Monday, January 23, 2012
You know how they say a picture is worth a thousand words? Well, if that's the case, I'm about to give you a novel-length account of our first day in Maui. Don't worry; for the sake of time, I'm going to let the pictures speak for me as much as possible.
Here's a breakdown of our day, just so you know what's coming: 1) 'Iao Valley State Monument, 2) scenic drive along Hwy. 30/340, 3) late lunch in Lahaina, and 4) Feast at Lele luau in Lahaina. Doesn't sound like a lot, but it was a very full day, and I've got the pictures to prove it! (Plus a surprise for those of you who make it all the way to the end.) Shall we begin?
|Maui map for context (courtesy of Aaccessmaps.com)|
It was another early morning for us because I wanted to be off the ship at eight a.m., but by the time we packed up anything we might possibly need for a day driving around/lying on the beach, ate breakfast at Aloha Cafe, and disembarked, it was 8:15. We'd missed the first Thrifty shuttle, but another one arrived about ten minutes later, and by 8:40 we had our black Mustang and were on our way. (Blue Chip really is the way to go.)
This day was one of our more loosely structured ones. Originally I had wanted to do the Road to Hana (primarily to see the red sand beach and hike to Waimoku Falls), but we also really wanted to do a luau in Maui, and I knew that either a) we couldn't do the Road to Hana and make it back in time for the luau, or b) if we tried Hana I would be stressing all day and rushing through everything in order to make it to Lahaina in time. Either way, we probably wouldn't have enjoyed it much, so the Road to Hana was out.
T had complained that we were going-going-going without any time to relax, so I figured we might hit 'Iao Valley and then spend the day at the beach. I had a list of some of the best ones and they were all pretty close to one another, so I thought we might just drive past them, see which one called to us, and plant ourselves in the sand for the rest of the day. That ended up not being what we did, though, because once my DH got that Mustang, he didn't want to get out of it! So we ended up doing another scenic drive instead.
First, we drove to 'Iao Valley, though. This is a very short drive from the Kahului airport and pier--maybe 10 or 15 minutes at most. It's a lovely drive, too, as you head toward the gorgeous green peaks towering over Kahului. We were already pretty sold on Maui within our first five minutes there.
To get to 'Iao Valley, you drive into the mountains through some beautiful, lush rain forest. Parking at the monument is $5, and although I read some reviewers who said they just drove past the Needle, snapped their pics, and kept going so they wouldn't have to pay, that wouldn't have been possible for us since you have to drive into the parking lot to see the Needle, and they were collecting the parking fee before you ever entered the lot.
The whole point of going to 'Iao Valley is to see the 'Iao Needle, a 1200-foot pinnacle of rock.
There are several lookouts for the Needle at different heights, but they basically all give the same view. Down below, there are lots of little gardens, streams, and waterfalls, but most of them are what you might call "cultivated," not natural, so that wasn't really where we wanted to spend our time. They did look pretty, though.
Unfortunately, the Needle was mostly shaded while we were there, which doesn't make for the most interesting pictures. Since winter is Hawaii's rainy season, clouds tend to gather on the eastern side of the mountains where they can't escape, so it can be warm and sunny in Lahaina but chilly and rainy in the eastern mountains (same thing we discovered on all the islands).
After ten or fifteen minutes we'd had our fill of pictures, and this is when T.J. announced he'd rather not go to the beach. Thanks to all my prior research, though, I quickly concocted a new plan--drive up Hwy. 30/340 along the northeastern coast. We had Maui Revealed downloaded on the iPad and thankfully had the iPad with us, which made planning on the fly really simple. The e-book version of Maui Revealed has an interactive map, so you can see the roads, mile-markers, etc., and click on locations and see what's near there and what mile-marker things are near.
Unlike Road to Hana, 340 is still kind of an "undiscovered" drive. It too is a narrow, harrowing road full of blind curves, high cliffs, and ocean vistas, much of which (strangely) reminded me of coastal Ireland.
Long sections of it are one lane without a guard rail, and the speed limit is 5 or 10 mph for extended periods of time. Thankfully, because it's "undiscovered" (or because rental car agreements don't cover you there) you'll encounter very little traffic; in fact, all the tourists we met (and we're talking maybe ten people) were also using Maui Revealed and headed to see the same sights. Since many people start the drive from the western (Lahaina) side of the island, I think it probably would get busier later in the day, but since the roughest part of the road is close to Kahului, if you start early you'll mostly have that part of the road to yourself.
Our first intended stop was at Julia's Banana Bread Treehouse in Kahakuloa Village, where supposedly you can buy the best banana bread known to humankind seven days a week (as long as you get there before it's sold out--sometimes by 11 a.m.!). Unfortunately, of all days for us to be making the trek into this remote part of the island, it was New Year's Day--and Julia's was closed. :-( :-( :-( We were super disappointed because everyone we met (locals included) raved about the bread, but thankfully Julia has a website and when we got home we ordered five loaves! It hasn't come in yet but we are sure hoping it's as good as everyone says. (Or even half as good as everyone says.)
|Overlook above Kahakuloa Village. That little green dot is where the Julia's Banana Bread magic happens--or at least it's where she sells her product.|
After leaving Kahakuloa, we looked for the turn off for the Olivine Pools that Maui Revealed raves about. At first, since we were coming from the opposite direction, we passed the little dirt parking lot near the pools, but once we'd gone a little bit further and saw nothing even close to resembling a side road, we turned around and went back to the little dirt lot.
The Maui Revealed map makes it look like there is a little road going down from 30 to the pools, but trust me--there's not. Instead, after parking in the little lot you will see this sign...
|This sign says it all.|
From here you must proceed down over the rocks, keeping left. It's not a trip for the faint of heart or for those in open-toed sandals or flip-flops. The rocks can be slippery and steep in places, none of which I was prepared for before. I thought the Olivine Pools would be fairly easy to get to (since all the pictures of them show people frolicking in them and were apparently shot from sea level), but I was super thankful I had my Keens because I wouldn't have been able to make it down without them. In fact, none of the people we met (about three families) coming and going down the trail seemed prepared, and I think we made it down the furthest, even though we didn't go all the way down to the pools.
|The view of the pools from near the top.|
|As close to the pools as I got--and there was still quite a climb past this.|
We didn't stay long (since we didn't actually climb all the way down), but on the climb back up, T decided to go explore what was over the top of the rocks to the right.
|The climb back up.|
I wasn't about to go after him, but then he called down that I had to come up there, so despite my reservations about climbing even more rocks than I already had to, I climbed up after him. I was glad I did, though, because I liked the view even better than the Olivine Pools.
The water was a lot rougher on this side, so the waves were shattering against the rocks, spraying plumes of foam high into the air. The water was crystal clear, too, so you could see straight to the bottom.
After we finally found our way back to the car, we continued on to the next stop on the map--the Nakalele Blowhole. This was another quick stop (we didn't walk all the way down), but we sat up on the hill for ten minutes or so and watched the geyser of water that shot from the blowhole every few minutes.
|Whale spit! (exhaling)|
|Whale bodies! (diving)|
This was just the first of many, many humpback whale sightings we would have in the coming days, but we never got tired of seeing them, no matter how close or far away they were.
We continued our drive to our next stop, the lookout at beautiful Honolua Bay.
|Swimmers and snorkelers enjoying the calm reef waters of Honolua Bay|
|View of Molokai from Honolua Bay Lookout|
We were getting pretty hungry by that point (since we'd been denied the banana bread and all), so I checked Maui Revealed and my Hawai'i guidebook for restaurants in Lahaina on the beach, and we headed to Aloha Mixed Plate. We weren't planning on drinking, so we got to sit out on the patio instead of on the deck (the patio apparently is considered "on the beach" and therefore it is illegal to serve drinks there). The food wasn't anything special, but they did make a mean mango lemonade that I could have happily drunk for the rest of the trip.
After lunch, we headed back to the ship so that we could shower and change for the luau that night. The drive between Lahaina and Kahului is really nice, about 45 minutes mostly along the coast, with mountains rising to the left and ocean to the right. We really enjoyed the drive with the top down (although it was cool enough that when we had the top down I had the heat on full blast!).
Since it was still early, we were able to park in the small lot right beside the ship, though that wasn't the case when we came back that night. (Even the auxiliary lot was full that night, and T had to go park at the dock headquarters!) We got cleaned up and dressed for the luau, and then headed back to Lahaina.
We had to check in for the luau at Feast at Lele by 5:30, so we planned on arriving in Lahaina by five so we'd have time to go to Walgreens first. I'd been having sinus issues ever since arriving in Hawai'i (allergies, maybe?--even though I've never had them before...), so I just wanted to pick up a few things so I wasn't having to wipe my nose every three seconds like I'd been doing all day. The GPS showed several Walgreens locations in Lahaina, so we picked the closest one, which took us to a small strip mall where there were several doctors' offices--but no pharmacy. We thought maybe it had closed, so we picked the next location, and the GPS directed us to a large shopping center. After driving around for a while and not seeing it in any of the buildings, we asked a valet where it was...and he directed us to an entirely different area several blocks away! His directions were perfect (people in Hawai'i give my kind of directions--based on landmarks, not street names) and we found the Walgreens with no trouble, but that Walgreens wasn't even mentioned in the GPS! Have no idea where it got the idea there was a Walgreens in either of the other two places.
We were pushing it for time now, but we got what I needed and headed back to Front Street, where the Feast at Lele (and every other dinner show) is held. The Feast takes place on the beach behind Pacific'O, and the menu was created by the executive chef of Pacific'O and I'O, which are directly across from each other with the entrance to Feast at Lele between them.
Seating began a little after 5:30, and we joined the line walking down to the eating area on the beach. We were greeted with a koa nut lei and a mai tai and were shown to our table--the best table in the whole place!
I'm still not sure how we were so fortunate, but we were given the middle table on the front row--seriously, best seats in the house! The reason we chose Feast at Lele over Old Lahaina Luau, which I had originally booked, was that we were looking for a more intimate experience from the traditional luau. We were on our honeymoon, so eating buffet food while sitting on the ground or at a picnic table didn't seem as appealing as a private table with servers. Feast at Lele didn't disappoint in that respect because we barely saw anyone other than the dancers and servers during the entire meal, since all the other diners (other than the couples sitting on either side of us) were all sitting behind us.
There were photographers stationed in the corner and down on the beach to take your pics in front of the sunset, so we went to have our pictures taken, which I paid an exorbitant amount for later. I guess it was worth it, though, because the sunset was incredible. It looks fake in the pictures!
We went back to our table and chowed down on the sweet potato and taro chips our server had brought us, and then shortly thereafter the first (of five!) courses was served.
|Yummy starters. Can you believe our view?!|
|First Course: Hawaiian roasted kalua pig, heart of palm salad, fresh island fish with mango sauce, and poi|
As you can probably tell from the picture above, the first course/dance focuses on Hawai'i, and after the meal was served, the Hawaiian portion of the Feast began.
|The Feast begins with the traditional blowing of the conch.|
Traditional Hawaiian hula dancing is far slower and more rhythmical than what we typically think of. Although there is a little of that hip shaking we've come to know and love, most of the Hawaiian dances are far more graceful, with each movement a deliberate gesture.
The second course/dance was based on New Zealand food and culture.
|Second course: sea bean duck salad with poha berry dressing; Maori fishcakes with mussels, scallops, and salmon; and harore kumara--roasted mushrooms, sweet potato, and garlic|
Then the women performed a dance with poi balls which are used to imitate the rhythms of nature.
I don't have pictures of the food from the next two courses, but the third course was from Tahiti and included Fafa-steamed chicken and taro leaf in coconut milk and scallops on the shell, and the fourth course was from Samoa and included shrimp and avocado with lilikoi and supasui-grilled steak. All the food was good, but I think the first course was the best and then they gradually got a little worse. Kind of wish they had done them in reverse, but I think they structure the meal based on the dancing (moving from the slowest to the most exciting--the fire dance!) rather than on which courses are the tastiest.
The Tahitian dances are more what we think of as "hula" dancing--swinging hips, coconut shells, grass skirts, all that.
The Samoan course was followed by the Samoan dances, which involve a lot of noise making--slapping thighs, clapping, and tapping sticks together.
Then dessert was served...
|Fifth course (dessert): caramel macadamia nut tart topped with fruited coconut pudding, Hawaiian chocolate truffles, fresh fruit.|
...and it was time for the most exciting part of the evening--the fire dance!
The fire dance would be exciting anyway, but this particular night something...unusual happened. Half-way through the performance, the dancer lost control of one of his flaming torches...and it went flying under our table! T.J. kicked it back at him, so no harm was done, but it was a pretty crazy few seconds.
After the fire dance, the rest of the dancers came out for their farewell.
|"Praise the Lord, it's over!"|
After the luau, we headed straight back to the ship (it was already after 9:00, I think) because we had a very early morning ahead of us--sunrise on Haleakula! So stay turned for that in the next blog! Until then, here is the little surprise I promised...
The fire dance! Enjoy!
(That would be me saying, "Oh my God. Is my purse on fire?")