Arriving in Maui in the evening, we picked up a rental car and drove to our first 3-night lodging at Grand Champion Condo (photo, living room) in Wailea, South Maui. It is a one-bedroom ocean-view unit. The property is practically inside a golf course, though of course we are not allowed to cross the greens. The distance from our balcony to the beach would be less than a three-minute walk, but the need to go around the golf course makes it a 20-minute affair to get to the beach right in front of us (photo, our balcony).
Sunday morning was lazy, sunny and relaxed. We went to the neighborhood Ulua Beach for a short snorkel. The weather was good, and the water OK, though not totally calm. We saw some tropical fish, not grouped in any large schools. In the afternoon, we drove up to the northernmost tip of the island, where a "Blow Hole" consistently shoots sea water up through an underwater tunnel to a gaping hole, a natural wonder (photo, thar she blows). The scenery is fantastic along the rugged Kahekili Highway. On our way back, we stopped in downtown Lahaina, booked a Molikini Crater Snorkeling trip with one of several tour vendors who keep shops or booths on the strip. Downtown Lahaina is full of small shops and restaurants, most of them pretty expensive by a mainlander's standard. Nevertheless, we sampled some local specialties. A Shaved Ice with Li Hing Mui (a local salt/sweet Chinese preserved dry plum) flavor efficiently relieved our thirst. At the north edge of the town, we visited the Lahaina Jodo Mission, set up by Japanese immigrants. The 12-foot bronze Buddha Statue, with one eye open and the other one closed, is impressive if a little dilapidated (photo, Buddha).
Monday morning saw us up before 3am and to drive the two hours it takes to get to Haleakala National Park before sunrise. We reached the summit at the top of the crater (10,023 feet) in plenty of time to witness another of nature's wonders, an amazing change of light, drastic cloud formation and movement, all with Big Island in the background (photo, sunrise). So beautiful! The treacherous drive with hundreds of zigzag proved to be worth a generous reward. We idled around at the observation deck as morning got underway, taking a few pictures of Silver Swords, a plant found only on this mountain, which blooms just once every 30 years (photo, silver sword). On our way back down the mountain, we stopped a few times to enjoy short hikes along the edge of the crater, admiring lava cones within the crater and giant lava flows from a few hundreds years ago, considered very recent in geologic time. We saw two handsome rangers pulling in at one of the trailheads with four horses on their trailer. They loaded the horses with supplies and moseyed slowly down into the crater on the steep switchbacked trail, not unlike trekking the Grand Canyon (photo, on the trail). By noon we were both feeling a bit beaten, so back to our condo to crash, or anyway relax.
Tuesday morning we rose fairly early for a special snorkel at the Blacksand Beach in Makena. It's a fine spot with lots of corals and schools of different tropical fish. Too bad we did not see any turtles, said to be spotted often at this location. At midday we did a little business to switch our lodging to our timeshare place, the Worldmark Club at south Kihei. The Worldmark is not as upscale as the Grand Champion in terms of location or exclusivity. It offers more a sense of community, with a central pool house, gym, on site office and friendlier and much more visible staff. We were able to check into our smaller unit well before the "official" opening time of 2pm. We did a bit of shopping at the nearby Kihei Center Foodland, and cooked ourselves some nice dinner. In the evening, we enjoyed a long romantic walk along the Kamaole Beach and watched some surfers riding the waves as evening came on (photo, surfin').
Wednesday morning we attended a tourist orientation meeting at the club house. We won a buy-one-get-one-free prize for a ten-hour motor tour all the way around the island. Lucky! Then we drove back over to spend the afternoon at leisure in Lahaina. We toured the Wo Hing Temple, which showcases the lives of the early Chinese immigrants in Hawaii and some of the traditional culture. We walked to the city hall and old courthouse, near a legendary Banyan tree (largest in US), (photo, the tree) which creates a city park by itself. Strolling along the Front Street with a giant shaved ice in hand, we felt like life in Lahaina is pretty relaxing and fun.
Thursday morning, we had booked a morning snorkel trip with Quick Silver, the largest catamaran boat in Maui, with a capacity for 150 passengers. The boat sails first to Molokini Crater, a U-shaped cove formed by a sunken volcano. The place is sometimes called the fishbowl of Maui, because schools of tropical fish are sheltered from the strong ocean currents. We got into wet suits (photo, suited up) and stayed in the water for almost an hour, enjoying the crystal clear water, colorful corals and schools of fish. Then our boat stopped at a spot near the southwest end of the island called Turtle Town, famous as a self-serve cleaning place for for the local sea-turtles, who come in feed and also to get their shells cleaned by the fish in the area. The latter eat tiny creatures living on the turtles' shells. We snorkeled and searched for about half hour before spotting a turtle swimming right underneath us. We quietly followed him all the way, til he settled himself in next to some rocky coral, waiting for his turn to get cleaned (photo, swimming). We felt like we could stay there forever to just watch him, but of course soon enough we were called back to the boat. The return route accommodates passenger interest to see Maui houses of the rich and famous along the south shore near the water. It was a wonderful experience but wiped us out for the rest of the day.
Friday we joined a dozen fellow tourists for the Hana Adventure tour. The bus picked us up at our condo and went north to Kuhului, then turned east to Paia, the hippie town showing the 1960s' style, continued along the northeast coast through the windy and rainy agriculture valley with taro, sugarcane, pineapples and flower farms. The rugged coast line (photo, rocky surf) featured over 630 zigzag turns and 64 one lane bridges to cross (photo, bridge) not to mention numerous lovely waterfalls (photo, waterfall). The natural beauty was described in detail by Bruce, our Texas-born driver and guide. There are also a large number of cattle ranches along the way. We enjoyed a true Hana beef hamburger plus fresh Hana grilled fish for lunch, and macadamia pie (yum). Down the south coast the road wrapped around the southern flank of Haleakala, with rougher conditions, including a 12-mile stretch of unpaved road. The view is breathtaking. We were lucky that we chose this tour. No doubt our small rental car could never get us through this part. It is a long tour but worth every minute.
Saturday we did our best to make sure we don't leave before covering every inch of the road on the island. In the morning we went southwest to La Perouse Bay, heaven for surfers and boogie boarders. We stopped by "Secret" Cove, considered by some the most romantic spot in Maui, where we saw bride and groom taking their wedding photos (photo, wedding shots). And we made a point to visit the Grand Wailea, probably the fanciest hotel on the island. The most impressive part for us was the immaculate ground maintenance -- perfect green grass, gorgeous tropical flowers and manmade waterfalls. We checked out of our condo around noon. But before heading to the airport, we drove up through Wailuku, Maui's county seat, and continued north along the eastern leg of Kahekili Highway, very scenic but notoriously narrow and twisty, maybe worse than the road to Hana. The reward is enormous, the scenery breathtaking. A perfect wrap up and climax of our Maui trip.