Visiting Hawaii - Part 1

June 29, 2018

I’ve discovered that everyone in California has an opinion about vacationing in Hawaii. From my boss, who sent me photos of his favorite spot on Kaua’i; to friends of friends we see at parties, who recommended shave ice places on Maui; to good friends we’ve known for years, who have honeymooned there; and even to ex-Californians living in other states, we had no end of folks recommending places to see and providing suggestions. So after five years in California, we finally made the trip! I had been hoping to go for years, probably ever since my sixth grade science teacher covered the unit on volcanoes in such detail (he was from Hawaii). Thanks to the recent volcanic activity, though, we had to nix the Big Island and focus on other places, but thanks to our many friends who’ve been before, we didn’t have to do too much research to figure out where to go. I was especially grateful for this, because most of what there is to do on Hawaii is outside, which is not my area of expertise!

Here’s the view from where I was writing this, in Wailea, on Maui:

The impetus behind the trip was an award won by Justin’s team at work, which was given in the form of two nights at a resort on Maui. (Thanks, Justin’s work!) We then planned the rest of the week split between Maui and Kaua’i, based on popular acclaim in a poll of our friends. The schedule was two days on our own on Maui, then two nights with Justin’s work trip, then four nights on Kaua’i.

I won’t be able to do justice to the trip as well as my friends who have their own write-ups, so I’ll just have to direct you to them - they have much more thorough trip descriptions! But here is my small contribution to the Hawaii travel literature genre.

Four Nights on Maui - Day One

We arrived after an uneventful flight to the small airport at Kahului, which is in the middle of the north shore of the bi-lobed island. The one disappointment was that Hawaiian Airlines, which seemed to be trying its best to be welcoming to all the vacationers, did not have a vegetarian option for the meal; the family next to us was even more disappointed than we were! So be aware if that applies to you. From the airport, we picked up our rental car and drove to Maui Tropical Plantation to walk around and have lunch. We had some interesting dishes at The Mill House, the main restaurant there, including a chickpea cake with pickled jicama and harissa cream (basically a mildly spiced aioli); risotto with bone marrow; and gnocchi with taro leaves. I liked the chickpea cake but the other dishes were very rich and heavy. I thought the restaurant was good, but the plantation seemed not that exciting, although we didn’t do the tram tour so I can’t comment on that. Justin found the whole place too Disney-fied.

Thus fortified, we next visited the Maui Nui Botanical Garden, which was more our style: an empty garden (save for the couple of folks working there - possibly volunteers?) with displays about Hawaii native plants and Polynesian-introduced plants, including taro, breadfruit, and sugarcane. It was quiet and a bit dilapidated, the opposite of the Maui Tropical Plantation, and free! After an hour there, we were ready to head to our Airbnb near Makawao, higher up on the slopes of the dormant volcano, Haleakala. The Airbnb we chose advertised itself as a farm, but really it was just a remote house with chickens, ducks, a few bunnies, a couple of cats, and some raised planter beds. But it did have a nice view and was very quiet, so if you don’t mind driving a good ways, it was quite nice, and the host was excellent. We had dinner at a (relatively) nearby pizza place before packing it in.

Day Two

Our first full day started early with a snorkel trip with the Pacific Whale Foundation. I would highly recommend the Pac Whale folks and this particular trip. The trip is on a smaller boat, for 38 people, with three crew members, and no fixed schedule, so the locations visited depend on the weather and what’s good that day. The group was small enough that it didn’t feel crowded, and the crew were great, very helpful and knowledgeable. We left from the small boat harbor on the south coast of the island, then sailed southeast along the resort area to the first snorkel spot. The weather was calm and the ocean wasn’t too cold, so we didn’t need wetsuits. In that area, we saw a sea turtle for two seconds, then looked up to tell others about it, and by the time we put our heads back down, it was gone - oh well! Next we sailed to Molokini Crater, around past the back side, and were able to do a swim at the outer rim in 100+ feet of water. Once the other boats cleared out from inside the crater, we went in. It was like swimming inside an aquarium; we saw a wide variety of fish, including triggerfish, parrotfish, butterfly fish, and even an eel. My favorite was a tiny spotted fish that apparently was a pufferfish, although I didn’t see it in action. The fish were so close it seemed you could touch them, and they were not afraid to swim around you! On the way back to the harbor, we had a pretty good lunch, with a vegetarian option.

We headed back to the Airbnb but stopped on the way at Ululani’s Shave Ice, which was pretty delicious; we got calamansi, tamarind, and lilikoi (passionfruit) flavors, with coconut ice cream underneath, and fresh mochi on top. Then it was time for a nap. In the evening, we drove up to the top of Mount Haleakala National Park for the sunset. We took a wrong turn out of the Airbnb and ended up driving 10 minutes in the wrong direction, but still managed to make it up in time. We stopped a couple times along the way to watch the sun – the view is amazing. As you drive up the mountain, you pass through the cloud layer at around 8,000 feet elevation, then the summit is at 10,000 feet. There aren’t a lot of places to stop besides the Visitor’s Center (below the clouds), one hiking trailhead, and the upper Visitor’s Center near the observatory on top of the mountain, but there are a couple of turn-offs. We stayed until dark, but didn’t stay for stargazing because it was cloudy. We did stop once on the way down just to see what we could see, and found a Japanese tourist group setting up some high-powered telescopes at the lower Visitor’s Center. They even had soothing background music as part of their event – I had never seen (or heard) anything quite like that!

Day Three

After a quick breakfast, we checked out of the Airbnb and headed over to Maui Gold Pineapple farm for a tour. Justin got a tasty parfait-in-a-papaya from the nearby food truck while we waited to begin. The tour was thorough, and showed us the pineapples in all stages of development, from fallow fields, to plowing, planting, harvesting, and packing / processing. We saw tiny little pineapples still in flower up to fully mature ones, which the guide picked and cut up for us with a machete right in the field. They were indeed very delicious! We each got a pineapple to take home, which I hoped to eat once we got to Kauai. The tour was pricey and probably only worth it if you really like pineapple, like I do, but the guide we had was fun and I enjoyed it. Justin and I had a bet on how long it would take her to say that pineapples are bromeliads, but we both lost because she never did. Justin decided to tell her about it afterward, and she thought that was hilarious, and in own her defense, she said during the tour that pineapples have “bromelain,” which is that meat-tenderizing enzyme in pineapple, and sounds like bromeliads. I think that’s a stretch, but she did know lots of other pineapple facts, and did agree that it’s a bromeliad, so I’ll give it to her.

After the tour we picked up lunch at Tin Roof, a popular foodie spot, then returned the car to the airport, then walked off the airport property to catch a Lyft (not recommended if you have a lot of luggage - in that case, just take the shuttle back to the airport and catch a taxi from there). First we stopped for some more shave ice (pickled mango and li hing mui - salty sour plum - with red beans), then headed to the Andaz Maui resort for the work-sponsored portion of the trip.

The resort was beautiful and contemporary in style, and very, very expensive. Thanks, Justin’s work! We would never choose something like this for ourselves, but it was nice for two nights. There were four infinity pools, plus a perfectly pristine private beach (which we didn’t use), a hot tub, spa, etc. After check-in, we met up with Justin’s co-workers at a reception; most people had brought their families on the trip, so there was face painting, henna art, flower crowns, and a musician at the reception, along with pretty good food. (All for about 15 people, I should add - not a big group!) Then it was time to get sleep before another early morning! But first, I had to check out one of the pools, of course - my motto is to let no day go by without going swimming.

Day Four

We were up early to leave by 8am for our second snorkeling tour of the trip! This time, it was organized by the work event, so it was a private charter for just the 15 of us. The crew was very laid back and friendly, and the boat was nice because it had an upper and lower deck, so you could get out of the sun if needed (and by this point, I needed it). We sailed west this time, away from the resort area, toward Lahaina. At our first stop, we saw sea turtles! This time, there were maybe four of them, chilling on the ocean floor and swimming around. I watched two of them come up for air, bobbing on the surface for a bit, then descending back down; one of them swam right below me. The water was about the same as the previous day, although not quite as clear as where we had gone before. Our second stop was for a sunken ship, which itself was interesting (it was sunk by a diving company on purpose to provide something to look it), but even more interesting was the submarine that showed up while we were there to look at it too! We were in deep water again, 100 feet, and the sub was right below us as we fought a strong current to stay in place. After we got back on board, we watched the sub surface next to a tug and another passenger boat, presumably to swap passengers. So next time, we know we can sign up for a submarine tour! Our last stop was at another reef, which was neat but not quite as good as Molokini, but we were the only ones out there, which some folks prefer. We had lunch on the boat, then sailed back to the harbor.

Back at the hotel, we just relaxed for the rest of the day, then had a fancy dinner at the “farm to table” restaurant on the property. I put that in quotes because most of the ingredients were not farm to table, but the main ingredients were - the fish and meat - so take that as you will. I enjoyed all my dishes, which were an octopus salad, followed by pink snapper, and a coconut ice cream sundae. Justin was more adventurous and had a watermelon appetizer - basically a steak of watermelon; ahi tuna “caprese,” with a weird passionfruit sauce and passionfruit gelatin cubes; and black sesame noodles, none of which I liked. But it was certainly different. My fish was kind of odd too because it came with a sauce that I can only describe as barbeque sauce, although it was probably called something else. My dessert was delicious though, with a base layer of coconut cake, then coconut ice cream, coconut flakes, candied macadamia nuts, and chocolate sauce. All it was missing was some pineapple topping, and it would have been the best thing ever.

Day Five - off to Kaua’i

Today we got up late - 9am - and I went swimming for an hour before it was time to pack and check out. (One thing no one told me about Hawaii is that with all the early-morning activities, requiring you to start your day at 6am, you never really transition to Hawaiian time; you just keep getting up at 9am Pacific time, which is 6am on Hawaii. I did sort of enjoy getting to do so many things before lunch every day! I guess that’s what morning people must experience?) I went “pool hopping” and hit all five of the hotel pools in an hour. Since then, we’ve been hanging out at the hotel, had lunch, and I’ve been writing this, waiting for the time to head to the airport. Once there, it’s on to Kauai!

Things we didn’t do on Maui that I know everyone recommends: we didn’t go to Lahaina, since I’ve heard that it’s a bit touristy and that’s not our preference; we didn’t hang out on the beach, because we’re from Florida and the beaches here are full of rocks (and pretty narrow, let’s be honest); and we didn’t do the Road to Hana because there just wasn’t enough time.

But I have a feeling we’ll be back.

Still with me? On to Part 2!

Just want to see all the photos? Check them out here!