Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Maui Magic

Map of MauiFor several months now I've been hosting travel posts from bloggers all over the world and this week I thought I'd take a stab at it myself with giving you a travel post from my favorite place in the world: Maui.

Alaska may be cold but perhaps the greatest thing about our state is how close it is to Hawaii and as a child our family used to spend Thanksgivings or spring breaks down south soaking up sun and surf. The next few weeks I'm sharing three tips that will guarantee paradise should you ever venture that direction.

Today's tip? Avoid Oahu. Hawaii has eight main islands, six of which are inhabited. Oahu is where the capitol, Honolulu, is located along with tourist attractions like Diamond Head, Pearl Harbor and the Polynesian Cultural Center. If you absolutely must see these things before you die then fine, go to Oahu and get it out of your system, but if you're like me and require that a vacation be relaxing and carefree rather than filled with entry fees and guided cattle tours then you don't want to even touchdown on Oahu if you can help it.

We tell people this all the time but for some reason very few listen. It's as if they're afraid to venture out into the unknown and prefer to stick with the places that get the most press but seriously--don't go to Oahu. Waikiki, though famous, isn't that great of a beach. Humauna Bay, while legendary for it's snorkeling, is more crowded than the subway at rush hour. If you're a serious surfer then maybe you'd go for the wave action on the North Shore but if you insist on seeing Oahu for you'll most likely come back from your vacation thinking it was nice but wondering what all the hype is about.

So which island do you chose instead? Depends. Hawaii, or the Big Island, is large and arid and exciting with volcanic activity (that's where the Mauna Kea observatory and Kilawea, the active volcano, are located). The terrain is very different from other islands--rocky and desert-like--but the tourism there is strong.

Lanai and Molokai are small and less-developed but gaining popularity. If you're the kind who wants to really get out there away from it all then one of these two smaller islands might appeal. Kauai is another popular destination but gets quite a bit of rainfall so guaranteeing a rain-free vacation can be tricky. Of course it depends on when you go but here in Alaska we always go in winter which can make it harder to stay dry. If I remember correctly, Kauai boasts the spot on earth that gets the most yearly rainfall which should be a tip-off what to expect.

Maui is a little unusual in that the northeastern side of the island gets all the rainfall and by the time the clouds hit Haleakala, the world's largest dormant volcano, they're all spent and the southern side of the island is quite arid by comparison. You have the variety of the famous waves on the north shore, the tropical jungles on the northeast, the shopping and golfing on the west coast (not my thing) and the biking and hiking High Country activities.

It's not as crowded at Oahu--not by a long shot--yet is big enough to have a lot of the modern conveniences like Sam's Club and Costco for your vacationing pleasure. Plus you can get direct flights into Kahalui on Alaska Air which not only saves the cost of the island hopper flight but shaves off a couple hours of commuting.

So that's tip number one. If you're smart enough to take my advice I promise you've taken the biggest step to ensuring your Hawaiian vacation is wonderful.

The last time I was there was 2005 and Andrew and I drove all over the island--I don't think there is an alley or dirt path anywhere that we didn't explore. But of all the things we saw the two favorites were Ching's Pond and Haleakala.

Ching's Pond, MauiChing's Pond
If you go to Maui you'll fly into Kahalui airport then most likely stay in either Kihei/Wailea down south or in Kaanapali to the west. Either way you've got to explore the island.

Go clockwise on route 30. The map doesn't show it going all the way around the island but it does--just don't go when the school buses are running because at some points it's so narow you'll never get your share of the "two lane" path. Go north around the tip by Kahalukoa or save the western half of the island for another day and cut through the middle of the island toward Pa'ia. But get on the road and drive. All the way around the island.

As you drive there are a few must-sees but if you only can stop at one spot make it Ching's Pond.

As you can see from the picture it's a crystal pool surrounded by volcanic rock and that bridge at the top is where the cars pass. The narrow winding road above doesn't give you much warning and unless you're alert you'll miss the spot. Find a spot to pull of then hike down the overgrown path to the pool below where the cold fresh water cascades over the rocks through the filtered sunlight.

If you go in the morning you'll probably be alone but if you happen to have company you might get lucky and see someone diving off the bridge. The report is that there's a tiny spot in the pool where it's deep enough for diving and only the best divers can jump off the bridge and hit that narrow window but it can be done.

HaleakalaAs I mentioned, Haleakala is the world's largest dormant volcano and while I'd visited the mountain plenty of times before only on our last trip did I get it right. I told our crew I wanted to drive up the mountain at night.

While the kids could appreciate the benefits of staying up late they weren't that thrilled about being in a car again and at first merely humored me. We started at dusk and as we climbed up the winding road toward the crater we could smell the eucalyptus forests in the warm evening air.

By the time we got to the top it was amazing. If you live anywhere close to a city you'll understand how the stars are crowded out by city lights but on Haleakala, where you're 10,000 feet closer to the sky and away from urban life they're breathtaking. You can see the band of the Milky Way and more stars than you thought possible.

Even my kids were impressed and we all talked about the night as the highlight of the vacation. If you're particularly adventurous you might try going up just before dawn rather than at dusk. I've heard that viewing sunrise from the crater is nearly a spiritual experience.

Another thing to note about Haleakala if you're interesting in seeing Maui from a real outdoorsy angle is that there are biking and hiking tours of the mountain and public use cabins available for ridiculously low fees. If luxury hotels on the beach aren't your thing then you might consider checking those out.

I'm saving that for another trip.


Congratulations to Sharon for winning the jaC Jewlery giveaway for those subscribed to the Scribbit Newsletter and to another as yet undisclosed winner for winning the Friends Forever Girls Dolls Giveaway from this last weekend. She's going to love those dolls! Check your emails ladies to claim those prizes!

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Stonefox (otherwise known as Heidi) said...

I live in Asia and I found this post quite funny because (after living in Asia for 7 years) my family and I loved Oahu! We were thinking it wasn't crowded at all! But then again, we do live in a huge city where seeing a bird is like...well like seeing an elk or something.

jacjewelry said...

It's my dream to go to Hawaii... Thanks for this post - I heard the same thing about Oahu. I am determined to make it there one day!

JENNIFER said...

If you do touch down in Oahu for just a minute the Polynesian Cultural Center is pretty fabulous :) But Maui is definitely our first destination.....next time :)

fruitfulwords said...

I've been to HA five times, two of those times to Oahu. I have to confess I enjoyed going there. Of course once it was for 6 weeks as a college student. We had class in the morning and the rest of the day was ours.

I am looking forward to hearing about those cabins on Msui that are ridiculously low in price. :-)When I go back I'll visit Haleakala at night too. It does sound like a stunner.

Thanks for sharing - nice way to start the morning.

Sheri said...

I'm a little partial to Oahu since I was born there and lived there until I was 8 or so. We'd then go back every summer to spend it with our grandparents. I've spent many a summer evening at Waikiki swimming with my grandpa. So, we definitely have to stop in Oahu for obvious reasons - but Maui is really beautiful. I really need to start planning a trip back with the family. Thanks for the nudge.

Scribbit said...

Well for those who prefer Oahu I'm sure you're in good company--more people have chosen Oahu as their home than have chosen Maui, right? :) 5 million fans can't be wrong :)

We Alaskans are funny about having our space--with so much room here we expect to have the beaches to ourselves so you can't trust my opinion.

Maddy said...

We've only been to one, Kauai, quite a while back. You're right about the rainfall but it's not cold rain like in England. We thoroughly enjoyed are trip and I'm certainly with you on the 'carefree' aspect of any holiday.

a Tonggu Momma said...

I've always felt that you might as well go to Miami if you only hang around the south side of Oahu. We did live in Kailua, Oahu for years, though, and loved that area. It's quieter, with a beautiful beach and more of the local experience.

Kathryn said...

I have been to Oahu and the Big Island and I feel the same as you about Oahu. To someone who really wants the Oahu experience, I would reccommend spending 2 or 3 days there and then spending the rest of your vacation on another Island (unless you don't want to relax on your vacation.)

I love the Big Island and I really want to visit Maui and Kauai one day.

An Ordinary Mom said...

One of these days I am determined to make it to Hawaii ... and I, too, like my space so I will keep this in mind :) !!

Laura said...

Yay for Maui! That is where I got married 14 years ago and it too is my most favorite place on earth. My goodness is it beautiful and spacious. Absolutely loved it! Unfortunately I haven't been back since but we are going next summer to celebrate my husband's 40th birthday. We'll be heading to the Big Island though as my best friend lives there now and we'll be staying in her guest house. Can't wait!!

~3 Sides of Crazy~ said...

Maui is one of my favorite places too ~ must be the place for us cold weather people to go - LOL. Thanks for the tour.

Serena said...

I went to Maui, oh goodness, it has to be 10 years ago! I LOVED it. I want to go back so badly! I know my husband would love it, too, so my new scheme is for us to go on our 10th anniversary, which gives us a generous 4 years to save up. My dad and step-mom go to Oahu at least 3 times a year, the lucky little wretches. I mean, I am oh-so happy that they get to go to Hawaii at least three times a year and eat fresh pineapple and mahi mahi while walking on the beach while I'm back in the poison-oak covered foothills of the Sierra Nevadas eating canned pineapple and canned tuna.

Michelle said...

After the winter that We've had ,Hawaii looks so wonderful right now! it's still so cold here..Thanks for posting this.

Lori said...

I've been to Maui five times now, and no other island to compare it to--unless Oahu's airport counts. I do love Haleakala, but it's very very cold usually, although, being an Alaskan, I'm sure it's not much of a shock for you.

Wild Squirrel said...

I've never thought I would make a trip to Maui (or off the mainland at all, frankly), but if I do I hope I remember that I've bookmarked this post!

Lissete said...

I LOVE Maui and it is by far my favorite island. I have not even heard of Chings Pond which is now definitely on my list for next time.

We did the Haleakala sunrise and plan on going up for sunset on our next trip.

Since we fly out of Oahu anyway, we spend 3 days or so in Haleiwa.

Christine said...

(seriously...I thought this was a post about pizza. : ))


Check out their specialty pizzas...

Erin said...

I have been on top of Haleakala at sunrise. It was awesome! And Iao Valley/Needle was my favorite place on Maui. My mother-in-law lived in Kihei for 26 years, and I love it there. Sigh. Thank you for bringing up wonderful memories for me.