I promised all of you a trip report on my recent engagement in Maui, which I spent some time writing during my mileage run to Bahrain. This is going to be a long one, so I’m spreading it out. If you’re planning an upcoming trip to Hawaii, feel free to ask for more details and ideas.
- The Plan
- Outbound: SEA-SFO-OGG in United First Class
- Day 1: Check-in at the Hyatt Regency Maui
- Day 2: Visiting Old Lahaina
- Day 3: Proposal at Haleakala!
- Day 4: Road Trip around West Maui
- Day 5: Snorkeling at Molokini & the Drums of the Pacific Luau
- Return: OGG-SFO-SEA in United Economy Plus
- Turning a Proposal into a Miles and Points Bonanza!
Rather than endure the road to Hana the day after waking up early for Haleakala (doing it the same day didn’t sound fun, either) we decided to just drive around west Maui, north to Kapaula and around the island clockwise through Kahului and back to Kaanapali.
The benefit of this route is that it gets a lot fewer tourists (there were many times when we were the only car I could see on the road) and is less developed than the recently renovated Hana Highway. At least, this is what I’ve been told because I still haven’t been to Hana myself. Next time. I promise! It felt a lot like the old, pre-resort days of Hawaii.
Being undeveloped can be good or bad. The last stretch of the road in West Maui is about the same quality as Seattle’s god-awful streets. To be fair, maybe Seattle is worse, but you get my point. The switchbacks are more frequent and sharp even as the road narrows to a single lane, so use your horn around tight corners. This was the first time I’d ever seen a caution sign like this one.
I’d highly recommend driving clockwise like we did. For starters, if you’re in Kaanapali you’re already at the beginning. Also, that last 16-mile stretch before Kahului starts rough and gets rougher (it took at well over an hour not including stops). Going clockwise gives you a gradual introduction to greater and greater challenges along the way.
Note: Driving around West Maui is not typically prohibited by your car rental insurance policy, but it might be wise to check with them anyway. The road is paved the whole way through. However, it becomes a twisty one-lane road after passing the Olivine Pools. You could always turn around at that point if you are uncomfortable. The village of Kahakuloa is just a couple miles further and has turnouts along the way down if you would like to make that your final destination instead.
Our first stop was the Dragon’s Teeth lava formation at Kapalua Bay. Finding this was not exactly easy. To get a nice view, I’d recommend you turn left off the highway at Hoohui Street and then continue north along the oceanfront road with occasional glimpses of the coast. Eventually you’ll reach the Ritz-Carlton development, which is a few miles long. Just keep driving until it basically dead-ends at a parking lot near the intersection with Office Road.
Although there is a path right in front of you, don’t follow it. It just goes to the beach. Look around and you should be able to see the Dragon’s Teeth across the golf course. Cut along the right side of the golf course next to the hedge. The ground next to the teeth is relatively flat and good for walking around, but the ocean’s spray is a little startling. Like I said, it was just the beginning.
It turns out that hedge is there to keep people away from a sacred Hawaiian burial ground where Ritz-Carlton originally wanted to build its hotel. After the locals learned about them disinterring their ancestors, the hotel had to make new plans to develop further from shore.
Looking at the hotel, it didn’t seem very inviting, reminding me of the giant over-manicured apartment complexes back in my college days at Irvine. There were few people at the beach, and those we did see on the grounds were being ferried around by golf cart because the place was so big. I’m told Kapalua Bay does have better golfing than Ka’anapali, so don’t stay here unless that’s your plan.
We took Office Road back to Highway 30 and continued north, stopping occasionally before we reached Honolua Bay after mile marker 32. This is a must-see destination, even if you aren’t interested in snorkeling. There isn’t as much vegetation on West Maui as there is on the road to Hana, but the path to reach the rocky beach goes through some thick jungle with a few chickens and a feral cat. We got a shot or two of the chickens when I came back with my camera, but sadly no pictures of the jungle cat.
Getting into the water here might be tough. There are a lot of slipper rocks. And the snorkeling, despite it’s reputation, wasn’t all that good. In fact, none of the snorkeling on our trip was especially great, so I think it was just the weather. I’m sure I wasn’t so easily amused as a child, and this was my first time here in the winter. Fish or not, we still had fun!
Back in the car, we dried off in the sun with the top down, stopping again once or twice for a look at the view before we pulled over and hiked down tot he Nakalele Blowhole after mile marker 38. Instead of dodging golf balls, evading feral cats, or slipping on rocks, we now had to climb down a steep cliff. At least there were some paths worn into the ground, but it was still a bit rocky.
No trouble for me! I spent a good deal of my childhood climbing the hills in the nearby county park or jumping between rocks at Sand Harbor beach near my grandparents’ house in Lake Tahoe. I’m half billy goat, and I was running down that cliffside in flip flops with Megan yelling after me.
While waiting for her I climbed on top of a giant rock and watch the waves beat against the shore. There was a lot of wave action there, and I’m glad I wasn’t in the water. When the waves are just right, the push under the rock and up through the blowhole, erupting like a whale spout! I don’t think the blowhole was particularly active that day–going just 10-20 feet in the air–but it was still cool.
Sadly, Megan would not let me get very close. There were lots of signs around warning about the people who had died when they got too close and the water sucked them back down the hole. Obviously you need to be careful; don’t do something stupid like get close enough to look down the hole. You can inch forward to a place where you’re comfortable.
Back from my misadventures near the blowhole, Megan and I sat to admire the ocean and noticed a whale just a few yards offshore! It was breaching over and over, flipping its tail or its fin in the air, and we tried to take what photos we could. It was at this point I noticed I was getting a lot of salt spray on my lens and had forgotten to bring my lens cleaning kit. I apologize if some of the photos look muted.
When Highway 30 changes into Highway 340, you’ll notice the mile markers stop going up and start going down. The first one you’ll come to is mile marker 16, where there is lots of space to turn out on the left side. We stopped here to eat some of the fruit we picked up the day before from roadside stand, as well as some cookies from the ABC Store.
Although the area near the parking lot is nice and flat, the hike down to the pools is very rocky, steep, and has no path. I found it difficult, and I already told you I normally take this kind of thing in stride. When we finally did get down to the pools, it was kind of a let down. One guy was floating around with a snorkel mask, but I’m not sure what he was looking at. The water was cold and very shallow, so we mostly just gazed out at the ocean.
Remember how I said we could see the waves crashing against the rocks back by the blowhole? Well, that was sort of an alcove, sheltered by big cliffs on either side. At the Olivine Pools, you’re exposed, there’s no blowhole to keep you away from the edge, and the waves are just as ferocious. You really get a sense of the fury of the open ocean, whereas I’m normally used to seeing other islands in the distance across relatively calm surf.
Back in the car, we had no more planned stops ahead of us. Although we read in our guidebook about some tiny village with a weird green shack that sells banana bread, I’m not really a fan of bananan bread and had planned to pass by it. I knew the driving was about to get more difficult and wanted to just get through it in one piece, hopefully without any head-on collisions along the way.
Well, just after the Olivine Pools the road narrows to a single lane with a cliff on one side and a drop off on the other as it dives into a valley. We began to run into the first real traffic as a car or two stopped to take pictures. But we made it through and got to the little village, which really didn’t seem to have any signs of except that banana bread stand.
And the guy who walked in the middle of the road to flag us down and sell little baggies of dried mango like it was bright orange weed.
Well, that dried mango was one of the most awesome things I’ve ever had, like the perfect fruit leather, and I’ve been buying dried mango everywhere I go in Hawaii and Seattle looking for something like it. They’re all yellow (again, this was bright orange!), are heavily sugared, and usually taste a bit off. Sadness. I will have to get lots more when I go back to Maui. The whole drive was worth it to get this mango!
The banana bread, not so much. We did buy some. It was not my favorite. We also bought some dried coconut candy, which, like the mango, was extremely good. Most of the other dried coconut candy you’ll find comes in sealed bags and just sticks together, but not this.
So, (1) coconut candy – yes!, (2) dried mango – YES!!!, (3) banana bread – meh. I don’t know why everyone talks about the banana bread and not the other stuff.
The Long Slog Home
Ugh! After we climbed back out of the valley, we pulled over to look at some pasture just in time for a school bus to come barreling around the corner. Remember, these are all one lane roads for the next several miles. The switchbacks got worse and worse, the potholes got larger, and there were many blind corners. It might be a good idea to slow down and honk every now and then.
Our guide book mentioned some art studios where you can stop and shop along the way, such as the Kaukini Gallery after mile marker 14 and the Bruce Turnbull Studio and Sculpture Garden after mile marker 10. However, we were not in the mood. We just kept going, slowing down when we saw something interesting, and looking forward to a real highway again.
That busy traffic in Kahului was never so welcome, and we made it back with just enough time to grab a couple $4 mai tais at the pool as happy hour was ending.