Before Jonathan McManus re-opened Hotel Wailea, an upcountry hideaway on Maui, he bought and sold real estate in Hawaii and San Francisco, worked at Waikiki’s longest running restaurant (founded by his father), sailed the Caribbean and opened a ten-room auberge off Virgin Gorda. All solid experience for a budding hotelier, but according to McManus, the trait most critical to Wailea’s instant success—it was rated the second best hotel in Hawaii by Condé Nast Traveler readers only two months after renovations—is his island background, being able to understand Hawaii the way only a local can.
“When you’re from Hawaii you tend to have more of an appreciation for the makua makai,” or the mountains versus the ocean. “The way hotels on Maui have been designed over the last 30 years, they’re large 300-room boxes on the beach. We felt it would be an incredible experiment to turn things upside-down and deliver a luxury product off, but approximate to, the beach.”
McManus and partner Jerry Lynch discovered a former private club for wealthy Japanese nationals on 15 ocean-view acres 300 feet above Maui’s moneyed south shore. “It had been totally off-the-radar. No one in the industry really knew it existed.”
They know now. Following renovations to the tune of $15 million, Wailea opened in September, welcoming guests to its 72 crisp, tasteful suites designed by Honolulu’s Marion Philpotts-Miller with wide-plank white oak floors, travertine bathrooms, coral fossil accent walls and giant lanais whose rattan scoop chairs overlook the Pacific. McManus clustered the suites in quads for a total of 18 freestanding low-density buildings, plus the main lodge, woven through mango orchards and undulating fairways and Pixie Stix palms.
Walls crusted in stone mosaics, splashing waterfalls and a giant turret-like pavilion give the main house the vibe of a splendid tropical castle. Positioned above the tranquil pool, you’ll find Wailea’s main restaurant, Capische? (not a question). If the silly name makes you think of a trattoria in suburban New Jersey, the tables lined up on oceanview terrace should clarify where you are. There, CIA-trained chefs Brian Etheredge and Chris Kulis localize Italian chophouse classics (Caprese, Carbonaras, rib-eyes) with heirloom tomatoes, watermelon radishes and other crops from the hotel’s onsite organic farm.
But there’s no shame in raiding the shelves of restaurant’s gourmet market/cafe down the road instead. Think Mason jars of fresh-pressed green juice, fresh-baked cinnamon rolls, Surfing Goat Dairy mango chevre, bottles of house wine with labels by a Maui printmaker and on taco Mondays, warm tortillas cradling mahi-mahi likely caught that morning by Etheredge and Kulis.
Each suite is equipped with a kitchenette featuring native Ohia wood cabinets and SubZero and Wolf appliances, so you can stock your room for later, or have the hotel pack you a picnic for one of their bespoke Beach Safaris. Wailea provides the food, plush Turkish towels, sarongs, umbrella, snorkel gear and a treasure map to Maui’s finest hidden sands. “Because who wants to compete with 300 other guests for beach service?”