Every time I’ve been in Hawaii, I’ve felt like I was on the set of a faintly depressing film about the ’70s. Sure, I’d catch glimpses of the black-sand beaches, the volcanoes popping out of dense jungle and those gorgeous, extraterrestrial-looking plants—but they were always overpowered by my hotel’s boxy wooden structure and avocado-and-orange color scheme. Why, I wondered, would a place this naturally beautiful want to conjure up America’s darkest decade?
Determined to get closer to the beauty I had seen only from the airport shuttle van—and to taste the Hawaiian food and culture I knew only vaguely from hotel luaus—I signed up with Pure Kauai and Pure Maui, two parts of a company specializing in personalized vacations. Pure has gotten attention lately for hosting celebrities like Matt Damon. The company’s founder, Phil Jones, was about to start a luxury-vacation-planning business in Los Angeles when he met his future wife, who lived in Kauai. Together they built Pure, a firm that, in addition to setting guests up in the villas and condos it manages, matches them with a team of private chefs and local experts like surf instructors, yoga teachers, masseuses and hiking guides.
All Pure clients are assigned hosts, who steer them to secluded island spots. Our Kauai host, Bryce Toney, met me and my wife, Cassandra Barry, at the airport and put leis around our necks. Strung with plumeria, which smelled like honeyed peaches, the flower garlands relaxed me in a way that made me understand that a lei has a purpose other than making me feel like a jerk. Bryce drove us to the North Shore of Kauai, where the few tiny towns are dotted with adorable hippie coffee shops and surf stores.