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, Mauithe 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.

Day One

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
Bird's eye view of Maui coastline
Bird's eye view of Maui coastline
Bird's eye view of Maui coastline

Bird’s eye view of Maui coastline

Finishing breakfast, we set out for “Road-to-Hana”, considered as one of the most spectacular drives in Hawai`i. Stretching over more than 60-miles, this historic route is carved through sprawling cliffs cloaked in lush green rainforest, along the coastline of Pacific. Often being referred as the scenic drive of a lifetime, the journey through this tortuous highway is indeed an adventure, with over 600 hairpin bends and switchback turns and nearly 54 one-lane bridges. More often than not, the narrow, winding road shrinks to one-lane, with no shoulder. In spite of being exhausting, thousands of tourists flock in every year to experience this daunting yet out-of-the-world drive through Hana Highway-360, nicknamed “Highway to Heaven”. It ideally takes two days to diligently explore “Road-to-Hana” and enjoy its unblemished landscape, woven in an intricate blend of verdurous rainforest, relentless coastline, exotic beaches and towering waterfalls. Since we were late to start and only had half-a-day for Road-to-Hana, we decided to drive until the ‘Halfway to Hana’ point and come back. It is always recommended to start the journey early morning. Otherwise, finding a parking in the vicinity of the famous lookouts along the way would be difficult.
Hookipa lookout
Green sea turtle
Beached green sea turtle
Cliff jumping

Top row: Hookipa lookout (left), Green sea turtle (right) at Hookipa lookout; Bottom row: Beached green sea turtle (left), Cliff jumping (right) at Hookipa lookout

On our way back from this incredible drive, we halted at Hookipa lookout (near mile marker #9). This elevated scenic lookout offers an excellent view of Hookipa Beach Park and the sprawling reefs along the coastline. During winter, the surf breaks become massive near the shore, making this spot a renowned windsurfing and surfboarding destination in the island. For the non-surfer tourists, the best time to hit this beach park is around sunset, when the Hawai`ian green sea turtles (Honu) beach in groups and enjoy the last rays of setting sun from the shore. From the lookout point, we climbed down near the shoreline and could spot a few green sea turtles swimming close by, alongside the snorkelers. Diving enthusiasts were swimming up to the cliffs jutting out in the middle of the ocean and plunging into the gushing waves from cliff summits in ecstasy. It was definitely worth stopping at this lookout on our way back from Road-to-Hana. Returning to the hotel late afternoon, we decided to skip lunch, take a quick nap and go for early dinner in a farm-driven dining place, “The Mill House”. Located in an excellent setting with unobstructed view of Waikapu valley and West Maui Mountain range, this upscale, farm-to-table dining establishment offers exquisite dishes prepared with high quality, farm-fresh, organic ingredients grown within the restaurant’s plantation ground. From appetizer to dessert, every dish we savored was delicately flavored and pleasingly delicious. For food connoisseurs in Maui, “The Mill House” is undoubtedly a sought after eatery. For us, it was worth driving all the way from Kahului to Wailuku for a sumptuous dinner. When we returned to Kahului, the clock was striking nearly 10 p.m. Setting the alarm for 1:00 a.m., we finally called it a day, only to wake up in less than 3 hours for yet another exciting journey!
Milky Way, Haleakala summit

Milky Way, Haleakala summit

Day Two

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!

Dawn at Haleakala
Sunrise at Haleakala
Dawn at Haleakala
Sunrise at Haleakala

Top row: The golden horizon (left), Hue of daybreak (right) from Haleakala summit; bottom row: Nature’s pallette (left), Sunrise (right) from Haleakala summit

The bliss of solitude didn’t last for long though. With passing time, visitors started pouring in, turning the quiet summit into a buzzing terrace filled with mumbling and frequent whir of shutters. Up above the red hill, the night sky was brightening up too, with the twinkling stars disappearing one by one. It was still an hour to go before the sunup and the observation deck was already overcrowded. Sankha was in the open terrace with his camera the entire time, braving the brutal gust of wind. But I was receding into the brick enclosure every now and then to warm myself up before being exposed to the chilly wind again. After nearly one and a half hour of waiting, the eastern horizon finally lit up. An orange hue illuminated the skyline and slowly the ocean of clouds became visible in the foreground. In next half an hour, the orangish glow transformed into a broader aura of chromatic hue blended with various shades of orange, yellow and red. The radiance changed dramatically in the last leap before the sun finally rose up in the horizon. It was a magical moment.

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.

Returning to Kahului, we directly headed back to the hotel and took rest for a couple of hours before setting out for the day trip. Our next destination was “Iao valley” in West Maui. On our way, we stopped for lunch at the same Hawai`ian restaurant “Poi by the Pound” we came for breakfast the previous day. From the lunch menu, we learnt that most of the authentic Hawai`ian meal plates comes with rice (very similar to Asian cuisine). We ordered Hawai`ian fried rice (garnished uniquely with a poached egg  on top) and traditional Lau Lau Plate (pork wrapped in taro leaves and served with rice, poi, lomi salmon and green salad). Similar to breakfast, the lunch plates were also very simple but uniquely delicious in taste.
Hawai'ian fried rice (left) and Lau Lau plate (right)

Hawai’ian fried rice (left) and Lau Lau plate (right)

It took us less than half an hour to reach Iao Valley State Monument from Kahului. A place brimming with tropical flora of Hawai`i, Iao valley state park (in Hawai`ian, Ī-ao means cloud supreme) is a stream-cut valley in a lush tropical setting, framed by basalt peaks. Rising 1200 feet above the valley floor, the Iao needle (a tall, pointy ridge created from lava remnant and covered with the verdure of rainforest) is a famous landmark of this state park. A short trail from the visitor center (Iao needle lookout trail and ethno-botanical loop) takes the hikers to a windy lookout.  The rippling Iao stream flowing through the valley is a popular swimming destination for locals to escape the scorching summer heat. Surrounded by the cliffs of West Maui Mountains, the bank of the stream is guarded from direct sunlight most of the time. Instead of hiking to the lookout point, we chose to sit back and relax on the bank of the stream and spend some peaceful time together. The cool breeze blowing through the tropical rainforest was very soothing and refreshing.
Iao stream

Iao stream

Late afternoon, we set out for watching the sunset from Wailea-Makena beach in Southwest Maui. While driving down the picturesque West Coast of Maui, our first halt was at the famous Kapalua Coastal Trail. There are three main access points to the coastal trail and we were guided by the Google Map to the one through the aristocratic neighborhood of Kapalua Ironwoods oceanfront condominiums. From the small parking lot outside the gated community, a narrow, shaded path takes down to the sparkling white sand beach of Oneloa. This beach is nearly at the middle of the Kapalua coastal trail and one can head either north or south from here along the coastal trail. Oneloa Bay is guarded by sprawling cliffs at both the ends, with Makaluapuna Point at the cliff edge towards north and Hawea Point towards south. Powerful waves plunge into these cliffs, creating strong undercurrent when the water recedes.

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

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.


Next destination: The Big Island

Sunset (left), After sunset (right) at Makena Beach

Sunset (left), After sunset (right) at Makena Beach

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.

Gallery of Maui

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