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A visitor looks back at 27 years

By Staff | Jan 13, 2011

At the old El Crab Catcher in Whalers Village, kids could swim in the restaurant’s small pool while their parents enjoyed drinks and nachos.

With the columnist having a severe sore throat, this is no time to interview anybody. So this week, here’s an excerpt from the book “Voices of Maui” and a tale about family.

Some of those who grew up on the Mainland often fondly remember summers at the lake. Our family waxes nostalgic about decades of vacationing on Maui before we, as parents, became permanent residents in 2001.

Thirty years ago, when the world-famous Kaanapali Beach Resort was mostly a one-time dream destination, those with that first-time-in-paradise-glow didn’t think much about coming back.

Our kids were an exception, returning on vacation with us nearly 27 different years in the 1970s, ’80s and ’90s.

They stepped foot on Maui for the first time on Hawaiian Airlines planes that then debarked people right on the tarmac before there were jet ways. Over the years, they rode in “umbrella” strollers, toddled across rope bridges, sailed on catamarans and floated over Kaanapali on a parasail (as they grew older), finally returning as adults to arrive at fairly cosmopolitan Kahului Airport.

In those early years, you hopped on Hawaiian Air on Oahu after a trip from the Mainland and deplaned to walk to a sleepy baggage claim area, picking up your bags near a tall tree that stood in the center of the terminal.

Today, Kaanapali is truly beloved in a way few locals recognize by annual visitors who return year after year.

Paging through the family album not only brings back memories of those three decades in Kaanapali. It brings the realization that we have more photos of our kids’ two-week sojourns to Kaanapali (often each Easter) than from the 50 weeks we spent annually at home in Chicago.

The first night away from home with our six-month-old daughter was spent at Kahana Sunset even before there was a Kapalua just up the road.

Evenings were enjoyed in Kaanapali or Lahaina, with our daughter frequently tucked in a stroller sleeping under a restaurant table somewhere.

Given our daughter’s continuing ability to fall asleep easily anywhere, we used to say that our young traveler had slept at all the best restaurants in Lahaina, including Kimo’s, and even outside Longhi’s Restaurant parked on the sidewalk below an open window. We dined just inside to the amusement — in those days — of not so-frequent passersby.

At our usual 5 a.m. jet-lagged awakening on a first day in Maui, we evolved a tradition of driving to the Hyatt — then called a hotel and not a resort — for an early walk through the Japanese garden.

This would be followed by still unsurpassed pineapple pancakes (now no longer on the menu) at the historic Pioneer Inn. Once or twice a trip, we would return, broiling our own dinners you could cook yourself in the interior courtyard (mahi, seven minutes).

The cook-your-own barbecue pit is no more, as are most of the hundreds of whaling artifacts on the wall of the bar within view of a fleet of fishing boats. Now only a few remain.

Another favorite spot was the old Crab Catcher restaurant, predecessor to today’s popular Hula Grill, at Whalers Village, centerpiece of the resort area right on the ocean.

Besides scrumptious nachos — unlike any to be found today, so it seems — El Crab Catcher featured a small swimming pool where our kids could wade or swim while we ate hamburgers. (We both still ate meat and had better teeth in those days.) Also remembered fondly was the once-nearby Chico’s, the place for tacos before anyone had ever heard of Maui Tacos.

And then there were Whalers Village visits to Yami Yogurt — a treat so good, we wished we could get it in Chicago — and nearby Ricco’s, the cozy, open air pizza place where a “new” air conditioned fast food court now stands. It took 20 years for a new yogurt store to return.

Our Kaanapali Kids, as they might be called, did more than eat and stay on the beach. We’d go to the community Easter Egg Hunt under the Banyan Tree in town each year, with our son one time finding the golden egg, entitling him to special prize: a canister of Play Doh. And, of course, there was Easter egg coloring at three different resorts and the Makawao Rodeo on Fourth of July.

Our Kaanapali Kids are no longer kids now, but they still keep coming back from Chicago and New York .

We came from a big city, and this is a small town. One of us — not me — thought we’d get “island fever,” a fear that a small island would not be enough to keep us happy and busy.

Alas, we have found that music is everywhere, almost every weekend brings a festival, and the days are so packed with work or community-related activities that visits to the beach become rarer and rarer.

Years ago, in the Midwest, family memories of many people used to revolve around summers at the lake. Ours are filled with fond memories of Kaanapali Beach and Lahaina, as they will in the years ahead for increasing numbers of Kaanapali Kids building that today seem to be everywhere.