Story by Jill Engeldow | Photography by Ryan Siphers
The lilting tweets and whistles of a hwamei, or melodious laughing thrush, greet us at Maliko Retreat, a cottage that sits on a ridge above Māliko Gulch in Ha‘ikū, with ocean views on one side, the serene slopes of Haleakalā on the other. Owners Sydney and Maurice Smith drew on the rich history of these surroundings to create a charming and whimsical renovation.
The hwamei’s musical welcome is itself a reminder of the past, Sydney says. She thinks the thrush, a popular cage bird in China, was introduced here by Chinese workers who helped build the Hāmākua Ditch just down the gulch. That great undertaking of 1876 allowed Maui’s pioneer sugar planters to channel East Maui water to fields in dry Central Maui. The road to the Smiths’ main house, across the gulch from the cottage, follows the route of a temporary railroad set up to take the workers and enormous water pipes and other materials to the construction site.
Sydney and husband Maurice have spent thirty years protecting the artifacts they’ve found on their twenty verdant acres, and have incorporated many of those relics in the cottage’s restoration.
The Retreat is one of two vacation rental cottages on the property. If Sydney has her way, she’ll add a couple more to endow a trust to support this land as a park when she and Maurice finally retire from their lifetime labor of love. It’s a labor that would overwhelm a lot of people, but it’s only a part of what the Smiths do. They’re farmers, raising Maliko Estate Coffee, and Maurice runs a screen-printing business. Sydney does graphic and interior design, and is president of the Maui Coffee Association and a member of the county’s Agricultural Working Group.