Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Wanderings... Maui

Sunny, 85 degrees, with a cool breeze. That was the weather pretty much all week long in beautiful Maui. Besides the incredible weather, the wonderful beaches, our lovely hotel, and an ├╝ber glorious spa day, the two main highlights of our trip were (1) watching the sunrise on Haleakala and (2) driving the winding 52 mile road to Hana. So here is a little recap of our trip. Okay, a very long recap. Warning: this is one of my marathon blog posts. Many many photos ahead.

I had read a ton of tips on watching the sunrise on Haleakala. Plan to arrive 1 hour before sunrise. Leave early to avoid the procession of cars. Bring a few snacks. Bring lots of water. And above all, bring warm clothing. I had read many times: do not underestimate how cold it will be. Vince kinda laughed it off and said, "we're from Canada!" but still we dressed in layers and brought a blanket from the hotel. Let's just say, we were not sufficiently prepared. It was around 40 degrees but the wind cut through us like a knife. It was quite literally very very brutally bone chilling. But the sunrise was beautiful.

It's incredible how the sun rises so quickly once it peeks out from beneath the clouds. I must say I was a little thankful because it was so incredibly cold.

Once the sun was up, we took advantage of the beautiful backlighting and then ran back into the glass enclosure at the summit to warm up. When we stopped shivering, we headed back outside to look around.

At 10,023 feet, we were quite literally soaring above the clouds. In the distance, we could see the summits of the two (of the five) volcanoes that make up Big Island: Mauna Kea and Mauna Loa.

Many people say that the Haleakala crater looks like the moon... here's why:

After taking a gillion photographs of the clouds, we headed back to the car. Located in the centre of the parking lot at the summit were some curious looking plants. I wasn't quite sure what they were and didn't give them a second glance until a flash of silver caught my eye. I decided to photograph them and slowly learned from all the signs around me that they were silversword plants ('ahinahina). Silverswords can live up to 50 years. They flower only once in their lifetime before they die. These beautiful and hardy plants carry a stiff penalty for anyone who tampers with their existence. Apparently, the fine for damaging these rare and endangered plants can cost more than your whole vacation!

Also endangered is the nene (pronounced nay-nay), which apparently is a descendant of the Canada goose. We have similar signs for our geese in Toronto but I love how this one says, "nene crossing".

I have never seen so many rainbows in my life. At one point, I was reading a sign about a ranch wall and, as I was leaving, I noticed a perfect rainbow directly in front of me.

As we slowly descended Haleakala, we emerged below the clouds to a panoramic view of west Maui. So so so so lovely!

So was it worth it to wake up at 2 a.m. and freeze our butts off for over an hour? I would say that I was tremendously thankful we actually got to see a sunrise because sometimes the visibility is too poor to see anything at all. Plus this is the first sunrise I have ever seen so it was extra special. Would I do it again? Yes... but I would wear my winter jacket.

Ahhh, the road to Hana. A 52 mile journey with over 600 curves and over 50 one lane bridges. I was nervous. I had read mixed reviews about it. It's dangerous. It's not. It's super beautiful. It's horribly boring. Vince and I were undecided about taking the trip even the day before we had planned to leave. I was confused. I was also sure he didn't want to go. Somehow, we just went through the motions, woke up, and left. And boy am I glad we did.

These rainbow eucalyptus trees dotting the first part of the highway were so interesting. Sadly, people seem to enjoy carving hearts and their names into the trunks. Vince felt sorry for this tree and decided to give it a hug.

We searched and searched for an entrance to the famed bamboo forest but it was nowhere to be found.

I got closer and closer to the flower on the left until the bugs in it swarmed at me (I initially thought they were seeds). I let out a strong, "UGH!" and ran away.

One of the highlights was the Honokalani Black Sand Beach at Wainapanapa State Park. Oh my goodness. It was crowded but I could have stayed there all day. Vince played in the water and got pummeled by the waves and the little black lava rocks.

Also at Wainapanapa State Park: Here's Vince inching closer and closer to a giant blowhole. I was too scared to get near it.

We climbed through lava tubes and saw lots of waterfalls, big and small. It was dry season so Wailua Falls, which is supposed to be one of the most scenic falls, was unfortunately just a trickle when we were there.

If we had gotten to Oheo Gulch (also known as the Seven Sacred Pools) a little earlier, I would have wanted to take a swim. But it was cooling down and we had just dried off from playing in the waves at the nearly secluded Koki Beach. Take a look at the diptych just below the photos of Vince and me. Would you believe someone jumped from the bridge at the top of the leftmost photo into the pool below? YIKES!

Oheo Gulch is basically the last well known highlight of the road to Hana drive. From there, we had a choice - we could either turn around and drive the curvy 52 miles back the same way that we came or we could carry on and drive the "backside" of Maui. Normally, I don't like to backtrack; however, there is a stretch of unpaved road on the backside of Maui that, if driven, would be in violation of the car rental agreement. But many people take that route anyway so we decided to be adventurous and continue on. The backside of Maui is starkly different from the road to Hana. We essentially drove around Haleakala and while there was essentially no vegetation or civilization on the backside, there was so much to take in. The sun was setting and the light was perfect as it cut across the lava flow markings etched on the back of the dormant volcano. It was so dramatic, lonely, and beautiful - my photographs don't even begin to do it justice so I've only posted two.

It is commonly stated that the road to Hana is more about the journey than the destination. The 52 mile road typically takes 2.5 hours to drive non-stop. Budget some time for breaks and to see the sights and you're looking at around 3-4 hours. All in, with the return trip, most people take around 6 hours to do the drive. A few people have noted that they spent 9 hours on the road. Vince and I took a whopping 12 hours! If the time spent on the road to Hana is directly correlated with how much you enjoy the trip, then we must have had the time of our lives. And I know I did. In fact, if Vince and I ever go back to Maui, I'm going to twist his arm to drive the road to Hana again. Even better, we will know exactly where to spend our time.

If you've read this far, WOW! I'm impressed. Just a few more photos that I want to share. Vince and I spent half an hour at Iao Valley State Park and I loved it. There isn't too much to see but the surroundings are lush and the temperature is cool. There are places to swim, hike (albeit very short hikes), and just sit around. I commented that if I lived in Maui, I would hang out in this park on a regular basis.

What kind of blog post would this be if I didn't include a silly photo of Vince? This one makes me laugh. Out loud. His arm looks so freakishly big compared to his head - I called him Popeye for hours after showing him this image on the back on my camera. This image is also exactly why you have to be very careful when photographing people with a wide angle lens. Unless the person you're photographing is your husband. :)

Lahaina is an old whaling town that is super charming. A bit touristy nowadays but I suppose you need a little of that when you're on vacation. We did a self guided tour that wasn't too interesting but I enjoyed the little whaling museum in the courthouse, the huge banyan tree outside, and the quirky little details all around town.

Vince and I were fortunate enough to have planned some time upcountry. It was really an accident because I hadn't read too much on it. This area of Maui is basically halfway up Haleakala at an elevation of around 2,000 to 4,000 feet. It is charming, laid back, and completely different from any other part of the island. We had brunch at Kula Lodge (complete with a romantic panoramic vista), visited Tedeschi winery, and spent a whole lot of time at the Ali'i Kula Lavender Farm.

Finally, our hotel. We stayed at the Hotel Wailea and it was beautifully landscaped. It was not beach front but rather set back in a quieter part of Wailea. It is at a higher elevation so this allowed for some wonderful vistas and we actually watched a sunset while soaking in the spa one night. The view was breathtaking.

On our last day, we spent some time watching the kite surfers at a windy beach near the airport. I couldn't believe it was already time to go. Overall, I fell in love with Maui much more than I expected. It is one of the most beautiful places I have ever visited. If any of you are on the fence about visiting, just go and you won't regret it!

  © 2012 | Lesley Wong Photography | All rights reserved.

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