Honeymoon in Hawai'i - Day 5: More (But Never Enough) Maui

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Day two in Maui was another very full day...and by very full, I mean it began at 2:30 a.m. See, somewhere along the way I'd gotten the grand idea (and I do mean grand--that's not sarcasm) that since we had two days in Maui, we should go see the sunrise over Haleakala on the second day. I debated the pros and cons of driving up ourselves versus going with a tour company and finally decided that not only would we do a tour, but we'd do one with Mountain Riders, so we would get to bike 26 miles down to the ocean afterward. (They're the only company that goes that far, so that's why we picked them.)

Since Mountain Riders promised to have us back to the ship by noon, I also decided to book a whale-watching tour with Ultimate Whale Watch in Lahaina for 1:30 that afternoon. Since Lahaina is about 45 minutes from the ship and we needed to check in at UWW about fifteen minutes early, I was a bit worried about making it on time, but everything went according to plan and we were able to have a truly wonderful day--one of our best days of the trip (and that's saying something).

But it began so early. I'm not a morning person--which you wouldn't be able to tell from the last few posts in which I was always up before sunrise--but the early mornings were beginning to take a toll on me, especially when we'd gone to bed rather late the night before. I think we might of had three hours of sleep that night. We had to be up super early, though, to meet our tour guide, who was supposed to pick us up outside the harbor at 3:15. We were a little confused about exactly where that would be but decided to just ask the guard right outside the dock gates if he knew where Mountain Riders picked up. When we got outside the gates, there were three other couples waiting for the same tour, so that eased my worried mind a bit. I knew if we weren't in the right place, they couldn't leave ALL of us. 

3:15 came and went, and there was still no sign of our tour guide, so one of the men called Mountain Riders and was told our guide was on his way and would be there shortly. Sure enough, he arrived within the next five minutes, and then we headed for their homebase. While we enjoyed muffins and juice and watched a short instructional video, Tom (our guide) went to pick up another couple who weren't on the ship. Once everyone was there (eleven of us total), our driver Shawn attached the bicycle trailer to the van and we were on our way!

The ride up wasn't terribly long (an hour or so I'd guess), and when we reached the top there were only a couple of other buses in the parking lot. (The lot was completely full by the time we left.) Tom passed out Columbia wind suits and gloves to everyone, and we all went to the restrooms to dress. I'd dressed warmly and in layers (t-shirt, cardigan, my own Columbia coat, athletic shorts, lined wind pants, and earmuffs), so I didn't put on the Columbia jacket Tom gave me, but I did pull the Columbia pants on over my own wind pants--and I was still cold up there. When people tell you it is cold at the top of Haleakala, don't underestimate them. We were there on a comparatively warm day--crystal clear skies, barely any wind, about 36 degrees Fahrenheit--and my feet, ears, and hands were still freezing. I didn't put on my earmuffs until about five minutes after I got out of the van, and my ears never really warmed up, and T and I had to keep taking our thick gloves off to work the cameras.

We were as prepared for the cold as we could be (we even brought a blanket that we didn't use), but the thing we weren't prepared for was how dark it was. I guess if I'd really thought about it I should have realized we'd need some sort of flashlight (though I didn't see anyone mention needing one in all the research I did), and we even had a flashlight back in our cabin, but we didn't know we would need it at Haleakala, so we didn't bring it. 

Blindly, we stumbled through the dark to the railing and got a really good spot for the sunrise. Some people (with flashlights) were crawling up and down the rocks to get into higher position, but we couldn't see our hands in front of our faces, much less how to find our way over the rocks. The real reason we needed a flashlight, though, was because we'd brought our new travel tripod so we could get good, steady pics of the sunrise, and it was really difficult setting that thing up in the dark on the rocky ground. We used the light from our cell phones (we've since downloaded flashlight apps), but it was a major pain because the light would only last a few seconds, then it would go dark and we'd have to wake the phone back up and unlock it so the light would stay on. Since we have touch screen phones, this also meant taking our gloves off, hence why our hands were so cold. (Why oh why didn't I buy those North Face touch screen gloves when I had the chance?)

This whole time that we're fussing with the tripod and good camera, trying to get everything into position, I'm also trying to enjoy the dark because the sky is clear and there are about 80 billion stars overhead! (Sounds like hyperbole, but that's probably a pretty close estimate.) One of my favorite shots that T took was this one...

Nope, that's not dust on your screen (although I had to wipe mine just to be sure). Those are stars still shining above the first crack of light over the horizon. I love the contrast between night and day in that photo, and it's the only picture of the stars that we have. (Why didn't we think to look up when we were first shooting?) Of course there were many, many more stars before the sun started to rise.

At this point, we were starting to see the terrain more clearly, the peaks of rock that form the crater and the rippling clouds that had pooled in it. The camera still didn't have enough light to show all of those things and the sunrise simultaneously, so you'll just have to trust me that the colors were amazing, the scene was breathtaking, and the whole experience was kind of...spiritual. It wasn't difficult at all for me to see why the ancient Hawaiians thought the sun slept in the crater (hence the name Haleakala, or "house of the sun").

After a very long dawn (with a couple hundred pictures to prove it), I saw the first sign that the sun was about to rise--a golden halo outlining the furthest peaks. Immediately, Strauss's "Also Sprach Zarathustra"  from 2001: A Space Odyssey started playing in my head. (Not really, but it did when I was going through the pictures.)


...Dah-DUMMMMMM... (cue emphatic drumming)
Since the top of Haleakala looks very similar to what I imagine the surface of the moon looks like, I don't think that comparing sunrise there to the opening sequence from 2001 is too strange a comparison. (And BTW, 2001? How wrong were they with that estimation of what life would be like in the twenty-first century?)

Just so you have an idea of how fast the sun rises there, "Dah..." was taken at 6:53, and "Dah-DUMMMMMM" was taken at 6:56. So maybe we would have had to listen to the song in slow motion to really make it fit. Let's take a second to imagine what that would sound like...(and look at some pictures in the meantime).

Okay, moving right along...

As Tom said before we left the van, once the sun is up, the show is over, so we reluctantly left the risen sun behind to meet up with everyone and head down the mountain to start our bike tour. Due to some biking accidents in the park, biking companies are no longer allowed to start their tours within the park. But that's okay! A quick fifteen minute drive brings you down to the park entrance, still a good 6500 feet above sea level. 

Shawn and Tom unloaded the bikes, set us up with helmets, and then lined us up, smallest girl to biggest guy. I was third in line and T.J. was second from last, so this wasn't really a "couples" experience. I was a bit nervous because I have only been on a bike twice in the last 10-13 years, but the tour matches the speed of the slowest rider, which thankfully wasn't me! 

Haleakala Highway, the road we were traversing for the majority of the trip, is a narrow, constantly winding road of switchbacks, mostly without guardrails. The views are incredible and the experience of racing down a mountain side with the wind in your face is exhilarating. I use the term "racing" rather loosely, though, because you spend more time braking around curves than flying down straightaways. Going down the mountain requires zero pedaling, and in fact trying to pedal does nothing at all--your feet just spin and spin, you're already going so fast. 

A few times we had to pull over into the bike lane if a line of cars was forming behind the van and trailer, but for the most part we could cruise right down the middle of our lane. We stopped a few times to shed clothing and once for a photo opp.

That would be the entire western side of Maui, from Lahaina on the left to Kahului on the right. Remember that we spent hours driving around that whole tip the day before, even though the mountains, coast, everything looks so tiny from up here.
Shawn put us in the "honeymoon" pose for our photo opp.
Sadly, we didn't really have an opportunity to take pics the rest of the way down (except we could have taken them where we stopped for breakfast, I suppose), but we went through some really beautiful areas--past a eucalyptus grove, pineapple and lavender fields, a horse ranch, and, perhaps most interestingly, the "cowboy town" of Makawao. Since I don't have any pictures of Makawao, I'll share one I found online:


Sometimes when we were cycling through towns, we'd have to bunch up to go through a traffic light, but Tom was great about guiding everyone and keeping us all together, so riding through the towns wasn't a problem at all. This is the only time we really had to peddle, too, and even then the terrain was flat. I think Tom said we peddled for about .2 miles the whole journey.

Finally, we biked through the "hippie town" of Paia (cowboy and hippie are how Tom described the towns) and arrived at our final biking destination--Paia Beach Park. We had about fifteen minutes to walk around before we headed back to the ship, and I had a good time watching this group of guys who were apparently having some sort of contest to see who could tumble the furthest.

When our fifteen minutes were up, we all loaded back up in the van and headed for the ship. The whole time we were in the van, Tom entertained us with stories of celebrities who have done the tour before (not sure if I should mention them because I don't want him to get into trouble), and he pointed out Willie Nelson's house when we drove by it.

It was a little after 11:30 when they dropped us off, so T.J. and I went up to our cabin to freshen up after our looong morning, and then we went up to the Aloha Cafe to grab a quick bite. Unfortunately, the buffet didn't open until noon (!!!), but we were the first ones through the door when it opened, scarfed some food in under fifteen minutes, and then headed for the car.

The drive to Lahaina was painless as always, and we parked in the underground lot on Front Street we'd parked in the night before. It was a little confusing getting to the harbor from there, though. We could see the harbor from the beach, but when we walked down the street towards the harbor it seemed like it was taking too long, so we went back and just walked there along the beach. We checked in with Ultimate Whale Watch and had a few minutes before boarding began, so we went and got T.J. an iced coffee from Bad Ass Coffee, which was in the shopping center just around the corner. I wasn't a bit tired (probably because I napped every time I stepped foot in a vehicle), but he was really feeling the three hours of sleep by that point.

He chugged the coffee and when we got back to the dock they were loading the boat. We were last on board, so we ended up at the back sitting on opposite sides of the dry hatch where they hide everyone's bags, but that ended up being the best seat in the house--shaded, roomy, and we could each take a side of the boat to look for whales.

As we left the harbor, I started chatting with the "whale specialist" on board, Lindsey, and she's the one who recommended Lorraine's bread. I also regaled her with the tale of our Feast at Lele flame-throwing incident, and she told me she worked at Pacific'O and was actually going to the Feast for the first time that weekend. Then she told me that the fire dancer is actually one of the best on the islands and has won all kinds of awards!

We hadn't been out more than a few minutes when we had our first whale sighting!

The whale was to our left, and on the right (starboard) side of the boat there were two pods of spinner dolphins.

We got to see the dolphins jump and spin several times, but unfortunately we never caught it on film.

When all the surrounding sea life had disappeared, we headed for deeper waters. Whale watching, we soon learned, takes a lot of patience. We would see whales taking a breath in the distance, so we'd head over there and sit and wait for them to resurface, but they rarely did. We were constantly seeing them in the distance, but rarely up close, even though we could race over to wherever they were (the benefit of being in a zodiac instead of one of those large Pacific Whale Foundation ships).

We'd been waiting for this one whale for a while when our captain got out the underwater microphone so we could listen to the whales. That was a really cool experience. I've heard whales before, of course, but never live, never with them communicating right beneath me. We'd only been listening for a couple of minutes when a whale surfaced in the distance. Curious, he started to swim toward us. 

First, he decided to try to scare us by playing shark.

Then he waved good-bye.

But then he changed his mind and waved hello...

...and started swimming toward us again.

Boats aren't allowed to go within 100 feet of the whales, but if the whales swim toward you when you aren't moving, you can't really stop them. :-) So we sat there hoping he would come even closer. 

Eventually he decided we weren't interesting enough to warrant further inspection, and he went on his merry way. We spent the next hour and a half (it was a two hour tour) pursuing nearly every fin and white mist we saw...

...and we were privileged to see many, many humpback whales that day, though most were at a distance and there wasn't any full-breaching action.

After the tour I had hoped we'd have time for a little shopping in Lahaina, but it was after 3:30 and we had to have the car back to Thrifty by 5:00, we just walked through the square a bit, took some pics of the famous banyan tree, and then headed back to the car. 

Old Banyan Tree
Front Street
Front Street shops. The Feast at Lele is directly behind these.
There was a shuttle waiting at Thrifty when we got back (the next to last one of the day), so we sadly said good-bye to Maui, one of our favorite Hawaiian islands.

Next time on Lacy and T.J.'s Grand Hawaiian Adventure: orchid shopping, exploring Volcanoes National Park, and trying to find Akaka Falls via muddy one-lane roads through a field.


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