I visited Hawai’i for the first time last February, spending five nights and four days on Maui with a side trip to O’ahu. Using Orbitz I was able to book a package that included round trip (from Washington, DC) airfare, 5 nights at the Westin K’a’anapali Resort, and a rental car for the week for just over $1,500. I added a one day fly/drive package from Maui to O’ahu for another $300. When I left Dulles Airport on the morning of January 31, it was raining and 46 degrees. When I landed at the airport at Kahului on Maui early that evening, it was also raining, but it was 86 degrees. Kahului is the main commercial center of Maui, and it connects the West end of the island (where K’a’anapli is located) with the East end, where Haleakala National Park and the rain forest are located. After stopping at the Kahului Walmart to pick up some essentials, I drove the 20 miles to the resort. Although I was a bit jet lagged, I needed to get an early start on Tuesday morning for my drive on the Hana Highway.
The Hana Highway or the “Road to Hana” as it is sometimes called, runs along the coast on Maui’s east side. On one side is the ocean and on the inland side there is agricultural land near Paia (where the Hana Highway starts) that gives way to rain forest as you continue on. The Hana Highway is really 3 roads (HI 36, HI 360, and HI 31), and I took all three on my journey to Hana and then 9 miles past Hana to Oheo Gulch and the Haleakala (House of the Sun) National Park Visitor Center. Stopping to hike to several waterfalls along the way, it took 6 hours to get to Hana from K’a’anapali, and almost an hour more to travel the 9 miles on HI 31 to get to Oheo Gulch. Those final 9 miles were the most difficult part of the drive. If you have ever driven in England, HI 31 is most like a “B” road there. Not quite 2 lanes wide in most locations so two-way traffic has to cooperate and make way for traffic to flow. Each segment of the highway has one lane bridges where cooperation between opposing traffic is a must. My hiking and the long drive got me to Oheo Gulch after 5 pm on Tuesday, so my drive back after my hike to Waimoku waterfall would be after dark. Driving the Hana Highway at night, although a bit scary, is actually easier than during the day since you can see headlight beams before you can see the vehicle they come from. But if you can’t see the scenery, what is the point of driving the Hana Highway?
I hiked to several waterfalls along the way including Twin Falls (about 14 miles East of Paia) and Waimoku Falls (above Oheo Gulch). Some falls were dry, and some were unnamed and required trekking through muddy spillways. On one trail I made a mis-step and was rewarded with mud all the way up one side of my left hiking shoe. Fortunately, it didn’t get inside. Most of the mud wore off during the 2 mile hike to Waimoku Falls, which was very rocky. Waimoku Falls is over 400 feet and breath taking!
I also visited the town of Hana, the highlights of which were the Hotel Hana-Maui and Hana Bay Beach Park. The town also has two picturesque churches that I imagine do a very big wedding business.
My favorite stop was on the Ke’anae Peninsula (North of Hana), which was gorgeous. There I saw breakers crashing up against its volcanic shoreline (Malawa Ke’anae), its 150 year old church, and Aunty Sandy’s food stand where I had my first Shave Ice (Orange-Passion, very yummy). I got brain freeze with the first spoon full, and then lumbar freeze a bit later. That ice is really cold on a hot day. The shave ice I’ve seen on TV seemed to have vanilla ice cream as standard equipment, but in Keanae it is a $1 option. Since I didn’t know I had to ask, I guess I didn’t get the full “shave ice experience”. The dollar saved became a tip for the stand. There was no mention of the optional red beans, which I have also seen on TV.
Maui is an easy place to fall in love with. As I drove out of K’a’anapali along the West Coast early Tuesday morning, the verdant mountains running down into the long beaches of dark sand made me feel like I want to be a regular visitor here. And then the drive on the Hana Highway along the East Coast with the wonderful forests and waterfalls inland, and the Ke’anae Peninsula which seemed like a paradise to me. As I sat eating my shave ice on the quiet peninsula, and my thoughts drifted to how a place like this could be my home, I became practical and thought about how there is no supermarket, drug store, hospital, bank or dentist’s office anywhere near. But who needs those in paradise?
I was up early again on Wednesday morning so I could arrive at the Kahului airport the recommended 75 minutes before my 6:10 am flight to Honolulu. Not so hard to get up early when you are still on east coast time, and I really did get to the airport before 5 am. Of course, the airport isn’t exactly open at 5 am. But as with many tropical locations, the Kahului airport is largely open air, so I walked in and used an automated check in machine to get my boarding passes. I was traveling really light since you can’t bring bags to the Arizona Memorial or the Ford Island locations at the Pearl Harbor Memorial. Security was a breeze, and up at the gates I read a mural time line of Hawai’i’s journey to statehood. Ironic that in the 1950s Hawai’i and Alaska were tied together in consideration for statehood (resolutions for Hawaiian statehood had been in the works since the early 1900s) because assumed Democratic Alaska had to be balanced by assumed Republican Hawai’i. The more things change…
Most of the passengers on our flight were commuters (business folks and students) who make this trip several times a week, so the employees and passengers largely knew each other. It took about 30 minutes to get to Honolulu. From there I went to Avis to pick up my car, and after one drive around the airport because I could not quite find HI 92 (it is the road on the surface beneath the H-1 interstate) I got to the Pearl Harbor Memorial Sites (officially now the Valor in the Pacific National Monument) and parked by 7:30. I got a ticket (they’re free) for the 8:20 Arizona Memorial movie/barge trip, so I went to the next ticket counter and bought my ticket for the USS Missouri (Note: I would later learn that if you are going to visit both the Missouri and the Pacific Aviation Museum on Ford Island, you save $2 by buying both tickets at the same time). Then I walked around the site through the two enclosed exhibits and to the plaques and memorials dedicated to the military and civilians who died during the December 7 attacks (all except those aboard the Arizona, whose names appear at its memorial). Of those servicemen who perished, 8 were awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor posthumously. It is a very moving memorial site, and the movie you see before going to the Arizona Memorial did a very good job of explaining the entire attack while also being moving as well. I thought I would be as emotional at the memorial as I had been while watching the movie, but strangely I found that I was not. I’m not sure why – emotional overload before you make the trip in the barge may be the explanation. Our group was not as silent at the Arizona Memorial as I thought they would be, so maybe everyone was affected the same way. The area around the Memorial smells like diesel fuel, and the water under the Memorial glistens with the fuel that continues to leak slowly out of the sunken hull (the “tears of the Arizona”). The National Park Service is trying to figure out how to remove the thousands of gallons of oil remaining because of the potential for environmental disaster. But to me there was something meaningful knowing that the odor is from oil that was placed on the ship 69 years ago and was in the ship when it was sunk. It is said that the oil will stop leaking when the last Arizona survivor passes away, and it is very moving at the Memorial when you see the names of the survivors who chose to have their remains placed with their fallen shipmates.
After our barge returned from the Arizona Memorial, I took the next bus over to Ford Island to visit the USS Missouri. I have wanted to tour an Iowa Class battleship since I saw Iowa moored outside St. Thomas, VI in 1988. Iowa Class ships are very large, and were the last battleships to be built. I chose the audio tour option, and after figuring out where the tour started, I was off. It took a long time to go through the entire ship. Missouri served in WWII, Korea, and the 1991 Gulf war. She was on exhibit in Bremerton, WA during the 1970s and 1980s. Retrofitted in 1985, the Missouri would have a new role as a Tomahawk missile platform that had the added benefit of being able to throw huge shells at targets if desired. One of the benefits of her retrofit was air conditioning. I toured USS Texas (one of Arizona’s sisters) in Texas City, TX in June 1977 and it was stifling below decks. Can you imagine being below decks in tropical waters with the boilers in operation? Much more comfortable touring below decks of Missouri with the AC in operation. The other advantage of the retrofit and new role for the ship was a reduction in crew by hundreds, since many guns had been removed.
The tour emphasized war deployments, the surrender ceremony, and on board life. The “Surrender Deck” has a plaque embedded in the teak decking where the surrender in Tokyo Bay was signed along with copies of the signed documents and other commemorative exhibits. Little known is that the table used for the ceremony was a folding table taken from the Enlisted Men’s Mess and covered with a table cloth from the Officer’s Mess. After the ceremony, the table was returned to the Mess. Shortly thereafter when officials came looking for the table, no one could tell which one it was out of the dozens of identical tables in the Mess. A wise CPO pointed to a table and said “That’s the one.” and that table, whether or not it was the one that had been used in the ceremony, has been preserved for history. I found the ship impressive, and seeing those big guns (each barrel weighs as much as the Space Shuttle) and knowing the place in history the ship occupies made it worth the time and all the walking involved.
Next I boarded the bus to the hangers on Ford Island that constitute the Pacific Aviation Museum. Here you see a short introductory film them view aircraft depicting the early days of the war in the Pacific (Pearl Harbor through Guadalcanal). Then you can walk over to Hangar 79 to view other aircraft both on display and in the process of being restored. The idea is that the first hangar depicts the early part of the War in the Pacific, and then Hangar 79 will eventually depict aircraft from the remainder of the Pacific War, the Korean War and Viet Nam War. I was a bit disappointed with what I saw, but Keith, one of the docents in Hangar 79, explained that the museum is a work in progress and that it is growing and evolving. They were thrown a curve when the Navy insisted that the Museum have the Ford Island control tower (Ford Island has not served as a Naval Air Station for some years) rebuilt to prevent its collapse. The money has been raised ($4 million) and the work should be completed before next Spring. You have probably seen the Ford Island tower in newsreel footage of the December 7 attacks or in movies like “Pearl Harbor”.
When I got back from Ford Island, it was 3:30. I had spent 8 hours at the Monument site, so my Honolulu sight seeing was greatly curtailed. Traffic was now also a consideration, as Honolulu’s rush hour begins at 3:30. I made my way to the State Capitol crawling along the H1 just like in any big city. I was able to park for free in an underground lot at the Capitol Complex because it was now after 4 pm, but this also meant I was too late to get any literature about the Capitol building or walk around inside. But I did get pictures of the Capitol, Iolani Palace (Imperial Palace used as Hawai’i’s first state house), and statues of King Kamehameha I and Queen Liliokalani. Next I wanted to get dinner at Helena’s Hawaiian Food, a place I had seen on the Travel Channel (Man vs. Food). I didn’t have directions to its address (1240 School Street) from the Capitol and after getting back into traffic on H1 I was about to give up and head for the airport when I came upon an exit for School Street, and I was back in business. Helena’s is in a small strip of 3 shops, and I didn’t see it on my first pass. Very few parking spaces which is also a problem, but after driving around the block a space opened up. Helena’s won a James Beard Award (Regional Cuisine) in 2000, and although Helena is no longer with us her daughter, Elaine Katsuyoshi, and other family members run the store. I ordered Pipi Kau-la with rice to go. Helena’s Pipi (beef – in this case short ribs) is marinated and hung above the grill for a few hours to dry. Then it is grilled. The marinade is teriyaki based. Elaine works the cash register and family members work in the kitchen. Elaine threw in Maui onion slices with red salt and haupia, a coconut flavored dessert square, and asked me where I was from. Turns out that Elaine had lived in Silver Spring, MD and taught in the Montgomery County, MD schools for a few years, so she knew all about where I came from. She was pleased that I had visited, and wished me Aloha. In the parking lot, a woman who had just pulled in asked me if I was lost and said she recognized that I had a rental car. She also asked me if I had had Hawaiian food before because, she said, for Lau Lau she thought that Young’s Market (I had seen their sign somewhere during my trip from the Capitol, but I couldn’t tell you where) was better than Helena’s. I told her I had ordered Helena’s Pipi Kau-la, and she told me Helena’s was the best place for that. A short time later while I ate my dinner in the Cell Phone Waiting area at the Honolulu Airport, I was very impressed.
The flight back to Kahului with the commuters was very uneventful, and I drove back to the Westin and literally crashed, the result of only getting 2 hours sleep the night before. This was a good thing, since Thursday I was going to see the sun rise at the summit at Haleakala.
Up at 4 am again, this time to drive to the summit of Haleakala on the east side of Maui. This is supposed to take the better part of 2 hours, and I made it in 1 hour 40 minutes, including buying my annual parks pass at the entrance to Haleakala National Park. Sunrise was estimated for 6:55, and I made it to the summit with 25 minutes to spare. Although the temperature was in the 60s along the beaches, at the summit it was in the low 40s with a 40 mph wind blowing constantly. Good thing I brought my hiking jacket and gloves and wore long pants. I brought a sweater, but didn’t think I had time to put it on (it would have helped).
The summit (Pu’u’ula’ula) is 10023 feet, and the Visitor Center where you watch the sun rise is just below at 9,740 feet. You are above the clouds, and the wind is pretty fierce. Once you see the glint of the sun’s rays start to appear on the horizon, the whole sunrise takes place rather quickly. As the sun appeared, a female park ranger began a native chant welcoming the sun for another day. It was very impressive.
After seeing the sun rise, the ranger pointed out the peaks of Mauna Kea and Mauna Loa on the big island of Hawai’i that can be seen off to your right. Mauna Kea is slightly higher than Mauna Loa, and is the tallest peak in the Hawaiian Archipelago. The Ranger also asked us to turn to the west to see the shadow of Haleakala over the West Maui Mountains and the island of Lanai’i. Then I drove to the observation point at the summit of Pu’u’ula’ula to see those peaks along with Magnetic Peak (10,000 feet) just below. The summit has an enclosed observation area to allow you to get out of the wind.
Next I hiked a few miles down the Sliding Sands Trail (Keonehe’ehe’e) and hiked to Ka Lu’u o ka O’o crater. It is quite a steep descent, and after two miles I turned around knowing that climbing back to the parking area was going to take about twice as long as the trip down. I shared some pleasantries with a group traveling down on horseback, letting them know that I’d like to have one of their horses for my trip back.
Back at the Westin, I called the Old Lahina Luau and found out that the evening’s event started at 5:15 pm, so I got ready and headed over just before 5 (Lahina is right next to K’a’anapali). As I approached one of the hostesses, she asked me some questions that made no sense to me. When she found I had not made a reservation, she took me to the reservation desk, and I chose traditional seating on a mat. Then it was off to the payment desk and then to the line for the luau. With your ticket you also get a program explaining the history of the Hula (brought to Hawai’i from Tahiti along with Taro (Kalo) and sweet potatoes) and the dances that will be performed on the evening’s program. The program also gives a brief history of Lahaina, hub of Pacific whaling, former capital of the Hawaiian Kingdom and a place of respite for royalty. As you enter the grounds you are given a Lei and your choice of beverage (open bar, and you can have them fix up anything you want) and then are shown your seating. Before the roast pig is removed from the Imu (roasting pit) you walk the grounds where native crafts are being performed and staff in traditional garb explain ancient village life. Off in the direction of the sunset you see the islands of Lanai’i and Molokai. The pig is only lightly seasoned and wrapped in banana leaves and placed in the Imu early in the day (work starts at 6 am) along with heated sea stones, and then the entire pig, leaf, and stone collection is covered in leaves wrapped around a wire mesh (soaked fronds or branches would have been used in earlier times) then buried in the soil surrounding the pit. The highlight of this part of the festivities is the removal of the pig from the Imu. (Note – the pig cooked that day does not supply all the pork that will be available from the steam tables. It isn’t big enough by itself). You also use this time to get acquainted with those sharing your table and with your server.
I was seated with a couple from Seattle, a couple from Edmonton, and a couple from San Francisco. When they heard that I was a retired Federal worker from Washington, DC, they all wanted to know what I had done and what I was doing now, and were especially interested in how Washington works. Inevitable discussions of the weather led the folks from Edmonton to become the center of the conversation, and finally we all wanted to know what the others had been doing while visiting the islands and any tips that could be offered for seeing things like the whale watching I planned to do the next day.
The food is presented like any other smorgasbord, and the tables go to the steam trays in order. Our table was the first to go. I didn’t try the Octopus (He’e), or the raw Ahi Tuna, but tried everything else except the Chicken Long Rice, which is the Island version of Chicken Noodle Soup. The Kalua Pua’a (roast pig) was very tender, and the optional sauce was an excellent accompaniment. Lau Lau (pork and fish wrapped in taro leaf and steamed until the leaf and meats meld) was also very good. I was encouraged to dip the Lau Lau in Poi (mashed taro with water added – it is a light purple in color) and this reduced some of the bitterness from the taro leaf. By itself Poi has little taste of its own. The island sweet potatoes are white when picked, but the flesh turns purple when cooked. They taste just like white or orange sweet potatoes. The Pulehu Steak (sirloin) was dry, so I only had one piece. The Mahi Mahi was very good along with the local-style fried rice and Lomilomi Salmon (not cooked but salted and mixed with Maui onion and tomatoes into a salsa-like consistency). The island salads- Crab, Taro, and Pohole (fern shoots, onion and tomato)- were all very refreshing. The crab was especially fresh tasting. You could go through the food line as many times as you wanted, and most of our table went back for seconds.
As the sun went down and the food was consumed, the Hula began. There was no explanation of the meaning of the individual movements of the dancers, but the stories being depicted were explained before each set began. Included was the story of how King David Kalakaua brought the Hula back to the public at his 1883 coronation after it had been banned by the Missionaries decades before. There was no fire dancing, although that is performed at many luaus on the islands. It was very fast paced, and there were songs performed by solo singers on the stage or by the Hawaiian band in the background. The finale was the song “Aloha ‘Oe”, which the singer introduced as being one of the many songs written by the beloved Queen Liliuokalani.
And with the end of the performances, the luau was over. As the servers started cleaning up and the attendees were leaving, our table stayed and kept talking about what we planned on doing and what we had seen on the islands. Our server told us that we could stay for a while and even after the couple from San Francisco departed the rest of us stayed and talked for some time. It seemed that a bond had developed, at least for that night. And perhaps that is what the Luau and Hula are supposed to do.
On Friday, I went whale watching. I called Boss Frog’s, an outfit that has multiple advertisements in the tourist activity brochures, and was told that I got the last place (I think the max number of passengers is 38) for the 4 pm “twilight cruise” leaving from Ma’Alewa harbor. Ma’Alewa is about 30 minutes from K’a’anapali, and you need to be there at least 30 minutes early. After pulling into Ma’Alewa harbor (a bit past Lahaina) and walking down the slips, I found where our boat had its berth. The 2 pm cruise was not back yet. The gathering crowd filled out release forms, our boat (a motor catamaran) docked, and as the 2 pm crowd disembarked, the 4 pm crowd lined up to be checked off the passenger list.
You can sit behind the center cockpit (where the bar and rest rooms are) or in front, and I went forward. After a safety briefing, introduction of the crew, and a brief introduction from the cruise “Naturalist”, we were off.
Just outside the harbor, we came upon a mother Humpback Whale and her calf. The Naturalist pointed out that the calf had a lot of silver on it, and was very young, perhaps born earlier that day. The boat is required to turn off its engine no less than 100 feet from a sighted whale. If the whale approaches the boat, it’s a photo op. If not, you sit and wait. If the whale goes away, the boats don’t chase them. Mom and calf didn’t approach us, and after 10 minutes, we headed out to more open water.
For the next 30 minutes, the Naturalist kept saying she saw spouts at 11 o’clock, 2 o’clock, etc. I think she was making most of these up, because I certainly didn’t see them. But then, as we were heading toward the little island of Molokini, you could see thrashing going on in the distance. As we got closer, the Naturalist said that this was a mother, calf and a male. She couldn’t tell if the male was escorting mother and calf, or if he was making advances.
As we turned toward Kahului, we saw two males and a female. The motor was turned off, and they did approach us. I got my best pictures during this encounter, including a picture of the female arching out of the water. You can tell how these whales got the name Humpback, and why ancient mariners thought whales were sea monsters.
With about 20 minutes to go in our cruise, we turned back toward West Maui, and saw two more males. I got a pretty good shot of a fluke (tail) just before it entered the water. Then, sadly, 6 pm was upon us and we returned to Ma’Alewa Harbor. If you are in Hawai’i between December and April, a whale watching cruise is something you must do.
I wanted to get an early start on Saturday, because my flight was scheduled to leave at 2 pm, and I wanted to visit the Iao (pronounced EE-ow) Valley and do last minute tourist shopping. So, I did my packing Friday evening and went to bed. Early Saturday morning it was off to the Iao Valley. From K’a’anapali, you drive through cane fields and through the town of Wailuku. Wailuku looks to be the business town of Maui. There is a State Office Building on Main Street, and housing developments lead into the town. You turn left at the State Office Building and head up hill and then down into the lush Iao Valley. The Iao Valley is where the four streams of Maui intersect, and it is also the location of the Iao Needle (Kuka ‘Emoku), which is said to be the “phallic symbol of Kanaloa, the god of the underworld”. The Iao Valley is also where the Maui army made its last stand against Kamehameha I and his Hawaiian forces in 1790 (the battle of Kepaniwai). After seeing the Needle, I went to Heritage Park just below, where architecture and monuments have been erected to commemorate the coming of Portuguese, Filipino, Puerto Rican, and Chinese immigrants to Maui.
After returning to the Westin, I did my final packing and was out by 11. At Kahului the mid-day traffic is abysmal, especially on Saturday, but this was my first time there at mid-day. Although it took about 20 minutes longer than I had planned, I made it to the airport with time to spare.
The trip back was a let down, but how could it not be? I can honestly say that I enjoyed every minute of my time in Hawai’i, and I plan to make Hawai’i a regular part of my travels each and every year, staying on Maui each time.