The very geography of the Hawaiian island of Maui speaks to those who know it best, and allows for a tranquil escape grounded in equilibrium.

"From the cultural standpoint, it’s the pono—the male and female energy—you’re in good hands once you get here," says Clifford J. Nae’ole, the renowned cultural advisor at The Ritz-Carlton, Kapalua. "Mt. Haleakala is the male energy and Mt. Halemahina represents female energy. It’s a negative and positive energy that flows in. It’s a nice balance to things."

Nae’ole explains that for many years in Hawaii there has been a disconnect between the host and hosted, but now when visitors come to Maui "it’s not all about going on a road rally or team-building on a beach—a lot of people are coming to cultural practitioners and saying, ‘What can I do to contribute.’"

Lending a helping hand to the fragile Maui environment is one major way groups can pitch in.

"Of course, Hawaii is in some ways an ecological nightmare—many of our species are extinct," he explains, rattling off a list of possible activities. "We have groups that go to the arboretum and learn what not to do in the mountains. We learn about how to plant native plants. Beach cleanups and reef cleanups…going to our temples and cleaning."

One interesting group activity involves a Polynesian-style voyaging canoe that is being refurbished to travel to New Zealand.

"We have done monetary donations as well as donated labor," Nae’ole says. "We do classes in Polynesian navigating, and the attendees win because they’re getting a much deeper understanding of culture that they don’t get in a ‘status quo’ experience."

Having had his title for some 16 years, Nae’ole is a trailblazer in that it’s becoming common to have a cultural advisor at the top hotels.

"We always sit back and hope that this will be a mandatory position for all major hotels," he says. "The island is here with open arms. All we ask is that people come to learn a bit about us as well. Ask questions—we’re here to answer."

Getting there:
Maui’s Kahului Airport currently offers 155 direct flights per week, available from Las Vegas; Los Angeles, Santa Ana, San Diego, San Francisco and Oakland, Calif.; Portland, Ore.; Seattle; Phoenix; Dallas; Denver; Chicago; Anchorage; Edmonton and Calgary, Alberta; and Vancouver, British Columbia.

Water transportation is available to the islands of Molokai and Lanai. The Lahaina/Lana’i Passenger Shuttle operates five roundtrips daily to and from Maui’s Lahaina Harbor. The Molokai Ferry offers a 90-minute round trip between Maui and Molokai.