Monday, January 21, 2013

Maui (II) - Hana and Lahaina

After a long tiresome day, that we had in Maui a day before, it was time to relax. But there was no time to do that. We had only 2 days left and had to do a road trip to Hana, one of the most recommended road trips in USA. We did not couple anything else with the road trip, as I had researched that eventually there will be no time left to actually do anything but the road trip. So, here it was. We were en-route what would now be termed as the most adventurous and beautiful road trip we had till date!
Hana is approximately about 36 miles away from the central Maui (near Airport) and the end of the trip is the village itself, which is neatly embedded in the Haleakala National Park. It's very simple - Get up early in the morning, have a heavy breakfast, pack picnic lunches and start off to Hana, stop every where to just gaze at the amazing landscape, oceans and breathe the fresh air as much as you can. However, we woke up late (thanks to the tiredness from the previous day!) to begin with which made this trip more adventurous that what we wanted it to be. 
The road to Hana has an amazing array of sceneries, with bamboo forest,  tropical rain forest like atmosphere and lots of trees and mountains one side and ocean on the other, while you are on a very narrow single driving lane. Paia is the village / town which is like a final stop before getting to the road to Hana. Thus, remember to finish all the activities in Paia, like - 

1. Fill up the gas tank and if you tank is small in size, get another can of gas with you. Gas station in Hana closes by 6 00 PM. 
2. Pack the lunches from either a restaurant or buy one from the mom and pop stores, which are plenty in number. 
3. Bathroom facilities over the next 36 miles are either non existent or not so great, so yes, finish them in the town itself. 
4. Prone to car sickness? Buy medicines right here, for the trip involves huge turns and twists all along the way!
5. Scared of bugs and mosquitoes? Buy a bug repellent either from home or right here in Paia. (I had my legs irritated and scratchy for a very long time after returning back from Hawaii, because I did not pay attention to the warnings)
6. The road is not characterized by the addresses but by the mile markers.  Hence, keep your eyes open to the mile marker numbers. Destinations are presented by the mile markers. 

We chose to go to the cafe Des Amis in Paia, which has a very nice outside seating area and they serve awesome crepes and have some Indian food as well. So one stop for me and my husband :). 
Cafe Des Amis in Paia, great food and ambiance!!
One should be able to start the road trip by 9 00 AM at least to be able to enjoy the complete glory of the road trip, however, we were about 2 hours late (implications? - yes, will come up later!). A bright sunny morning was very inviting and the trip began. Like I said before, all the destinations are numbered by the miles from the beginning, and hence, if you lose the track of numbers, it gets difficult to enjoy the beauty of Hana. Road to Hana begins after 10 miles past Paia.

1. The first stop that can be made is as soon as you start the trip at Ho'okipa Beach. The beach has some of the best surfers in the world on the incredibly blue waters and if you get time, stop by to just look those surfers in action. 
Pics - The starting of Road to Hana and the Ho'opika Beach

2. Twin Falls - The first hiking trail as soon as we get on the road, it is located after the 2nd mile marker. There is a great juice stand in the front and well worth the money (approx. $10 for coconut water and sugar cane juice!). The hike in itself is about 1.5 miles long and the falls are great to watch or to swim.  
Pics - Photographs of the hiking trail, the twin falls and the juice stand.

3. Huelo and Kailua - Both Huelo and Kailua are small villages which are located near the mile marker 5 and 6. While we did not stop to look at the rural lifestyle, there was a small hike leading to beautiful falls right after the mile marker 6. However, the hike here is very steep and little mud can cause huge injuries, which was what happened to a lady walking down the trails before us. Luckily for her, there were enough men who had carried her back to the car, she could not walk with her twisted and broken ankle and she had to be escorted to the hospital near Paia. Be careful - motto of the story! We did not go further as we did not want to really hike there anymore. So we turned back and resumed remaining journey!

4. Waikamoi Nature Trail - This is located between the mile markers 9 and 10. The trail boasts of long eucalyptus trees and the hike is about 40 minutes walk. The best feature here is the tree trunks and roots serving as stairs and no man-made steps will be found here. The walk is a great learning lessor for kids and botanists and has names of trees and plants listed every where. Since it rained earlier that day, while it was difficult to walk through some areas, the nature in general was at it's greenest. If you are hungry at this point from all the walking, there are some picnic tables located here which can be used for eating while enjoying the best of nature. 
Pics - From the hike in the Waikamoi Nature Trail
5. Garden of Eden and Botanical Arboretum - This garden, located just outside mile marker 10, might be the only one on the road to Hana which asks for fees to visit. However, the money has been well spent in maintaining the park. The garden is the home to some of the best scenic views of tropical rain forests and hosts Hawaiian plants. The best selling feature of the park is the Keopuka Rock at Puohokamoa Valley, or better known as the open shot of the classic movie, Jurassic park.
Pics - Keopuka Rock (or the Jurassic Park opening shot) and Upper Puahokamoa falls as seen from the Garden of Eden. 
6. Kaumahina State Wayside Park - This state park loacted after mile marker 12, has some great views of the coast line of Northern shore of Maui, also known as Keanae Peninsula. Stop here for some beverages, refreshments and rest rooms. Yes, this is the first one that appears on the road after about 12 miles. 
Overlook from the Kaumahina state park
7. Waikani Falls - After this point, we drove past many mile markers till we entered the Keanae Peninsula. We made a stop at the Keanae Landing fruit stop, which marks the half way of the road (just 18 miles and we already spent about 5 hours). At this point of the journey, a lot of drivers already get tired of driving on such narrow lanes and one lane bridges. However, there are not really many attractions beyond mile marker 18. While a complete list can be accessed anywhere on internet, a simplistic guide can be found here. After mile marker 19, while it is not clearly stated anywhere, the three bear falls catch the attention of all passer byes. These falls also are known as Upper Waikani Falls.    
Upper Waikani Falls or the Three Bear Falls after mile marker 19. 
8. Wai'anapanapa State Wayside Park - As it was getting dark outside, we drove past many mile markers, which otherwise would have provided great photo ops. We were fast approaching our final stops, the Wai'anapanapa State park and the Ohe'o Gulch. Wai'anapanapa state park is very famous for its black sand and is one of the very few black sand beaches located in the world. 
Wai'anapanapa State Wayside park. 
9. Hana - After losing track of our way as we approached Hana, we wandered aimlessly, while impatiently also, in the village of Hana. It is a small charming uphill town and has your first fuel station after starting the journey. If time permits, roam around the town, have some refreshments and take a break. Hana Bay also  is a nice little beach where one can interact with the locals. Most of the travelers prefer to stay back in the town to enjoy the quiet serene life of village, however, few crazy ones, like us do try to return back, even when we know it is getting dark outside. Also, try to look out for beautiful Hana ranches and farms while driving along, which do deserve a mention. 

10. Ohe'o Gulch - The final destination in the journey is the Ohe'o gulch or the seven sacred pools. There are  some private beaches after crossing Hana, which have been mentioned in many magazines however, they are  dangerous to drive and rental cars do not permit it. Hence, we did not venture out to do that. Ohe'o Gulch stream is a part of Haleakala National Park and is maintained by them. A small hike takes you around the Ohe'o gulch and the Waimoku Falls. People often take plunges in the Ohe'o gulch and there ends the road to Hana. 
Pools of Ohe'o and the hike around it. 
Care to know what was this drive like in an aerial shot? Thanks to National geographic, we have the photo of where we just drove. 
A snapshot of the road to Hana, from National Geographic Site. 
The drive to Hana is very beautiful while it has to be done with utmost cautions. Our return journey was in pitch dark sky with nothing but the sight of upcoming car head lights and sounds of ocean to sense around. We were more tired than what we experienced a day ago, however, this is a journey that no one can ever forget!

Our last day in Maui was only meant for activities chosen to just sit and relax. We went to Lahaina Harbor which used to be the capital of HI till very recently. Lahaina boasts of some amazing restaurants, dessert bars and whole loads of shopping area. The port of Lahaina has some tours of the ocean, from which we picked a submarine ride where you could just sit at the bottom of the ship with glass walls and see the ocean bed and other creatures. Lahaina has a whole range of activities which can keep oneself busy for the entire time, like train rides, submarine rides, golfing, shopping, museums and a huge banyan tree to sit under and just relax. Fridays are the best days to enjoy time in Lahaina, which has some street side musical performances and other artistic activities all evening. 
Photographs from submarine ride, train ride and Banyan Tree in Lahaina. 
We returned back to Napili and just walked around our resort to the very famous Napili Beach which has incidentally one of the best sunsets in Maui. We finished soaking the sunset and realized it was time to end the trip, like all good things coming to an end.
Sunset in Napili Beach

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.