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Thoughts on ordinary and not so ordinary adventures in the life of one Mom

Sunday, October 31, 2010

Here Today, Gone to Maui

        As I sat in the hot tub of the Hyatt Regency Resort and Spa in Maui, I struck up a conversation with the older gentleman who was hogging the best jet.  When he asked where I was from, I fumbled.  As I started to say Phoenix, I ended up saying "Phoahu".  I had to explain my fumble - that we are from Phoenix, but living in Oahu for 4 months and have come to Maui for a vacation.  He said I should be embarrassed to tell people that.  I am, but I'm also so excited about our good fortune, that I cannot contain myself.  I told him he should be happy for me and he assured me that he was.  So, here I was, in Maui for vacation, from Oahu, and it was great!

        There is something for everyone on Maui and I mean everyone.  My family, including my parents, spent last week in Maui, on its western shore.  Here we experienced all the variety Maui has to offer, in scenery, in weather, in activities.   Maui is called the valley isle and once you fly in, it is easy to see why. If you've been to any other Hawaiian islands,  you will appreciate how unique it really is.   There is a vast valley between two volcanic mountains.  To the east is Haleakala, a 10,023 ft peak, on the north slope of which is the famed Road to Hana.  To the west is Pu'u Kukui, the 5,787 ft peak, on the west shore of which is Lahaina, Kaanapali and some of the best snorkeling in the world.

Steve at the top of Haleakala overlooking the valley and Pu'u Kukui (under distant clouds)
      We stayed at the Hyatt Regency Resort and Spa, our first experience with real  luxury (thanks to a great Costco promotion) on our Hawaii trip.  Upon arrival at this Kaanapali resort, one of many along Kaanapali beach just north of Lahaina, we were indulged by the the scenery, the staff, and the accommodations.  The lobby entrance was gorgeous with a large atrium filled with flowers, trees, ponds and wildlife, including penguins and colorful birds.

African Crowned Crane
The pool was a massive oasis which included a tunnel through a pool bar to the kids' side which had fountains, floating animals, a sand bottom and slides.  All of this, overlooking the Pacific Ocean and a tremendous view of

Moloka'i, one of Maui's many close neighbor islands.  Of the most visited Hawaiian islands, Maui is unique in its proximity to its neighbors, Moloka'i, Lana'i, and Kaho'olawe.  We were all surprised by how easily all three of them could be seen from Maui's shores.

        On our first full day, we took a snorkel cruise to Molokini.  We woke up early to head out to this underwater volcanic crater that is just partially exposed above the sea, about 3 miles off the coast of Maui.  While the fish are plentiful, most can be seen at many other snorkeling spots in Maui and Oahu.  The main attraction here is the unbelievably clear water.  It was easy to see fish and coral 50 feet down.

clearly beautiful
The boat also stopped at "Turtle Reef" which is a turtle cleaning station (where wrasses feed off the parasites that have accumulated on the turtle shells, leaving the turtles with that fresh, just showered feeling).  We saw many turtles here and an unexpected spotted eagle ray.  Joseph even tried the slide off the side of the boat.  This is not for the faint of heart or the recently sunburned, as you hit the water hard.

don't walk the plank
        On another day, Steve and I and the boys visited Haleakala (Hawaiian for "house of the rising sun"), while Nicki lived the resort life with her Siti and Jidu.  The drive to Haleakala from Kaanapali takes you around the western mountain, through the vast valley and up the slope of Haleakala, a 10,023 ft peek.  This ascent is completed in 38 miles, reportedly the steepest in the world for automobiles.   Driving from the lush valley full of people and farms to the top of Haleakala is a lesson in contrasts, where the top is desolate and otherworldly.

Haleakala Landscape
The view of the crater is reminiscent of pictures of Mars, and while the rare Silversword resembles our desert agave, its color is a unique blend of light green and bright grey that gives it a silver appearance, especially when reflecting the intense sun.   It only grows on this mountain.  I have never seen anything like it before and I feel very fortunate to have seen so many, some in bloom.

Rare Silversword
        If you are in Kaanapali, a great spot for nearly everyone in your party is Black Rock.  It is near the Sheraton Resort, which is about a 1.5 miles walk from the Hyatt, or a painfully slow and unpredictable shuttle ride (made longer by the driver's bad jokes).   Black Rock is an outcropping from the beach where there is a large reef and cove, frequented by turtles, spotted eagle rays and plenty of fish.  "Volkswagen", a famously large honu (sea turtle), is reported to live here.   While the kids loved the beach with its soft sand that made for easy building and gentle waves, Steve and I loved snorkeling the reefs, with its many coves and varied sea life.  Steve and Nicki and Alex swam with a sea turtle and even saw a squid!

Fun at Black Rock beach
        Steve and I took advantage of my parents' presence once again in Maui, this time to attend the wonderful Old Lahaina Luau.  The setting was fantastic, a circular stage surrounded by low tables with (comfortable) mat seating.  Further from the stage were regular height wooden tables and chairs.  The backdrop is Lahaina Harbor, the Pacific ocean and the island of Lanai at sunset.   Before dinner and the show, we enjoyed the open bar (with great Mai Tais, Lava Flows and Honey Girls), Hawaiian craft demonstrations and unearthing of the pig from the imu,  the pit in which our feast was cooked.  Dinner was lovely and our front row mat seats gave us an up close view of the fabulous performances.  To introduce the Polynesian origin of early Hawaiian settlers, the show started with Tahitian tamure, the fast, hip shaking dance, which some people mistakenly associate with Hawaiian hula.  While this is a fun and exciting dance, my favorite performance was the ancient Hawaiian kahiko hula, characterized by dramatic storytelling accompanied by drum and chants.  To see one dancer perform this is wonderful, to see it en masse with ten dancers is spectacular and moving.  Even though this was our first experience at a luau, I could tell it is one of the best.

Aida at Old Lahaina Luau
        Joseph finally got his birthday present on our trip to Maui, a chance to go ziplining.  We had to go back to Haleakala, since our reservation near Kaanapali was canceled twice due to bad weather on the mountain. This course was fun.  The highlight was the 450 ft line which takes you down at least a hundred feet, picking up speeds of about 45 miles per hour.  You are going so fast, in fact, that you cannot just stop at the end.  You whiz by the final platform and the line slopes up to slow you down so you return to the platform at a reasonable rate.   Eventually, after slowing down directly above the ravine,  you end up high above the landing platform where you step off onto a rolling ladder to get down.  If you ask me, this was the scariest part of the zipline, stepping onto a ladder, on wheels, on the side of a steep valley.  Joseph and I had a great ride.

Joseph zipping
        While we were enjoying the island the way we usually do, with sightseeing and activities, my parents (and most of the time, Nicki, too) were enjoying Maui in their own way.  Like most visitors probably do, they spent their time by the pool or beach, on their ocean front balcony, making lei and eating great meals.   We joined them for breakfast and dinner nearly every day.  And most of our meals were wonderful, set against the backdrop of a pond with swans, or on the beach with a neighbor island in the background.  We went to Lahaina to enjoy some local restaurants, as well.  Lahaina, a bustling town with plenty of shops, restaurants and clubs, used to be the capital of Hawaii.  It was full of tourists, just like Waikiki, but much quainter, with historical buildings, residential neighborhoods and tree-lined streets.  Lahaina also boasts a famous 147-year-old banyan tree that stands over 60 feet high, has 16 major trunks in addition to a huge core and stretches over a 200-foot radius.  Family outings like these provided us with the time to talk about our vacation and enjoy each others company, and of course, to eat, which we did a lot of.

Breakfast at Swan's Court
        Once you snorkel in the clearest blue water, it's hard to get excited about a submarine ride that offers less in the way of variety of fish or clarity of water.  The Atlantis submarine, however, was terrific.  They did a superb job of including the passengers in the whole sub experience, from trying to locate it underwater, to listening to the radio communication between tug and submarine as the sub emerged from the deep.  The viewing was great, too.  We saw many fish (although not as many as snorkeling) and several large eagle rays.  The "oohs" and "ahhhs"  came from seasoned snorkelers as well as those who haven't even set foot in the ocean.  We also glided past a sunken ship.  The damaged ship, sunk as part of a reef rebuilding project, was purchased for $1 by the Atlantis company, but cost $350,000 to prepare and sink.  It was a very cool site.

Alex going "down the hatch" of the Atlantis submarine
        On our final afternoon, the whole family came together in a visit to 'Iao valley.  While the western shore of Pu'u Kukui is dry and barren, the valley side is lush and verdant.  The 'Iao valley is nestled next to Wailuku.  As you approach the valley, it's easy to see why it is so green.  The mist covers tops of peaks and many slopes.  Valleys like these are the life blood of all the Hawaiian islands.  It is where the fresh water is.  The abundant fruit trees and taro plants provided food for the community.  The koa and kukui trees provided materials for shelter and supplies.  The 'Iao needle is a vertical outcrop of rock that juts up 2,250 ft in one of the many crevices of this valley to give dramatic views.  It was a fitting place to end our family vacation.  A time to relax, reflect, prepare for the journey home or to run around and make a lot of noise.

Family at 'Iao Needle
        Maui is an island of contrasts.  Its high peaks and deep valley greet you as you fly into the airport.  It is a remote island in the middle of the pacific which feels not-so-remote due to its close neighbors.  It offers upscale resorts near a quaint historic town.  You can visit sites that look like they belong on a another planet or areas that sustain a community of people.  You can indulge in activities, both exciting and relaxing.  Even the clear water can be explored in the most personal way, by snorkeling, or scuba, or by submarine while staying dry.  I think everyone in our family found something to love about Maui.  Maui has something for everyone, so if you want a vacation to please every member of your party, go to Maui!

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