Ritz-Carlton Kapalua

By Mary Bemis / September 14, 2011

It was the mangoes that first caught my eye—dozens upon dozens of beautiful ripe mangoes strewn about. They had fallen from the trees, and all I wanted to do was jump out of the car and gather them all up. I had just arrived on Maui from New York and after a long flight wasn’t concentrating on much—until I spied the mangoes that made me open my eyes and take a good look around me. I was in the land of lush, lush, lush.

Perhaps I should have been thinking luxe, luxe, luxe, because I was on my way to the Ritz-Carlton, Kapalua to check out its new spa and environmental program. The property’s located on 54 verdant acres and is a part of the historic 23,000-acre Kapalua Resort, complete with a pineapple plantation and certified organic farm. Originally built in 1992, it recently underwent a lavish $180 million dollar transformation. Out went its traditional buttoned-up East Coast vibe and in came a more laidback, warm Hawaiian sensibility, thanks to San Francisco-based SB Architects.

Home to the Jean-Michel Cousteau Ambassadors of the Environment program (the property partnered with Jean-Michel Cousteau’s Ocean futures Society, a nonprofit organization), this is where expert naturalists teach children of all ages (and grown-ups, too) the intricacies of nature and local ecosystems. They do this through hands-on activities like underwater photography snorkeling lessons near coral reefs, seasonal whale-watching excursions, mangrove kayaying, and hiking through the Kapalua rainforest. (It was outside of this center that I also discovered a small solar oven, a very neat gadget that I am determined to find, buy, and use.) Located behind the center is a large organic garden with a huge selection of fruits and vegetables—15 different types of lettuce, 16 varieties of tomatoes, and 15 selections of peppers grow in the soil here that’s produced from the Ritz’s new compost. There’s also an organically managed chef’s garden where 18 different types of basil and 10 varieties of mint grow. Between both of the gardens, there are 100 selections of vegetables, 35 fruit trees, and 70 varieties of herbs. The vision behind this project belongs to Chef Marc McDowell who offers interactive chef’s tours every Monday afternoon. They’re well worth it. Not only do you learn a lot, you’re rewarded at the end of the tour with one of his raw food smoothies.

During my stay, I especially enjoyed hiking through the rainforest in the company of guava trees, acacia trees, something called an octopus tree, and pua kenikeni trees. I came upon Chinese ground orchids and Christmas berry and spied Hawaiian honeycreepers, a native bird. I learned about two of Hawaii’s endangered mammals, the round hoary bat, the only land mammal endemic to Hawaii (in one night, it’s capable of eating up to its own weight in insects) and the sweet-looking, but very solitary Hawaiian monk seal, known to Hawaiians as Ilio-holo-i-ka-uaua, or “dog that runs in rough waters.” These seals are on the critically endangered list, and in an effort to raise awareness, were declared the official State Mammal in the summer of 2008. Here’s another piece of info I was told that stuck with me: Maui is five times the size of Manhattan with only 120,000 inhabitants. It does, however, attract about 2.2 million visitors annually. And many of those who do visit, do so to restore mind and body at one of its many spas (turn to page 56 for our extensive round-up of Hawaiian spas). The Ritz-Carlton Spa, Kapalua bases its philosophy on the healing waters of Waihua, which the ancient Hawaiians believed was the most pure form of water, captured by the leaves of the taro plant. Interior designer Jonathan Staub played upon this concept throughout the space: wood panels carved with images of taro leaves and a dry stone river bed grace the entry, while the curved walls throughout the spa are meant to subtly represent water movement. (There are also lava rock walls that were a little too Fred Flintstone for my taste.) The spa is spread out over 17,500 square feet and has 15 treatment rooms, two of which are outdoors, as well as outdoor shower gardens.

Indigenous ingredients are used in many of the spa treatments. There’s Hawaiian sea salt, of course, plus kukui oil, coconut, pumpkin, and ginger. Natural and organic skin care lines include Naturopathica, Eminence, and Mama Mio products.

I had a very good Lomi Lomi massage with a heated lavender lotion from Epicuren, and tried the gentle Bamboo-Lemongrass exfoliating body treatment. One of my favorite spa touches didn’t have anything to do with the treatments or the decor, but everything to do with those small and unique details that come from the heart. While relaxing in the waiting area at the spa I discovered delicious organic scones and lavender biscuits that had been set out on a counter by the tea selection. They had been baked by Megan, one of the spa’s lead estheticians. “I make them with love every day,” she told me. And I could taste it. www.ritzcarlton.com

Mary Bemis
Mary Bemis

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