I’m fresh off the first vacation away from home we’ve taken in a while.
This year Christina and I went to Hawaii, Maui specifically. No need to be more specific than that since 80% of the island is less far away than my daily commute to work, so effectively just down the road.
We stayed north of Lahaina, one of the larger towns on Maui, which sits on the western coast of Maui. If the goal is less clouds, it seems it’s best to stay on the western coast or the southern coast as the mountains seems to play cloud catcher and provide some protection from the weather on the lee side of the mountains.
The weather was wonderful, high 70s to low 80s every day. Usually some high clouds in the sky, often just passing through. We did have a couple of days that were cloud free blue skies from dawn to dusk and those days were spectacular!
Typical garb through the week was a pair of shorts and a t-shirt and sandals. I brought a jacket and pair of jeans just in case and they stayed in the baggage for the entire week. From my perspective, that’s a vacation!
One of the fun parts of my vacation planning with Christina is trying to find a good deal for our lodgings. We’ve stayed at little condos in the past, often rented by owners. We’ve stayed on smaller resorts, sometimes a fair distance from their last remodel. The last one we stayed at didn’t have air conditioning and I learned that I really like air conditioning for a good nights sleep when it’s warm. So, that was a priority for me this trip. Christina likes a pool handy. Beach access is a nice to have but not a requirement. We both like a place that has a little kitchen so we can choose to eat breakfast or a lunch there and not go out to eat every meal. Having said that, we both enjoy going out and Maui has some nice food so there was a fair bit of going out.
The place we found and settled on was a recently remodeled condo north of Lahaina in Kapalua about 20 minutes to the north of Lahaina. It was larger than we needed but the extra space was a nice bonus. It did face out to the ocean so while we were about 10 minutes walk away from the beach, we did have a spectacular view off the deck towards the west and the setting sun. For all that we only caught the sunset from there a couple times. Through a combination of bad timing, being busy elsewhere or sheer forgetfulness, we had to settle for those couple times. It was still very nice.
For most of our trips we try to balance the go-go spirit with some more laid back time so we don’t come back more tired than we left.
Last time we made a trip up Haleakala, the volcano in the center of the island. That was a spectacular and spectacularly windy experience.
This year I wanted to take the famed Road to Hana. If you’ve never been, the road to Hana is a generally two-lane road that goes from the airport along the northern coast of Maui to the small town of Hana on the Eastern coast. I say a generally two-lane road because there are 59 bridges and 46 of those are only a single lane wide. That means you have to take turns! That also means if two cars try to take the bridge simultaneously it can lead to confused honking, hands waving and cranky folks and backing up. Because the roads is traveled fairly slowly this also means cars can get backed up behind each other when someone fails to take the hint and pull over and let faster drivers pass. As you can imagine, this can lead to some tension if folks are in a hurry.
But, that’s kind of the point: The road to Hana, as the guidebooks will tell you repeatedly, is not about Hana, it’s about the trip. And that trip is best taken leisurely and with a willingness to take one’s time.
The road itself is only 52 miles from the airport but that trip can easily take 2.5 hours because of the all the curves, the lack of straightaways, lack of passing. If you take the opportunity to stop at the many interesting viewpoints, small towns, waterfalls, arboretums (arboreta?), swimming holes, parks, overlooks and beaches your 2.5 hours drive can easily become 4-6 hours without trying hard at all. So, if you’re starting the trip with the goal to get to Hana, your’re kind of missing the point.
There are folks who will leave early in the morning (by 8am) and make the trip, hit Hana and then turn around and go back but that is a very rushed trip. Instead, on this trip, I booked a small place just south of Hana, a tiny one-room studio with small attached bathroom for us to stay at in Hana.
Because most folks are leaving around that 8am time, we chose to leave a bit later to avoid the bulk of the traffic. So, we headed out from Lahaina around 11am, and hit the Road to Hana around noon. Our 2.5 hour trip took us till 5pm, but we had a great time!
We split the driving on the way there so each of us would have time to look around and just be a passenger. Also, if one were prone to being motion sick, the Road to Hana would likely bring that out, so to speak, in spades. One of the tricks, I guess, is to that the driver is less prone to being motion sick than the passenger. According to the Wikipedia page on the Hana Highway, there are 620 curves on the road, so more than 10 per mile. Neither of us had a problem, but I can imagine it would not be fun if one were prone to motion sickness!
Most of the road passes through the rain forests that make up the northern shore of Maui. If I recall the data correctly that we heard on our trip, that rain forest will receive 120 inches of rain per year. Yup, an average rainfall of a foot per month! This compares very favorably with the 37 inches per year we have in Portland. On a very positive note, we had none of that rain while we were there. It was just consistently beautiful weather. One of the locals told us that January is one of the nicest months to visit because it’s post Holidays, there are fewer tourists, airfare is cheaper and the weather if great! I can’t disagree from what we saw. Oh, and it’s whale watching season. More on that later.
So we took our time on the Hana Highway and wandered in to and through Hana before we really even noticed it. It’s a small town. No fast food, pretty much no restaurants. As was mentioned earlier, you don’t go for the Hana part, you go for the Road to Hana.
When we reached where we were staying our host pointed out to us that we were staying almost across the street from a very cool place he recommended we check out called the Venus Pool or Waioka. It’s a large pool just south of Hana. It’s fed by a combination of fresh and salt water. I guess it used to be largely fresh water and was protected by a bar from the ocean. In the last few years a large storm came through and destroyed the bar and now it’s more a mix of fresh and salt. The pool is surrounded roughly halfway by lava formations. It’s a bit of a scramble to get down there but it’s beautiful!
We had the pleasure of heading over there first thing in the morning and we were there probably an hour and had the entire thing to ourselves!
The pool itself is roughly 30′ deep and surrounded by formations that can be climbed so you can jump in anywhere from 3 to 30′ above the water. I opted for a moderate dive in from probably 15′. Since there are no pictures (that you will see) I’ll tell you that the dive was flawless and executed with little splash.
This pool was one of my favorite parts of the trip. It was hard to imagine having something so beautiful to ourselves. If you ever get out to Hana, I highly recommend the Venus pool.
The other favorite activity we did while on this trip was to go whale watching. Twice, actually. We had so much fun and saw so many whales and the cost was reasonable so the first trip we took on a large boat and the second on a large zodiac. The second trip was on a boat that was roughly 45 feet long and 15 feet across. Coincidentally, this is roughly the length and breadth of the whales we were watching!
They made a point of telling us that they could approach no closer than 100 yards but that didn’t mean the whales had the same limitation. There were a couple fairly close passes, more like 100 feet and yes, these are very large animals!
On each trip they stopped and dropped a hydrophone so we could hear the whales making noises. Mostly just chatter but it is still wonderful to hear them making noises like that.
Eventually, as with all good thing, our trip came to an end and we had to travel back home and back to our normal lives, which are not bad by any stretch, but made more difficult only in comparison to a wonderful trip and a wonderful vacation.
There are many reasons this is our third or fourth trip to Hawaii. It’s beautiful and warm. The people are nice and welcoming. The food is good and tasty. And, in the middle of a dark and grey winter, it’s wonderful respite and opportunity to recharge and relax!