This first visit to Maui was arranged by Rita. She wanted to visit the islands for a long time. Ok, fine. After the trip to Catalina Island I was a bit spent on the planning front. She found some deal in Costco that included flight tickets and resort – Kā’anapali Beach Hotel. The hotel had breakfast, but not dinner or activities as usual – it wasn’t all inclusive.
Tuesday, March 31
Arrived in the afternoon to a relatively small Maui airport with all the other tourists. Gotten the rental and went to eat lunch at a place that was recommended by a local. It turned out to be a regular greasy food court. At least it wasn’t expensive, by local standards. We spent the rest of the day soaking up the sun on the tiny beach and planning the next week’s activities. However, the ocean was great – warm and peaceful. Too peaceful – as flat. There were a couple of places right close by to our hotel to watch the fish. But it was already evening and late for that.
This is where I’ve gotten my first Hawaii disappointment. Fine, perhaps the greasy Maui food court was an aberration close to the airport, but the food for the tourists should be good, right? No, same thing. There was a little stall right next to the beach selling some rot of cold fruity drinks with optional little fruit balls. Ok, Maui being a tropical island should have the best fresh fruit. No luck! The girl at the stand just poured sole canned syrup to cold water and ice. Seriously? And the little balls were from a can from Thailand.
In the evening we used the hotel-given coupon for their restaurant. It was OK. I was expecting a bit better fish. There was also some sort of “performance”. Hawaiian music to an empty restaurant. But it was a bit far away.
Wednesday, April 1
The hotel has all that guest tourist thing organized very well. At the time of check in they gave us some materials, food coupons, and the invitation to first day breakfast. There was nothing special about that breakfast other than it was in a separate room. All just arrived guests were there. The workers did the Hawaiian welcome thing – one large dude blew a sea shell, then many of them sang and danced. The workers looked Asian, I’d say Thai. I wasn’t sure if there were really native Hawaiian or just simply hired labourers from the same Thailand. Anyways, their white manager explained the conditions and what we should expect on our trip.
The day before in all the touristy materials we found the local Aquarium – Maui Ocean Center. It seemed like an interesting place to visit. The Aquarium was well organized. However, it didn’t have those giant tuna tanks like Monterrey one has. But it had one fairly large shark and ray tank. We managed to see the feeding event. Interestingly, the lady presenter passed around shark jawbone. Damn those teeth were sharp. There was a small native Hawaiian stall at the end of the Aquarium displaying wooden weapons – clubs with shark teeth. Nasty stuff.
There were several tanks with surgeonfishes. They looked cute, many varieties. The information listed that they had some sort of very sharp scalpels on their tail (that’s why is the name). And I kept wondering where it was and how it worked. Finally it dawned on me – there were two protruding horizontal essentially hooks on each side on this neck between the main body and the tail. Nasty. Some of these fishes had two of these hooks on each side. These fishes are slippery, so a bit of a wiggle and they can really cut things. I wonder how they are caught (and taste). The decently sized restaurant in the aquarium served good fish meals. Perhaps it was a bit too big – the size of this restaurant was almost half the size of the main venue. Kind of shows the priorities. I wonder if for some extra money they’ll cook one the fishes from the tanks. 🙂
After the aquarium we went back to the beach stopping on the way at the local ice cream shop. This time I did some snorkeling and there was fish at the bottom. The ocean was so salty and calm that I could just swim anywhere, even far away from the shore.
Dinner was a constant problem in the area. Yes, there were lots of pricey options around, in our hotel and the neighbors. Since we’ve had a car we could drive somewhere else to possibly better choices. Somewhere else was just as crowded and expensive. Rita found some fancy ramen place. By the time we arrived they had about 2 hours wait. At a ramen place? Well, they seem to be popular. So we went to this Lahaina downtown. Parking was a bit of an issue so I’ve let Rita pick a place and went to leave the car very far away. Somehow we quickly picked this place called Kimo’s. It was a large American restaurant. Decent food. By this day I wasn’t expecting excellent fish any more. But they gave us just giant dessert at the end.
Thursday, April 2
Visit to O’o farm. I found their ad in some of the tourist brochures. I was expecting some interesting information about local flora. There have to be some unique plants in this tropical island. But it was mostly regular vegetables. The people there guided us through the farm, which was actually really small. Somehow they managed to grow quite a variety of fruits and vegetables, and coffee. Most of it went to the local restaurants and the tours like ours. The farm owners seemed to be into coffee. There was a drying and roasting house specially built for that. However, the lunch included in the tour was divine. Really – the freshest, tastiest food I’ve had during the whole trip. There was a cook who explained what he was planning to prepare. I kind of lost the train of his plan right after the appetizer. He had a small outdoor brick oven that most likely contributed to the quality of the food. So the lunch was the end of the tour. People were talking digesting all the lavish meal. One couple wisely bought local vine before the tour. And everyone was photographing the cute local chameleon sitting in the tree next to the eating place.
We also visited nearby lavender farm. Then local boutique Ocean vodka farm. They were cooking vodka and rum from sugarcane. We bought a tour of the facilities that included some tasting. I have to say that the vodka was a bit hard on the way down; not very smooth, despite some advanced refining they were doing. Technically, vodka is just pure alcohol and should taste nothing regardless on where it come from. It isn’t vine that depends on the grapes or whiskey that depend on how well the barrels were burned or something. Still, not all vodkas taste the same.
There was also a goat farm nearby. However, due to some permit issue they were not allowed to sell goat milk, which was kind of useless for us. I guess for young kids it would be cute to pet and feed the goats, but I was already out of these activities. To me a goat is a source of milk or meat, not much a companion or a pet.
Friday, April 3
This was our third day in Hawaii. It was time to do something beach relaxing. After the same boring breakfast Rita went to sit by the pool and I went to learn how to surf.
For this we were given fairly large boards and one instructor. Then we went to a small stretch of the beach a bit further South from our hotel. This was pretty much the place for surfing in the area – there were waves. The rest of the wild Pacific around was flat like glass. As a result, all surfing classes from all the hotels in the neighborhood were congregating in this tiny spot.
I sort of got the hang of surfing – paddle with arms while the wave is coming, which turned out to be surprisingly easy, then stand up quickly and properly when the wave is at the top. I just needed more skill to actually stand up on the board correctly and keep the balance. It was like any other skill – initial feel is easy, but mastery really takes time.
Then I went back after this introduction. Part of the equipment was a thin synthetic long sleeve t-shirt to protect against the sun. I’ve also put some sunscreen on my ears and neck. But I completely forgot about back of my legs. Lying on the board waiting for the good wave to come totally cooked my legs. And I had no idea at the time. The real awakening came later.
After the surfing lessons we just stayed on the same narrow beach sunbathing and swimming. Since we came to Maui I was trying to find a place to get some scuba diving. I thought that after my classes in Thailand I had some sort of certification with PADI. It appears that PADI has some sort of global database that has information on all certified divers. It was good since I didn’t have my paper. But in reality I didn’t have anything after that simple class in Thailand. It was just an instructor-led dive. Real certification takes a lot longer. Thus I resigned to do a simple dive right here in Maui off the beach. I found an open spot in a group running in a hotel next door (waiting forever in line of one person to buy the class).
In the evening we picked one widely advertised place that cooked in front of you some Japanese beef – Kobe. It was a show. I was surprised Rita never seen it. It was a lot of fried fresh meet. Fine, just a bit too heavy for this climate.
Saturday, April 4
We were coming back a bit late for lunch, but early for dinner. Stopped at Kula Lodge & Restaurant on the way. I’ve gotten tempted by their advertisement of a brick oven pizza. The view was good, the food and service – not so much. The workers there seem annoyed that we showed up in this odd time. Well, they could have just told us they were closed. We’ve ordered salad, french onion soup, and pizza. Only the salad was edible. The soup was insanely salty, the pizza was undercooked and swimming in cheese. As a result I was compelled to leave a ‘good’ review for this place.
Sunday, April 5
Today was Easter. The hotel was planning several events for that. There was some sort of preaching area. A local priest came in the morning brainwashing the willing participants. The priest was kind of cute Hawaiian type, on a pickup truck. I bet he’s also a surfer too. Whatever works, dude, to sell your wares. Hm, that would be interesting to organize a church of surfing with meetings conducted in the open ocean. Anyway, to avoid all this religious madness we decided to head to the famous Road to Hana. Well, I decided and Rita agreed.
Road to Hana is this local the must-see thing. It’s a very windy narrow highway in the jungle going essentially abound the entire island. It is paved most of the way, but not always. It appears that getting a well working road in a tropical island isn’t that easy. Or maybe this Hana place wasn’t that high priority on the tourist conglomerates hit list. Anyways, there were these consistent scare tactics about the dangers of this road and unfriendliness of the locals. All designed to nudge people to buying a packaged tour. Air Conditioned limo, lunch, experienced drivers, etc. I would have bought the tour just because I want someone to explain to me that was happening. But due to Rita’s condition and rough driving we had to opt out into driving ourselves. The sad part about it was that I, personally, would have no clue what I was seeing around, which would be sad. A bit after we arrived to Maui and were planning what to do I was thinking that it would be nice to find a podcast or something about Road to Hana. I was also thinking that the phone would have all the needed location data to explain exactly what was around. Rita suggested to search Google App Store (or maybe she just wanted to get rid of my annoyances). And I did find this very useful GyPSy Guide App on the Road to Hana. It had all the info I was looking for and it would work in offline mode (no reception in that side of Maui). It was a bit large, but totally worth it. So armed with the guide App we headed out to Hana not in the early morning.
It seems that the density of people on the Road goes down with distance from the tamed part of Maui. Initially there were many more tourists trying to navigate the tight turns. Or maybe we were just late and the majority of tourists, especially on guided trips, have already passed. First we stopped at the Hana Maui Botanical Gardens. It had beautiful lush display of trees and even some weird fruits. Well, as before, it would be nice if they had some walking tours explaining what was there. A bit later we stopped at a small town right on the shore of the Ocean. There was some a story about it with one of the Beatles staying or living there. There the Pacific was the real deal – windy, stormy, strong and moving. Not that indoor pool that we had on our side of Maui. I was really thinking that we should have stayed in one of these small cities instead. The vacation would have been very relaxing. Just had to bring a lot of books. We stopped at one of the state parks on the way checking out the lava caves they had. Small ones. It was actually raining for a bit when we were there. Some of the Road tourists were swimming in the ocean. I didn’t dare going into those waves. No lifeguard – one wrong move and no one would be looking for you. I suppose this shore would make for excellent surfing. Still, with rugged lava shore it would be quite dangerous.
We finished the road at the other entrance to the Haleakala national park. The park goes from the top of the Haleakalā volcano all the way to the ocean. There is actually a route people do from top to bottom. This is some serious elevation change. But in this place, just manage the precipitation and due to warm weather one can go really light. Anyways, there were some interesting trees to see and water pools formed by the cascading river. Due to fairly consistent rain on this side of Maui the water was fairly constant.
On the drive back the app was keeping up informed about the colorful history of Hawaiian Islands. We barely finished the most iffy part of the road before the dark. For this day Rita found some ordinary Chinese ramen shop in some strip mall. The price was good. The food was ok.
Monday, April 6
Another all day at the beach. All the week I wanted to get up early and go swimming. Didn’t make it this day either. But I did it after breakfast. It was very easy to swim in this warm salty ocean due to fairly decent buoyancy. I did go snorkeling to The Rock next to our hotel to see some animals before they would retire for the afternoon.
After lunch was the time for my scuba diving. The little shop in the hotel next door was run by a father+son team. Out of all people it was me and a woman with her son (10 or 11 years old). They did dive before as well. As a result all the short diving refresh was done fairly quickly.
The whole dive thing was just walk off the beach under water. I was a bit skeptical about the quality of marine life that could be observed like this, as opposed to open ocean diving. But it was fairly good. I saw all manners of weird marine creatures. living right off the very busy beach. My issue was always keeping neutral buoyancy – I was either sinking to the bottom r raising to the surface. The main old diving guide was more concerned about the mother+son pair so I was essentially left to my own devices. One interesting feature was some old anchor at the bottom. Allegedly it was some sort of pirate ship anchor. But it was nicely covered with all sorts of life forms. I kind of regretted not buying a cheap waterproof camera.
For this last supper we went to the same restaurant we went on the first day – Kimo’s. They’ve also given us a coupon for some insanely large dessert. At least the food and service there was a known quantity and for some reason there wasn’t a two hour line. The restaurant probably had a very nice ocean view, but it was too dark by the time we went there.
Tuesday, April 7
Last day. All we had to do is pack up, return the car and fly out. However, the hotel people had special “see off” procedure for the guests. They collected all the people leaving this day in the lobby. There was a group that sang something and every person has gotten a wreath of macadamia nuts. They used to use flowers, but the guy said they would deteriorate too quickly. Macadamia nuts, on the other hand, were quite durable. It was a nice marketing touch. Now people would bring these useless wreaths home and they would remind them about the nice Hawaiian vacation and perhaps nudge to come back.
After that we went to the airport and flew back to SFO. The long 6 hour flight, plus the time change brought us back at SFO squarely at midnight. Just the right time to be in real pain to get back to Sunnyvale. CalTrain was no longer running well and taxies were insanely expensive (and all this taxi business always seemed strange to me – I never knew exactly how much it would cost). So to reduce the pain I’ve decided to try Uber. I’ve told it the destination and start and it gave me the price and the name of the poor soul who would be driving us. It turned out to be some immigrant (of course) from Pakistan or whereabouts driving a prius. The price was about $70 from SFO to Sunnyvale. Not too bad, except he was falling asleep periodically on the highway.
That was the end of the first trip to Hawaii. I can’t say I was too blown away by these islands. Well, the islands themselves were very beautiful, but they seem too developed and Americanized. Perhaps we didn’t choose the best time and place to visit. So we might go there again, but it wouldn’t be our first choice.