Hawaii Gears Up for Same-Sex Marriage
I joined a group of about 80 people who had packed the gay-friendly Ambrosia bar on Maui two weeks ago to toast victory in the hard-fought battle for same-sex marriage. Just hours earlier, Governor Neil Abercrombie had signed the bill into law that made Hawaii the 15th state to legalize same-sex marriage. Maui has long been one of the most popular wedding destinations in the world and business leaders on the island hope that will translate into gays flocking to the Aloha State to tie the knot.
Wedding planner Kevin Rebelo was among those attending the celebration. He has arranged gay marriage ceremonies for nearly 20 years in Maui but those ceremonies had lacked any legal recognition. His company, Gay Hawaii Wedding, is already fully booked with same-sex wedding ceremonies on the first day, Monday, December 2. One couple getting married that day has been together for 40 years. They were among the first to enlist in Hawaii’s civil unions last year and the couple will be among the first to be married on the first day of legal same-sex weddings.
But there is plenty to do in Maui for LGBT tourists not interested in getting married. The single most popular attraction for gays visiting the island may be a beach called Little Beach right next to a much larger beach called -- you guessed it -- Big Beach. Little Beach is clothing-optional and it is a social focal point for the island’s LGBT community. Musician Steven Tyler can sometimes be seen there leading the traditional Sunday drum circle, a remnant from the beach’s roots as Maui’s hippie beach. The first two people I met there were from San Francisco, not surprising considering the popularity of Hawaii for Bay Area residents.
On my first full day on Maui, I had the pleasure of a getting a tour of the island by Wade Holmes, a gay man who specializes in tours for LGBTs through his tour company No Ka ’Oi Adventures. I traveled from the south side of the island to secluded waterfalls, a hidden lava tube, Red Sand Beach and other attractions that are sometimes missed by bigger tour companies. If you haven’t been to Maui before, an organized tour is a good idea.
After a day of hiking through Maui, I had worked up an appetite. And what better way to satisfy that hunger than a dinner cruise? I met up with Michael Waddell the manager of the gay Sunseeker resort for a voyage on the Alii Nui catamaran. We sat next to a straight newlywed straight from the East Bay. Undoubtedly the voyage will include many gay newlyweds very soon.
By the way, the Maui Sunseeker LGBT Resort is a perfect place to stay on the island. The 23-room oceanfront property will be expanding into a new building next month that will add another three rooms, with plans to open a breakfast deli sometime next year. Amenities include a clothing optional hot tub, heated saline pool, and a rooftop sundeck. The manager estimates that about half of the hotel’s clientele are gay men, about 30 percent lesbian, and the remainder straight and transgender. The hotel is situated in very gay-friendly Kihei, on Maui’s south side. Maui Sunseeker also operates Sunseeker Activities, a full service concierge for booking the many adventure activities available on Maui and even tours to other islands from Maui. LGBT guests are already booking their weddings and honeymoon stays on the island.
If you prefer to stay in an even more intimate gay-owned accommodation, the two-room Tutu (Two) Mermaids on Maui Bed and Breakfast is owned by a couple who used to live in the Bay Area. Life and business partners, Judee and Miranda Kawaiola moved from Alameda to the island 13 years ago. Judee is licensed to perform marriages in the state and you can arrange one by contacting her through Two Mermaids. Amenities include a swimming pool and on-site concierge service. The inn has already heard from gay guests who plan to return to Maui to get married.
There are not any full-time gay bars in Maui but the aforementioned Ambrosia bar hosts a gay night on Sundays and is very gay-friendly every day.
Maui Pride is held over the first weekend in October and includes a festival and series of events from Friday to Sunday. The organization awards scholarships annually to deserving youth and focuses on community involvement and education. (More information at www.MauiPride.org.)
The Big Island
Maui is the second-largest island after the Island of Hawaii, a.k.a. the Big Island, famous for its most active volcano, Kilauea, which is part of Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, a must-stop for any visitor to the island. The park covers more than 330,000 acres and grew by 550 acres over the past 30 years after the eruption of Kilauea. Visitors can stand on the rim of the volcano and be bathed in the steam from the hot lava flowing under the surface. You won’t be able to get close enough to see the lava but if you can stay until dark, you will be treated to the red glow of the lava from crater’s center.
The park is adjacent to the Puna district on the island, popular with LGBTs. The gay-owned Kalani is a combination bed and breakfast and retreat center. Holmes, the Maui tour guide, is helping to organize a gay men’s retreat at the center, April 15-21. (More information at www.Kalani.com.)
The four-unit gay Absolute Paradise Bed and Breakfast is a little more than a mile from Kelani and amenities include a clothing-optional pool and hot tub. It is the place to stay if you prefer a more intimate and even gayer accommodation choice.
The Big Island is so big that it is serviced by two major airports, one in Hilo and the other in the Kailua-Kona area. Most tourists stay in Kailua-Kona because the weather is much drier than the other side of the island. But Volcanoes National Park is much closer to Hilo, about a 45-minute drive away. The drive to the park will take you about 2.5 hours if you are coming from Kailua-Kona.
Besides being the drier side of the island, the Kona Coast is also the only place in the U.S. where coffee is grown commercially. Coffee is to the Kona what grapes are to the Napa Valley. The area around the district is dotted with coffee farms and coffee tasting opportunities.
Kailua-Kona is also home to the Big Island’s only full-time gay bar, Mask-querade. The bar is in a strip mall and used to be called the Mask. The big sign over the business still has the shorter name. Mask-querade is known as the Cheers of gay Hawaii. The regular locals who hold court there daily are very welcoming to visitors and can point you in the direction of the best things to do and see on the island. If you are in town on Sunday, be sure to stop in for the barbecue between 6 and 9 p.m.