The warmth and beauty of the surroundings extends to the local people. The island culture offers a kindness and generosity that Hawaiian's refer to as "the spirit of Aloha".
BeachesThe island is shaped a little like a peanut with the two best beaches being Wailea in the south (west) and Kanapali in the (north) west. Wailea is a bit more upscale. If you are planning to spend a lot of time at the beach, staying at a beach condo is a great alternative to a hotel. It is usually cheaper and one gets many more amenities, like snorkeling gear, beach chairs, and a washer and dryer. It can also save on meals since most have fully equipped kitchens.
Many of the beaches we found while exploring the island were small and secluded, but not great for swimming. There are a few calm bays on the west coast where one can snorkel and swim peacefully. The northern beaches are much windier but more popular among locals. No matter where you are, the afternoons are gusty at the beach, which creates a good opportunity for exploring some of the towns or just taking a nice siesta.
The wind calms down right around sunset, and we found ourselves migrating back to the coast to watch the sun set over the ocean and listen to the daily singing of the conch shells, a Hawaiian tradition. The whales too seemed to enjoy the sunsets as we often saw them peeking their heads out to catch the last glimpse of sunlight or flapping their tails as though waving good night.
FoodLocal cuisine also has its own flair. As one might imagine, sea food plays a big role in most dishes. Our favorites included Mahi Mahi, tuna, and shrimp. Fish tacos are popular, and our favorite fish taco came from Coconut's Fish Cafe in Kihei. During the course of our trip, we visited Coconut's a few times and got to meet the owner, who was very proud of the restaurant's popularity among tourists and locals.
Barbeque is also popular, and includes a variety of BBQ meat complemented by traditional side dishes such as cornbread, cole slaw, pasta salad, and island green salad. We tried a BBQ restaurant in Kihei called Fat Daddy's Smokehouse, and it was our favorite meal on the trip, as it is a great reward after an active day.
Richelle and I also tried barbecuing on our own at the condo, but it was a near disaster. In attempting to ignite the grill, a giant fireball erupted and singed half my eyebrows. After that incident, we decided to play it safe and not try to improve on the already outstanding culinary options that were readily available.
The local fruit includes familiar ones at their best, plus some unusual varieties that can only be found in certain parts of the island. The avocados were almost twice as large as avocados grown in California. One of our favorite local fruits was the lillikoi found in the higher altitudes of the East island. Lillikoi is a variety of passionfruit with a tarty yet sweet core that produces a strongly fragrant aroma.
The great food does come with some eccentricities. Rice is typically served with almost every type of meal, even when it is a bit odd or unnecessary. Spam is also a local favorite and is often served fried. Macadamia nuts are added to complement many dishes including desserts and fish. The packages of macadamia nuts found in most convenience stores include a friendly warning to overzealous visitors of the nuts' laxative side effects when consumed in excess.
Road to Hana (and beyond)Consult any guide book on Maui, and under Top Things To Do you will likely see 'The Road To Hana'.
The road itself really is scenic, and there are many worthwhile stops for hikes, views, and fresh fruit. Numerous waterfalls deck the steep sides of the mountain as the road meanders, but there are few opportunities to stop and take a picture as there is rarely any shoulder. The waterfalls generate a good deal of mist that make the road slippery, so don't let them distract you if you are the one driving.
We had not packed any food hoping to get some lunch at a vegan restaurant Richelle had visited once before and given rave reviews. Sadly, it was nowhere to be found on the quarter mile stretch that was Hana. Upon inquiring at a fruit stand, we learned the owner had decided to just pack up and go on hiatus for an indefinite period of time, citing personal issues. Fortunately, Yelp has updated its status since, but at the time, it caused us great confusion. With no other options in Hana, we pushed on into the beyond in the hopes of dining at Bully's Burger on the south side.
Car rental companies prohibit you from venturing into the south side of the island from the Hana side because of a short unpaved section that could be completely flooded in the rainy season.
The south part of the island is serenely beautiful. Vast, whispering grasslands could keep you mesmerized for hours in the gentle sea breeze, which is what we ended up doing until sunset. Starving at this point, we consumed the last of our fruit, hung around for the sunset, and continued in desperation to the mountain town of Kula. For some reason, the coastal road from Hana that wraps around the island does not connect to Wailea, even though at one point, Wailea is no more than two miles away. The only way to get home is to drive north almost to Kahului and back down south, taking more than an hour.
The first restaurant we found was Kula Bistro, which turned out to be just what we needed. It is a cross between a bakery and an Italian restaurant, and is frequented mostly by locals. They serve no alcohol, but everyone is encouraged to bring one's bottle of wine for dinner.
HaleakalaThey say watching the sunrise from the top of Haleakala is a once in a lifetime experience. It is once in a lifetime because ones needs to wake up at 03:30, drive for an hour and a half up twisty narrow roads, and tremble in the biting 40mph winds for another hour to see the sun peek above the puffy white clouds, and few people who have been through this would want to go through the ordeal a second time. It is also a once in a lifetime experience because it is truly magical to watch the sun paint the sky with an ever-changing palette of colors, while the world below is oblivious of the masterpiece being created a couple of miles above.
If you plan to go, you should really arrive at least an hour before sunrise as the limited parking fills up very quickly. The windy road holds a record for being the only road in the United States that gains 10,000 feet of elevation in just 20 miles. When we were driving up at 4am with as much caffeine as could run through our veins, we almost hit a wild boar. The Chevy Malibu's brakes are embarrassingly inferior.
I also cannot stress enough how important it is to bring warm clothing. There is a little viewing platform at the summit with a glass panoramic screen that provides some shelter from the gale force winds, but if you are planning to photograph the dawning sky, you will be completely exposed, so be prepared to brace some serious cold.
Once the sun is up and you have witnessed the throngs of Chinese tourists taking photos of every possible permutation of their group, and you have recovered feeling in your fingers, you can take a nice one to three hour hike down into the crater. The landscape here is otherworldly. As impressive as the pinkish, golden colors of the sunrise were, the colors of the crater rocks were even more amazing. Besides the dazzling colors, the thing that stood out the most was the utter silence we experienced as we descended into the heart of the volcano. It is hard to describe the peaceful feeling that came over us as we moved further and further into the solitude of the landscape. The contrast between this enchanting spot and the tropical paradise 10,000 feet below us was hard to grasp.
The Hawaiians believe that Haleakala is soul of the island, and we could not agree more, for it was the highlight of our trip, not only because of the sunrise, but also the natural wonders hiding inside the volcano.