Zigzagging up the long, dark road to the Haleakala Crater was anything but easy on someone with mild equilibrium problems; but waking up at 4:00 am for the ride up to the summit was well worth all the butterflies in my empty stomach. When we reached the summit to see the sunrise, what we saw instead was a landscape that appeared to be more reminiscent of a celestial body other than Earth.
Maui, the Valley Isle, is a playground that offers an almost never- ending amount of activities to enjoy both on and off land. Three of my cousins and I started our trip with the drive to see the sunrise. Though I didn’t count the switchbacks on that winding road, there are apparently 33 of them on the way up to the 10,023 foot summit. We arrived after numerous other early rising site seers, but the cloud cover prevented us from actually seeing the golden orb. The Haleakala National Park area offered marked trails to keep us occupied until the sunshine peeked through the clouds. Then we took advantage of several photo opportunities including a clearer look at the dark, barren, moon-like crater which is large enough to hold Manhattan.
Kula Lodge, on Haleakala Hwy., was a refreshing place to eat a hearty breakfast, take in panoramic views of the valley below, and to warm up after the cold temperature that was still in our bones from our journey to the top of Maui. The Kula Market, next door to the lodge, sold some excellent preserves, among other treasures such as the wonderful ginger candies that soothed my stomach for the rest of our trip.
A private dwelling in Kula became our lodging for the week. This quaint upcountry area is home to such places as flower farms and ranch houses with abundantly colourful flowering hedges and other beautiful foliage, such as Angel Trumpet trees. With the exception of the odd cock-a-doodle-doo from some of the island’s feral roosters, this laid back area was much quieter and cooler than the beach resort areas of Maui.
A sharp contrast to the chilly air up on the crater was the muggy heat we shopped in at the Maui Swap Meet at Kahului, The swap meet, on Hwy 350 off Puunene Ave. next to the Kahului Post Office, runs from 7 am until 12 pm on Saturdays. Like many markets, it sells souvenirs, crafts, arts, and flowers. We also found some excellent fresh produce to put in the cooler for our evening meal – corn on the cob, green beans, liliquoi, star fruit, dragon fruit, bananas, and guavas.
Then we were off to Kama’ole III Beach in Kihei, but not before getting some books. Touted as Maui’s best kept secret, the Maui Friends of the Library was a great place to stock up on some second hand reading material for our days at the beach. Tucked in behind the HC&S Sugar Mill on S. Puunene Ave. and East Camp Road, the quiet little rustic building, near Habitat for Humanity, is home to a variety of used books and interesting volunteers.
The following day’s rain didn’t stop us from leaving our cozy digs. We enjoyed a glorious day at the Maui Ocean Center, home to native Hawaiian fish only, such as the humuhumunukunukuapua’a, Hawaii’s state fish. The name, that is almost longer than the fish itself means “stitched together with a nose like a pig.”
The shark tank was a quintessential experience for us as two of our group are highly fascinated with the beautiful predators. A diver entered the tank to hand feed a majestic spotted eagle ray that was quite a character, impatiently awaiting the crunchy shellfish, as a tiger shark swam by somewhat oblivious to the human visitor. I could have stayed in the peaceful theatre area all day and watch the tranquil marine life.
Mouth watering food was served to us at the Seascape Ma’alaea Restaurant at the center. A couple of us dined on the Seascape Salad: crab claw, seared Pacific yellow fin tuna, bay shrimp, bay scallops, and tomatoes on Kula greens. We watched the Pride of Maui catamaran pull in as waves crashed over the rocks in the Maalaea Harbor.
By Monday, the rain had ceased, and we headed to Lahaina, a former whaler’s village that is now a touristy boardwalk area lined with souvenir shops, restaurants, jewelry stores, and some amazing art galleries. The Christian R. Lassen Galleries are a must see as his marine art is so vibrant that it practically transports the aficionado into the painting itself.
At the Courthouse Building, (649 Wharf St.), stands one of the largest banyan trees in the world. This behemoth of arboreal wonder, was planted in 1873 by Maui Sheriff William O. Smith, and is a sight to behold. Birds flitted amongst the branches and 12 major trunks of the 50 foot tall tree. We ate lunch at the Cool Cat Café which overlooked the courtyard, and were entertained by the interesting spectacle of a man shouting bastardized versions of scripture from the Bible.
We took Route 30 (Honoapiilani Highway) back home, a route that guide books and locals warn drivers to keep an eye on the road and not the whales that breech or spout in the water! Surfers speckled along the water off these shores tried to catch the last of the waves before they headed in for the night.
We drove to 13 Crossings onWest Maui, 8/10 of a mile past mile marker 7 on Hwy 340, to go for a hike. We parked up on the edge of the cliff and walked back down the short distance to the opening in the fence to the unmarked trail; entered the jungle area; and as the name suggests, traversed the Maka Makaole Stream thirteen times before reaching a waterfall, about an hour later. The foliage included a bamboo forest, some beautiful sweet smelling tropical flowers, falling guavas, and a chameleon. By the end of the hike, each of us had managed to slip off the rocks and into the water. Perhaps we should have brought along bamboo walking sticks that were at the entrance.
After the exhilarating hike, we continued our drive up the snaking, sometimes one-way road that is Hwy 340. Though the view is incredible, the road itself is not for the faint of heart for we had some very near encounters with other vehicles, which involved someone having to back up to a wider spot the closer to the top that we got. The ubiquitous curves would be the reason, I assume, that some car rental companies do not honor the insurance policies of drivers who venture here with the rented vehicles.
Snorkeling in Maui was among the best I have ever experienced. We rented equipment from Boss Frogs and found an excellent beach in the Wailea area that offered somewhat gentle waves, and a reef that contained numerous tropical fish – and sea turtles! As I am not a great swimmer, I bought a pool noodle flotation device so that I could stay afloat without panicking. We saw several species of fish, some of which we recognized from our day at the Maui Ocean Center. As the tide came in, the waves of this beach would playfully pummel us into the sand if we had entered during the wrong part of the waves’ cycle. Timing it just right, on the other hand, offered us the excellent opportunity to practice our newly acquired body surfing skills.
Another fun filled day had made us hungry, so we drove back to upcountry for dinner. We found and authentic Mexican Restaurant, one of many on theI sland. Polli’s Mexican Restaurant in Makawao had a busy atmosphere with great tasting food that would rival any I’ve had in Mexico itself. Other than the video of American surfer, Laird Hamilton, playing on the TV screens, we could have been in the country to the south.
Our five-hour day on the Pride of Maui was an experience of a lifetime. The fact that it is a catamaran made the nine mile ride to the Molokini Crater quiet smooth. Facing the leeward side of Maui, the crater area offers 150 – 200 foot viewing – the best in the Hawaiian Islands. We saw an almost endless array of tropical fish, including spotted puffer fish, trumpet fish, yellow tangs, and moorish idols. A five foot white tipped reef shark even made an appearance in our video that we had paid for before entering the water!
After an on board barbequed lunch, we headed over to Turtle Town– off the shore of Wailea, near our favorite beach. We tried our hand at Snuba – a combination of snorkeling and scuba, for which we did not require certification. The Hawaiian Green Sea Turtles were curious, fascinating creatures that gracefully swam in the gentle waters and gradually made their way to the surface for a breath of air. Before swimming off, one such curious soul spent some time at the surface checking out we humans, who by now where below water level.
I don’t believe that any premier visit to Hawaii would be complete without the experience of a traditional luau. The Old Lahaina Luau was the perfect mix of music, hula, tradition, and feast with a scenic view of the oceanfront as a backdrop for the spectacle. We were welcomed with fresh flower leis and offered tropical drinks before being escorted to our traditional Hawaiian mat seating in front of the large round stage. We took the opportunity to explore the beachfront area to observe various traditional arts and crafts of the islands, and to view the Kalua pig being unearthed from the imu (underground oven). The feast included familiar food, such as steak, rice and chicken, and exceptional exotic, island fare that included fresh raw ahi (yellow fin tuna), taro salad, island crab salad, and of course poi.
The performers commenced after sunset, telling the story of Hawaiians with words, dance, and music. The story that their faces told was that they enjoyed what they do. The pageantry was complimented with magnificently vivid costumes and the body-swaying rhythms of Hawaiian music.
On our last day, we returned to our beach near Turtle Town and watched the spouting of the humpback whales swimming by the Molokini Crater. Our attention turned toward land as our beach had transformed into the quiet spot for a casual wedding, and the sunset became the backdrop for photos for a more formal wedding couple. Watching the setting sun was a fitting end to our tropical vacation, that had began by driving to catch a glimpse of the sunrise.