As the title suggests, Maui is an amazing island for its beauty and diversity in landscape and ecosystems. Most places and I are friends, but Maui and I have a special relationship wherein momentarily we were pitted against one another as foes. Though, me against Nature ... hardly a fair battle. I lost. But we'll get to that in a minute. Having been to Maui twice in recent years (three times total), I decided to post a roundup of my time there. If you haven't already been, maybe you'll see something here that nudges you to go.
Naturally, Maui is ringed by superb coastline and abundant marine life. Beaches are probably the first thing to spring to mind when the word "Maui" breaches your consciousness. So let's start instead with the more surprising features ... or the ones that surprised me, anyway.
Haleakala volcano. Visiting Haleakala was definitely a major highlight on Maui for me. Our first glimpse of the extinct volcano came during a helicopter ride. We flew over the huge caldera. But truthfully, this is the least impressive view in my opinion. Hard to get a proper sense of scale and mystery or to feel its surreal nature.
The summit of Haleakala is above 10,000 feet. And it rises all the way from sea level straight up to that height, which is most impressive. Driving to the summit from the coast, you pass through several different ecosystems as well as drastically different climate. We started at the coastline at about 78 degrees, half way up we were engulfed in a fog bank and the thermometer registered 54 degrees. When we emerged at the summit, the sky was clear blue above us and 66 degrees. What was so cool is that huge blankets and towers of clouds lay below us as if we were in an airplane.
We hiked a short distance down into the caldera. It was a very surreal landscape. Apparently, you can actually camp down inside. The trail snaked back and forth traversing down the side of the volcano. Our shadows were amusingly elongated, much taller than our actual height. Clouds came and went with extreme rapidity. Sometimes you could see into the bottom of the caldera, then within minutes it would be completely obscured. Then just minutes later, voila! There it is again. Like a gigantic game of peek-a-boo. One time Erik and I sat down to take a self-timer photo and the clouds moved in like a sentient menace, something you'd read about in a Stephen King novel ... so quickly it was like the sky was breathing on us. Envision how fast you can see your breath travel on a cold winter's day ... we were so engulfed in this gray breath we could barely see the ground at our feet. The sun was obliterated. We sat silently in a creepy kind of awe. Then minutes later, the clouds thinned, the sun pierced through, one dagger of light at a time. And then it was sunny and cheerful again.
There is a plant that lives inside the volcano and around the summit which is found nowhere else on earth except on the Haleakala and Mauna Kea volcanoes! It's the silversword, and I guess you can see how it got its name. They can live up to 90 years and they only flower once. Ever. Just once, and then they die. But look how spectacular their one moment of flowering glory is. That plant is amost as tall as I am (5'5").
The bamboo forest. This was so neat ... a path through huge bamboo shoots. It was visually enchanting, but also acoustically unique. The sound of the bamboo swaying gently in the breeze made kind of a creaking, knocking sound which echoed through the forest. Such a sense of mystery, as you can't see anything around you except the bamboo. But when you reach the end, a glorious surprise awaits you. Though, I'm going to spoil the surprise with a photo of the impressive waterfall. Even so, it is so much more impressive in person ... the sight, the sound, the feel of the spray, the smell of the foliage. You will still be surprised.
The Road to Hana ... a waterfall mecca. I was familiar with the road to Hana by name. Probably my dad and I drove around it when we visited the island in 1991, but I remember little from that trip, mostly the snorkeling. Everyone raves about the road to Hana. OK, so we had to check it out. And it's truly lovely. If we could clear away all the vehicle traffic, it would be a motorcyclist's dream ... a continuous snake of tight twists and turns. Beyond the fun road and the lush green iconic tropical landscape, the most compelling feature is the abundance of waterfalls. Here's a little sampler of some of the waterfalls available to visit. Some of these are just off the road, some you have to hike a little ways to reach, and some are on the trail to the bamboo forest (which is along the Hana road).
Helicopter Ride. We gained a special bird's eye view of some waterfalls when we flew over the island in an open-door helicopter. This was a pretty cool experience to see the island from above.
Ocean Aquarium. Being on an island surrounded by underwater wildlife, with tons of snorkeling and scuba diving opportunities, I actually didn't expect to find an aquarium. But it's a pretty nifty place - went there twice. (also a nice gift shop if you're souvenir or Christmas shopping). This first fish below was so amusing to watch ... he was exceedingly friendly (or hungry?) and kept coming up to us with that huge grin on his face. I kept thinking, "Hey hey hey, it's Fat Albert!"
Lavender Gardens. And who could resist a place called "the lavender gardens?" There are indeed acres of this heavenly-scented plant high up on a hillside that overlooks the ocean, and if you want any kind of lavender-scented or lavender-flavored product, this is the place for you! Additionally, the grounds contain a nice botanical garden with many varieties of flowers, bushes and trees beyond the numerous species of lavender to be found. Unfortunately, I was a delinquent botanical garden guest and didn't read the little signs which would have told me what plant this splendid flower below represents. It's about the size of a dinner plate!
Lahaina is a sweet town with several tasty restaurants and lots of art galleries. My in-laws are the sponsors of our recent two Maui trips, and their favorite things are Lapperts ice cream - which we have several times during the course of a trip - and the magic show, "Annabelle and Warren." A massive banyan tree fills a courtyard downtown which is usually filled in the daytime with arts and crafts stalls.
And now finally to the coast. A beautiful but dangerous place is the Olivine Pools. It's a steep but interesting hike down from the road to the pools through corridors of eroded lava rock. The red mineral stripe is a striking feature. Here is where the ocean and I faced off.
And you can see here who was the loser in my tussle with the ocean ... that would be me on the left in the photo below. (and there are more bandages you can't see beneath my clothes) But I got to see something most tourists don't -- the hospital emergency room! You can read the whole story of my experience at what we came to call the Olivine death pools. If you can believe it, I hiked all the way to the waterfall at the end of the bamboo forest like this.
And out of all these ethereal, powerful, surreal sights and experiences, what is my favorite thing about being on Maui? Being in my own little hotel room in the mornings. The in-laws have scored a scrumptious condo unit right on the shore in an area not overrun with hotels and timeshares. A peaceful place where ... and here is the best part ... I wake up in the morning, go out on the balcony and watch sea turtles swim along the shoreline. It's so neat. And if you go swimming, they will often pass right by you. It's amusing to watch other people in the water from above them on the balcony and see how close a turtle is to them, half of them don't even notice! Here is the view from the balcony, panning left to right -- you can see how clear the water is, making the sea turtles so easy to spot.
And one last special thing I experienced on my most recent visit (August 2014) was the fabled "green flash!" Just as the sun dipped completely into the ocean there was a green flash that lasted only a fraction of a second. Every night wherever we ate dinner, we got a table with an ocean view hoping to witness this extremely rare phenomenon. What are the odds, right? But our last night we saw it. I almost wouldn't have believed it except a bunch of the waitstaff saw it also and everyone was exclaiming over it. So clearly, it wasn't just our imagination. Great ending to another great vacation.