My article on Maui in the Jetairways Magazine as of January 2008.
As we drove out of the Kahului airport, I got my first tempting view of the West Maui Mountains; tall, rugged peaks linked by the lush ripple of verdant valleys. Say a big aloha to misty jungles, warm turquoise ocean with soft sand beaches and warm friendly people. As we drove into Lahaina, the quintessential port town of Maui, we were in for yet another treat. The blue ocean slowly came into view and the sound of the blue expanse overpowered everything else around. The day was sunny and had an air of languidness about it. The cloudless sky was a brilliant blue. Not too many places can stake claim to being the number one vacation island in the world.
For many travelers, a Hawaiian vacation means a beachfront resort with all the amenities. There is another Hawaii, however – more than beaches, a more adventurous, less expensive alternative — which my husband and I discovered while staying at a bed-and-breakfast establishment on a recent trip. Being able to wake up to the chirping of birds and breathing in the crisp, clear ocean air was definitely my idea of a perfect start to the day. As I moved the window curtains, the towering West Maui Mountains were visible again. We stayed at the Plantation Inn close to Front Street. Front Street, the narrow main thoroughfare is a bustling busy street full of restaurants, galleries, trinket shops and handmade Hawaiian handicraft stores. As soon as we stepped out of the inn, the road sloped downwards, to the aquamarine ocean along Front Street. As we walked along, hand written boards outside every store promised a wonderful experience out in the ocean. Where whaling ships once laid anchor, a fleet of pleasure boats bob in the sun, waiting to take visitors on sunset dinner cruises, snorkel and dive sails, whale watching excursions and picnic trips to other islands. Lahaina Harbor is also home to many of the world’s finest cruise ships that anchor off shore.
We didn’t feel like we were in the middle of the hustle of Lahaina while staying at the inn. We were somewhat transported to a southern plantation in the deep south, with a garden of lush green palm trees and a pool accentuated by European style garden furniture. Lahaina was a whaling port and as many as 80 ships at one time stood in the roadstead off Lahaina, then the capital of the native Hawaiian kingdom. It suddenly found itself a port of respite for sea weary whaling men plying the Pacific from Alaska to the Antarctic. The whalers were followed by the sugar planters and their field hands, immigrants from Asia who raised Buddhist temples beside the churches. In 1898, at the squat courthouse in Lahaina, the Stars and Stripes was hoisted aloft to signal the annexation of Hawaii by the United States. Lahaina was a port of respite in the days of yore and things haven’t changed much. It is still in many ways, a place of reprieve for tired tourists that want to sip on a tropical cocktail and unwind after a day packed with activities.
The highlight of our trip to Maui was definitely the famed Road to Hana. The road to Hana, a secluded town at the easternmost tip of Maui, is known as the Hana Highway. A highway it is not. It winds for 50 miles past taro patches, magnificent seascapes, waterfall pools, botanical gardens, and verdant rainforests, and it ends at one of Hawaii’s most beautiful tropical places, Hana. The journey begins in Paia. It is known for the eccentric characters that traverse the streets. Now, these are not characters from a comic strip, but everyday people that make the place colorful and exciting. As we sat down on the front porch of Anthony’s coffee shop and people watched, the eccentricity of the place came alive. Surfers, skate boarders, boogie-boarders and way farers walked the streets, bare foot and animated in conversations. Once on the road, there were small sign posts leading us to the Hookipa Bay, known around the world as the Mecca of windsurfing. Hookipa (hospitality) is where the top ranked surfers come to test themselves against thunderous waves and forceful winds. Just as we pulled in, the sun was overshadowed by a large cloud and the ‘god rays’ split through the openings and transformed the ocean into something absolutely surreal. The surfers twirled and danced in the wind like colorful little butterflies.
Top down, sunscreen on, radio tuned to a little Hawaiian music on a Maui morning, we drove on down the wiggle of a road. It is impossible not to pull over at almost every turn-out to relish the breath taking vistas. The entire stretch is laden with waterfalls, beaches and hidden trails. We pulled over at several places, parked our car and then hiked up various trails only to be wowed all over again. The highway ends at the Oheo Gulch or famously known as the seven sacred pools (the road beyond is closed for repairs, due to an earthquake in 2006). After hiking through lush green bamboo jungles, with the river gurgling right next to us and making our way through wet slippery rocks and boulders, and walking across tiny streams, we were finally just inches away from the Waimoku falls that plunged down 400ft. The hike up was worth every little droplet of sweat trickling down our aching, tired bodies. This waterfall slowly carves its way down a green valley, creates the seven pools and finally gushes into the roaring sea. While the onward hike is enticing, coming back down is equally rewarding. The offer is irresistible; being able to swim in the clear blue pools of the Waimoku. Most visitors start early in the day, drive to Hana with a million stops on the way and then head back towards the evening. We stayed on in Hana at the Hana Kai Maui resort located on a black sand beach. Just as I began asking myself what could be spectacular about a black sand beach, the answer was like a vision from heaven. The rich, dark, black soil with the blue ocean lapping against its feet, set against a lush green tropical background was like a Renoir or Picasso.
As we drove around in Hana, we noticed a huge cross atop a mountain. Its sheer size was intriguing. On enquiring further at the Hasegawa general store (the only grocery store in town) we learnt that the cross was erected in memory of Paul Fagan; a businessman who ignited the first sparks of tourism here. The cross made of lava rock, stands as a tribute and a sign of respect for a man who gave to the community in generous ways. Further down the road was the red sand beach
This is one place in time, where it is about the journey, not the destination. Hana might seem like any other tropical destination in the world, but it is only when you experience it that the mystery comes alive. It will beguile you into staying the night, the week or for some, even a lifetime. The true essence of Hana has to be lived; it cannot be experienced from the window of a car. It is sacred and spiritual; it seeps in slowly and exudes a certain kind of peace that I’ve experienced nowhere else. It is no wonder Charles Lindbergh, choose this as his final resting place. He rests peacefully at the Hoomau church.