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Maui nō ka ʻoi

October 13, 2010

There is a saying “Maui nō ka ʻoi” meaning “Maui is the best”. It couldn’t be more true.

With eight gorgeous islands in Hawaii to choose from, it was a hard decision to make, but after researching what each island had to offer, we found out that Maui has a great mix of everything. Maui is favored by folks who’re looking to relax and enjoy the sandy beaches, hike amongst lush green forests, choose from a variety of water activities like snorkeling, diving and surfing, and wouldn’t mind a bit of unwinding with some lively nightlife in downtown. The island is especially recommended for couples looking for a getaway paradise. And for volcano aficionados, there’s always Mount Haleakala (meaning “House of the sun” in Hawaiian).

The best time to go to Maui or any island in Hawaii is during Thanksgiving in November! Of course, this applies only if you do not celebrate Thanksgiving or have the energy and power to convince family  to travel to Hawaii to celebrate Thanksgiving. Just imagine eating stuffed turkey when sipping some chilled wine by the beach, getting a nice shade of tan and feeling the surf spray on your face! Aaaahhhhhhh. Fact is, you also get the best deals during Thanksgiving season, because most people are traveling back home to celebrate the holidays with family and fares to Hawaii will be much lower, especially if you fly on the day of Thanksgiving. Hotel stays and car rentals will be cheaper, not to mention the crowds will be much fewer, so all around it’s a win-win situation!

For first-timers to Maui, we highly recommend this amazing book “Maui Revealed” by Andrew Doughty. It is an easy read, with great “insider” info and tips on where to go in Maui for the best beaches, the best snorkeling, the best luau’s, the best hikes, the best drives and so much more! Reading this book made us feel like we already knew Maui  even before we landed there. We had thought 5 days would be plenty to spend on this Hawaiian paradise island, but soon enough we realized that even a few months on this island wouldn’t do it justice. But we did get to do all the things that excited us most, like snorkeling over the coral reefs near Molokini Crater and feasting at a real luau (traditional Hawaiian feast) and of course, the must-do thing on all visitors list – standing above the clouds, seeing the spectacular sunrise from Haleakala summit.

Day 1: We flew in directly to the Kahului airport in Maui – try to avoid inter-island flights as much as possible to save time. You need at least a week on each island, so trying to jampack 2-3 islands in a 5 day trip will rob you of the “relaxing vacation getaway feeling” you came here for in the first place. We had accommodations at the Hyatt near Kaanapali. We picked up our rental car (a red Jeep!) and drove around leisurely from Kahului to Kaanapali (Western side of Maui) taking along the sights along Honoapiliani Hwy. We barely got out of the airport area and were already in awe of the beauty around us. When we got close to Maalaea Bay, we caught sight of the famed turquoise waters, gorgeously unreal lush greenery, white sand beaches right off of the highway, and rainbows everywhere! It was exactly like being in paradise.

After checking in to our hotel, we set out to explore the downtown area in the late afternoon and grab some linner (lunch/dinner). Lahaina downtown is a short drive away from the Hyatt. We went to Kimo’s having heard a lot about “hula-pie” – a famous dessert everybody was raving about on Yelp. They also had a special Thanksgiving Turkey lunch/dinner on the menu! Who can say no to some stuffed turkey, eh? We ordered our martinis and cocktails, and kicked back to enjoy the stunning view from the patio deck.

Hawaii is a seafood lovers paradise. We ordered a shrimp entree which was superbly fresh and perfectly spiced, tingling our tastebuds. The thanksgiving lunch was spot-on with comforting mashed potato and cranberry sauce accompanying the stuffed turkey. I always love the stuffing more than the bird  of course. After this scrumptious meal, there was hardly any space left in our tummies for the hula-pie. So that will have to wait until our next trip to Kimo’s.

As we sat there sipping on our blue and gold cocktails, the sun began to set in the distance. The torches surrounding the patio were lit up and flames danced about merrily. It was a gorgeous setting.  Just our first few hours in Hawaii and we were already feeling relaxed and laid-back like never before.

Day 2: Today was going to be all about the famous beaches in Maui. We started driving up North on the Honopiliani Hwy, wanting to explore all the beaches along West Maui (there are tons of them!). Some of the popular ones we stopped at are Napili Beach and D T Fleming Beach. Both these beaches were right off the highway, although parking was crowded surprisingly we didn’t see too many people on the beach.

There are many fantastic sights to see, like you can hike all the way down to the Nakalele blowhole where sea water gushes in and out of a tight hole in the rock with full force throwing up wave after wave of water and spray. The view of Honokahua Bay was superb too. We caught sight of dozens of surfers, riding the waves in abandon. Maui is really great for surfing! The sun was out in full glory, we were feeling the warm fuzzies in the peak of winter on the mainland, it was pretty surreal to think that this was November.

After a day out in the sun, filled with nothing but relaxing on one spectacular beach after another, we got back to our hotel to get ready to go to an authentic Hawaiian luau. A luau is a traditional Hawaiian feast, where delicacies like kalua pork are cooked in an imu (underground oven) and the multi-course feast is always accompanied by graceful dances and amazing performances  (with fire!) showcasing the culture and traditions of the various peoples of the different islands like Tahiti, Hawaii, New Zealand, Samoa etc. Our luau was named “Feast at Lele’s” and it was an absolutely fantastic experience!

Firstly – the view. We were seated right in the first row, a few feet from the stage where the performers would soon start shimmying and dancing with fire. The sun had set in the distance, and the skies were glowing a gentle orange. The weather was warm and tropical, just the right kind of heat, interrupted by a cool welcome breeze every now and then.

Secondly – the feast. This was rightly called a feast, it was a 5-course dinner!

They kept bringing out plates and plates of beautifully arranged food, until we were pleading no more, no more! Not to mention all the tropical fruit infused cocktails like Bananarama rum and Pineapple colada … whew, never before have I partaken in such a feast! And the dessert! The last course was the cherry on top. It’s true that one can never eat enough of fresh fruits in Hawaii. They taste the sweetest, freshest, most delicious of all fruits I’ve ever eaten anywhere else in the world. We were particularly partial to the pineapples.

Finally – the mindblowing performances. Spectacular dances one after another, each one showcasing the traditions of the people.

Live music, swaying hips and graceful movements, these dances could lull you to a state of heightened bliss. A couple of them were very lively with fast beats and drumming, a lot of energy! All the dancers had a beautiful smile on their faces, and were glowing with joy. The men put

on a great show! Especially the fire dance in the end, that was an unforgettable highlight of the show.

There were dances from Hawaii, Tahiti, Samoa, New Zealand and many more. The entire performance lasted a few hours. We needed that much time to get through our multi-course meal too!

A dance from New Zealand. And finally the fire dance from Samoa finale!

Day 3: We were starting to get used to this kind of lifestyle. We wondered how anybody could ever do any work in Hawaii? Who could ever go to sit in an office on this island when there is so much natural beauty and so many fun activities a stone’s throw away! Well, that is to figure out another day. For now, we were stoked about our first ever snorkeling experience! Molokini Crater is a short boat-ride away from the coast of Maui. The picture below is not something that came from my camera, but I just had to put this in here to show what Molokini looks like. It’s a volcanic crater in the middle of the turquoise sea. It’s one of the top snorkeling and diving destinations in the world! Molokini Crater houses lush coral reefs, dozens of different types of colorful, small and big fishes, and of course, the popular sea turtles (fondly called “honu” in Hawaiian)! Those tiny white specks you see net to the crater are permitted boats / catamarans etc which carry over people to prime snorkeling and diving spots near the crater!

We did some research and found this highly recommended outfit that would take us to Molokini Crater and Turtle Bay, with snorkeling at both spots, each an hour long. It would be a half-day trip, with  starting out early in the morning, lunch and snacks inclusive, snorkeling equipment inclusive. It sounded like a great way to snorkel for us first-timers. The outfit is Trilogy Excursions and after our first experience with them, we highly highly recommend them! Just check out their 5-star recommendations and reviews on Yelp and you will understand why they are considered the best of the best – Click here for Yelp reviews of Trilogy Excursions. The cost per head for this was not inexpensive, but it was not exorbitantly priced either. Our experience was so amazing, that the next time we’re in Maui, we’re definitely going to go with Trilogy again.

This being our first time at snorkeling, we were a bit hesitant on how we would adapt to the ocean water. We both know swimming, but so far that’s been limited to swimming pools and we had never ventured into vast open bottomless oceans before. But there’s nothing to worry about, honestly. Most people get a bit freaked out that they cannot rest their feet on the floor, the ocean floor being way below them. If you can get over that one fear, you will do just fine. You do not need to be a pro at swimming, just staying afloat and being able to move around in the water is sufficient.

Trilogy provides all snorkeling equipment, including flotation devices. Once you are strapped onto a flotation pad, you can try to sink and drown all you want, I bet you will not succeed. That thought in itself should be reassuring enough! And once you are in the water, the coral reefs are right there, the fishes are swimming right in front of your eyes, seeing all these sights you will soon forget any worries and apprehensions! We set out quite early in the morning. Fresh coffee and cinnabons provided a much needed perk-up call to all the bleary eyed people on board. Captain Patty was our energetic, happy-faced, always smiling guide who made the trip all the more fun with her jokes and interesting tidbits.

We soon reached Molokini Crater and with barely contained excitement we got down into the water and poked our heads underneath. It was like being in a different universe down there! I couldn’t believe how colorful and bright everything looked. The water was crystal clear, and the sun was shining down for all it’s worth. The sunlight filtered through the water and lit up everything with a surreal, most beautiful golden glow. It was so much more than I had imagined or even expected. We swam around from reef to reef, each one covered with undulating sea anemones and the most colorful, spectacular creatures we’ve ever laid eyes on. Fishes of every color and shape swam by. They seemed curious about us, but not afraid. Some were so close, I could have kissed them. We felt like we were fishes ourselves! The crew of the Trilogy came around and sat on floating surfboards acting as our lifeguards. That was reassuring because the currents can sometimes become strong and pull away a non-swimmer from the boat. It’s a good idea to keep popping up your head to get your bearings and make sure you know where you are, so that you’re not close to drag currents or rocky areas.

The time we spent snorkeling at Molokini is easily the greatest highlight of our Hawaii trip. We just could not get enough. I could have stayed in that water forever! We even got to see sea turtles! The plan was to finish snorkeling at Molokini, get back onto the catamaran, and then go to Turtle Bay which is another snorkeling spot popular for turtle spotting. We were so excited to get to see sea-turtles up close! We saw not one, but three! We even followed one at a distance to see where it would go. To swim along side these turtles was an amazing experience.

We got back to Hyatt after our day out snorkeling and spent the rest of the evening relaxing at the gorgeous outdoor restaurant – Umalu. Live music, great food, watching customers getting up and dancing because they feel like it, the day could not have ended any better.

Day 4: And today we would finally be witnessing what is touted as one of the most magical sunrises in the world – sunrise from atop Haleakala summit! We were up at 2AM because it’s a 2-hour drive to the summit, up a winding road in the dark. We got to the top when it was still dark, and we could admire the star-studded skies until the horizon started turning pink. Whether the sunrise will be spectacular or shrouded by a thick blanket of clouds is utterly unpredictable. Mount Haleakala is 10,000 ft high, and at that height, the weather can change in a matter of seconds. Haleakala means “house of the sun” and it is rightly named. As the sun started rising above the horizon, golden rays of light made their way to light up the immense crater that was in front of us, cinder cones amongst a red martian like surface. But there was a lot more cloud cover than expected, so the rising sun soon went behind a thick fog of vapor. But that did not take away from the scenery all around us. At 10,000 ft, you are pretty much standing on top of the world in Maui. The ocean is all around, layers and layers of clouds seem to be close at hand and rainbows pop up everywhere with the passing drizzle. One minute you’ll be sunning your face, the next you will be running for cover from the hail. The weather can change in an instant on top of Haleakala, and it’s recommended you bring plenty of layered clothing. We hiked around the crater, where there were several trails to explore. The weather kept playing hide-n-seek with us, it was like a frivolous child who couldn’t make up it’s mind whether to be sunny or rainy. The drive down Haleakala has to be one of the most scenic drives we’ve ever done.

The slopes of the volcanic mountain go through several different zones and types of vegetation which is clearly visible. At the top it’s all martian red surface, with sand and tiny bushes poking their leaves out. As you drive down, the vegetation becomes lusher and greener, dewy and rich.

We lost count of the number of rainbows we saw. Every time we caught sight of one, it was as exciting as though we were seeing one for the first time that day. Some things never fail to excite you and make you feel like a kid again, and rainbows are like that.

Day 5: Today was the last day of our glorious vacation. We headed to Lahaina downtown for an early brunch at the popular “Cheeseburger in Paradise”. Then some souvenir and gift shopping in downtown stores. We also did a train ride tour of the Maui Tropical Plantation to get our fill of tropical fruits and flowers and mountains and greenery. We did not do the famed “Road to Hana” drive, Hana is on the Eastern side of Maui, and the road to Hana is a popular day trip to make. The drive is along a narrow, twisting road up the mountain, ending at the poetically named “Seven Sacred Pools” … it definitely sounded like something we would love to do, but during this trip there was already so much else to see on West Maui that we left the Eastern exploration for another time.

Iao Valley / Iao Needle is enroute to the Kahului airport so we stopped by this popular touristy landmark to see the famous “needle” as well. Our glorious vacation in Maui had to come to an end. All good things do not last forever. What will always stay with us, is the friendly people of Hawaii, their fascinating multi-cultural background, the lovely sounding Hawaiian language and the diversity and wealth of natural beauty that abounds in Hawaii. The easiest word we learnt was of course – Aloha – meaning hello and goodbye. The most difficult word was the name of the national fish of Hawaii – Humuhumunukunukuapoaa. Try saying that in one breath! Another thing that delighted us was that Hawaii seemed as much of an exotic destination as any other, it did not seem anything like the mainland although it is a part of the US. Memories of the gorgeous beaches, the sunrises and sunsets, the delicious fruits, fresh seafood and exciting experiences we had in Hawaii are something we will cherish forever!

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From → Hawaii, USA

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