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Our Big Hawaii Vacation, Week 1: Maui

This year, with Debbi having a sabbatical from work, we planned a two-week vacation to Hawaii, from which we returned earlier this week. It was great.

We left on Monday, September 12, landing in Maui. We’d never been to Maui before, although we’d been to the big island twice, but we’d always heard good things about Maui and figured a 2-week trip was a good chance to try a new island.

As usual for our Hawaii trips, we used Andrew Doughty’s guidebook for the island, in this case Maui Revealed, to key our exploration of the island. It’s excellent and highly recommended, as all his big island books have been.

The Hotel

We stayed at the Westin Maui, a nice hotel right on the beach and only a few miles’ drive from Lahaina, the main town in west Maui. We liked the rooms – nice and spacious, comfortable bed – and our room overlooked the central pool area. The Westin’s pools consisted of five pools and a hot tub, plus an impressive slide. Despite this we weren’t bowled over by their pools: None of them were more than four feet deep, the single hot tub was often filled, and the water was a little too cold for our preference. Still, we spent most morning by and in the pool.

The beach-front location was nice, too, although we didn’t avail ourselves of it except to watch sunsets. Being right next door to Whaler’s Village was nice for some shopping and meals, though. The self-parking lot fills up almost every night, but to their credit the Westin valet parks cars in such circumstances for free, which is pretty convenient.

The biggest downside to the Westin was the lack of good breakfast options: The hotel’s restaurants were even more overpriced than usual for Hawaii, and the coffee stand had a decided lack of variety in the pastries they offered.

While I wouldn’t say I was especially impressed by the Westin, I’d consider staying there again. The conveniences it did offer, and the proximity to Lahaina, were both quite nice.

The Road to Hana

The big “thing to do” on Maui is drive the road to Hana, the small town on the eastern edge of Maui. This is an all-day trip, because the highway is a narrow, twisty road through lush forests, whose bridges are almost entirely one-lane (so you have to yield to oncoming traffic), with frequent stops to view waterfalls, and a few neat detours to the ocean. The journey is the experience: Hana is a pretty small town (which we didn’t even stop in).

We were visiting during the dry season, so the waterfalls were not in their full splendor, but they were still pretty neat. We also stopped at a botanical garden, and drove out a couple of peninsulas to the ocean. Then we went to O’heo Gulch, site of the “Seven Sacred Pools” (a publicity name), with perhaps the most impressive waterfalls of the trip.

The drive back through the southern end of the island is considerably trickier than the drive out, because there’s a 10-mile stretch of road which is either very roughly paved, or completely unpaved. So progress is maybe 10-20 miles per hour, depending on how bad a particular stretch of road is. We were very glad we managed to make it through this stretch before sunset. The southern side of the island is dry and stark, but pretty in its own ways, and I’m not sorry we did it. It’s perfectly drivable in a 2-wheel-drive car, though, and it’s not full of potholes; it’s just very rough. Any modern car should be able to do the drive safely.

Restaurants

By far the best restaurant we went to on the island was Flatbread in the little town of Pa’ia, an awesome pizza restaurant which Doughty raved about in his book, and the raves were well deserved. We visited it on the way back from Hana, and then again later in the week, and it was delicious both times. Their drinks are great, too! I see now they have other locations, in the northeastern US, which I’ll have to check out next time I’m there.

Our other favorite place was Anthony’s Coffee, also in Pa’ia, where we had a yummy breakfast before driving to Hana. They also have tasty frappuccino-type drinks, and we got a delicious banana chocolate chip muffin there one day.

The other restaurant we visited twice was Leilani’s on the Beach, in the Whaler’s Village next to our hotel. You couldn’t beat the location, but their food was quite good, and their drinks pretty deadly.

Java Jazz & Soup Nutz is a very quirky restaurant with eclectic decor and yummy burgers and fries, one of the less expensive places to eat in west Maui, but worth a visit just for the food. The decor reminded me of a few of the odder places I patronized when I lived in New Orleans.

Shows

Warren and Annabelle’s came highly recommended by Doughty: It’s dinner (yummy drinks and a collection of tasty appetizers) in a fancy parlor lounge with tunes performed on piano by the resident ghost (Annabelle), followed by a magic show. Warren’s show is supposed to be amazing, but he doesn’t perform there all the time, and we saw a couple of other magicians. The show was good, but it did leave me wondering what about Warren’s show was so amazing. Still, a nice evening out.

Nakalele Blowhole

I think we agreed that our favorite adventure on Maui was to the Nakalele blowhole, a few miles off the highway, but we took the alternate route through what Doughty calls the “acid war zone”: The water had been eating away at the rocks along the way, making it look like a war zone between armies fighting with acid. The route is a little tricky to figure out, and the climb down the hill to the war zone takes some patience, but the landscape is eerie – someone needs to film some scenes in a movie or TV show here – and the blowhole itself – water shooting up through a hole in the shoreline rock when a big wave crashes under it – is also nifty. It’s enough of a hike that you feel like you’ve really accomplished something, and the scenery is worth the effort.

Sunset from Haleakala

One afternoon we drove up to the top of the Haleakala volcano to watch the sunset (several people had recommended sunset as less crowded than sunrise, which made sense to us, not really wanting to get up at 3 am to go see a sunrise 3 hours later). The drive is not too tough – the switchbacks are pretty gradual (it’s easier than it looks when you look at the road on a map) – and we stopped at two of the overlooks to see the lovely red erosion valley in the volcano along the way.

Sunset from 10,000 feet is indeed quite pretty, the red sun sinking below the clouds. And then it gets quite cold very quickly, dropping from about 63°F to 52° in less than half an hour. Brr! We didn’t linger, though, and made it back to the bottom only a little after total darkness. It was worth the trip.

Other Stuff

We always pack a lot into our Hawaii trips: We enjoy sitting by the pool in the morning, but then we like to get out and see things. Some other things we did:

  • Went to I’ao Valley to see the I’ao Needle. A pretty place with some nice views.
  • Walked to Dragon’s Teeth, which were not as impressive as I’d expected, although the odd maze left there by (I presume) the ancient Hawaiians was pretty neat.
  • Visited some historic sites in Lahaina. Some of the old pictures on display are worth the visit.
  • Drove to the upcountry and visited a couple of small towns, just to check them out and fill time before going to sunset on the volcano.
  • Drove to south Maui. Not really necessary unless you’re going to a beach to swim or snorkel, as it’s almost entirely hotels. But the lava field at the very end of the road is pretty impressive; if you’ve never been to the big island, go here, and then realize that vast swaths of the big island look much like this: Rolling fields of blackened, rippled rock laid down in just the last few hundred years.

I was a little disappointed that Maui doesn’t have a used book store (the one in Lahaina apparently closed earlier this year), nor any comic book stores, as I always make a point of visiting such stores to see if I can find anything unusual (or valuable-yet-underpriced). Indeed, I think the only bookstore on the island of any significant size is the Barnes & Noble in Lahaina (now that Borders has gone out of business). But shopping at these places wasn’t a big part of my plans; it was just a little weird.

We also had a mishap with the car: When we came out from Warren & Annabelle’s, the car – a Pontiac G6 – told us one tire was close to flat (only 11 PSI), despite having been sitting in a parking lot for over 4 hours. We stopped at a gas station and inflated it, but the car still complained. So we exchanged it the next morning, which turned out to be easy. The fellow behind the counter said, “Wow, I didn’t think we still had any of these.” Apparently Avis picked up a bunch of G6s cheap a few years ago, so they’re being rotated out, and we had one of the last ones. We got a Chevy Impala as a replacement, which was practically the same car in its feel and features, and we were happy and impressed with how easy the exchange was.

In sum, we had a good time on Maui, although overall we didn’t like it as much as our previous trips to the big island, and were looking forward to the second half of the trip, on that island. Maui’s a lot smaller, and there’s not as much to do there, at least not the sorts of things we enjoy doing. I feel like we did nearly everything there is to do on Maui in a week, whereas we still had things we hadn’t done on the big island after two trips there. We’ll probably go back sometime, but likely not for a whole week.

I’ll chronicle the big island half of our trip in my next entry.

Some photos from our trip, posted in separate entries:

  1. Views from our hotel at the Westin Maui
  2. Dragon’s Teeth
  3. The Road to Hana
  4. The Nakalele blowhole
  5. Banyan Tree Park in Lahaina