This is part one of my blog posting on our trip to Maui. The second part can be found here
I didn’t know quite what to expect when first landing on the island of Maui in the Islands of Hawai’i, America’s 50th state (being annexed in 1898) – my preconceptions had it as a sandy holiday paradise with golden beaches, Hawaiian Leis thrown around your neck as you land off the plane with Mai Tais being drank overlooking the lapping waves. And although I found some of these thrown into our couple-holiday mix, I also discovered a metallurgical diverse, enchanting, natural paradise that surprised, exceeded and surprised me almost every day.
My palindromic girlfriend Hannah (as my great uncle reminded me mere days before boarding) and I landed on a sunny wind swept Wednesday evening and were checked into the backpacker hostel of choice on the island of Maui – Banana Bungalow, in Wailuku. Although not sporting free bananas, as the name may suggest, it did sport a most welcome hot tub, kitchen facilities, free tours of the island and a great lively backpacker community.
We had split our holiday into two very diverse separate sections, the first half discovering the wonders of the East part of the island; waking up in the early hours to catch beautiful sunrises, making tantalizing trips to turtle town (I’m not making this alliteration up), and drives down the scenic, car stopping-every-mile Road to Hana, with the second half being a very much relaxed, beach lazing, sun burning, stereotypically Hawaiian getaway in the West.
And so it was only 12 hours after setting foot on the original Sandwich Isles, we were up, awake and wide eyed trekking the 3 mile journey from our hostel up through the lush green ‘Iao Valley to take in the natural wonder that is the ‘Iao Needle. Protruding from the fertile rain-heavy sun soaked valley is a 1200ft spine of rock that tradition has it was Maui’s daughters lover, a Merman who swam up the ‘Iao river, whom Maui turned to stone to shelter his daughter from worldly temptations (dads and their daughters hey). The area reminded me of Jurassic Park – no wonder as the opening scenes were indeed filmed on the island, as the helicopter soars through ‘Isla Sorna’ to drop of its passengers in a ‘land that time forgot’.
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Although an ultimately decisive battle had culminated in this spot in 1790, turning the rivers red from the blood of the stoic Maui warriors, we found the area very peaceful and tranquil, lush in vegetation and covered with greenery high up into the hills and cliffs surrounding the area.
The final destination was most definitely worth a visit, however the trek up the coach-driven tourist heavy route was not, and so after a small hitch back to the main city of Kahului (where the main island airport resides, but now is generally considered a ‘functional’ town) we stocked up on food supplies and bussed it back to our hostel to relax, recharge and grab some small beach items to make an afternoon trip to the nearest beach worth visiting – another bus ride and small walk away…..
3 hours later and I started to get grumpy.
‘This beach is fine, the sand is nice, not many people are on it. Look nice white sand, oooo, nice white sand ….’ I complained and unconvincingly pleaded to Hannah.
‘But our map says the next one in 2 zillion miles is so much nicer’ retorts the ever-ready well-read Han.
‘Stupid tourist books’ I silently grumble.
And so it was around 3pm, after walking 3 miles in flip flops down boring sun-pounding tarmacked roads we did indeed find ourselves watching the cool gnarly surfers, majestic wind surfers and funky new-age kite boarders cut shapes in the wind swept wave driven surf as we relaxed on Kanaha beach, a small sheltered sandy spot on the North Eastern tip of the island.
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However, as was often remarked / used as a rebuttal to my pleas during the 3 mile slog, we were now just minutes away from the hire car pickup location and so after some forget-the-boring-walk-lets-relax time on the beach, we picked up our little Mazda 2 that would serve us well over the next few days, as we tested its brakes, suspension and acceleration to the limit.
We had planned a 4am start the next day (yes, you did read that correctly, that was 4am, yes, that’s 4 hours after midnight, 3 hours before 7am ….) to drive the hour and a half to the top of Haleakala, the 10,023 foot ever-visually-present volcano that proudly sits overlooking the whole of Maui, to catch the sunrise as it awe-inspiringly rises over the island. And awe-inspiring it was.
We arrived around 6am with 45 minutes to go before the 6:37am sunrise (interestingly the sunset that day was 6:38pm, meaning we had almost an exact 50/50 split of daylight to twilight), and so could sit back and relax to take in the full ‘show’. As we wrapped up warm against the freezing winds (Han had also forgotten her coat), the sun slowly rose above the horizon and bathed the island in the natural hues of red, yellow, golden and orange light. Showering the distant towns, oceans, and weather forming clouds and watching them change colour and clarity in this magical show of natures devising, it was easy to see why the ancient tribes of the island used to believe in this place as a religious and sacrificial place of worship to their gods (which in Hawaiian tradition consisted of 4 major gods – Ku, Kane, Lono and Kanaloa, and 40 lesser gods below them).
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After the initial people-attracting spectacle, we had decided to do the 20km / 12 mile trek along the Sliding Sands and Halemau’u trail, traversing and descending through the volcanic landscape to around 6,000ft. Once parading as Canadians with our Canadian gloves and hat, and successfully hitch hiking with some fellow Canadian loving tourists, we managed to leave our car at the end point and started off at the peak of the trail.
And so began our journey over the moon, around mars and onto the wilderness of the peak district as we spent 6 hours trekking through some of the most out-of-this-world scenery that I’ve had the pleasure of trekking through. At one point we both realised we were probably about 3-4 miles from any human on the planet, and we couldn’t think of any other time that that might have been true. The landscape was truly ‘out of this world’ as larger than life nothingness loomed forever on the horizon, black, grey and bleak boulders formed make shift paths, and volcanic craters defined routes that had to be taken. As we descended through the clouds around 7000ft, and the scenery turned green, marshy and bird-tweetingly wildlife filled, we both had a feeling that the hike was something we would never forget. An amazing experience, one that you need to come prepared for (we ran out of water and food before the end), but one that I urge any visitor in Maui to take.
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After the 4am start, and the long drive to and from the peak of Halemau’u, one would think that we crashed out after getting back to the hostel. But in true Hannah and Nick style, time was there to be used, and with the help of ‘Keg Night’ which encompassed free beer, we hot tubbed, BBQ’d and drank our way through various conversations and games as the night at the hostel came alive. However our bodies finally won the tiredness battle and we found ourselves crashing out just past 10, getting in the needed sleep for the next days excursion; the road trip on the Road to Hana.
Originally built by convict labourers and completed in 1927, The Road to Hana is touted as ‘an unforgettable journey through the REAL Hawai’i’ and ‘one of the most remarkable experiences in all of Hawai’i’. It takes in a total of 59 bridges (47 of which are only 1 lane wide) as it winds, twists and turns over 47 miles hugging the North Easterly coast of Maui from Kahului to the town of Hana. It takes in a stupendous amount of waterfalls, an amazingly diverse range of oceanic vistas mixed with rain-forest-esque expeditions, and throws in more ‘experiences’ and ‘must-see’s’ per mile than I’ve ever experienced from a guide book before.
By mile 13, around 3 hours from Kahului, we had already swam multiple times in waterfall cascading natural pools, trekked through some well preserved, yet well trodden forest trails, and stopped to cut open and drink the fresh coconut water that local fruit stands tout at you every few miles. Another 12 miles on and we stopped at ‘Halfway to Hana’ and bought some still-hot fresh-out-of-the-oven Banana Bread and soaked in the natural surroundings on a small peninsula, taking the necessary tourist photos and thoroughly enjoying the trip.
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Knowing that sunset was around 6:30pm, and not wanting to drive the ‘unpaved, not suitable for rented cars’ road on the way back, we were conscious of time however and moved on along the scenic coast. Luckily the sights and sounds were further apart, our stops became more spaced out, and mile markers were navigated past more frequently, and thus we found ourselves at the end of our journey around 5:30pm with some time to spare.
We hadn’t expected much from the return journey; we had opted to carry on the road around the southern tip of the island and back up north to Waluku, and bed, via the South West coast, and normally I would wrap up the journey in an apt few sentences to bring forth images and feelings of the day. However, little did we know that the journey, although chronically was 90% done, the vista’s and natural wonders were still only half-way complete.
As we progressed along the 10-15mph winding, horn hooting corners and gravel tracks that we had previously been warned about, we were granted views of the Pacific Ocean, Molokini crater (the half moon sunken ocean crater) and Kaho ‘Olawe Island on one side, with Halaekala Volcano rising on the other. The sun was slowly setting and was creating this wonderful warming purple and red hued scene. As you can imagine the views were photo-stoppingly amazing as we tried to keep on moving and not let our amnesic-photographic minds want to take another photo of the same view only 100m down the road. It really was quite breath-taking at times.
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After the sun finally gave way to Kapo – the Hawaiian goddess of night (who incidentally also had a detachable vagina, which she once used as a decoy to aid her sister Pele to run away from an overzealous Kamapua’a), we were happy to see fresh tarmac and rumbled on down the highway back to our hostel.
It had been a great day, with breath-taking vistas, explorative forests and mouth watering food thrown into an initial 47 mile 8 hour drive, before a natural sun-setting visual feast on the return leg.
The next day, only our 4th of the trip, was also our last with our little hired Mazda, and so we had in mind a rough plan of using him to aid us in getting to Turtle Town to undertake the first of many snorkelling adventures, before hitting the asphalt and taking our copious amounts of baggage to our next destination – Laihana on the West coast – before finally returning him home.
The day proved to be both a little namesakely disappointing, as well as surprisingly whale watchingly rewarding.
After an initial breakfast we found ourselves 45 minutes down the South West coast of Maui in the aforementioned Turtle Town, where we hoped to spend a good 3-4 hours beach bathing and turtle watching. The beach was most definitely beach like, however the location did not live up to its alliterative name, and we found ourselves a little dejected at not seeing any turtles and being disappointed in the array of fish and coral on offer.
A couple of hours later of sun bathing and relaxing and we decided to jump back into the car and get the 4 hours round trip journey of accommodation moving finished, in the hope of settling in Laihana a little earlier than originally planned, but sorted out and ready to relax in the second half of our trip.
Little did we realise however, that although initially frustrated at crawling along with the traffic on the South East highway to Laihana, the speed would allow us to be mesmerized (as much as driving would allow me to anyway) at humpback whales breaching and blow holing on our left hand side nearly every couple of minutes. Without any real reason for the traffic to be moving so slowly, we soon realised it was for the tourist heavy route to turn off, stop, and generally annoy the locals no end in spotting and sighting whales off the Southern coast.
Although we have both seen whales before, this was the first time that so many were in such a small area, without the need for a ‘whale watching trip’ to take in these marvellous creatures. It says something about the area and consistency of the worlds largest mammals that by the end of our trip, seeing a whale in the distance often didn’t move us far from our beach lying book reading position.
Two hours later though we pulled into our condo along the aptly named Front Street, grabbed a quick shower, returned the car and got ready for our second half of this enchanting holiday.
The photos shown here are a small subset from our fantastic holiday. To view the full gallery visit out Maui set on Flickr here