Lifestyles in military retirement: Napili Bay

Here in Hawaii, we occasionally see frenzied vacation behavior from Mainland visitors who only have a week or two. They’ll race around to “do” everything on Oahu in a few days, and then charge on to a neighbor island to complete the rest of their checklist. They’ll scurry from a cultural attraction to a shopping center and on to an evening luau. Next morning they’ll step up the pace with a round of military memorials followed by more shopping, a drive around the island, and a special restaurant dinner. The following day there’s a helicopter tour or a museum or a dinner cruise– or all three. Amid all the frenzy of seeing & doing they might not even get in an hour or two on the beach, let alone a few days of surfing!

You would think that Hawaii’s early-retiree life is a perpetual vacation of leisure. If you’re living in a resort destination, you’d expect to spend all your time surfing the break or lounging in a hammock. Not so. I’m not whining (too much), but retirement in paradise still involves chores: the house needs cleaning & maintenance, the yard needs work, dinner needs cooking, the bills need paying, and the e-mail needs answering. It’s hard to “get away from it all” when you’re surrounded by tasks & objects clamoring for your attention.

Yet when we go on vacation to “take a break from retirement”, we hear it every time we leave the islands: “All y’all are from Ha-why-uh, and yew-all are vacationin’ hee-yer?!?” Of course not everyone sounds like that stereotype, but we get that question in a lot of Mainland places.

Well, they might have a point. Why fly thousands of miles to the Mainland or Asia when you can explore a tropical paradise within a few hundred miles of your neighborhood?

So last fall my spouse and I spent several days on Maui’s west coast at Napili Bay. The locals know exactly why we came: to escape the craziness of “big-city Oahu”, where nearly 80% of the state’s population is crammed into 600 square miles.

Most visitors get to Maui through its centrally-located Kahului Airport, which is a bustling international destination. West side’s Kapalua airport, however, operates at a slower pace reminiscent of the 1950s. The runway is only open during daylight hours. It serves commuter planes instead of jumbo jets. “Baggage claim” is a stainless-steel rack at the side of the runway… with an occasional feral chicken scratching around. It’s surrounded by fields that used to produce sugarcane. Most of the roads are 2-3 lanes. It’s 20-30 minutes to Lahaina and over an hour to Kahului’s big-box stores & retail outlets.

As you stroll out from the airport, you can actually feel your pulse rate and your blood pressure dropping. There’s no crowds or traffic noise. The sun is shining, the tradewinds are blowing across the parking lot, and the scenery is gorgeous. You can smell the surf and the nearby blossoms. You’re at your destination, not awash in people scrambling to make a stressed-out connection. You could rush around seeing & doing, but what’s the hurry? It’s all right there waiting for you, and it’ll still be there tomorrow.

I think it’s an especially nice touch that the rental-car agency (down Honoapi’ilani at Halawai) is right next to a surf shop. You can get roof racks with your car so that you can strap on a stand-up paddleboard before you even leave the parking lot. Sure, you could go to a major resort where they’ll rent you a board by the hour and even carry it down to the water for you, but who needs the time pressure? For not much more than the resort’s hourly rate you can rent from a local shop for several days and surf whenever the whim strikes you. If you’re mellow and a little humble about being a newbie to the area, then the staff will take the time to direct you to the best breaks and even recommend where to park.

Napili Bay is lined with condos left over from the last real-estate boom. Many are owned by snowbirds who only visit for a few winter months, and FOR SALE signs are everywhere. Rentals are plentiful, either directly from the management or through, and long-term discounts are flexible. It’s easy to find a cheap one-bedroom just a stone’s throw from the beach.

The bay itself has a good cross breeze with an occasional head-high shorebreak. The people on the beach are probably staying in one of the nearby condos, so there aren’t any crowds. There’s a small break in the bay and larger waves farther offshore. Slaughterhouse is a few miles up the road. (The name’s not an assessment of the surf– it refers to a former business in an old building by the break.) The bay is a safe snorkeling area and it’s filled with ocean critters.

Sea turtles are everywhere. On our first afternoon we strolled down to the south shore by a small rockpile to watch four of them crop the limu. The honu know that they’re a protected species and they pay no attention to the people. The shorebreak even tossed one of them (the honu, not the people) up on the rockpile– where it spent a few minutes cleaning the choicest bits of limu off the edges before pushing back into the water.

The first evening we walked to a nearby restaurant for dinner. The wait staff outnumbered the customers about 3:1.

The next few days were exceedingly lazy. We’d hang out on our 2nd-story lanai or the beach. It was easy to watch the bay, read a book, or surf the Internet. (I’d already loaded up the blog posts the week before!) It didn’t seem necessary to catch up on e-mail or voicemail. We drove up the road to check out the Kapalua resort’s golf course and high-end real estate. Restaurants are a short walk. A convenience store is near the condo for snacks & kitchen supplies. Ka’anapali and the bright lights of Lahaina are just a few miles down the road. When I chatted with the locals, most of them could tell by my “accent” that I was from Oahu.

We were sorry to leave. Relaxed & refreshed, we returned to Honolulu Airport’s crowds & noise. We oozed home through the rush-hour traffic, picked up a pile of mail, and started getting caught up on our chores.

It was really nice to force ourselves to take a “vacation” for no purpose other than to be lazy. It was even better to spend it in such a quiet, low-key area. Life is just fine at our home, but next time we want a break we will go back to Napili!

Related articles:
Lifestyles in military retirement: Haleakala Crater redux
Lifestyles in military retirement: learning to surf in Hawaii
Lifestyles in military retirement: surfing

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About Doug Nordman

Author of "The Military Guide to Financial Independence and Retirement" and co-author of "Raising Your Money-Savvy Family For Next Generation Financial Independence."
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