Back in the day, I had occasion to "hang out" at the Kapalua Cliff House. Other lucky Mauians also have fond memories of parties at Maui's most illustrious bayside shack on Namalu Bay.
This historic building on the bluffs in West Maui arguably dates back to the 1930s or before, when it was built as a recreation facility by D.T. Fleming and other managers of the Honolua Plantation.
"The Cliff House was our playground," recalls Martha Vockrodt-Moran, Fleming's granddaughter. "We would go for events and jump off the cliff into the blue water. The beauty of it impacted us all."
D.T.'s father had met H.P. Baldwin at a bar in his native Scotland and was offered a job running Grove Ranch here, now part of Haleakala Ranch.
"D.T. was only nine when he moved here from Scotland and spoke fluent Hawaiian by age 12," says Vockrodt-Moran. "He studied plants and ethno-botany under Dr. Dwight Baldwin of Lahaina and was so bright, he was given Honolua Ranch. But it was failing with scrappy heads of cattle and coffee trees planted in the 1800s."
They thought he could turn it around and he did. D.T. soon started bringing pineapple from Grove Ranch to plant in West Maui, and the rest is Maui history. He also relocated Honolua Ranch to Kapalua, which is more fertile and flat. "If you've wondered why a Honolua Store is in Kapalua, now you know," says Vockrodt-Moran. " He also has a beach park in his name in Kapalua."
Over the decades, the Honolua Plantation became Baldwin Packers. Then Maui Land & Pineapple came about.
Jump ahead to last week and 5 Palms GM? Kennan Randolph and I both recalled being at a Cliff House party in the beginning days of what was then called the "Kapalua Wine Symposium."
That was the early '80s, and nearby the Coconut Grove on Kapalua Bay set the stage for the symposium's finale.
I've coveted other invitations to hang at what used to be called "Private Pools," and the "Beach House." One time, I even booked the Cliff House for my pre-wedding dinner party for family.
Snorkeling and kayaking made a splash with guests before our sit-down feast served by tuxedo-clad waiters from the Kapalua Bay Hotel. We had a grand old time in the rustic shack.
In the years after my wedding, the Cliff House continued to fall into disrepair, finally being shuttered in 2006. With strict laws in the Shoreline Management Area, some said it would never be rebuilt.
Also in the surrounding area, the scenic Coconut Grove gave way to multi-million dollar gated condos, Kapalua Bay Hotel was demolished and then replaced with the Ritz Residences, a coastal beach walk was put in place, and Kapalua Villas were taken over by Outrigger Hotels & Resorts as its deluxe collection.
Then a marvelous thing happened. ML&P kept the same footprint and renovated the Kapalua Cliff House to a level of elegance it's never seen before.
"We finished it in November of 2011 and we just starting pushing it in March as open to the public," says Kalani Ho, ML&P's Land & Property Manager.
When I toured it last week, I just couldn't believe my eyes. Koa cabinets, slate floors, overhead fans, teak tables and chairs and a flat screen TV caught my line of sight before the views.
Overlooking the Blue Lagoon-like waters of the Pacific Ocean and the islands of Lanai and Molokai, "The Cliff House's close proximity to the water activities of Kapalua Bay and uninterrupted sunset views makes this a truly remarkable and unique location," continues Ho. "Now, you may rent it for your daytime functions from 10 a.m. all the way until 9 p.m.
"It's perfect for private gatherings for 20 to 30 guests for corporate retreats, family gatherings and weddings. We also work with Kapalua Spa, so you can get treatments here, say, if it's your honeymoon."
The renovated facility has 500 square feet of open space on the main floor with high vaulted ceilings. Whether you cook your own food or hire a caterer, the kitchen is a pleaser with big refrigerator, ice machine, convection oven and sink. Outdoors on the lanai, there's a built-in barbecue grill with propane and utensils.
"We want to make it easy for you, so we even provide a cart so you may haul your groceries down from the parking lot. It's all here for you."
The lower level is separated into two large restrooms with towels, shampoo, soap, conditioner and hot showers.
Nancy Cross, the longtime director for the Hyundai Tournament of Champions golf games, rented it recently.
"We had a pre-wedding bridal party there and our guests were just blown away. They all knew they were in on something special because of its location.
"We brought our own food, because the grill and the oven, the ice machine and the giant fridge made it very convenient," she continues. "It was really neat. We showed the wedding video on the flat screen TV. Some of the kids went fishing, snorkeling and kayaking. It was fabulous. We lingered all through sunset."
But if catering your party is the ideal, then several companies are recommended. They include Sansei Seafood Restaurant & Sushi Bar, Cater2U, and Food for the Soul, which also boards private jets and does destination weddings.
"Kapalua Cliff House is a hidden gem. It's surreal," says Food for the Soul's chef-owner Robert Digman. "It's located on one of the most beautiful bays on?Maui.
"You can play music on the built-in Ipod dock and we can do anything from heavy pupu to barbecue to an intimate affair with stations of fish tacos, satay, fondues or even luau-style foods."
Chef Mark Shimer of Cater2U has done about six parties there so far. He's formerly with Roy's and says that his "island style fare is the most popular."
Shimer can bring a bar in, create floral centerpieces, and cook everything on site from Kona-coffee crusted rack of lamb with passion-fruit sauce to forest-mushroom filet mignon. "It's not timid food," he says. "I like a lot of flavors going on."
Sansei is located nearby on Office Road in Kapalua and the catering staff can do "pretty much what the guest wants," according to Matt Anderson, restaurant manager. "We've rolled fresh sushi and cooked items such as dynamite. We have a catering menu and can offer different items at various prices within your budget."
Since this is an event-only facility, you may book overnight accommodations at nearby Kapalua Villas through Outrigger, which offers package deals on its condos as well as discounts on the Cliff House rental. The Cliff House goes for $1,200 a day and is $950 for Kapalua Villas guests.
For more details, call (808) 665-5404 or visit email@example.com.