Monday, January 7, 2013

Maui (I) - A tiny island for some big fun

That Hawaii is a paradise for all categories of travelers is an old news now. That Hawaii offers some of the most dramatic landscapes in the world, is also no news now. So for those living in USA, Hawaii is not just another destination, but it is the ultimate destination to visit when you want to live it all - at once!
(Surprise) Fact check - Hawaii is 1 state made of several islands, 8 of them mainly. When people visit Hawaii, they visit one of the eight islands, and one of them is named the Island of Hawaii. (Believe me, not only foreigners, but even native American people get confused about this!) We visited Maui for a couple of reasons (other than the fact that we had a Living social coupon), like this island has what is perhaps the best sunrise scene in the world, it’s the 2nd largest island among all the islands of HI and many other similar reasons. Maui is a must visit place for the surfing lovers and the whale watchers. It was no surprise to learn that Maui has been voted the best island in the world by visitors for a whopping 17 times. Do we need more reasons?
Tip for the budget travelers – If you are like us for whom a vacation like Maui is not an every month thing, then read as much as possible about the “things to do”, restaurants and beaches in Maui. With such umpteen choices, it is only possible to miss out certain items which you might have otherwise loved to do. I read the book on Maui by Fodor’s (only 330 pages). The book sure does justice by giving as many details as you want! Our trip to Maui was for about 3 days and 4 nights and a half day more to spare and thus the planning was very meticulous.
Maui can be reached via a flight or a cruise, we chose flight. The moment you arrive at the airport you know what to expect from the island. We arrived to the sight of mountains covered in clouds and clouds breaking out in to beautiful sun rays, and it was about 11:00 AM on a crisp October morning. A great way to explore would be to ditch any tours and travel groups and hire a vehicle of your own and just drive around. There are a couple of danger zones, which are not open to the people renting vehicles and it would be worth it not to go there. Any rental agency will clearly explain that to you. 
We had our stay at the charming Napili Kai Resort located on the shores of the famous Napili beach near Lahaina. Lahaina was the capital of Hawaii for a very long time until recently when the capital was shifted to Honululu. More on that in my next post. Enroute the resort, there was a scenic point which became our first spot we visited in Maui. The view of the deep blue Pacific Ocean adjoined by the mountains whose peaks are above clouds was worth the stop. Construction was going on in many parts of the island and I noticed (for the first time) how mountains were covered up to prevent landfalls.
Covered up mountains to prevent landfalls and the view from a scenic point in the way to our resort from airport

We were greeted in the resort (about 1 hour away from the airport) by the receptionist who had the most refreshing pineapple juice to offer us. The view from the room was more beautiful than what the photographs promised. An interesting thing to note would be that there are no air conditioners in the entire Lahaina region (that's what my hotel receptionist told me, correct me if I am wrong though!).


The flight from Columbus to Hawaii was about 20 hours with 11 hours of stopover, however it was a tiresome journey. So after relaxing for sometime, we hit out to the Kaanapali beach near Lahaina. Contrary to my predictions, the sun set really soon around 6 00 PM. The time to photograph was a little lesser than what I had expected. Whichever part in Maui you are, it gets crowded during sunset time. Hence, for serious photographers, it is advisable to grab a good spot to photograph early on.


Our next day was going to be a long day (I mean about 20 hours long). We had planned to hit the Halaekala National Park to see the sunrise. I know, I mentioned earlier that tours and travels are not the way to see Maui, however, we booked this sunrise tour with the travel concierge of the resort. We did that because we did not want to drive in the dark for 3 hours, early in the morning starting at 2.30 AM to drive uphill about  37 miles to reach an altitude of 10,000 ft. We left that part for the professional to do.
To view the sunrise, one must reach to the top of the volcanic mountain around 5.00 AM. This means, whether you drive or take the bus you have to be in the vehicle by 3.00 AM. Dress up for a very windy winter morning. The winds at the highest elevation can be very dangerous on the bare skin. The place gets crowded, even though it will only be 5.00 AM. More than 90% tourists come to the see what’s been termed as the “Best Sunrise in the World”. There are many ways to see the sunrise. People camp in the national park overnight or just visit the spot to see that, people also hike their way up watching the stars and moon and then see the sun come up. I took a spot which was convenient to shoot from and the next ninety minutes were going to be the toughest part of the day, albeit the most beautiful ones. October isn't exactly a touristy month and hence, the crowd was not very heavy.  
While on the top of the mountain, you should remember that you are standing on a massive dormant volcano which is covering about 75% of the island. For more stats, do check their wiki article. The temperature was not very low; however, the winds made it worse. Cold winds can as well dehydrate people, so it is really important to dress accordingly. The gradual breaking of light on the craters indicate sun rising. What was hidden in the dark in the beginning become clearer as the scene lightens up and that’s when you would realize that you are actually above the clouds. That’s when I realized the scene I noticed in the second photograph of the post. If you notice there, actually peaks are above clouds. Thereafter, it was a joyride to see the sun coming up and at the anticipated sunrise time, native people start singing prayers and blow huge conchs awakening the spirits of humans. 


As soon as the sun rises, if you turn your back, you can see the shadow of the volcano on the clouds. This is something, if not told beforehand, people might miss to see. Sunrise viewing is done by most people near the visitor’s center which lies at the elevation of 9470 ft. After the sunrise, people head to the highest elevation of the Haleakala Mountain, about 10,023 ft. (This is only about 34% of the Mount Everest). Also, while there, look out for the Silver sword plant, which is not found anywhere else in the world. These plants bloom only once in their lifetime. Our trip to Haleakala finally ended with our driver driving us to yet another scenic location a little below the visitor’s center where the craters are visible more clearly. On the way back, if you are driving by yourself, you can visit the famous lavender farms which we missed out.

From top to bottom - Shadow of the peaks on clouds, the highest elevation of the mountains,
the silver sword plant and the view of craters.

After relaxing for a while in the resort, we headed to the second destination located in the Central Maui, called the Iao Valley. The valley is marked by the some lush green mountains and waterfalls with a needle like mountain standing in the middle all by itself. This Iao needle is worshipped by the natives and the region has been developed as Iao valley state monument. Once again, clouds envelop the whole mountainous region giving an ethereal feeling like ones we see only in paintings.

Snippets from the Iao Valley  

After leaving the valley, we headed to the Shops at Wailea, an upscale shopping mall in the southern part of the island, very close to the final part of the journey for the day, namely the Makena Beach. Do stop by the shopping centre if time permits, as it does give some respite to an otherwise long humid day.
Our final destination for the day was about 5 miles away from the shopping mall, called the Makena Beach. Makena beach has probably the best settings of rocks and trees for the sunset photography. There is a beach called the big beach and an adjoining beach, which can be accessed by climbing a small rock, called as the little beach. For those who do not mind a lot of skin show, little beach may offer much to see! However, little beach also offers amazing sceneries and colors which can instantly make you fall in love with Maui. 

Beautiful sunset at the Makena Beach
P.S. - Thanks to the iPad, I lost all my photographs which I took on the first 2 days of my trip. All the above photographs were taken by my husband.