It’s 6:00 am. The sky is still inky black and the stars are just starting to fade. The mile of pristine beach stretching out below me is completely deserted and the only music I hear is the sound of the surf. Meanwhile, the clouds are silently rolling down along the sides of the mountains, like lava rushing to the sea and as the sun comes up the craggy peaks are illuminated with a mystical glow. This is the magic that is Maui, and I can’t help but smile when I think of the rainbows that greeted us when we touched down yesterday. My pot of gold is having the luxury of knowing I have two whole weeks to explore this enchanting part of the world!
Hawaiians have a deep respect for nature, the ancestors, and the wisdom of their elders. The revitalization of their native language and the reverence they show for the sacredness of the land are intrinsic values that weave through the fabric of everyday life. So, Mo’olelo, let’s talk story as I share a few tales of the people we met and the places we discovered on this journey.
Our first stop is the Sheraton Maui, where the legend of Ka’anapali began, part of an enclave of seven luxury resorts that attract thousands of visitors every year. It’s a sprawling complex with lush grounds, well-kept but not overly manicured, and there are plenty of nooks and crannies to chill after a day in the sun or too many hours sampling the wares of the boisterous bars, gourmet restaurants and high-end shops at Whalers Wharf.
Unique to the Sheraton is the nightly sunset ceremony, best observed at the Cliff Dive Bar with one of Cisco’s award-winning Mai-Tais in hand. As darkness descends, torches are lit, and I find myself transported back to a time when the Royal families had dominion over this land. Divers who can trace their lineage back to King Kahekili leap from the lava promontory called Pu’u Keka’a (Black Rock) reenacting how the King was able to navigate the portal to the next world and return to this sacred spot unscathed. Yes, the gods provide for one and all in Maui!
I’m never content to stay in one place too long, and I’m craving some adventure, so today we’re off to explore Maui’s northeastern shore and the road less travelled. We’ve had a late start, and while the quaint shops and eateries of Paia beckon, we know we have to press on and wait until our return to soak up the bohemian vibe of this charming town.
The Road to Hana is the most celebrated track in Hawaii, and when you drive it, you will know what I mean when I say it’s all about the journey, not the destination. At first, you might wonder what all the fuss is about until you reach marker 16 on Highway 36. At this point, the name of the road changes to Highway 360 and the markers are reset. This is where the real fun begins. For the next 42 miles or 68 kilometres, the road serves up curve after curve, more than 600 in total and you will need to traverse fifty-four bridges, many of which are one-way. But more importantly, as you make your way through verdant rain forests and encounter magnificent seascapes, you need to be prepared to stop and follow a trail or feel the spray of the roaring ocean and fully appreciate the beauty that surrounds you.
We stop frequently and perhaps linger too long walking in the Garden of Eden or floating in the pools beneath the falls at Waikamoi, but I am happily experiencing what lies beyond the road. I hate to admit it, but we should have struck out at 7 am to complete the entire loop. As dusk descends, we decide to turn around before reaching Hana. I’m disappointed that we didn’t reach our final destination, but I’m delighted we didn’t make the mistake of forfeiting the trip because we were short on time.
Our consolation prize is getting back to Paia in time for dinner. We hope to dine at Mama’s Fish House, the number one rated restaurant in Maui, but not having the foresight to make a reservation means that won’t happen tonight. On the advice of a fellow traveller, we find our way to the Flatbread Company which turns out to be an excellent choice. By combining the “magic of earth and fire,” they serve up a pizza made with local organic ingredients that I will savour long after my last bite.
I also like changing venues and moving to the Napili Kai Resort creates new possibilities to discover the magic of Maui. Founder Jack Millar was a savvy traveller who enjoyed learning from others. He studied people and places and brought the best of what he saw to create a unique experience in Maui. More a community than a resort, the spirit of Ohana – family – permeates every aspect of this property.
Napili Kai is not a high-rise hotel but a series of low-rise buildings featuring rooms and self-contained suites where you can meet your neighbours and make new friends. Staff encourage guests to mix and mingle in the Hibiscus garden, at a Slack Concert or by participating in a nightly putting tournament, paired with another guest to challenge your companion. Gathering at Happy Hour on the Sea House Terrace sparks conversations that continue when we adjourn to the restaurant to feast on some of the freshest Ahi Tuna I’ve ever tasted.
When it’s time to relax, our beautifully appointed one-bedroom suite at Puna Point has all the amenities I could ask for, but it’s the view that takes my breath away. We’re facing west, perfectly positioned atop the narrow crescent of beach and ocean that gives this area its name, to take in another glorious sunset. I’m also so close to the water that I feel like I’m part of the sea and lulled by the gentle slap of the waves I have the most restorative sleep I’ve had in months.
As I step out onto our balcony at 7 am the next morning, the word that comes to mind is muted. There is a faint trace of pastel pink and yellow at sunrise and no clouds over Lanai. Even the ocean is so calm that the surf seems to have lost its roar.
It’s hard for me to leave my tranquil perch, but we’re booked on an early cruise aboard the Pacific Foundation’s Ocean Discovery, and I don’t want to miss what I hope will be our chance to see whales, up close and personal. We arrive with time to spare, but boarding the ship is a bit like herding cats, but everyone soon finds their place. We have ample room to roam about freely and interact with our knowledgeable guides, Serena and Tiffany, and of course, Andrew, our bartender!
The channel between Maui and Lanai is a whale sanctuary, and I can only imagine the activity taking place beneath the waves. We’re less than ten minutes out of port when we come across a “competition,” four lusty males vying for the attention and then the affection of a lone female. Within minutes, we spot “joiners” at 11, 1 and 3 o’clock and a young juvenile on the fringe, which is too immature to join in the fray. Researchers here don’t use GPS devices to track the whales. Instead, since every fluke is unique, much like a human fingerprint, they are photographed and catalogued for identification purposes. Based on the different flukes our guides note, we are privileged to see more than fifteen different whales in just under an hour.
Still basking in the excitement of our whale sighting, we find some shade at City Hall under a Banyan tree, believed to be the most massive Banyan tree in North America, maybe even the world. It’s cool under the tree’s giant canopy, the perfect spot to regroup before setting out to explore Lahaina. This former whaling village has been transformed into Maui’s most famous hotspot where you can shop ‘til you drop or sip a Bikini Blonde while you people watch.
Evening finds us on the rooftop at Fleetwoods on Front Street, sampling some great wine before dinner. The bar and restaurant are owned by no other than Mick Fleetwood, and earlier this week, I met a couple who had the good fortune to be on the scene when McFleet turned up to play. They got some awesome pictures of themselves with Mick as well as his hundred thousand dollar gold-plated drums. I remember thinking, wow, that’s the stuff memories are made of when you’re in the right place, at the right time, with the right karma. Suddenly it dawns on me how lucky we were to have been out in the channel this particular morning. I didn’t get my photo snapped with a whale, but I have memories that will last a lifetime.
It’s pre-dawn, and I’m sitting in the parking lot not at Haleakala Crater, but at the Kihei boat ramp waiting for the sun to come up. I’ve signed up for a day trip with Blue Water Rafting to explore the rugged and remote Kanaio Coast. Maui isn’t big on signage, which is part of its charm, but in the dark, I start to question if I’ve got the meeting place right. Suddenly, Nick, our cool but very competent captain, emerges from the shadow, and within minutes we’re underway.
The sun has yet to make an appearance when less than a kilometre from shore, we spot a female whale and her calf accompanied by an escort male. Nick cuts the engine, and we drift as our trio frolic in front and alongside our’ raft.’ No one wants to break the spell, so we wait until the tails come up, and our whales dive deep before moving on.
We take our time to enjoy the sun coming up from more or less behind Mt. Haleakala. We cruise by Oneuli, the black sand beach I explored yesterday and then around Pu’u Olai – (Red Hill/Millers Hill), Pu’u Olai Beach (Little Beach), and Oneloa Beach (Big Beach). It’s a picture-perfect day, no trade winds, so the sea is calm, the sky is clear, and the water is sparkling. Something on my left catches my eye, and I shout to Nick above the motor – dolphins! He throttles back, and within minutes we’re surrounded.
Nick explains that they are actually ‘sleeping’ or at least at rest, half of their brain shutting down at a time so they can rejuvenate without drowning. And we complain about not getting a good night’s sleep! These are spinner dolphins, and they’re much smaller than the Bottlenose variety and stay together in pods of a hundred or more, not only for protection but also because they are incredibly social. Spinner dolphins can not survive in captivity because they not only physically but spiritually need to be part of a bigger collective. Maybe they’re kupuna!
We continue to push south, past the cinder cones that are now covered in the infamous red dirt to explore the sea caves. The lack of trade winds is working in our favour, but it also means they’re not blowing the clouds and ‘bog’ away, so we can’t see the Big Island less than 30 miles away. After that, it’s nothing but 8,000 miles of open ocean. A little bit scary but also exhilarating!
We turn back and get ready to approach the Kanaio Coast. The lava here is more than 600 years old, and the weight of all those years has caused comprehension caves to form at the base of the cliffs that are impressive and fearsome at the same time. It takes a capable captain to navigate the rocky shore, read the waves and maneuver the boat into the perfect position to feel the surge, catch the spray and view the ‘sunrooms’ where we’re rewarded with a double rainbow. Spirit talks to you here. You can feel the raw power of nature but also the wisdom of the elders whose faces at times appear carved into the volcanic cliffs. All I can say is what a ride!
Maui is known as the #1 island for snorkelling, so our day would not be complete without spending some time beneath the waves. Molokini is one of only three volcanic calderas in the world, and Hawaii’s only island marine and bird sanctuary. As I slip into the crystalline waters on the backside of the crater, I can see the ocean floor which could be more than 150 feet below me. The water is teeming with life including colourful blue and yellow tangs, orange spine unicorns, black triggerfish, red pencil urchins and yes, even a white tip reef shark. Reluctantly I haul myself back into the boat, convinced it couldn’t get any better than this until we stop at Olowalu for one last snorkel. I’m still adjusting my mask when a giant sea turtle passes by and invites me to join him in a dance. Time stands still for the next twenty minutes, while the best guide I could imagine leads me to the hidden treasures of his world.
It’s late, but I can’t seem to tear myself away from our balcony at the Marriott Wailea and the stunning view of Makena Bay. Tomorrow, we make our way to Lanai for the second week of our Hawaii odyssey, but that’s a story for another day. Until then, I wish you Huaka’i – the joy of discovery, wherever you roam.
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