We got up early and stopped at Starbucks for coffee before heading to the airport. I was way too excited to buy the special edition Hawaiian Starbucks card, to complement my superspecial ‘original’ card from Seattle. If I was also supersmart I’d have bought extras, because baristas always try to buy them off me. Alas, I am not supersmart at all.
We had discovered the night before that the Big Island has some of the most fascinating road-graffiti I’ve ever seen. North of Kailua-Kona, it’s all black-rock lava fields. People take white rock and leave messages all over. They’re everwhere, and must look amazing from a helicopter.
The Kona airport, as I’ve mentioned, is a series of tiki huts. There’s the long building with all the check-in counters, and once you get past there, it’s a few huts for gates, and restaurant/bar hut, and a shopping hut. We spent 5 minutes in the shopping hut buying tacky postcards, and the rest of the time in one of the gate-huts writing them out. Luckily, I had about 30 of them to send, or I’d have been bored to death.
We arrived at the usual pre-flight time, which meant way too early for such a little airport. It took about 5 minutes to return the car, get the shuttle back (the shuttles at the Kona airport are completely unnecessary), and check in. This time we were flying Island Air, and the people were just as friendly. The flight was barely half an hour long, but we still got beverage service.
We flew to Maui on a turboprop jet that was smaller than a tour bus. I loved it. We could see both of the islands at the same time from the air. I saw the huge resorts around Wailea, Haleakala, and sugar cane fields as we landed.
As before, we got to climb right out onto the tarmac. The Maui airport was much bigger, though; jets are allowed to land there.
Since it was only 9:30, we decided to set out on the road to Hana, which the book described as an all-day drive (it’s 52 miles). We got the exact same car in silver and named him Captain Hook. We stopped at what was soon to become one of my favorite natural-foods markets (Down to Earth) for picnic fare, and set off on our way from Kahului.
surfers at Hookipa Beach
The road to Hana begins in Paia, a town which quickly became a favorite. It’s on the windward side,
so it’s all about windsurfing. Full of cute shops and restaurants, it’s the kind of place I love to wander. Past Paia, we wandered around Hookipa Beach at the overlook, watching the surfers and gawking at the color of the water in the tidepools. It seemed that the ocean along the beaches in Maui looked a lot different that it did on the Big Island; much more clear and turquoise.
The drive up the road to Hana is amazingly slow. There wasn’t even much traffic at that time of the morning, but it’s a tiny 2-lane ‘highway’ that turns into a single lane on bridges, of which there are more than fifty. You round a switchback at the edge of a cliff, drive down into a gulch, stop at a one-lane bridge, wait til it’s clear, then cross. Then up out of the gulch, around another tight cliff-switchback, and repeat. Each gulch had its own stream and/or waterfall coming down from Haleakala. We saw gigantic groves of bamboo, dense hanging vines, and the road was littered with flowers. We saw banana, pineapple, sugarcane, coconut, and papaya farms. It smelled like eucalyptus the whole route.
We turned off to drive down to the Keanae Peninsula, a tiny old village on a lava flow. The coast was lava rock and tidepools, with waves slamming up over the rocks. I couldn’t believe how picturesque Maui was. It was almost too much to absorb.
Outside Hana, there were roosters running around all over the road. I was a huge fan of Hawaiian Road Cock (not so much of the Hawaiian Road Weasels we saw in both living and flattened form… apparently they were some kind of mongoose). We made it to Hana close to lunchtime, and visited the famous Hasegawa General Store. I tried Maui potato chips and was unimpressed (they also made me sleepy). We considered driving the 20 miles past Hana to the 7 Sacred Pools entrance to Haleakala National Park, but the road was tiny and I later read that we weren’t actually supposed to take our rental car out there. We went back to Hana and had our picnic lunch at the beach in town, which had reddish-brown sand. After lunch, we headed back down the way we had come.
waterfall and pool
Right as we left Hana, it started raining. It was mostly heavy mist, which didn’t prevent us from getting out of the car and hiking around by a waterfall, even though we came back drenched. Then the rain really began, and we all of a sudden knew the meaning of rainforest. It was insane driving on that tiny, winding road in a downpour. I also started to understand why they said those little streams could turn into raging rivers within seconds.
As we turned out of one gulch, we saw a giant rainbow. Even though we saw them daily in Hawaii, it was still amazing. We drove back to Kahului and checked into our hotel. It was another of those tacky 60s-style a-frames on the outside, but the rooms were awesome. We changed into bathing suits with our regular clothes over the top, and headed over to the other side of the island, to the resort beaches.
The western side of Maui is the leeward side, and Lahaina is the biggest town (it’s 22 miles from Kahului to Lahaina). North of there, it’s mostly beach resorts. We drove to Kaanapali and found the well-hidden public beach access. For late afternoon on the fourth of July, it wasn’t terribly crowded. The beach was a few miles long with golden sand, and we could see both Lanai and Molokini Crater from there.
Now, I haven’t gone swimming since I was in high school, and my skin crawls at the mere thought of putting on a bathing suit. But, dammit, I was in Hawaii, and I was going to swim in the ocean. We laid out our towels and bags, and as Stephanie stood there telling me how she really didn’t want people there to see her in a bathing suit, I ripped off my clothes and ran into the ocean.
It was wonderful. There were big waves coming in, so we jumped around in them and fought against the current. I didn’t like walking in the seaweed that was 20 feet out from the shore, so I started swimming up and down the beach. Stephanie got caught by a big wave and yelled at the top of her lungs, “IT’S PULLING ME OUT TO SEA!!!” I laughed so hard I almost drowned.
We watched the sun set over the ocean again, then decided it was time to head to Lahaina for fireworks. We showered and rode back into town wearing our towels, then got dressed in a parking lot. We went to a little outdoor taco place with 800 varieties of salsa, and took turns going to the bathroom on the other side of the strip mall to wash up. While we were at Starbucks getting the critically-important evening coffee, we heard the fireworks starting. We walked a block down to the main street and found an open spot from which we could see them being fired from the harbor. The fireworks were OK; they were the same standard seen in most places in the country, set to painfully-cheesy patriotic hits such as Born in the U.S.A.. However, it was incredible being there in a huge crowd of people from all over the world, gathered in that little town on Maui.
As the fireworks were ending, a couple teenagers tossed a big firecracker into the middle of a bunch of people. A woman yelled, “MY BABY!!!” exactly in that way panicked women yelled, “MY BABY!!!” in superhero cartoons of my youth. Apparently, it went off too close to her kid’s stroller for comfort. She set her husband on the teenager, and a fight started. Then the shrieky lady was crying, trying to hold her husband and his flying fists away from the stupid kids. The whole group of them had had way too much to drink. Then the cops became involved, and the fun ended.
We wandered in and out of shops along Front Street. I liked Lahaina for its touristy but not-too-tacky atmosphere; it reminded me of a clean version of New Orleans. There were a bunch of surf shops, 10 or so ABC Stores (about 5% of what Waikiki has), various galleries and souvenir shops, and lots of restaurants. I bought some clothes and a bamboo purse. We decided to come back to Lahaina during the day to see the rest of the sights, so we headed back to the car. On the drive back to Kahului, we noticed THE STARS. I had never seen the sky like that before. It was late and we were tired, so we decided to save that for another night as well. We went back to the hotel, showered sand out of our butt cracks, and went to sleep.