Maui by Motorcycle: Two Tickets to Paradise

June 24th, 2015

maui_by_motorcyle

This is an excerpt from the all-new JULY/AUGUST 2015 issue of Guitar Aficionado magazine. For this story, plus features on actor David Duchovny and his new album, Les Paul and the 100th anniversary of his birth, Warrant guitarist Erik Turner’s newfound passion for wine, chef Troy Knapp of Austin’s The Driskill, and more, pick up the new issue of Guitar Aficionado at your newsstand, or online by clicking anywhere in this text.

TWO TICKETS TO PARADISE: Maui’s opulent comforts and scenic splendors come roaring to life on a pair of Harley-Davidson cruisers.

By Josh Max | Photos by Tony Novak-Clifford

There are two Mauis. The first was built by Mother Nature ages ago sans hammers, nails, or profit-and-loss sheets and can still be found in its waters, dormant volcano, remote areas, and native people. The second Maui is now the proverbial paved paradise catering to those of means. It’s also home to Target, Kmart, and other McChains that weren’t here five years ago during my last visit. McSigh.

What I managed in this latest voyage was to balance the best of both worlds. As Mr. Max, party of one, I lodged at some of the most exclusive properties on the island, enjoying food, drink, art, beds with high-thread-count sheets, and other finery. But I was also Mad Max, who climbed aboard two test-model Harley-Davidson cruisers, with my trusty Gibson Blues King in its soft case strapped behind me, and mowed all over the island, some days from dusk to dawn. Maui may be two completely different worlds, but both had the effect of draining the big-city acid from my veins.

The first place I hung my helmet was the Four Seasons Resort in Wailea. It’s big and luxurious enough to satisfy your thirst for swank, but not so large that you’ll get lost or forget you’re on an island. A sit-and-soak at one of the hotel’s “serenity pools” while gaping at an epic view of Lana’i Island and the West Maui Mountains quickly began the inner centering that would last throughout my trip and beyond. Opt for the Complete Suite Experience program and the staff will note and arrange your preferences beforehand and be on call throughout your stay. If you like to live large, book one of the property’s two presidential three-bedroom suites, Lokelani or Maile, for $17,500 per night.

I visited Wolfgang Puck’s iconic Spago onsite, too, where I was surprised to hear “Stairway to Heaven” overhead as I savored my grilled Mahi-Mahi with pineapple. (“It’s Puck’s personal playlist,” I was told when I asked why my dinner and holy sunset were accompanied by a bustle in my hedgerow.) A more trad Hawaiian meal was had at Duo Steak and Seafood, where a picturesque waterfall pool near a private dining room makes for a romantic setting. Do not leave Four Seasons without partaking of its world-class spa, whose ocean-side massages will rocket you to outer space before you wake up with the ocean murmuring in your ears.

Maui is an instant buzz on all sensory levels. Add a motorcycle and it’s like a great song that makes the world punchy and satisfying when you turn up the volume. My trip really started when I got my motor runnin’. The first bike I rode, the 2015 Harley-Davidson Electra Glide Ultra Classic (MSRP $23,249), was less a motorcycle than a 1,300-pound couch with wheels, but its handling, acceleration, and braking quickly proved to be sharp, so it was instant fun. However, 1,300 pounds is 1,300 pounds, and I quickly learned the Electra Glide Ultra is like a shark: if you stop moving at slow speeds, you’re going over, and if you go over, good luck getting back up, especially in remote areas. Everything I learned with the Electra Glide came from making mistakes. In one parking lot I didn’t see a cement curb all by itself until I was right in front of it and couldn’t turn left or right. There was nothing to do but back up manually. Did I mention this thing weighs 1,300 pounds? I made that mistake only once.

Velocity made up for everything. The Electra Glide Ultra Classic is motivated by a powerful, twin-cooled, twin-cam 103-horsepower 1,690cc engine that doesn’t care what the bike weighs—you step on it and you move. The Hydraulic Assist and Slip clutch and Reflex Linked Brakes with ABS remove some of the personal feel one wants in a bike, but you forget they’re there after a bit. During one particularly sharp lean around a corner, one of my safety cages touched ground and spewed out sweet sparks, but that was the edgiest I got with the Electra Glide. It never stopped being heavy, but it also never stopped being a delight.

After an afternoon and evening on the road, I checked into Wailea’s Andaz Maui resort sight unseen and staggered up to the front desk, a little beat up. A friendly desk clerk sat me on a couch, offered me a lemonade, and checked me in with an iPad, after which I collapsed into a firm, comfortable king bed in a modern, tasteful, and homey room. I didn’t know or care if there were better rooms in the place—presidential or what-have-you. Mine was home, and I loved it.

I woke the next day and walked along sensuous and beautifully still hallways, found a faux beach I’d overlooked in the middle of the lobby, and saw—finally—elegant art instead of garish island splash-ups. The Andaz has 297 rooms and seven luxury villas with two, three, or four bedrooms. The resort is hip without trying, and it aims for, and hits, discerning travelers of taste, style, and class. I was there only one night, and I hated to leave.

Of course, music is part of what makes Maui a very special place, especially the familiar pluck-pluck bounce of the ukulele. Lesser known is the slack-key guitar style. The term itself refers to alternate tunings—common enough to any player—but in this case it’s an acoustic guitar tuned usually to an open G or about a dozen other options depending on the player’s preference. The music, consisting of thumbed bass notes and plucked upper strings, sounds like rhythm and lead guitar in one. It’s subtle, intricate, and hypnotically Hawaiian.

I stopped and blissed out at a concert at Napili Kai Beach Resort, which offers slack-key performances by Maui’s top players like George Kahumoku Jr. and Ledward Kaapana every Wednesday and Thursday evenings. Should you be hooked and wish to learn the style, try the Ke Ola Retreat, held this year from October 4 through 10 and hosted by Keola and Moanalani Beamer at the Ka’anapali Beach Hotel (alohamusiccamp.com/KeOlaRetreat). The couple are bringing together some of the world’s most distinguished instructors and experts in their fields to not only teach slack-key but also incorporate its lifestyle into one’s musical approach. Meditation, hula steps, story telling, Hawaiian poetry, and more intertwine to help the player get inside the music’s essence. You’ll never get this class on YouTube, either—you have to do it on Maui, and it will transform your playing and possibly your life.

The charm of my next stop, the 1,800-acre Makena Beach and Golf Resort, came courtesy of its remoteness and layout. Tucked far into a corner of Makena next to nothing, it provides some of the sweetest shh on the island. The hotel used to be the Maui Prince and has seen both flush and hard times in recent years, but it retains its charm via a splendid view of an atrium garden with a waterfall and koi pond when you step out your door each day. The activity desk can arrange a wide range of water sports, such as snorkeling and stand-up paddling, as well as lei making, ukulele lessons, oceanfront yoga, and use of bicycles. The true appeal of the property, though, remains its remoteness, lack of crowds, and wide-open feel…

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This is an excerpt from the all-new JULY/AUGUST 2015 issue of Guitar Aficionado magazine. For this story, plus features on actor David Duchovny and his new album, Les Paul and the 100th anniversary of his birth, Warrant guitarist Erik Turner’s newfound passion for wine, chef Troy Knapp of Austin’s The Driskill, and more, pick up the new issue of Guitar Aficionado at your newsstand, or online by clicking anywhere in this text.

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