It was a difficult time for the community. Most of the hotel's employees are locals, some of whom have worked there 30 or more years. The staff of 170 includes second and third generations. Finesse isn't their strong suit -- you may get your bread plate on the right and your check as you tuck into your entree -- but they're long on aloha.
A 17-by-17-foot infinity pool spilling over lava stones became the focal point of the open lobby courtyard. Conrad relandscaped the entry, choosing as planters huge pots once used for boiling down sugar. To tame the gymlike proportions of the dining room, where Rosewood had lifted the skylighted roof to soaring heights, Conrad lowered the ceiling with "waves" of blue and green crinoline.
My garden junior suite ($266 a night on a four-night special) was a work in progress, an incongruous mix of pink and white Hawaiian quilt, gold and green pineapple-pattern print on the dining chairs and a chipped and peeling white plaster desk that looked as though it had been fought over by ancient Hawaiian chiefs. The quilts are being replaced by kapa print spreads in sand and olive, the desks by sleek teak models.
Conrad had the luxury of space -- my suite was 33 by 23 feet, including a huge tiled bath with soaking tub overlooking a walled garden and a dining-sitting area with 10-foot wet bar. The minibar was stocked not with booze but with complimentary water, juice and colas. There were a drip coffee maker, coffee beans and grinder and -- hallelujah -- half-and-half in the fridge. There now are phones and room service, but no TVs or radios.
The pricey cottages were gutted, their white and beige decor replaced by oranges and greens with pale citron walls. There are bamboo platform beds, and the shutters opening onto private decks (some with Jacuzzis) have been replaced by draperies, adding 3 feet of floor space. Plans include outdoor showers.
With Passport came Hawaii native Larry Quint, former executive sous-chef at the Post Ranch Inn. The cuisine, with Hawaiian and spa food influences, is uneven but has moments of inspiration. The Sunday night prime rib buffet was saved from the mundane only by the abundance of shell-on shrimp, but on another night my seared ono (a local fish) atop a potato-lobster pancake was terrific. Presentation is attractive, but, alas, the orange juice is frozen and the Cobb salad made with turkey roll. Yet who cares when there's pina colada creme brulee?
When complete, the hotel will have 79 rooms. A new spa with large soaking pool and gardens is scheduled for fall opening. The focus will be on traditional Hawaiian healing treatments.
Preservation is a big word in Hana, where there is a pervasive fear of destruction of lifestyle through runaway development.
For the first time, the hotel and adjoining 4,500-acre Hana Ranch have different owners. The cattle ranch, with four miles of oceanfront, was sold in January 2001 for $24 million to Hana Ranch Partners, whose major investors are the Gordon P. Getty Family Trust and Susan and Roy O'Connor, Montanans with a second home in Hana.
The buyers are conservationists with a concern and love for the area, says Dan Omer of Hana, chief executive of the partnership. While theirs is not a "completely altruistic" enterprise, he says, their investment goal is "patient money." Their first sale was to Oprah Winfrey -- $15 million for 102 acres on which she plans to build a home. There will be other land sales, but not in the immediate future, Omer says. High-rises or subdivisions are not on the horizon. And while the ranch came with a permit to build a golf course, won after a long fight by the hotel's last owner, Omer says "there is no intention to do that." Hana will remain a non-golf destination.
The Hana area, with about 1,800 residents, has been protected by its remoteness, although 700,000 visitors, mostly day-trippers, drive here each year. Recently elected Maui County Mayor Alan Arakawa says, "Hana is very special. They've been able to resist this temptation to get in for the fast bucks and rip and roar."
If there has been change, designer Conrad observes, it's an awakening excitement about Hana's uniqueness. "Ten or 15 years ago, people here felt like it was off the edge of the earth. Now people are looking for places that feel like they are off the edge of the earth."