Interview with Sandi Simoni, Hana Oceanfront Cottages
Meet Sandi Simoni. She and her husband, Dan, own and run Hana Oceanfront Cottages, and are two of the very special breed of proprietors and innkeepers that have left the commercial world behind to follow their dreams in Hana.
Find out from them how they made their dreams come true, and how they share it with all their guests. Sandi also gives her guests a list of the top “must doʼs” in Maui, which we followed religiously during our stay, making our experience in Hana all the more special.
1) Sandi, you live in a part of the world that is as close to the Garden of Eden as I can possibly imagine. How and when did you fall in love with the north shore of Hawaii, and specifically, Hana?
Dan and I first visited Maui in 1982 and the moment we landed on this tropical paradise we knew that one day this island would be our permanent home. Our first drive to Hana was the typical day trip that thousands of tourists experience, as it is the “Number One Tourist Attraction” on Maui. When we arrived in Hana after driving over three hours from the West side of the island where we were staying, I remember saying to Dan “Wow, this is beautiful but who could ever live here!” Little did we know what the good Lord had in store for us. Being born and raised in Chicago I made the move to San Francisco in 1979 and not only fell in with love with the Pacific Ocean but also the man of my dreams. Dan is a third generation native of the San Francisco Bay area who grew up surfing on weekends in Santa Cruz, California and both of us always felt the desire to live by the ocean. Moving to Maui was not in our plans, but we were able to purchase a beautiful home near the ocean just outside of San Francisco on Coast Highway One.
Dan started his own business in 1992 as an independent sales representative for a number of companies that produce construction materials; and as fate would have it, one of the companies required their products to be represented on the Hawaiian Islands. Our trips to Maui began to increase and our feelings for Hana deepened; and by 1997 weknew we wanted to make Hana our permanent home.
In October 1997, we stayed in Hana for a week and decided to call the local realtor in town and ask if he had time to show us some property. We werenʼt prepared to purchase or move right away, but wanted to get a feel for the real estate market. After spending one hour with him, he drove us by a vacant lot that had just come up for sale, which was totally overgrown with weeds. As we stood on the middle of the lot, barely able to look over the thick vegetation, our hearts pounded as we gazed at the blue green Pacific Ocean looking out at Hamoa Beach. When we returned home we prayed about it and made the decision to sell everything in California, give up our two lucrative careers, move to Hana, and go into business as Inn Keepers.
Construction of our facility began in January 1999 and on December 19th of that year we moved in and opened our business in March 2000. People from all over the world have stayed with us and the experience of living our dream continues to be unbelievable and an inspiration to many. We hope that one day you will be able to experience the beauty of Hana with us and to know that dreams definitely do come true!
2) What made you decide to get into the business of accommodation?
When Dan & I were tourists visiting the Hana area we could not afford the one hotel in town, the Hotel Hana Maui, so we stayed at other vacation rentals that was very reasonable but was not very well maintained. Just being able to come to Hana was such a blessing for us so we decided to see these accommodations as an adventure and our version of camping. When we made the decision to move here and give up our lucrative careers that meant trusting in fate. We spoke often about the accommodations available in the Hana area and there were very few, and most of them were very weathered. We thought that if we
could build two clean and beautifully appointed accommodations at our pristine spot, people would come. We called it "Niche Marketing" and it worked. Since we bought a vacant lot and was custom building these accommodations we knew we could do it right. Even before we had all the window coverings up and furnishings situated we had people stopping by our door and asking if they could rent from us and the rest is history.
3) What sort of customers have you had stay in your cottages, and how long do the usually stay for?
One of the things we love about our business is the variety of people who find us and come from all over the world, like yourself. Most of our clientele stay 3 or 4 nights, but often return guests who have fallen in love with Hana will come and stay longer and eventually forgo staying on the more touristy side of the island. Many of our winter guests book almost a year out to insure they get there exact dates and stay for 10 days to two weeks. The majority of our couples are either young honeymooners who love eco tourism, or we get the more mature couples who love the out of doors or just want to relax. Since there is no night life in Hana the single people tend not to come to Hana.
4) Have you ever had, dare I say, a nightmare of a customer?
I do have a "Do Not Rent to These People" list! However I am very fortunate that in the almost 12 years in business it is a short list. I have only had three experiences where I went in to clean after a guest departed and actually cried. Thank God most of our other
guests love and respect our property and that makes it all worth while.
5) You are surrounded by such breathtaking beauty. Is it something that you ever get used to?
Yes and no. Having a business in Paradise means you do have to work and having a vacation rental means you work seven days a week and take calls all hours of the day. On the other hand my husband and I take the time every morning to walk three miles in the area and ofter speak about the beauty of the ocean, the incredible views of the mountains, and the rainbows that abound. Yesterday we walked and when we left it was sunny. About 1/2 way through our walk a passing rain shower came through and we got drenched, and loved it. Where else can you get your exercise and your morning shower all in one? And at the end of the day we sit on our "lanai" gazing out at the ocean with our favorite beverage and are in awe of the ever changing surf, sky, and beauty that we look
6) What do you and your husband, Dan, like to do in your "down" time?
As I mentioned we love to walk and Hana has some of the best walking trails in all of Hawaii. There are 3 incredible walks right outside our door and we don't even have to get in a car to get to the trail. Of course the best hike is at Oheo Gulch (aka the Seven Sacred Pools), a Haleakala National Park that is seven miles up the road from us. It is a 4 mile
round trip hike that takes you to the 400 foot drop Waimuku Waterfall that is the highest waterfall on Maui that you can hike to. The trail leads you through a magical bamboo forest and over two bridges. When you are walking through the bamboo forest and the wind is blowing it sounds like a whole symphony of wind chimes. We also enjoy go back to California to visit our two children, our 3 year old grandson and friends.
7) In your opinion, what would be the top 5 "must do's" in Hana.
Hmmm, do I have to only give you 5???
That might be tough so I will first give you the 5 "must doʼs" that are not a paid activity or really reasonable and then my favorite paid activities.
1. If someone is only staying two nights and says what is the one must see I always say the Hike at Oheo at the Haleakala National Park ($10 parking fee) which I mentioned above. I always recommend doing it first thing in the morning before anyone else arrives at the park and you have the whole place to yourself. Then I mention going a mile further to visit Charles Lindberg's grave (the great aviator) and the church where they had his service. He also fell in love with Hana and chose to die and to be buried here. There is a little park right by his final resting place that has two picnic tables sitting on a bluff overlooking the ocean and hardly anyone knows about this spot. Perfect place to enjoy after your hike.
2.The Red Sand Beach, there are only two in the world. It is a bit of challenge to get to but the reward is great. On a side note, it is a "Clothing Optional Beach". Hawaii does not allow public nudity, but when a place is that remote it is hard to enforce what comes naturally to some people.
3. The Black Sand Beach at Waianapanapa Park. One of the purest Black Sand beaches and at the park there are also caves to explore and a blow hole that is great fun to watch the ocean explode upwards.
4. Kahanu Gardens which is open only weekdays from 10AM to 2PM ($10 entry fee) This place is incredible just as a botanical garden that has only plants that were either native to Hawaii or brought to Hawaii by the original settlers. It has the largest selection of Bread Fruit trees in the world and Bread Fruit is a starch that grows on a tree, about the size of a football and is cooked like a potato with the same texture and a little different taste. However, the main draw of the Kahanu Gardens is not just the gardens, but it is home to the "Pi'ilanihale Heiau" which was a sacred structure built sometime in the 1700's, and in my opinion, rivals the great Pyramids of Egypt. It is equal in size to 6 football fields and is 60 feet high in some areas all of terraced rocks and is filled also with rocks. It is believed to be either a fortress for the King Pi'ilani or a place of worship. It is very sacred to the native Hawaiians and you are not allowed to climb up on it, but the WOW factor is there when you look up at it and imagine it took over 100 years to build this structure and took thousands and thousands of people passing lava rocks for miles to construct this Hale.
5. Hamoa Beach, what more can I say. One of the most pristine beaches in all of Hawaii, and our cottages have one of the best views of it. If you want a more commercial activity that there is a fee involved, then these are my picks.
1. Kayaking and snorkeling tour at Hana Bay with Kevin Coates. Hawaii has incredible tropical fish but very few colorful reefs, except this one that Kevin will take you too. The water is so clear, even if you don't want to get in the water you enjoy just looking down and of course the kayaking and seeing Hana town from the ocean is a delights.
2. Maui Stables is a wonderful 2 to 3 hour experience with a nature guide who loves the and (called the "Aina") and along the ride you will hear about the plants and animals in Hawaii and about the history of this island. This is a real cultural experience and great for any level of horsemanship. www.mauistables.com.
Victoria Ugarteʼs TripAdvisor Review of the Maui Stables:
3. His and hers massages at Luana Spa. If you want the ultimate Hawaiian massage experience then this is it. Imagine a small tradition thatched hut, open on the sides, overlooking the blue green Pacific high on a hill. You do need to book ahead for this one.
Contact Nancy at www.luanaspa.com. Hana has numerous healers and other great massage therapists that will also come to your accommodation if you don't want to leave the comfort of your home away from home.
4. Hang Gliding with Armand. Much better than a helicopter tour as he can get you closer to see things and it is much more quiet and peaceful. You can even learn to fly it yourself and Armand is a treat himself, what a special person. www.hangglidingmaui.com
5. Hana Lava Tube Cave Tour. Self guided and will give you the inside view of a real volcanic tube and how these islands were created. www.mauicave.com On a side note, Hana is the real Hawaii and far from the commercialized side of the island, no Starbucks, no McDonalds, no shopping malls or gocCourses. It is not for everyone (thank God) as it is very isolated and we are in the "Rain Forest". It does rain here and often, mainly at night and in the morning and that is why everything is lush and green. If you are only a sun lover then Hana may be a place you would visit for only part of your vacation. If you love the out of doors and eco-tourism then you will love Hana. I always tell my guests "If heaven is suppose to be more beautiful than Hana, we are in for a real treat"!
And thank you, Sandi! To contact Sandi Simoni at Hana Oceanfront Cottages.