Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Maui, HI February 18-23

What could be better than spending spring break in Maui!

I took a late morning flight from Honolulu on February 18th, and after getting my rental car, leisurely made my way to my vacation rental in Makawao. This was the first time I have used Vacation Rentals By Owner rather than stay at a hotel or B&B and I must say that I was quite satisfied. I stayed in the Ginger Suite, a full-equipped 1-bedroom apartment at a place called Maui Pono, and I found having the extra space –like my own apartment– really wonderful. I never met the owners nor my neighbors, but that was OK since I spent most of my days out and about. It was conveniently situated on Kokomo Rd. between Makawao and Haiku, and although my apartment was right next to road, it never bothered me at night.

After dropping of my bags, I made my way back to Paia through Haiku, first stopping off at Ho'okipa Point to watch the surfers tackle the monster waves of Maui's North Shore. 

There was a busker singing Israel Kamakawiwo'ole songs and various people enjoying the sights. I couldn't help but notice the following creature tied up to leash:
Kitty, kitty?

In retrospective, the question I asked was pretty stupid. I mean... Could this creature be anything but a cat? This was Paia however, a gathering place for alternative lifestyles, so I wouldn't be surprised if someone kept some strange creature as a pet. As it turned out, the owner was courteous to me and mentioned that she gets the question all the time. "She's simply a furless kitty... on a leash," she replied. I made my way through Paia and rested at Baldwin Beach Park before enjoying a Lava Flow smoothie at the Green Banana Organic Cafe. In the evening I had a dinner at Polli's Mexican Restaurant in Makawao, which has an auspicious sign out front that reads, "Come on in, or we'll both starve!"

The next day I made my way out the West Maui to spend time with my friend Diane from UH Manoa, her 5-year old son, and boyfriend. 

Joe, Diane, and Keoni
They took me to a beautiful beach near Kaanapali protected from the rough currents and waves, a stark contrast the north shore beaches. We enjoyed conversation over a picnic lunch and swimming in the warm, turquoise waters. In the late afternoon we took a short walk towards the Four Seasons. On the way there, we happened upon a colorful collection of kayaks used by the hotel for excursions.

I really enjoyed getting to know Diane's 5-year old son, Keoni... a friendly boy with unlimited positive energy and a lot on his mind to talk about!

Before embarking on the long return trip to central Maui, we went shopping at Whaler's Village where I bought a gift for my hosts in San Francisco (February 23-28) and had pizza for dinner. I stopped in Lahaina on the way back and enjoyed browsing through some of the art galleries, especially one dedicated to the work of Australian landscape photographer Peter Lik

On Sunday morning, I explored the nearby town of Makawao with its numerous boutique shops and galleries.

Downtown Makawako
Shortly before mid-day I made my way to Maalaea Harbour and booked an afternoon snorkeling trip to Molokini on the Pride of Maui. The ride to Molokini was just as memorable as the snorkeling itself. Due to vog conditions, it has been uncharacteristically humid in Hawaii the past week, with Maui getting some of the worst of it due to its proximity to the Big Island. The boat sped along and the cool breezes were a welcome delight, not to mention viewing countless numbers of whales. Molokini is rated one of the top ten diving spots in the world. Even from the perspective of snorkeler, wading on top of the water, I could clearly see 30 feet to the bottom of the ocean. The inside of the crater was full of different schools of fish. We only snorkeled for about an hour, and although the ocean temperature was quite warm, it was enough for me. Lunch was an added benefit for this excursion, and I found it a good value at just $41 for the afternoon.

On Monday, February 21st I spent the day driving back and forth to Hana. The Hana Highway hugs the northern coast of Maui runs from the upcountry area 52 miles east to Hana, an isolated, yet gorgeous town. It is a quite stressful drive, with an uncountable number of hairpin turns with limited visibility and tiny, one-way bridges that must be negotiated with traffic coming from the opposite direction. If you can manage to safely find a place to park along the side of the road, the views are simply breathtaking.

Evidently, the locals have learned to do the drive in record-breaking time, and were a near constant source of stress as I slowly made my way along the highway. I left at 9:00AM or so and it took about 2.5-3 hours to leisurely make the trek, with just a few toilet stops and a break at Uncle Harry’s for a smoothie.

I arrived in Hana shortly before 12:00PM and took a walk around town. This didn’t take very long at all! The center of town is dominated by the stunning Hotel Hana-Maui ($400+/night!). 

Although I couldn’t afford their spa services ($140 for a 60-minute massage + mandatory 18% tip and $25 surcharge for non-staying customers!), a bought a heavenly chamomile/ginger moisturizing lotion at their spa shop. I also popped in the Hasegawa General Store, which sells everything from work overalls and fertilizer to postcards and DVDs, not to mention a modest supply of food products. An institution for over 80+ years, Hasegawa evidently provides the locals for those must-have goods that simply can’t wait until the next commute to Kahului.
The real highlight of my visit to Hana however, was the treatment I received at Luana Spa. More reasonably-priced than the Hotel Hana-Maui, Luana Spa is poised in a stunning location overlooking Hana Bay. I opted for the Hot Stone Lomi-lomi massage. The owner and sole therapist available on this day, Nancy, was a joy to chat with and provided a luxury experience at a reasonable price.

For lunch I ate an authentic Thai Restaurant right next to Luana Spa. Afterwards, I spent a significant amount of time at the art gallery affiliated with the Hotel Hana-Maui. The art in this gallery is simply stunning, with correspondingly eye-popping prices. I took a quick dip at the black sand beach of the Hana Beach Park before the return trip to Makawao. Although the sun set about 90 minutes into the return drive and the roads turned pitch black, I found it easier to drive than in daylight, as I could see the headlights of approaching cars and didn’t need to inch around every hairpin curve.
The activity I partook on Tuesday, February 22nd was probably the highlight of my entire trip, and it was something I wanted to did ever since first visiting Maui back in 2003. At 9:00AM two dozen or so people gathered Haleakala Bike Company in Haiku and were brought up to the top of Mt. Haleakala in a van. I opted for the longer tour, which included a tour of the summit, so after a circuit of some of the viewing points of the crater – which were absolutely spectacular, like viewing the moon! – we were released on our own to brave the 23-mile descent down the volcano... on a mountain bike!

 I must admit that I felt a bit guilty as I descended, as I saw more than one arduous fellow making his way UP the mountain. Evidently, prior to 2008 or so bikers made their way from the summit. However, locals and tourists alike complained that the parking lot was simply overrun with bicycle activity, and that the sheer numbers of descending bikers made it impossible for traffic exiting the park to safely pass them at any reasonable speed. After petitioning to end the bicycle tours altogether, the locals evidently lost in court, but the bicycle tour companies compromised and agreed to begin the descent from 8,500 feet instead of from the summit. This cuts off about five miles of descent. However, the roads inside the park have no shoulder at all and are quite narrow and curvy in places. I imagine that the first thing on the mind of any biker freezing in the early day break hours is to descend as soon as possible to warmer altitudes, so I can imagine how dangerous it might have been. I had a blast on the descent! It took me 3+ hours only because I spent so much time stopping on the way to check out some of the sights and take pictures of the breathtaking scenery. I also experimented with my FLIP camera by attaching it to the front handlebars with an adjustable stand. I doubt I’ll ever actual watch these videos – if I even decide to let them take up space on my hard drive – but it was nonetheless a fun experiment.

 I spent an inordinate amount of time at the Kula Mountain Lodge. There was quite a lot to see here, including an upscale art gallery and gift shop. I ate lunch in the Kula Lodge Restaurant and enjoyed a delicious spinach salad with caramelized macadamia nuts and fresh strawberries. After lunch it was more or less a straight shot back to Haiku. Throughout the 23-mile stretch I don’t think I pedaled more than 400 meters or so. In the afternoon, I finally had an opportunity to visit the Hui No’Eau Visual Arts Center just before closing.

Hui No’Eau Visual Arts Center
 Afterwards, I picked up a few gifts in Makawao for my hosts in San Francisco and Shanghai before meeting Karen Fischer, President of Pasifika Artists Network, for dinner. During my entire stay at Maui Pono, I never met the owners and only once caught a glimpse of my neighbors. It was as if I had the place to myself. If you’re looking for a social drink by down the bar or pool of a trendy hotel, this place isn’t for you, but if spacious, affordable, and conveniently located accommodations is important to you, than this place may suit you. I’d certainly stay again, especially if it were for a month or longer as it includes kitchen facilities. I was a bit sad to be leaving Maui. Somehow, I was able to escape from the frigid temperatures of the northeast for three weeks during the coldest month of the year. As I boarded Alaska Airlines 880 bound for Oakland the next day, I made sure to pack my thermal shirts and sweater for the journey back to winter.

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