From chilly mountain tops to the warm waters of the South Pacific
WHEN TO GO TO MAUI:
The best times to visit Maui are April through May and September through November. The spring and fall shoulder seasons provide the pleasant weather Hawaii vacationers seek without the high rates and heavy crowds that accompany the summer and winter.
Arriving in Maui
The island of Maui is a perfect figure eight in shape, with the vast Haleakala volcano at one end of Maui and the West Mountains at the other end. In between is a long flat, lush valley which used to be a centre for the sugar industry, once a major contributor to the Hawaiian economy.
Shortly after landing in Maui and picking up our car we hit the shops Costco! Some people might call us sad folks getting excited about a trip to Costco but Karen almost had a heart attack after our first shopping expedition to a store in Honolulu . How the locals cope with the prices is beyond us!
Satisfied we set off to the old whaling town of Lahaina on the northwest side of Maui. We were staying in a gated residential community called Pu’amana on the ocean front, in a simple 2 bedroom house. It is amazing how much context is important when it comes to houses. If this property were in any other city then it would be in a public housing project, but here in the Hawaiian paradise of Maui it is a dream.
Just a few yards from our vacation house the ocean crashes onto the narrow sandy beach – the perfect place to sit with a drink and watch the sun go down, which we do everyday during our stay. This relaxing end to the day works for the grown-up Hoblets, whilst the younger members prefer to boogie board on the impressive ocean rollers that crash down on the beach. A perfect way to end each day.
- Go whale watching (seasonal)
- Drive to the summit of Haleakalā
- Go to a traditional Luau
- Road trip along Maui’s North Coast
- Chill out on a beach
- Take a snorkel cruise to Molokini and also play with giant sea turtles
- Visit Iao State Park in the West Maui Mountains and bathe in a mountain stream fed pool
- Take a tour of the Alexander and Baldwin Museum to find out the important role the sugar cane industry has played in Maui’s development, both economically and culturally
The North Pacific Humpback Whales visit the waters around Hawaii in large numbers from October to May to give birth and feed before returning to the cooler waters of Alaska, a trip of a mere 3000 mile. The peak months for watching these magnificent creatures is between January and March.
We had an early start as were booked on a whale watching boat trip that left Lahaina harbour at 7:30 am in the morning with a 7:00 am check-in. Lahaina harbour, once full of whaling ships, is now home to an assortment of vessels providing tours and deep sea fishing excursions. Next to the harbour is a park with the most amazing Banyan Tree, which was first planted in April 1873, and marked the 50th Anniversary of Christian missionary work in Lahaina. The tree was imported from India was only 8 feet tall. It now stands over 60 feet high, has 12 major trunks in addition to a huge core. It stretches over a 200-foot area and shades 2/3 of an acre, providing much needed shade in the hot Maui climate.
After some research we decided to book a tour with the Pacific Whale Foundation. It is advisable to book your in advance during the peak visitor season, particularly around the Christmas holidays and US school spring breaks (mostly in March).
Our captain for the day, Christine, assured us that there were plenty of whales to see so we sat back and relaxed for our 2 hour tour of the waters around Maui. It was not too long before we spotted our first spout of water from a passing whale and our captain skillfully steered the boat towards it.
For the next hour or so we were treated to numerous whales passing within 100 feet or less of the boat. Initially we saw their dorsal fins which are quite short and stubby, but as we got close in you get a true sense of the size of these magnificent creatures. The females (who are larger than the males) are around 45 feet in body length and weigh approximately 40 to 45 tons. We also got to see some calves which are typically 14 feet at birth, and may weigh as much as 2 tons. On occasions the whales we were observing are quite happily ignoring us and are cruising along doing back-stroke, their 15 foot pectoral fins splashing gaily as they sped along at 5 mph. Every so often the whales descend below the surface and we saw their huge tails (the technical term is fluke) as they disappeared below the surface. It is difficult to estimate how many whales we saw but it must have been 20 or so individuals. Sadly, it was all over too soon but on the way back I got to see a humpback “breach”, which is when they completely leave the water and splash down throwing us a huge crescendo of water. Unfortunately few other people on the boat saw this as they had gone into trip overload.
Drive to the summit of Haleakalā
When we arrived back on dry land it was only 9:30 am so we still had the whole day in front of us. So, we rushed back to our vacation home and made a packed lunch and headed off towards the volcano Haleakalā (Hawaiian for “House of the Sun) which is believed to be dormant rather than extinct, although it has not erupted since 1790 (200 years is not a long time in volcano terms). In Hawaiian folklore, the depression at the summit of Haleakalā was home to the grandmother of the demigod Māui. According to the legend, Maui’s grandmother helped him capture the sun and force it to slow its journey across the sky in order to lengthen the day. From the summit you look down into a massive depression some 7 miles across, 2 miles wide, and nearly 2,600 feet deep. The surrounding walls are steep and the interior mostly barren-looking with a scattering of volcanic cones. Unfortunately on the day we climbed to the summit the cloud cover didn’t allow us to see anything of this.
We took the 38 mile road from the valley to the 10,023 foot summit. As we started the journey we passed through fields of sugar cane and tropical plants, the sun was shining and the temperature was a pleasant 83F. By the time we reached the summit the terrain was barren and rugged, it was raining, misty and the temperature had fallen to 43F.
On the way up we pass a number of cyclists riding down – there are daily cycle tours which take you up to 6500 feet and let you take the easy route down. Mind you the weather on this day was miserable for the first 3000 foot of the descent. The road up was long and winding and with the weather closed in there was not too much to see. When we reached the summit we braved the weather and rushed into the visitors centre to learn a bit more about the region. Luckily there was a professor from the University of Hawaii visiting who gave us a great insight into the geology of Maui and the Hawaiian Islands. Fortunately, the weather briefly cleared so we took this as a photo opportunity. It was too chilly to hang around so we took the long winding road back down to the balmy temperatures at sea level.
Go to a traditional Luau
We rose early again as we had booked ourselves into a breakfast luau at the Old Lahaina Luau, considered by many to be the finest and more traditional luaus on the Islands. A luau is simply a Hawaiian feast and usually involves dance and music in the form of hula. At this breakfast luau the food was not particularly traditional – or at least we’re not sure that scrambled egg and bacon is a hugely traditional dish here. Anyway, it was probably just as well as we may have had a riot with our children if it had been poi (made from taro) or poke (raw tuna). It was a buffet breakfast so as usual we ate too much.
Towards the end of the meal we were treated to traditional music and hula dancing. We were given a brief explanation of the stories behind the song, otherwise we would not made head nor tail of what was going on.
The Old Lahaina evening luaus are more of a dinner cabaret event with nearly 250 guests. We chose the breakfast luau as it was more intimate, with only 80 guests, as was more interactive. After breakfast was over we were divided in to 3 groups and taken off to “stations” where we were to learn more about Hawaiian Island culture.
The first station we stopped at was dedicated to traditional music and hula dancing. We were introduced to the different type of hula movements; with hands, feet and body movements being used to tell the story. The dancers themselves looked miserable, so we thought that they were bored by having to continually having to perform – only later did we learn that it is normal for the dancers to have a serious expression on their faces when they perform. It was nice to see later when they did a contemporary hula their faces lit up with joy. After the introduction to the movements of the hula we were shown the various instruments available to the performers; from small drums to simple stones used as a form of castanets. Now equipped with all the knowledge required to successfully perform the hula it was our turn. We were broken up into 3 smaller groups where we are taught our moves – which was surprisingly difficult. After 5 minutes we were bought back together for a grand performance. Never have I seen 25 more uncoordinated people embarrass themselves like this in public. Fortunately nobody else was watching!
Our next station was an introduction to the history and culture of the people of Hawaii. The original settlers were from the Polynesian islands of the Pacific, who first colonized the islands around A.D. 300 and 600. We were shown a schematic of the layout of a native village, which was built around streams and rivers flowing from the mountains down to the sea. Around these streams crops of taro, sweet potato and other imported crops were grown and harvested. For the men agriculture was a major pastime, and must have been jolly hard work as the tools they had to care for the crops were primitive. We had a chance to see and handle these tools as they had examples to pass around. The women’s work was just as hard as they had to prepare the food and create cloth from the plants, usually by continually bashing at them with a wooden stave. The Polynesians also introduced new livestock to the islands, the primary animal was the pig which was a staple part of their diet. The other main source of protein was fish, and we were given a demonstration of a weighted cast net, but they also used spears frequently to catch the fish. As a finale we had the opportunity to try out some traditional food – poi (pulverised taro plant) and raw yellow fin tuna. It was actually very good but not to the children’s liking.
The final station was to introduce us to the art of Hawaiian warfare. Not surprisingly this turned out to be Jack’s (our son) favourite section. On display were a number of spears, swords and clubs of various shapes and sizes. Some were very basic wooden instruments but others had been embellished by adding stones and sharks teeth for destructive power or feathers for decoration. A number of these weapons were demonstrated by the Old Lahaina Luau cast members, but Jack was all of a quiver when he actually got to handle some of the weapons himself. As well as being shown weapons we were given a talk on the life and role of the warriors in the ancient Hawaiian society and some tales of the great warriors and battles.
At the end of the presentation we were allowed to try throwing spears at a tree target. The children in the group of course were up there like a shot. Eventually the more circumspect adults were coaxed into trying their spear throwing skills and fared little better than the children. If we had had to catch our own breakfast using these traditional methods we’d have been one hungry group of grumpy natives.
Three hours soon shot past and it was time to say goodbye to our new friends and the wonderful staff at the Luau. We would recommend this to anyone visiting Maui and wanting to find out more about the culture of the original inhabitants of these islands.
Road trip along Maui’s North Coast
Our tummies full and invigorated by our exposure of Hawaii culture we decided to explore a bit more of Maui. The weather had become a bit more overcast so it seemed quite a good day for doing this. Most people take the drive around the south coast of Maui, known as the Hana Highway. Not wanting to follow the norm we decided to go around the more rarely traveled road around the north side of the island.
Directly north of the town of Lahaina is an area which is protected by the West Maui Mountains and is primarily beach side vacation resort complexes. As we progressed further along this road the landscape changed from beaches to a rugged, cliff lined coastal area. Here the trade winds blast the shoreline with heavy seas and the rains provide a continuous deluge of warm soaking rain, resulting in dense, lush vegetation. Off to the north-west is the neighbouring island of Molokai. The road here is paved and good for driving on. We stop briefly at Nakalele Point, where small piles of stones are stacked up, which appears to be more to do with modern passers by rather than any ancient dwellers of the area. To mark the threat that this rugged section of the coastline poses to passing shipping there is a lighthouse. On this exposed cliff we are buffeted by the Trade Winds, blowing away any cobwebs we may have had. Moving on from here the road narrows to barely a single carriageway. This section of the road is made up of steep hills, hair pin bends and no roadside barriers preventing falls of several hundred feet. Karen is always nervous on these types of roads. Helpfully, there are plenty of signs saying “narrow roadway”, in case we had not noticed. The route seemed to be very popular with cyclists; actually it feels more like a cycle route than a road. We were passed several times by the same group of cyclists along the route. The most exciting part of the journey is where you meet traffic coming the other direction. There are passing lanes but they are infrequent and provide barely enough space for cars to squeeze past each other. It was really hair raising – although the locals seemed to think nothing of it.
After a while we saw signs for a road side stall that claiming to sell the world’s best banana bread. Of course we had to stop and test their assertion – and yes it was pretty good but the World’s best, probably not. We didn’t immediately tuck into our tasty nibbles but instead used this as an incentive to get further along the road. A few miles further on we found a larger enough area to safely pull off the road, with views across a lush valley down to the sea. An ideal banana bread eating spot!
Sated we continued on the contorted road for another mile or two, and thankfully we got back to a “normal” highway. After the “thrill” of this ride we needed something to calm our nerves so we took the Hana Highway a few miles out of Kahului to the beach at Paia.
Chill out on a beach
The waters at Paia beach are a blue-turquoise and when we visited the surf was high. We had a couple of hours fun in the crashing waves. On the downside was the wind. It was blowing so hard that it whipped up the grainy sand which acted like a sand blaster on you skin – being in the water was the best option!
Take a snorkel cruise to Molokini
It was yet another early start today as we were booked on the 7:30 am snorkel cruise from Lahaina Harbour to the partially submerged volcanic island Molokini. All that is left of the volcanic cone is one edge of the caldera – the rest has been lost to the sea, which is fortunate because the shallow waters of the former crater are an ideal habitat for coral to grow in, and where there is coral there are ravenous fish feeding on the plentiful and diverse organisms that live there.
Our vessel was the Lahaina Princess, captained by Darrell and ably assisted by crew mates Emily and Gabe. We pulled out of the narrow harbour and started the hour long journey out to Molokini. Captain Darrell has a well scripted witty repertoire, developed over the years of these daily sailings. Our favourite quip was during the safety drill when he says “should the boat lose buoyancy during our trip snorkels and masks will drop down from over head”. We had not had time for breakfast at home so we were grateful for the muffins and fruit selection offered on-board – although it was not a patch on the meal we had had the day before at the luau. It was a gorgeous sunny day, as it seems to be most days here. All of a sudden we came upon two adult humpback whales and a calf; they passed within 50 feet of the boat. As the rules of this sanctuary dictate the captain had to disengage the engines as we were within 100 feet of the whales. We simply had to wait and watch the animals gently go on their way. Nobody was complaining. As soon as they were gone we powered back up to full speed. By this time we had left the protective shelter of the West Maui Mountains and had entered an area that is exposed to the blustery effects of the Trade Winds. The choppy waves deflected off our bow throwing spray upwards and gently down on to those of us on the upper deck. Fortunately, we were dressed for swimming so no problems! In fact the light droplets and wind are keeping us cool on this hot day.
We reached the sheltered and shallow waters of Molokini where there were another dozen vessels moored up – all there for the same purpose as us. Gabe dived down to tie the boat to the underwater mooring. It was then masks, snorkels and fins on and into the water. Whilst the waters were not as warm as those around Florida they were pleasant and there is no need for wet suits. The best way in was to simply jump off the back of the boat so that is what we did. From the boat it was about 50 yards to the inner rim of the crater where the waters beat onto the rocky shoreline. This is where the coral reef is at its best and the fish most abundant.
There were some interesting fish here but they are not as abundant and the coral is not as impressive as other places we have snorkeled in the so it was a little disappointing. The highlight was seeing a large eel, about 5 foot long, swim by. This was a rare sighting as they spend a lot of time holed up in caves poking their heads out to catch passing prey.
We jumped back onto the boat where a BBQ lunch was waiting, freshly cooked by Emily. The Lahaina Princess got underway back to Lahaina. As we crossed into the open waters and entered the straits again the full effect of the Trade Winds were in full play. Consequently, the spray were less light droplets resulting is us getting a thorough.
Eventually, we reached the safe haven of leeward side of the West Maui Mountains and the waters settled down to more of a gentle swell. We passed Lahaina harbour and moored up about a mile or so North. The purpose of coming here was to find sea turtles. With more space available the crew were able to put out the water trampoline, a 10 foot diameter inflatable toy – of course the children on board gravitated to this, leaving the parents some time to look for the giant chelonians of the sea. The Hawaiian green turtles reach up to 250 pounds and their carapace is about 2 ½ feet in length, so finding them is not so difficult. Fortunately, the turtles were not playing hard to get and in the short time we were there we saw 7 or 8 turtles not more than 100 feet from our boat. They seemed unperturbed by us snorkeling around or the children jumping on the trampoline.
After 5 hours of fun it was time to return to Lahaina harbour. We had a wonderful time on board the Lahaina Princess and disembarked relaxed and just a bit sun burnt.
Today was our last full day in Hawaii. We decided to go out to Iao State Park in the West Maui Mountains, a lush valley a short distance away from the port town of Kahului. The weather in the mountains can be unpredictable, with frequent rain but today we were lucky! Ancient Hawaiians named this valley ‘Iao (Supreme Light) in honour of the god ‘Io, and people came to the site to pay tribute to this important deity. A rock pillar that rises out of ‘Iao Stream, and is now called ‘Iao Needle, was once used as a natural altar.
The Iao Valley was an important political centre in ancient Hawaii, it was the site of many battles and the bones of hundreds of warriors were scattered here. For hundreds of years, Hawaiian chiefs were laid to rest in secret burial sites along the walls of the valley, and one of the most important battles of Maui’s history was fought here. From the car park there are a steep set of stairs climbing up to a vantage point where you can see the Iao Needle very clearly. From here we descended to the creek; there are some pool areas where you can get in and enjoy the cool mountain spring water. We found one pool that was easy to access although when we arrived it was full of a school party of teenagers from Washington State. Today’s teens are not too hardy so they were not up for hanging around in the cool waters for too long so after a few minutes we were alone to enjoy the pool all to ourselves. It was truly wonderful to bathe in fresh water for a change after months of being in the sea or chlorinated pool water…. a bit chilly though!
Before leaving Maui we had some more time for exploring. En route to the airport is the largest sugar production plant in Hawaii, and a museum; the Alexander and Baldwin Museum. Samuel T. Alexander and Henry Perrine Baldwin, were the founders of the company in the 1870’s. The museum is a testament to the significance the sugar industry played in the development of Maui. Immigrant workers travelled from all around the world; China, Japan and Russia to name a few, to work on the sugar plantations in Maui. This flood of immigrants created the diverse, cosmopolitan communities you now find in Hawaii. The museum is small but perfectly formed and has a wonderful collection of exhibits, papers and photographs across the years. There were several interactive exhibits that provided a great explanation of the processes by which sugar cane is planted, grown and processed.