WHERE groves of coconut palms once blanketed the sun-drenched western coast of Maui, condominiums and hotels have risen. For some, such rapid growth has tarnished this shiny isle. For developers, investors, and entrepreneurs it has been - and continues to be - a boon. But those who have gained most are, arguably, the tourists. This coast is the ideal place to compare condominium with hotel accommodations and to discover the advantages and disadvantages of each. I talked with several visitors who had decided to try out condos and then sampled some myself.
In the process, I learned that almost 2 million visitors a year flock to this Hawaiian island of 80,000 residents, and many try condo living here for the first time. According to the tourist bureau, 45 percent of the visitors return, some more than once.
One retired couple in matching shirts with red and orange macaws were hard to miss, even here. This was their seventh trip from Idaho to Maui, and they were sold on condominium living.
``A condo is the ideal place to stay,'' the woman said. ``Look, we pay $70 a day. We can wash our clothes, and cook in our rooms.'' ``We don't have to go out every night,'' her husband added. ``We can cook as little as we want in our kitchenette, or just grab some leftover pasta salad from the fridge, or heat up a can of soup,'' his wife said. ``And in the morning it's nice to sit around in our pajamas and read on the lanai.''
A tanned young woman on her honeymoon was left stranded as her husband was whisked away for a hula lesson. ``When I'm in a hotel room, I feel like I've rented a bedroom. It's like you have to do everything in your bedroom - dress, watch TV, read, eat, sleep.''
Another woman felt there was a ``sameness'' to hotels. ``Sometimes I just feel like a piece of baggage,'' she said. ``All they want is to see how quickly they can move you in and out.''
Joan and Ted from Michigan were experiencing condo living for the first time. Joan was dubious at first. ```Ted,' I said, `I don't want a condo. I don't want to make coffee every morning. I'm going on vacation and I want service!' Now I love it! Of course, Ted makes the coffee, don't you, hon?'' she said, jabbing Ted in the ribs.
My impressions of a few condos where I stayed:
Kaanapali, Kahana, and Napili
Probably the most desirable and certainly the most populated area in Maui is along the west coast of Kaanapali, Kahana, and Napili.
More than 7,000 rooms are available in high-quality units along this heavily populated stretch of brown-sugar sandy beaches here. Here also are three golf courses including the world-renowned Royal Kaanapali North, designed by Robert Trent Jones, and the Royal Kaanapali South.
After checking in at the Papakea Beach Resort one dark evening, I was given a map and pointed in the direction of my condominium. There were eight separate buildings labeled A to H. ``Building C, third floor,'' said the man behind the desk, circling the location on the map. After some groping about, I found my way to a ``1 bedr'm, part'l Oc'n Vw.''
The living-dining area measured about 15 by 15 feet. It included dining table and four chairs. A couch and two matching chairs were covered in a jungly green-and-white palm leaf print. The room was bright and airy, and it opened onto a lanai.
Full bath, large bedroom, plenty of closet space, washer and dryer, kitchenette with four-burner stove, oven, and dishwasher completed the suite. Wall-to-wall carpeting was a perfect blotter for damp feet.
A huge complimentary pineapple was the sole occupant of the refrigerator and was quickly devoured. I realized I should have done a bit of food shopping on the way. A discount store was only a short drive away, but alas, it was late and the store was closed.
Some may insist on a full ocean view and are willing to pay more money for it. I preferred the partial view, as it overlooked the gardens and fish ponds. The distance gave more privacy and quiet, as well.
Papakea also boasts two of each of the following: swimming pools, putting greens, whirlpools, shuffleboard courts, and fish ponds. There are four saunas.
Rates here run from $104 a day for a studio sleeping one or two in low season to $199 for two bedrooms for up to six people at high season. (That comes to about $35 a day during high season.) Discounts are available for extended stays.
A few miles up the coast near Kapalua Beach, at the end of a short cul-de-sac, is Coconut Inn. This charming group of two-story wooden buildings in the Hawaiian-country style is almost hidden in the trees.
A pool and fish pond are tucked between the buildings. A ``quiet area'' is also provided for reading, writing post cards or, as the Coconut Inn leaflet says, for ``musing.'' The young couple who manage the inn are as cheerful and chatty as Lolo the umbrella cockatoo that greets you at the desk. You are welcome to snip herbs from wooden tubs in the garden to flavor your cook-in meals.
An industrial-strength Jacuzzi beside the pool is strong enough to whirl you around like an eggnog if you're not careful, so hold on! Continental breakfast is served by the pool and includes warm homemade banana bread, fresh fruits, juices, and local Kona coffee.
This is not waterfront property. It perches on a hill overlooking fields and farms. The units as a whole are small, but private and comfortable. Although it's only a 10-minute walk to the water, most residents prefer to drive up the coast to more private beaches.
Here is a perfect spot for couples with toddlers or those who want to enjoy a quiet, slow-paced stay. Accommodations in the 41 units must be booked well in advance. Studios run $60 a day; one bedrooms, $70. Studios with lofts cost $75. All have a kitchen area, color TV, telephone, full bath, and maid service. Please note that credit cards are not accepted here.
The second most popular, newer, busier tourist area is down the coast at Kihei. The Mana Kai Maui Condominium Hotel, as the name implies, includes both hotel and condo units under the same roof. From the outside, Mana Kai is a rather plain, unimaginative affair. On closer inspection, it offers quite a bit. Rates include a rental car that you pick up on arrival at the Kahului Airport. As Maui has almost no public transportation, this saves a lot of running around.
Mana Kai also has large, attractive rooms that can be closed off with sliding partitions if you are sharing your quarters. It is situated on a choice piece of beachfront property. Ocean views from the lanai, especially on the higher floors, are spectacular, especially at sunset. This is also one of the better beaches in the area for snorkeling.
Everyone goes to a luau in Hawaii. This colorful, fast-moving feast is performed here on the grounds three times a week for an extra $38 per person.
Winter rates at Mana Kai run from $75 for a hotel room (including car and breakfast) for two, to $148.75 for a two-bedroom, two-bath condo unit sleeping four.
Kihei is upbeat and fast, unlike the quieter resorts along Kaanapali. Lots of shops of every description, restaurants (both gourmet and fast-food), and gas stations run along the busy main highway. Teen-agers and young singles may prefer the faster pace here.
If you go
Maui has more than 16,000 housing units to choose from, and 11,000 are condominiums. Some places upcountry are far from the beach but have beautiful vistas and cool evenings. A host of travel books and travel agents are available to help you. Special fly-drive-condo rates abound. Check local Sunday papers, a travel agent, or contact Maui Visitors Bureau, PO Box 1738, Kahului, Maui, 96732; (808) 871-8691.