Paradise Found: Our Week On Maui

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Aloha everyone!  Howzit.  Kelly and I are back from the 808 and we had and incredible experience!  Hopefully you all were able to join us via Instagram and Twitter and I made you nice and jealous.  For the two of us this was our second trip to Hawai’i, we went for the first time about three years ago with my family over Thanksgiving.  Mentally I never really left after that trip, so this time with Kelly’s family was kind of like returning home for me in a way.  Maui has such a profound effect on me that it is actually difficult to explain in words, although I will give it my best here.  This time it was nice to play tour guide and make something tangible out of the dreamscapes I’ve been issuing unsolicited for the past few years. 

One of the first things I get asked about going to Hawai’i is actually getting there.  Kelly and I are fortunate to be able to travel quite a bit so we know what is involved in getting to some far off places.  First thing is to prepare yourselves for a full day of travel and a lot of time on planes.  From Philadelphia, we stopped in Phoenix first before heading all the way to Maui.  PHL to PHX (airport codes, I can’t keep spelling everything out) is five to five and a half hours depending on the jet stream.  PHX to OGG is six to six and a half depending on the trade winds.  So, airtime alone you’re looking at 11 to 12 hours with an hour or so layover.  Now for the exciting part, Maui is six hours behind Philadelphia, so when you get there you don’t get the satisfaction of feeling like it’s the end of your day, because it will still be in the afternoon.  Here it is in simple chapter and verse; we left PHL at 7:00 am and arrived at OGG at 2:30 pm (8:30 our time), door-to-door 4 am to 4 pm (10 pm local).  Got it?  It’s a long day, but worth it, which is what I’m hoping to convey here shortly. 

One last note about the flight itself, there is usually at least one point over the Pacific where, when you look out the window, the ocean and sky blend together in such a way that makes it difficult to distinguish between them.  It’s like one of those situations that happen in dreams where you start to question whether or not things are real.  Which is the perfect way to introduce you to Hawai’i, as though you are leaving real life and flying into a dream.  The approach to Kahului Airport brings you down over the valley of Maui with the dormant Haleakelā volcano and East Maui Mountains on the right and the West Maui Mountains on the left.  Depending on the sugar cane harvest you may look down to the cane fields blowing in the island breeze like the golden ocean of wheat fields in the Midwest.  One of the first observations about the airport is that there are no windows once you get past the gate.  The terminals, ticket counters and baggage claim are all open.  Again, as if in a dream there are things like this that seem wildly out of place and yet easily acceptable.  This time around we rented a jeep, so naturally the top came off right away. 

When we can, Kelly and I try to “live like the locals” where ever we go.  We feel like we have a better experience if we aren’t tied to a resort.  Resorts are nice, however what’s the point in traveling to a far off place if you aren’t going to see what life is like for the residents.  We rented a condo at Maui Sunset, a very nice set of units in Kihei with beach access, tennis courts and a pool, among other things.  They will direct you towards activities on the island and even book them for you as well.  Kihei is the “beach town” of Maui, it stretches along the west side of the island and among the several beach parks there are several bars and shopping centers.  One place we like a lot is the Kihei Kalama Shopping Villages, which houses some market shops great for souvenirs, one of our favorite local shirt makers, 808 Clothing, and one of the best bars to watch the sunset in Kihei, Rita’s Steak & Fish House, because of its elevated location and you can look out over Kalama Beach Park.  If you’re doing a little shopping earlier in the day, or are making your way to one of the Kama’ole beaches and are looking for a good bite, a mai tai and some great local music, I really suggest a stop at South Shore Tiki Lounge, Haui’s Life’s a Beach, or Three’s Bar & Grill.  All of which are island bars at their best.  I always take full advantage of the fresh seafood, which literally came out of the ocean that morning.  Each place you go always has some awesome happy hour deals as well, which is very important because eating out in Hawai’i can get pricey real quick.  When it comes to hitting the beach there is rarely a bad choice.  A lot of it depends on what you want to do: sun, snorkel or surf (or paddleboard, that’s for you Henry).  The break on the west coast is usually a bit milder than it is on the north side.  There are a lot of opportunities to take surfing lessons in and around Kihei because of the manageable swells.  Snorkeling is good kind of all over however the reef helps attract the fish and honu (sea turtles).  We like to snorkel and sun, so we tend to gravitate to Ulua Beach in Wailea.  Along the reef on the north side of the beach you can find some of the best snorkeling, my sister-in-law described it like swimming in an aquarium. 

‘Īao Valley & Lahaina b2ap3_thumbnail_image.jpg

Our first day there we decided to go up to ‘Īao Valley, which is on the east side of the West Mountains, about 20 minutes northwest of Kahului.  This very lush, very green park is the site of one of the most significant battles in Maui, and for that matter, Hawaiian history.  King Kamehameha I wanted to unite the islands around his native Hawai’i, so he set sail and headed to the port of Kahalui on Maui.  It was at ‘Īao Valley that he conquered Maui.  He would eventually sail conquer O’ahu and Kaua’i would agree to join later.  ‘Īao Valley is a state park, so you have to pay to get in.  There is a paved trail that runs about a mile loop and plenty of offshoots that go deeper.  The park and trail surround the ‘Īao stream which is prone to flash flooding from the rainforest that is also part of the park and mountains, so you have to be on the ready if the water starts rising.  The major attraction of the park is the ‘Īao Needle (Kūkaemoku), a 2,250 jut of mountain range that served as a lookout and safe haven for the Maui people for oncoming intruders.  I never actually found out how well, if at all, this served them during Kamehameha’s invasion.  Two observations I made while I was there; the abundance of vegetation, I felt like I was in Jurassic Park and the T-rex was going to pop out at any second, and the ever-present, ominous cloud cover.  This was my first visit to a rainforest and I was aware of that so I never felt uneasy about the immanent threat of rouge weather, but it was an experience to see nature reveal itself like that. 

Lahaina is the old royal capital of Hawai’i, it sits on the other side of the West Mountains and is just as opposing in weather, where they see around 12 inches of rain annually.  The big draw nowadays is Front Street, where shops and restaurants abound in this once fishing and whaling hub.  One of the finest experiences to be had on Maui is a stroll down this avenue in the twilight of the afternoon.  There is an enormous Banyan tree that was planted in commemoration of the Christian missionaries that came there in the late 1800s.  Front Street is also home to the Old Lahaina Luau, where (be jealous) I got to spend my birthday dinner this year.  Here one gets to experience a traditional Hawaiian luau, complete with traditional Hawaiian meals like Laulau, Poi, Poke, Tako, and of course Kalua Pig.  Lest we forget, the price of admission includes not only the food and entertainment, but also and open bar.  Through the thatched roof coverings in the entrance you are greeted, beneath freshly lit tiki torches as the Hawaiian sun begins its journey past the horizon, by a beautiful wahine or kane handing you a complimentary mai tai, and that’s just how the night begins.  It is an absolute must while you are there.

 

Road to Hana

Hana, oh Hana. (quick break while I chuckle to myself for writing that, the word “ohana” in Hawaiian means family, which is really not that interesting here except I made the connection and so it’s funny to me.  Anyway, back on track) Hana is a town on the east coast of Maui, and is honestly pretty insignificant as far as a town goes.  There are great beaches of course, an airport and a gas station that is absolutely necessary to take advantage of if you get there.  Please note that I said, “if you get there.”  That is because for the tourists it’s the road to Hana that is the big draw.  Three years ago when I first drove Hana Hwy I swore that was the last time.  To the carefree passenger, or the thrill seeking off-road expert, the road to Hana will be very nice to see but might not make quite the impact it makes on others.  Personally, I found it fairly easy to navigate (not that you might get lost, it’s two lanes the whole way and it’s the only way to get around that end of the island), however where I took issue with it was the 600 plus turns and 160 degree switchbacks that tip toe along the edge of the mountains with the ever-present danger of falling rocks from the mountain and the paralyzing realization that one wrong slip of the steering wheel sends you right over a couple thousand foot cliff.  Oh did I forget to mention that the road becomes so thin in places that if a truck or tour bus (yup) happens along, one of you gets to reverse back to a point where you can pass each other.  During this time, between outbursts of terror and nit-picking back seat driving and any manner of other things designed to efficiently destroy a relationship, or family (remember I laughed at the ohana thing earlier) you are completely drenched in the most beautiful scenery ever imaginable.  You come to fully understand the old saying that sometimes in order to get to heaven, first you have to go through hell.  One saving grace on the way to Hana is that there are plenty of stopping points for hiking, scenic overlooks and fresh fruit stands, so there are plenty of opportunities to take a quick breather and stretch your legs.  Of course then you have to realize that in any direction you choose to go, it is more of the same road you were just on, so you might as well finish it.  So you make it to Hana, alive and still married hopefully, and you stop at the gas station to refuel.  But the ‘Ohe’o Gulch, or Seven Sacred Pools as visitors are prone to call it, is only a little further and it would be so awesome to see it.  Only a little more road lies between you and the majestic pools and Makahiku Falls, however that road is even worse than the road to get to Hana, thinner and less cared after.  But make no mistake; the most amazing things to see on this earth sometimes take a while to get to.  Hana is an amazing town to see and the beaches carry a small spectrum of colored sand from millennia of volcanic activity and rainforest fed streams.  ‘Ohe’o Gulch and Makahiku Falls are part of Haleakelā National Park, so again it costs a small fee to enter.  From the visitor’s center, veer right when the path first forks and you are about a five-minute walk from the pools.  A look from above, standing on the rocky outcropping gives you an awesome picture of the stream fed pools as the ocean rolls in to meet them.  If is hasn’t been too rainy in the mountains and the pools are open you should definitely hike down and jump in the water.  After an afternoon driving the road to Hana, a quick dip in these amazing fresh water baths might be just what you need.  If you have a bit more canned up energy from the trip down, the hike up to Makahiku Falls takes about an hour.  Along the way you will see an amazing Banyan tree and a bamboo forest so thick it blocks out the sun.  When the falls are finally revealed from the thick foliage you realize that the entire day was absolutely worth it.  Water cascades down from 200 feet above as the bright green cliff wraps around you.  If you like, kick off your shoes and wade into the knee-deep water right up to, and under, the falls.  Heaven.  I feel that I should give you some advice if you plan to go on this adventure.  Make sure that you leave early, give yourself plenty of time to visit all the spots on the way down, and make it back before sundown, and maybe stop at Charley’s in Paia for a few beers to take the edge off.  Trust me, the road is stressful enough in full sunlight; you don’t want to have to deal with it in the dark.  Because that’s what we did, except instead of going back the way we came through Hana, we decided to take on the rest of the road around the south side of Maui.  The road is worse, windier and in sections unpaved.  Plus we didn’t leave enough time, so we did it in the dark.  However with that experience under my belt, I now feel fully confident that I can drive the Kahalui to Hana stretch blindfolded and backwards.  Going back the “safe” way is advantageous as well for the amazing lookout at Ho’okipa Beach, where many windsurfers and big wave surfers test their skills.  Also, as I touched on just a second ago, a nice stroll through Paia town after a long hard crawl to Hana and back can be just what the doctor ordered.  This surfer community of sorts is also full of boutique shops and cafes.  A much needed respite from the intensity of the road to Hana.

 

West Maui

b2ap3_thumbnail_image7.jpgHeading north from Kihei along the coast, snaking along the low ridges through the arid land just south of Lahiana, you can look back at the beaches in Kihei and follow the coastline down towards Wailea and Makena.  Off the coast is Molokini Crater, where snorkeling and scuba day trips will blow your aquatic mind.  Looming in the background is Kaho’olawe, an uninhabited Hawaiian island that was once used as target practice for the United States military.  Now it is back under the ownership and protection of the Hawaiian government with plans to try and revitalize the landscape that was incinerated by mortars.  Moving north of Lahaina and now a few things begin to change.  Now Lana’i sits in front of us just off the coast with Moloka’i off to the north.  The landscape of Maui begins to change as well as we start to climb into the mountains again, except instead of rainforest on this side of the “head” of the island there are pine trees amongst the palms.  In fact it resembles a kind of mix between northern Arizona, Colorado and New England.  Up towards Ka’anapali the resorts start to show up again, the beaches become a little more exclusive and the restaurants seem to cater to a more refined palate.  But its beyond here (remember what I said about the best places to go, they take a while to get there) is quite possibly my favorite beach on Maui.  Slaughterhouse Beach, aka Mokule’ia Beach is literally right off Honoapiilani Highway, so much so that if you don’t know what you’re looking for you will drive right past it.  The parking lot is just a pull off right before the cliff (there’s a fence, so it’s not that intense).  You have to walk down some stairs and then a rock path and you’re there.  Clear blue water in a cove, peaceful and usually pretty sparsely frequented.  There are small caverns off to the one side.  But be a little careful, the break here can get pretty rough and the tide will swallow up most of the beach when it wants.  My recommendation is to pack a cooler with lunch and a few beers, plan on a good few hours and just enjoy being on paradise.  For this trip we decided to do something a little different than the last time, we wanted to explore further around the head of the island where, rumor has it, the road can get even more treacherous than Hana, but there is a natural blowhole that is well worth the trip.  Fortunately for me, and my sanity, the road to the blowhole is actually very mild and, as my brother in law would point out later, albeit tricky in spots, Hana was much worse.  As with most sights on Maui, there is an overlook that sits high above the site.  But what’s the fun in coming all this way if we didn’t get a bit closer, right?  In flip-flops (slippahs) and a bathing suit (we were just at the beach) we made the 10 to 15 minute hike down the jagged lava rock mountain to the blowhole.  Lo and behold when we got there we found an amazing carved heart in one of the rocks!  You may have seen this on Pintrest; at least that’s where Kelly first saw it.  I remember thinking that every time I think that I’ve seen the most beautiful place on the island I get pleasantly reminded that I may never find it, and that if I had to spend the rest of my time looking for it I would gladly accept the challenge.

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So, I just spent (for the second time) seven days in paradise and what can I say about it?  Maui is truly one of the most spectacular places on the earth.  It has beaches, mountains, rainforests, shopping, restaurants and bars, sun and warmth, amazing history and people who know what it means to live Aloha.  I forgot to mention taking a trip up to the Haleakelā crater to watch the sunrise, or doing a zipline in Ka’anapali with Skyline Eco Adventures, which is probably better because I might actually make you mind melt right out through your ears from just how amazing it is.  Long story short, of all the places I’ve been to, it is this place that I revisit in my mind.  We all had such a great trip and got to visit with some wonderful people.  Hopefully Kelly and I can get back out there soon so that we can make you all jealous again.  In the meantime, okole maluna!  (That’s a Hawaiian toast, it means bottoms up!)

Mahalo and Aloha

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