Hawai`i Travelogue: Part 2
Two Nights in Maui (The Valley Isle)
– Our 2-day O’ahu trip was over and on July 3rd, we were all set to explore our next travel destination, Maui–the second largest of Hawai`ian islands. The island is named after the demigod Māui in Hawai`ian mythology and also known as “The Valley Isle”. Hopping between the Hawai`ian islands is convenient and quick. There are frequent, daily flights that interconnect the main islands (Kauaʻi, O’ahu, Molokaʻi, Lānaʻi, Maui and Big Island) and are served by Hawai`ian airlines and Interisland Air Carriers. To catch the early morning flight from Honolulu International Airport (HNL), we left the hotel before daybreak. Waikiki downtown was still asleep when we bid adieu to O’ahu.
The flying experience in Hawaiian airline was pleasantly nice. With spacious interior and excellent hospitality, this premier airline decidedly offers superior flying experience compared to many other domestic carriers in U.S. mainland. In the soft rays of early morning, the aerial view of O’ahu coastline and Diamond Head Crater from the flight window was breathtaking. It was a short half an hour flight. Soon after reaching the cruising altitude, the flight was ready to prepare for landing! Rocky promontories were visible from the sky. As we began descending, the bird’s eye view of coastal highway spiraling along the Maui coastline became more prominent in the backdrop of vibrant, deep blue Pacific. The splendor of the azure was a treat to the eyes.
It was a bright, sunny day in Maui. Our flight landed around 8:30 am at Kahului airport (OGG). Picking up the rental car, we headed towards our hotel, less than a mile away from the rental place. Though the west shore of Maui is adorned with ample scenic beaches and resorts (especially in Lahaina and Makena), we chose to stay near Kahului airport in the north shore (Courtyard by Marriott), since it was quicker from here to commute to Haleakalā for sunrise the next morning. After checking in, we went for breakfast in a local Hawai`ian restaurant “Poi By The Pound”. It felt like the simplicity of Hawai`ian lifestyle also permeates into their cuisines. The authentic Hawai`ian breakfast was very simple in appearance, but mouth-wateringly delicious in taste.
Bird’s eye view of Maui coastline
Though we could barely sleep last night, the thought of witnessing sunrise from the highest peak of Maui (Haleakalā) probably boosted our Dopamine level. We were too excited to feel sleepy or tired! Around 1:30 a.m., we headed out for destination-‘house of the sun’ (meaning of Haleakalā in Hawai`ian) in the darkness of the night. Towering at 10,023 feet, Haleakalā or the East Maui Volcano (dormant) is the highest peak in the island of Maui and its summit Puʻu ʻUlaʻula (or the red hill) is the most famous spot to watch sunrise in the island. In fact, due to rising number of sunrise visitors and limited parking availability atop Haleakalā, National Park Service now mandates a pre-reservation for all personal as well as rental vehicles to view the sunrise from Puʻu ʻUlaʻula. From Kahului, the distance to Haleakalā summit is close to 40 miles. But it took us more than 2 hours due to low speed limit in winding Haleakalā Hwy, especially along the zigzag stretch of Hwy 378 that appears almost like a seismograph in Google map. While driving up the tortuous hilly road, the ambient temperature was dropping sharply with altitude. According to National Park Service, the summit temperature around the year remains in an average 17° F less than that at the sea level, and it might drop even further at night or in overcast days.
We reached the summit parking lot around 3:30 am. The clear night revealed a bright, starry sky, with the Milky Way stretching across. We were well prepared for the cold with layers of clothing, so the initial exposure to the chilly temperature didn’t bother us. Climbing up a few stony stairs, we reached the observation deck. There was no electric light in the summit and the unadulterated darkness was just perfect for stargazing and night-sky photography. Up at the summit, however, the gust of wind was brutal. Except the observatory, the entire terrace was wide open with no obstacle in the surrounding and it was nearly impossible to stand against the unhindered gale. Sankha was struggling hard to keep his camera steady; the blow of wind was powerful enough to shake and drift his sturdy tripod at times. My headlamp’s tight strap was also getting slackened with the blow of the wind from time to time, narrowly preventing my beanie from flying off. Notwithstanding the wind, it was an amazing experience to stand beneath the starry sky in pitch-darkness above 10,000 feet, just two of us! The sublime beauty of night had never felt so conspicuous before. We will treasure those moments of tranquility forever!
As the sun peeked over the skyline, the first rays of the daybreak emanating above the sea of clouds created an astonishingly dazzling brilliance, resembling the “diamond ring” effect of total solar eclipse. That momentarily blinding glare quickly turned into an ever-changing swirl of color dancing across the valleys and cliffs of red hill – a sight aptly delineated by Mark Twain as “the most sublime spectacle I have ever witnessed”. Sunrise in Haleakalā was indeed surreal! The clock was ticking at almost half past 6 when we came back to the summit parking lot after the magical show. While driving back, we could see the stunning landscape of Haleakalā in the broad daylight that was obscured in the darkness of night when we drove up. The most unique characteristic of this rare and sacred landscape is its diverse feature that ranges from Mars-like red craters to lush green valleys and scenic vistas peeping through the vast sea of clouds. We stopped at a couple of lookout points to imbue our souls with the stunning natural beauty of this extraordinary place. On our way back, we saw quite a few groups of downhill bikers cruising down the slopes of Haleakalā. Descending 10,000 feet and 38 miles almost effortlessly riding a bike would must be an exhilarating experience.
Sankha was trying to take some shots of the ocean placing his tripod in the sand. Little did he know that the undertide could be strong enough to unbalance even his sturdy tripod and throw his camera on the sand. Fortunately, the camera was still functional after the mishap, but the attached remote cord broke and he couldn’t use it anymore in the rest of the trip. We didn’t have much time left before the sunset to explore the coastal trail. So we headed back from the beach shortly and drove further down-south along Hwy 30 through Kapalua, Kaanapali, Lahaina, Maalaea and Wailea on our way towards Makena Beach. This drive winding along the western coastline of Maui offers spectacular view of turquoise blue Pacific on one side and hills of West Maui on the other side- very similar to the drive along US-1 near Big Sur, California. We fleetingly stopped at a few vista points to enjoy the rewarding view of sparkling sand beaches, sun-kissed Pacific and rugged yet majestic cliffs of West Maui Mountain, before reaching our sunset destination town Wailea-Makena.
Sand surfing, Makena Beach
Located South of Wailea and nearly 32 miles from the famous resort town Lahaina in West Maui, Makena (“Big Beach”) is one of the biggest beaches in Maui. Much less crowded than the shores of Lahaina and Kaanapali, Makena Beach and Cove is the ideal place for witnessing a quiet yet stunning sunset in Maui. The beach is protected from the trade winds by two black lava outcroppings sprawling out from either ends of the beach, making it a favorite sand surfing spot for young, local surfers. The view of the islands of Molokini and Kahoolawe from Makena Beach also sets a befitting backdrop for sunset. We reached Makena nearly an hour before the sunset. The serenity of the beach was blissful. The western horizon was clear and the shattered patches of hovering clouds set up the perfect canvas to be painted by the vibrant colors of the sunset. Far from the bustling resort towns of Maui, Makena surely rewarded us with a soulful experience of sundown in solitude. As the dusk ascended, we bid goodbye to the Big Beach and headed back to Kahului, promising komohana kahakai to return soon. Until then, A hui hou Maui.
Trip summary at a glance:
- Flight: HNL to OGG with Hawaiian Airlines Economy $72×2.
- Hotel: 2 nights at Courtyard by Marriott, Kahului (Category 7, 70K Marriott points).
- Places of interest visited in this trip: Road-to-Hana, Haleakalā National Park and sunrise-from-summit, Iao Valley State Monument, Kapalua Coastal Trail, Oneloa Beach, Kapalua, Kaanapali, Lahaina, Maalaea, Wailea-Makena, and Makena Beach.
- Eateries: Poi by the Pond, The Mill House.
Few suggestions based on our experience:
- Rental car: We got a Buick Verano which was adequate for our trip. However, we saw many people driving Jeep Wrangler in the Road-to-Hana trip, which might be a better option for winding roads.
- Check-in luggage fee: We paid $15 for one check-in luggage in Hawaiian just by being a member (for free) of the airline. For non-members, the fee is $25.
- We have “The America the Beautiful-The National Parks and Federal Recreational Lands Annual Pass” which saved us $25 for the entrance fee in Haleakalā National Park.