travel back to Maui for a long time (Kauai and Honolulu were our Hawaiian destinations for a long time), but I recently traveled back a couple of times with my dear husband, Sean. It was a revelation. The Fairmont in Wailea was our first port of entry, followed by the amazing Westin Hotel in Kaanapali.

    For our first trip, we met up with dear friends Keri and Neil, who live in Kihei—a favorite, authentic town on the west side. They opened up their home to us and even invited us to Thanksgiving dinner (he’s a famous chef)—so representative of the Aloha spirit of the islands. That trip, we visited the upcountry organic O’o farm, where we helped pick the produce for our lunch and the resident chef cooked us a communal repast worthy of a Michelin star. We also took the ferry from Lahaina to Lanai to lunch outdoors at the Four Seasons (owned by Larry Ellison), a relaxing break from the excitement of Maui. Another favorite outing was venturing off to the ‘Īao Valley, where a long, narrow mountain dominates the landscape, and the views are astounding.

    The ‘Īao Valley on Maui

    Although we’ve never made it there when they’re in residence, our friends Leeza and David also own a condo in Kapalua. Because of that, on our second recent trip back to the island, we traveled up north and along the windy, coastal road past Kapalua on the way back to Kahalui. It waThe ‘Īao Valley on Mauis also a vivid experience because we rarely encountered anyone on the road—just tropical grandeur, gorgeous ocean views, and the occasional light, Hawaiian rainstorm.

    Other memories? Visiting with Tommy and Robin and their dear friends Aubrey and John, who are lucky enough to live and work on the island; eating at the enormously popular Mama’s Fish House, which even though it’s touristy, is worth the splurge; and the phenomenal passion fruit foam-topped mai tais at Monkeypod (two locations, one in Wailea, and one in Kaanapali). We’re also big fans of Waicoco, the upscale restaurant at the Westin Kaanapali, helmed by San Francisco’s Mourad Lahlou and chef Chris Kajioka. Another must dine option? Honu Oceanside, where you dine al fresco munching on tasty ahi bruschetta, all while watching sea turtles frolic in the water directly in front of you.

    Maui coastal beauty

    Sadly, on our last trip, Sean and I were remarking how dry and desolate the island looked. It’s partly because the sugarcane trade “dried up,” due to the escalating costs of doing business in Hawaii. What was left were large swaths of brown land. As it turned out, when native grasses re-grew, they became fodder for the recent wildfires.

    Scene near Waikapu, Maui

    But, let’s remember the fun times. Here’s to Maui—and to its rebirth. We know that Maui is strong, and Hawaiians even stronger. It will come back, and we must do everything we can to support Maui’s regeneration. So, here are a few places where we all can help. My husband and I have donated to these causes. We encourage you to do the same:

    Maui Strong Community Fund:
    American Red Cross Hawaii:
    Maui Humane Society:
    Kokua Restaurant and Hospitality Fund:
    Signia by Hilton San Jose (donating 100% of brunch proceeds through October 1):

    Ahi bruschetta at Honu Oceanside in Lahaina

    David Landis, aka the San Francisco Bay Times’ “The Gay Gourmet,” is a foodie, a freelance writer, and a retired PR maven. Follow him on Instagram @GayGourmetSF, or email him at: Or visit him online at:

    The Gay Gourmet
    Published on August 24, 2023