four seasons maui garden at sunset

In the aftermath of the tragic August 2023 wildfires that tore through Lahaina on Maui’s western coast, the island was left in devastation at the loss of life, property, and community. As the hospitality industry remained in a stand still in the weeks and months that followed, Maui reeled further from a double impact with the loss of jobs and businesses in the absence of a steady influx of crucial tourism dollars.

Maui is now open and eager for tourists, with a few key caveats and considerations: be mindful of the places you should be going and should steer clear of, look into ways to contribute to ongoing recovery efforts, and engage with a more authentic side of local Hawaiian culture.

On the latter point, beyond the need to respect the recovery of the island, this disaster has offered a chance for many visitors to reset their relationship with Maui and the Hawaiian islands on the whole. The island, its culture, and its people are not part of a theme park to be gawked at or used for mere stereotypical escapism. A blissful vacation filled with the sun, sand, and flavors you know and love is still very much there for the taking, but a little empathy, and a little more understanding and effort, goes an incredibly long way.

Map out where to stay, and a few activities to help direct your resources and interests in the right direction, and get ready for a grand return to Maui. The island awaits.

Avoid Lahaina: As much as some visitors may want to see what happened for themselves, the correct course of action at the moment is to avoid Lahaina and the surrounding western coast. Consider instead making Wailea your home base, as the area’s many luxury resorts — as well as its restaurants, bars, shops, and tour operators — are open and thriving.

new cultural center at the fairmont kea lani in hawaii
Courtesy, Fairmont Kea Lani, Maui

Visit the Hale Kukuna Cultural Center: The Fairmont Kea Lani debuted an impressive cultural center called the Hale Kukuna at the end of 2023, and it offers an interactive way for visitors to gain a deeper appreciation for authentic Hawaiian culture. Hale Kukuna occupies a prime position in the lobby of the all-suite and villa hotel, putting it front and center for guests and outside visitors alike, and is run by a dedicated manager of Hawaiian culture, Kamahiwa Kawa’a. “We have your typical resort activities but have changed them to offer guests deeper connections and more meaningful experiences they’ll take with them forever,” Kawa’a says. For instance, guests can interact with local crafts, instruments, and tools on display, and participate in an array of engaging workshops and sessions.

Contribute Your Time: There are a variety of reputable organizations funneling visitors’ efforts into impactful volunteer work. For instance, search through Maui Nui Strong or Volunteer Match, or otherwise, connect with a representative such as a hotel concierge who will likely have trusted and reputable third -party organizations to recommend.

fish dish at the ferramo restaurant at the four seasons maui
Courtesy, Four Seasons Resort Maui

Try the Travel With Heart Program: The Wailea Beach Resort, for instance, unveiled a Travel With Heart program that’s filled with recommended local businesses and experiences. It’s a collection of more than two dozen places to eat, tours to take, and ways to contribute or volunteer, all vetted by the hotel’s team. This eliminates all of the guesswork and ensures that every dollar you spend goes to the right people and businesses.

The hotel further offers a number of sustainability initiatives across the property, and offers a range of cultural programming to enhance a guest’s stay and lead to more positive contributions. Local culture shines through from the property itself as well, including with Olakino, a culturally attuned, adults-only wellness pool area, and dining venues such a Humble Market Kitchin, from chef Roy Yamaguchi. He dedicated the restaurant to his grandfather, and serves up authentic Hawaiian and Polynesian flavors with a personal touch.

rainbow over mountains in hawaii
Courtesy, Look Up Look Down Photography via Unsplash

Attend the Mulligan’s Luau: All luaus aren’t created equally, and many of the most well known options continue playing into tropes about Hawaiian culture while serving the lowest common denominator. One recommended experience that provides a more authentic approach to Hawaiian storytelling and tradition is Mulligans On The Blue, which offers a weekly luau that’s sure to entertain while also delivering a taste of something more culturally relevant and meaningful.

dining tables with ocean view
Courtesy, Four Seasons Resort Maui

Shop With Local Artisans at the Four Seasons: The Four Seasons Resort Maui at Wailea may still be attracting many guests eager to role play their White Lotus fantasies, but for those in the know, one of the real attractions is their work with local artisans. Each day in the lobby and throughout its concourses there are different showings with art, crafts, jewelry, and other items available for purchase, with booths manned by the artists themselves. Learn about their work and inspiration, and perhaps how it benefits or what it means to the island, while picking up an irreplaceable take-home gift.

It’s part of the hotel’s Live Aloha Market and their ongoing local and cultural engagement efforts, which last year also included a Love for Lahaina series of weekly chef and restaurant pop-ups to support local businesses in need. Sustainability is also at the forefront at Four Seasons Maui, with large containers of reef-safe sunscreen available for complimentary usage by guests, along with reusable water bottles that can be filled at ample stations.

Be sure to visit the revamped Ferraro’s for inventive Italian fare backed by a strong wine and cocktail program — all with an incredible outdoor setting — and the classic Spago as well. But rest easy knowing that as you indulge across the property, the vendors you’re interacting with, the art on display, and much of the daily experience in terms of activities and offerings are designed to put Maui front and center.

pilina bar at the fairmont kea lani in maui hawaii
Courtesy, Fairmont Kea Lani, Maui

Have a Drink at Pilina: Back at the Fairmont Kea Lani, pull up a bar stool at Pilina for one of the best happy hour bar views in the world, with an epic sunset each evening, and when in season, an abundance of whales doing their parts by blowing and breaching in the distance. The new bar is adjacent to the hotel’s cultural center and takes a similar approach to encouraging guests to change their perspective. Drinks are made with 90% local ingredients, while showcasing traditional Hawaiian themes and steering way clear of the world of typical tiki drinks. Sample from three stellar signature cocktails, for instance, including the Mauka: toward the mountain; Aina: from the land; and Makai: toward the sea, with flavors and ingredients representing those ideals.

When in doubt, do your research, ask for help, and come in with a mindset that’s ready to learn about and embrace authentic local culture. “I hope visitors today leave with a different understanding than they came with of Hawaii,” Kawa’a says. “It’s so much more than a place to get good drinks and hang out on the beach, it’s a place full of stories and legends, and it’s so much deeper than just the Mai Tais and cellophane skirts. I hope they can take a new understanding home with them, and build on it every time they come back.”

Featured image courtesy of Four Seasons Resort Maui