Maui 2014: A Vacation Delayed, Day 4 (04/09/14)

Wednesday, April 9th

Today is beach day. Today is the day that Judy doesn’t have to cross things off our (my) to-do list. Today will be spent on a tranquil beach; reading, tanning and people-watching. We pack just about every piece of beach and water gear we have and head up to Kapalua Bay. This is another cove beach, shielded on both sides, allowing for small surf and excellent snorkeling. Yes, Judy’s ideal day is above the water, but mine is below. After eating breakfast at The Gazebo restaurant, we loaded our backs like pack mules and headed to the beach.

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We arrived early enough to have our pick of spots on the beach. We claimed one, set up our gear and got started on some serious lounge time. “Hawaii time” is something we’ve heard a lot about. Life happens at a much less frenetic pace here. No one is in a really big hurry. Traffic lights and traffic jams don’t bother the locals as much as they do the visitors. This far into our trip, we are starting to get into that frame of mind, and this day we embrace is whole-heartedly.
Once we’ve lounged for a bit, I start to get the itch to get in the water. With a courteous decline on my offer for Judy to join me, I grab my snorkel gear and camera and head out to see what I could see. Once you’ve managed to fully submerse yourself in the ocean waters here, the water really is pretty warm. It’s just actually getting fully submersed that takes some time. Today, it took me a little longer than usual to make that commitment, but I eventually made it.
The water clarity between Honolua Bay and Kapalua Bay was drastic. It seemed that I could see 100 feet here at Kapalua. There wasn’t a whole lot of sand and debris floating around – only fish and coral as far as I could see. Pink coral, blue coral, yellow coral, green coral.

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And the fish! I almost broke the seal around my snorkel because I was grinning so widely. I couldn’t, and still can’t, name all the different species of fish I saw, but they were all beautiful and colorful! At these shallower depths, fish are much more vibrant in color.

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And, turtles! I saw turtles! They were about 10 to 15 feet straight down, but I got to see them in their natural habitat. I don’t know what it is about these sea turtles, but I love ‘em.

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I think I snorkeled for about 45 minutes and then headed back up to Judy. She was in her own little heaven, too. This is what she wanted to do in Maui, and I’m glad she is getting a chance to do it. We laid on the beach for another hour or so, until Judy was ready to get in the water. We rented a boogie board for her with a viewing window in it, so she could also see the life under the water. Again, it took a few minutes for us to muster the courage to actually get all the way into the ocean, but we were off and floating when we did. I was playing Jacques Cousteau, describing everything I had seen earlier. The window board seemed to work well for Judy, and I was out with just my mask and a boogie board this time.

We were able to see just about everything I saw earlier, but I don’t think we ventured as far from the shore this time. As I was trying to navigate us to the spot where I saw the turtles, a boy from the floating group next to us yelled, “Turtle!” As we looked in his general direction, we saw it. It appeared to be a younger one, as it wasn’t half the size as the one we saw on the beach earlier in our stay. It was bobbing and floating just like the rest of us, but as the gap between us was closing, he decided it prudent to dive and find new waters.
It was beautiful. So beautiful and amazing that I immediately kicked myself for having left the camera on the beach. “Are you kidding me?” The battery was just about dead when I came ashore earlier, so I didn’t give it a second thought. In my heart, however, I know that there had to be enough juice left to capture video of this 30 second encounter. Judy is my witness that we did have a real live encounter with it. That is of some comfort, I guess.

After spending a few hours at Kapalua, we decided to regroup at the condo and think about hitting Aloha Hour somewhere. After freshening up, we headed south to Lahaina.  Aloha Mixed Plate was our selection du jour, and we were greeted with a smile and led to our table. It is an outdoor seating venue; one which had nice views of the ocean. We had planned on grilling steaks at the condo for dinner, but as it was already 4:00, we decided to make this our dinner. Judy got a house salad, with a fresh piece of Mahi and a couple coconut-crusted prawns, while I ordered the dish I had been thinking of for months: the Loco Moco.

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Dinner was delicious and was easily the best we’d had so far. The sun was getting low in the sky and we headed back to the condo for the evening. I had wanted to capture the sunset on video, so we could relive it whenever we needed to, so tonight was the night. Everything was set up and I just let the camera roll for about 50 minutes.

This sunset was beautiful. The sound of the waves crashing on the beach below, the distant laughs of the kids playing, and day coming to a close all made for an enjoyable night.

Maui 2014: A Vacation Delayed, Day 3 (04/08/14)

Tuesday, April 8th

Today, I get to try out the snorkel gear I rented. After breakfast, we loaded up all our beach gear and head to Honolua Bay, one of the recommended sites for snorkeling. From our condo, it’s only a 10 minute drive. One of the many nice things about the Valley Isle condo is that is relatively close to everything, yet out of the hubbub of the more “touristy” places. It’s easy to just relax in peace and quiet, with the sounds of the surf as your only noise.
To get to Honolua Bay is quite the experience in and of itself. Parking lots in Maui are pretty much reserved for hotels, malls and restaurants. Beach parking mostly consists of pull-offs along the roads. We managed to get a “good” parking spot and began our “journey through the jungle”. There are only a couple of access points to this bay and the main path takes you through a very primitive place.

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Tall trees, with great canopy cover, presided over big ferns and thick vegetation. A beaten footpath was our only indication to our destination, and it really made us feel as though we had stepped back in time; maybe just as native Hawaiians found it generations ago. Announcing the fact that the land belonged to them, and not us, wild chickens and roosters sounded off as we walked along the path. Beautiful birds. Noisy, but beautiful
Since the beach of this bay consists of only rocks and boulders, the number of people wanting to make the trip is much lower than other places. The snorkel tours in western Maui count this place as one of their stops. After leaving, I decided that it would be much easier to jump in from a boat than to have to strategically navigate your steps on foot. It took as long for us to walk the 100 yards through the “jungle” as it did for us to walk 50 feet over the rocks. If you aren’t coming here to snorkel, be prepared to look for the comfiest rock.

 

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Recent rains meant runoff from the streams. Runoff from the streams meant murkier-than-normal waters. Since I have never been snorkeling, I really didn’t know the difference. I strapped on my mask and snorkel, grabbed my fins, and headed into the water. Grace & poise are 2 words that would never in a million years describe my entry. I had to go out into the water a bit to put on my fins, but those rocks on the beach continued on into the bay and were hard to navigate.
I puttered around to get my bearings and headed off to the northern side. Visibility was pretty poor; perhaps 10 feet. If it didn’t swim in front of me, I didn’t see it. I didn’t care. I was now looking into a world you can’t see above water. Another whole part of Maui was now accessible. We stayed for about an hour and decided to go back to the car and explore the rest of the NW side of Maui.

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The only other place I had on my list to see up here was the Nakalele blowhole. One word of advice for those that would come here, there is no cell phone reception past the Honolua area. Since there is no physical address for this blowhole, we had to go old school and use a map. As the roads up here are narrow and winding, we were constantly scanning the roadsides for possible signs of our destination. There were lots of lookouts and pull-offs along our route, and we got excited every time we saw a group of parked cars. It took us 3 false stops before we found the right place, but the views from each of those spots was breathtaking.

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The wind is very strong in this part of Maui and, standing on top of the cliffs, can easily push you out of your stance. The wide, white crashing waves, the black lava rock, the endless ocean of blue, turquoise and green. This is certainly one of God’s most beautiful creations.
Looking back on it now, the easiest way to know we were at the blowhole would have been where the road was closed. Construction has shut down this road, all the way over to north central Maui. As it was before construction, this road was treacherous and narrow on a good day. No guard rails, steep drops, imminent death. I had my fill going up Haleakala, so I was quite okay with not being able to travel any further than the blowhole.
From above, you can see the surf pounding into the lava rock, forcing the water through the eroded rock and straight up through the blowhole. Think Old Faithful in Yellowstone, only on a smaller scale. Signage along the paths down to the blowhole warn of getting to close, getting sucked into the hole, and being scattered along the jagged coast.

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Not wanting to win this year’s Darwin award, I opted to heed the advice.

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After grabbing a few pictures, I turned 180 degrees to see something not everyone notices. Into the middle of a lava rock wall, sand, wind and salt water have eroded a hole into it in the shape of a heart. I don’t know what the odds of that happening are, but I’m guessing the likelihood is similar to winning the lottery. I marveled at its existence for a minute and then started the 100 yard trek back up the cliff wall.

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Whew! I’m going to blame it on thin air, but the hike back up just about tapped me out. After resting for a few minutes, we headed back to the condo to rest, clean up and get ready for our Teralani sunset dinner cruise. We have been looking forward to this for days and the weather looked like it would be cooperating. Dinner, drinks, sun in our face, wind through our hair… This would be the perfect end to the day.
We were told to meet on the beach outside Leilani’s, in Ka’anapali, at 3:30. Yes, on the beach. No dock is needed for this twin-hull catamaran, as it simply backs up right onto the beach. We lined up single file and waited for our turn to board. The crew watched the surf and gave each couple the go ahead when the water was going out. Even with explicit instruction to “move with purpose”, we were amazed at the number of people who dilly-dallied and got chastised for moving too slowly.

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Once on board, our sail started. Actually, we didn’t sail; we motored. During whale season, the dinner and cocktail cruises double as a whale-watching tour. Since we were eating and drinking on the boat, we didn’t have a set destination. If a whale is spotted close by, the captain powers down the motors and everyone gets a chance to watch the whales. Being powered under full sail prohibits being able to stop as quickly, so the true “sails” will start towards the end of April.

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The crew, Matt, Emily and Kevin were perfect for the evening. I’m not sure that any of them were over the age of 35, but they performed their duties like skilled and seasoned veterans. We learned a lot about whales, their habits in Maui, and about the Maui waters in general. As soon as we got south of Ka’anapali, the winds all but disappeared. The mountains on the island really dictate the weather and it was a welcomed change for our evening. The food was okay, the drinks were good and the music playlist for the night was 70’s rock and pop.

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We were on the water for a couple hours and then we headed back to shore. I think Judy and I could have stayed on the boat all night and were very glad we went. So far in this trip, this was the highlight. With several more days still to come, we looked forward to all the challengers for this claim. We made the short trip back to the condo and watched the last of the day’s light slip down past the horizon. What a full and fun day!

Maui 2014: A Vacation Delayed, Day 2 (04/07/14)

Monday, April 7th

Clouds, wind and rain.  Foreshadowing at it’s finest?

This day did not start out postcard perfect, but we will make the best of whatever we’re given. We can’t see Molokai this morning – the vog and clouds have obscured it. But, with rain comes rainbows. We were treated with a couple full rainbows and they made us realize that this day would not be a bad one.

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Sometimes, changing your luck is as easy as changing your direction. While the skies in front of us hold rain, the skies behind us are full of sun.

After a delicious breakfast of sweet Hawaiian French toast, sausage and more of the delicious pineapples, we gathered our gear for the day and got in the car. We are headed off to upcountry for the day! .

On the way out of town, we stopped at Maui Grown Coffee, as I wanted to find a local brew. It’s a quaint little shop, with helpful staff and numerous goodies. Due to the volume of customers in the store, I just grabbed a few different single-pot varieties and will go back again later in the week for the one I liked best.

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We had several other stops optioned for the eastern side of the island. We chose the Ali’i Kula Lavender Farm and the Ocean Vodka & Organic Farm.

The weather sort of turned the corner as we got underway, but turned out to be temporary. Some days are just not going to give you everything you want from them, but we soldiered on anyway.

We knew that the road to Haleakala would be slow and windy, but the roads leading to our other stops demanded our full attention, too. As we gained altitude going to the lavender farm, we wondered just “where in the heck is this place?”  Our trusty GPS told us we were almost there and we were happy for that, because it seemed that we were not going to be able to go much further without our car rolling back down the incredibly sharp incline. Mountain goats from Nepal would feel right at home in these hills. The panoramic vistas from this location were breathtaking. We could see for miles, and the ocean waters glimmering in the distance were mesmerizing.

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The lavender farm was a very nice facility to explore. Plants and flowers of all different varieties dotted the grounds, with a very obvious Buddhist vibe permeating the farm.

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We strolled through the shop and I was amazed at just how many different products could be infused with lavender, whether for the good or bad. The sun had decided to come back out and it made our time there that much more enjoyable. After meandering for 30 minutes or so, we decided to head out to our next stop: Ocean Vodka and Organic Farm.

Back down the hill we crept, riding the brakes the whole way. Before leaving the lavender farm, a FedEx and a UPS delivery truck had come and gone, leaving us to wonder what that route’s drivers thought of them – not a job either of us were jealous of. The remainder of the drive to Ocean Vodka was twisty and turning, but much less drastic in such steep inclines. When we got to the Surfing Goat dairy farm, our GPS told us that we’d arrived at our destination.

Um, no.

We decided to go on just a little bit further, and were rewarded with signage that proved we had, in fact, arrived at our destination.

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The vodka farm’s property was mostly flat, mostly wide open. We were promptly greeted by a nice young lady who took it upon herself to educate us on just exactly went into the vodka, how the ingredients (sugar cane & mineral water) were collected and why the founder chose to do things the way they do.   At the time, we didn’t know is she was someone who had just completed the tour, or if she was an employee.  She was very helpful and pleasant, engaging in conversation and genuinely interested in telling the company’s story. They offered a guide tour of the grounds, but by the time we’d listened to her for 5 minutes, we felt that we had already been on the tour.  She was, in fact, an insanely well-qualified employee.

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I do not recall how many different strains of sugar cane there are, or what their names were, but this company’s goal was to revive and preserve the original strains native to Maui. On site, they had acres and acres of sugar cane planted, all labeled and grouped according to type.

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She let us try two different types of their plants. Although we couldn’t put a proper description on their differences, we did notice them. I was expecting a rush of sweetness when I started chewing on them, but it was a much more mellow sweetness. I’m guessing that after the cane is processed, perhaps the concentrated product gives the more familiar super sweet taste.

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Again, we walked around for about half an hour, and again the sun stayed with us. Not knowing exactly how long it would take us to get to the top of Haleakala, we decided to end this chapter of our day and proceed to the main event: watching the sun set from 10,023 feet. Back onto the twisting roads, back to both hands at 10 and 2, back to the climb in elevation.

We would later realize that the trip up Haleakala takes much longer than the trip down. There are so many switchbacks and turns that it seems reaching the top is an impossible feat.

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We knew that a few companies offer bike tours down the road, beginning at 7,000 feet, and t be mindful of them on our way up. I believe that the weather played into our fortune, as we only encountered one group, at the beginning of our ascent.

Onward and upward.

Onward and upward.

Steady as she goes.

Rinse, lather & repeat.

Once we reached the 7,000 foot mark, the Haleakala National Park begins it boundary. $10 gets your vehicle into the park, but today, no one was at the booth. There is an after-hours self-serve ticketing option just a few yards past, but it was not in working order. We got in for free! At the turnout for the self-serving tickets, we decided to change into our cold weather clothes we had brought, as the temperature can drop 5° for every 1,000 feet in elevation. With pants, socks, shoes and jackets donned, we continued the drive to the top.

At this point, the segments between switchbacks lengthened a bit, and seemed a bit easier to drive. The sun we had enjoyed at our earlier stops was nowhere to be seen now. We were surrounded by clouds. We were in clouds. The temperature was dropping quickly, as our visibility and our ascent slowed even more. At this elevation, looking down over the side of the road is ill-advised. We were acutely aware of the apparent shortage of guard rails in Maui, and we very much hope they can make more soon. Should a car roll off the roads up here, it won’t stop until it hits the ocean 12 miles away. Those faint of heart would do well to read a book, watch a movie or take a nap until the ride is over.  I decided not to include pictures to describe these areas, as it may turn off those people otherwise inclined to make the ascent.  By no means is it a deal breaker, just a test of your resolve.

At the beginning of our climb, we were convinced that once we reached the top, we would be well above the cloud cover and we would be able to see for days, and days and days. Turns out, on this day, the summit would have had to be another 3,000 to 5,000 feet higher to achieve that. We never did make it out of the clouds and that made our arrival at the summit a bit underwhelming and disheartening. After all, this was going to be the piece-de-resistance, the culmination of our efforts to watch the sun go down over the clouds. To watch the sky turn brilliant shades of reds, yellows and oranges, and to watch to stars populate the night skies like little tiny white pinholes on black construction paper. Alas, this day would not be “that” day.

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We walked around a little bit to look at the amazing flora and alien-looking landscape. There are things at this height that you just don’t/can’t see at more common elevations. As much as we could, being in the middle of those misting clouds, we were happy to see what we saw and closed our eyes to imagine what we couldn’t see.  We accomplished what we set out to do, and that would have to be enough. Sunset on top of the world would have to wait for another trip.

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We got back into the car and started the descent back to base camp. Not only is the trip down much quicker, I have to believe that the gas mileage is at least 10 times better. The gas pedal is a waste of floor space when returning to sea level.

The trip back to our condo in Kahana was a long one. We had already spent several hours in the car and knowing we would be in it for a while longer just sapped whatever ‘oomph’ we had left. We returned to our side of the island with storm clouds still clutching the outlying islands in their blustery grip. The sun did set, as it always does, but was blocked for direct viewing. We settled for the wisps of color higher up in the sky, and even those were gone before we got back home. Dinner consisted of chips and salsa, with a small apple crumb pie we picked up at Leoda’s earlier. I know it’s considered a dessert, but honestly, we should rethink its proper place in a meal’s course. Yum!

Tomorrow is another new day. The forecast may look like a carbon copy of today, but that will not dissuade us from making our plans for it. The only scheduled event is a sunset dinner sail, so we will discuss the other filler events over breakfast. Good night, Maui.

 

PS – In the event that someone wants to do the lavender farm and the Haleakala trip in the dame day, there is another, albeit smaller, lavender farm on the road to Haleakala.  Conserve your fuel, and time, to knock out both on the same road.

Maui 2014: A Vacation Delayed, Day 1 (04/06/14)

After a very long and contentious day of travel, we finally got in to our Valley Isle Resort condo on Saturday, after 21 hours in motion.  After a night of good sleep, we were ready to finally start our vacation…

The new day brought a fresh start for our vacation. We ate fresh fruit for breakfast on the lanai and watched the sun start to wash Molokai in light, and the ocean turn brilliant shades of turquoises and blues – beautiful!

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In what turned out to be a sign that this day would be a good one, we were able to watch whales breaching from our lanai. We knew we were arriving at the end of whale season, but had hopes of seeing some signs of them. Even with our camera fully zoomed in, the whales were far enough away that they still appeared small in the photos. Awesome!

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We got in the car and drove to pick up my snorkel gear. While we were there, we got a boogie board, with a window in it, for Judy. This will let her see the wonders of the reef without have to breathe through a snorkel tube. We decided that we should get right to a beach and begin our “fun in the sun”. D.T. Fleming beach is just a bit north of our condo, and offers a wide beach and a bit of surf for playing in the waves. Too rough for snorkeling, but we grabbed some sunshine and I was able to bob around in the water.

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At some point, I tweaked my right knee and hobbled around the rest of the day.  Actually, as I write this the following day, the hobbling may be with me a little bit longer.

After a couple of hours, we decided to pack up and explore Whaler’s Village. We freshened up at the condo and headed out. There are a number of interesting shops there, along with retailers you can find on the mainland. The weather was good and there were lots of people about. Judy found a wrap/skirt she liked, and we grabbed a couple little goodies for Ella. What we know as “Happy Hour” at home is called “Aloha Hour” here. We sat at a table at Duke’s Hula Bar along Ka’anapali beach, and listened to some live island music while sipping Mai’s and eating some seriously yummy Mahi fish & chips.

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As the sun began to start its descent into the horizon, we got back in the car and headed back to the condo. We want to watch every sunset, and thought dinner either on the beach or on the lanai would be a perfect end to the day. The weather, however, had different plans. The clouds were rolling in and we could see rain coming down over Molokai. The sky high above us was clear, but not looking out over the ocean. We made chicken nachos and washed them down with margaritas and local crafts beers.

Just as we were resigned to having seen everything we were going to see this day, we spotted a honu on the beach in front of the building next to ours. A sea turtle!

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We grabbed our cameras and ran to the elevator, down to the beach and amongst the crowd that had gathered. I use the word “run” to express our intent to get there as soon as we could, not necessarily in the literal sense. Even with Judy’s normal walking speed, she was still way out in front of me and my hobble.

Having been previously briefed, both in print and in person, that turtles were to be appreciated from a distance, we let the camera zoom get us as close to it as possible.

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The turtle didn’t do anything other than open and close its eyes, really, but it was still a very special moment for us. To be able to see wildlife and animals in their natural habitat is a real treat. We spent several minutes taking pictures and enjoying the experience. Now, we had a complete day. Off to bed, and dreams of what tomorrow’s day will bring…