After the relatives have finally gone home and I don’t have to fake anymore smiles over fruitcakes and ugly ties, it’s a relief to realize the holidays are over.

But before heading back to an office overflowing with emails and phone messages.  I decided it was time to reboot not my computer, but myself.  The warm healing water and tropical air of Maui seemed to be the perfect antidote.

I’ve visited often and most of the time I book an impersonal hotel or condo and rent a car to navigate the rocky roads.  This time, I visited Hawaii like a local, I rented a home on the beach, sailed in a traditional Polynesian canoe and visited cultural sites that the average tourist never stumbles across.

If Santa was good to you this year, it’s easier to adopt the Aloha spirit and bunk in a beachfront home.  Although few of us can afford a multimillion dollar site like Clint Eastwood, it is possible to rent one – at least for a week – by inviting family and friends and pooling your dollars.

I went with Hawaii Hideaways, who can arrange everything from your plane ride on a commercial or private jet to providing private yoga lessons on the sand to a round on a private golf course.  “We have concierge on call 24/7 says CEO Anne Pawsat-Dressler. “If you can dream it up, we can do it.  There is no such thing as a bizarre request.  I had a businessman from China who sent his King sized bed ahead of him and we installed it in the house before he arrived.”

After settling into the Villa Kumulani near Wailea, Maui, it was time to eat.  I can cook, but figured why bother when one of the best private chefs in the world lives in Maui.  Dan Fiske who is available for any meal any time of the day or night.

I met up with Fiske at the Aina Lani Farm near the “Upcountry” Maui town of Pukalani.  I helped him pick vegetables and fruits from the garden, then later at dinner, I watched him do hi culinary magic as I sipped champagne and sampled pupus.  Next was a salad of country mustard greens tossed with confetti of rainbow carrots and shaved baby fennel, as well as Surfing Goat cheese, candied walnuts and lilikoi lime basil vinaigrette, followed by Fiske’s famous crispy skin onaga (aka ruby snapper) fish.  While the sun set over the Villa’s avocado trees.  I requested that the ukulele musicians play “Tiny Bubbles”.  Despite the fact that they must have sung this tune so often for mainlanders that it gives the nightmares, they graciously sang the Don Ho classic.  Maybe it helped that I asked them to share desert, basil leaves dipped in chocolate – an unusual sounding combination, but the perfect contrast of tart and sweet sensations.

If you’d rather explore the neighborhood restaurants, the trendy Italian restaurant Capische in Wailea is known for its “open cooking”  Those in the know go downstairs to the Il Teatro room, where chefs Brian Etheredge and Christopher Kulis have adapted the Benihana style of cooking you your face.  Instead of Japanese food, however, they’re serving up Northern European specialties.  As you sit at the counter, the chefs prepare a five course meal including duck confit, ahi steak and a local fish called opakapaka, each course complemented by a different wine from around the world.   I couldn’t help but make new friends, surrounded by strangers who were all happy to be pampered. 

Of course, there’s more to Maui than great food, beautiful sunsets and palm trees blowing in the wind’; there’s the history that I’ve somehow managed to miss in my previous visits to the islands.  This trip I was getting culture.  Open Eye Tours gave me a new appreciation of paradise.  The company creates custom tours for the patrons, including everything from healing temples to rain forest.  I decided on a trip to the lava fields.

These fields were just a short drive down the road from my Makena Beach Villa, so company owner Barry Freid picked me up in his jeep.  Once there, we spotted petroglyphs, and wild goats running free.  He taught me a few Hawaiian chants and showed me a tropical plant that can be used as a lotion, shampoo and maybe even to grow hair- but as he looked toward my sparse scalp, he said he couldn’t promise miracles. 

To really feel the Aloha spirit, you have to get in the water.  The wa’apea canoe has been the preferred mode of travel for centuries.  The boat is launched from the sand, with passengers helping to push it through the surf then jumping on board!  These boats seat six to eight people, and are outfitted with large canopies for each person to sit on, their legs dangling offside.

There are plenty of free activities to enjoy as well.  Wake up early to catch the sunrise atop of the Haleakala volcano, stroll through the historic town of Lahaina and learn about Maui’s whaling past or drive the long and winding road to Hana’s black sand beaches.  Along the way, you’ll find small mom and pop fruit stands (often unattended), with bananas and guava sitting atop wooden crates next to an “honesty box” requesting money.  What a sweet way to enjoy the island!