A Travellerspoint blog

Maui

Beaches, Volcanoes and Whales


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The island of Maui was the third Hawaiian island we visited. It is close to the lesser known and harder to reach islands of Moloka’i, Lana’i (owned almost entirely by Oracle founder Larry Ellison) and Kaho’olawe. Once all these islands were one, which is the reason why the waters between them are relatively shallow compared to the waters around the other Hawaiian islands. This warm, shallow water attracts around eleven thousand humpback whales each winter, who migrate here from Alaska to mate and give birth. While one can see humpback whales around all the Hawaiian islands in winter, Maui has by far the most and is therefore the best location for whale watching. Indeed, we were not disapointed on our whale watching tour and saw many of them. Most just showed their back, but some were more active and splashed the water with their flukes. Sam even saw one of the 25 ton giants breach, which is the act of the whale jumping almost entirely out of the water to make a huge splash. These whale sightings were always very quick, so if you happened to look in the wrong direction, you would miss it. On the way back, one whale waved goodbye to us with his dorsal fin.

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Another day, we drove the scenic Road to Hana, a narrow highway leading through countless switchbacks and one-lane-bridges to the small town of Hana on the East Coast. Along the road, there were many beautiful waterfalls and small beaches. One of our favorite stops was at a tropical flower farm, where we got a free tour of the exotic and colorful flowers of Hawaii. We even got a free bouquet of flowers that were deemed not perfect enough to sell, but were still very beautiful.

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On December 22nd we planned to do a hike in Haleakala National Park and visit the highest point of the island. We were a bit scared when we read that the US government shutdown would start exactly on that day. Although visitor center operations and park maintenance was halted that day, the park gates luckily remained open to visitors. We did our first longer hike since leaving Bhutan, which lead us from the summit of Haleakala down through the strange volcanic landscape. This landscape is home to a special plant, called silversword, that grows exclusively on this volcano.

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We spent the Christmas holidays relaxing at a resort in West Maui, enjoying our time at the beach or in the pool. This part of Maui was by far the most touristic area we have seen on Hawaii so far. Luckily, we returned our rental car when we got there, since the parking situation around Lahaina was a nightmare.

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On our 26 days in Hawaii so far, we have probably seen at least one rainbow per day. Maybe it is because it always rains somewhere on the Hawaiian Islands and the sun always shines somewhere else. The rainbows also seem larger and more pronounced than we have seen anywhere else. Every morning in our resort in West Maui, there was a large rainbow in front of our window, plunging into the ocean.

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Posted by samandmarta 13:57 Archived in USA Comments (0)

Merry Christmas!

Best Wishes from Maui


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We wish all the readers of our blog a merry Christmas and a happy holiday time with family and friends.

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Posted by samandmarta 09:35 Archived in USA Comments (1)

Kaua’i - Part 2

Adventures at the South, East and North Coast


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The South Shore of Kaua’i offers the best beaches in winter, when the North Shore is typically too rough for anything but surfing. We spent a few hours walking parts of the Maha’ulepu Heritage Trail, which follows the coastline and passes many beautiful and remote beaches. Along the way, we stumbled upon a small caged area where someone had introduced giant tortoises, like the ones found in the Galapagos. Visitors were free to enter and walk around with the pre-historic beasts. Po’ipu is the main resort town in the South and we spent half a day there boogie-boarding on Brennecke’s Beach, a beach exclusively dedicated to that sport. While waiting for the next wave, something big and rigid hit Sam’s leg. Looking down, we discovered a giant sea turtle swimming calmly through the waters. Our only night out on the island we spent in Hanapepe, where every Friday is Art Night. The small village seems to have more art galleries than inhabitants. Our favorite painting showed four chickens riding a wave, using a cow as a surfboard.

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We spent one day driving up to the North Shore, where all the surfers enjoy the huge waves in winter. In the Kilauea Point National Wildlife Refuge, we saw Hawaii’s State Bird, a native Hawaiian goose called Nene, for the first time. The highlight of the Refuge, however, was the tour of the small lighthouse located there. The lighthouse was quite pretty and their huge Fresnel lens on the top was impressive, but all of that was surpassed by our lighthouse guide, who had an enthusiasm like she was showing us the only building on the planet.

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Farther up the road was Hanalei Bay, home to some of the world’s best surfing spots. Unfortunately, this was already the end of the road for us. In April of this year, a flash flood had destroyed roads past Hanalei and it was still closed in December. This robbed us of the opportunity to see the most beautiful beaches of the North Shore and the best hike of Kaua’i, which would lead far into the wild nature of the Na Pali Coast. The destruction of the April flood was still widely visible in the town of Hanalei.

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The East Shore proved to offer the best activities on the island. We spent one day kayaking up and down the Wailua River. Luckily, we did this on a Sunday, when all the guided tours do not run. We just rented our own kayak and enjoyed the time on the almost empty river. From one point on the river, only reachable by kayak, there was a 1½ hour round-trip hike to a large waterfall. The hike was quite difficult. It involved wading through rivers four times and large parts were muddy and slippery.

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Another day we hiked up to Nounou (Sleeping Giant) Mountain, named so because its shape resembles a sleeping giant. The steep hike up to the giant’s head rewarded us with fantastic views over the entire East Coast and the inner parts of the island too. A large part of the East Coast is accessible through a long paved coastal walkway, called Ke Ale Hele Makalae, which we also walked in parts.

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The highlight of our stay on Kaua’i was a flight over the island. Most of the inner part of the island is completely inaccessible or privately owned, so the only way to see this area is by flying over it. We booked a one-hour-flight in a small Cessna that was only seating the two of us and the pilot. On our flight we got amazing bird’s-eye views of many green valleys and hundreds of waterfalls. It was also very interesting to see all the places we already visited on the ground from the air, like the heart-shaped Po’ipu Beach, the vast plantations of the Kaua’i Coffee Company, the cliffs of the Na Pali Coast, Hanalei Bay with the mountains raising behind and Wailua Falls.

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For the last night before our departure, we went back to our favorite camping spot at Kekaha Beach and enjoyed one last sunset on Kaua’i.

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Posted by samandmarta 13:57 Archived in USA Comments (0)

Kaua’i - Part 1

Beach relaxation at the West Coast


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The second island we visited in Hawaii was Kaua’i. We allocated the most time, a total of 10 days, to Kaua’i, because we read it had the most to offer in terms of hiking and activities. Since we had trouble finding affordable accommodation on the island, we elected renting a camper instead, giving us more flexibility and the chance to experience the beautiful nature of Kaua’i by day and night. Our camper was not a modern house on wheels, but an old Nissan Frontier with a small gas stove and camping chairs in the trunk and a fold-out-tent on the rooftop.

For the first three nights, we booked a campground in Koke’e State Park. The state park is located behind the famous Napali Coast of Kaua’i around 1000 meters above sea level. It contains some of the best hikes on the island through the steep, green valleys. The drive up to the park was very scenic. Lookout points along the road provided spectacular views of green rainforest, red soil, roaring waterfalls and bright rainbows.

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As we got closer to the campground, a misty rain begun and it got stronger as we approached. After unsuccessfully waiting an hour or two for the rain to stop, we started erecting the tent in the rain. Luckily, the mechanism is extremely simple and it takes only a minute. Then, we cooked dinner while the wind blew plenty of rain on our backs and ate the meal in the car. Throughout the night, the rain poured down and the wind ferociously pulled at the seams of our tent. By the morning, the inside of the tent was quite wet as well, the weather was still the same and we had not slept much. We packed up the wet mess that was our tent and left. As we got farther from the campground, the weather improved and after a while it got sunny and warm. A bit farther down the mountain, we attempted a short hike called the Canyon Trail, but after half an hour of descending down a slippery slope of red mud, we gave up and turned around.

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We chose to write off the last two nights of our booking in Koke’e State Park and instead drove to Kekaha Beach at the West Coast. The beach was recommended to us by our car rental company. It’s not an official campground, so there are no facilities, but camping on the beach is allowed. Sam had to learn some new mechanical skills for this, locking the front wheels and deflating the tires. Then, we drove a few kilometers along the beach to a secluded spot under an ironwood tree and put up our tent. By the evening, the tent and everything else had dried in the hot afternoon sun. We spent the next two nights there in fantastic weather, just relaxing. We read books, jumped in the sea from time to time (proper swimming was not an option due to strong currents and large waves) and strolled along the beach. For dinner, we grilled hamburgers and ate them to a bottle of Cabernet, while watching the sunset. It was amazing to fall asleep and wake up right on the beach, with no other people in sight.

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After the two nights on the beach, we took another shot at Koke’e State Park. The weather was a bit better, but it still was rainy at the top and the best hikes were terribly muddy. We did end up doing a short hike into the valleys a bit farther down from Koke’e where the weather was good and the trail was sufficiently dry.

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Then it was beach time again. This time we drove all the way to the western end of the road, to Polihale State Park. Kaua’i has one main highway which almost circles the island, but one short segment from the West to the North is missing. That’s where the famous Napali Coast is located. We put up our tent at the northernmost part of Polihale Beach, right were the impressive cliffs of the Napali Coast start to raise out of the water. The next two days we did much the same as at Kekaha Beach, except we exchanged the Cabernet for Mai Tai’s and the hamburgers for Thai curry. It was not as empty as Kekaha Beach, but the beach was even more scenic. And because it is an official campground, there were also much appreciated showers and toilets.

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Four days at the beach brought back the considerable energy lost that rainy night in Koke’e and we were ready for more active adventures again. The first one was a boat tour to the Napali Coast. We were lucky that the sea was unusually calm that day, so we could really enjoy the fantastic views of Hawaii’s most scenic coastline. We also saw spinner dolphins along the way and on the way back to the harbor, we even got our first short view of a humpback whale.

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Posted by samandmarta 06:13 Archived in USA Comments (0)

The Big Island of Hawai’i - Part 2

Kona and the sunny West Coast


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On our way to the west side of the Big Island, we stopped at the Mauna Loa Macadamia Nut Visitor Center. There, we visited the macadamia orchard, witnessed the production process and most importantly tried many delicious macadamia nut products. Marta’s favorite one was the honey roasted macadamia nuts, while Sam of course preferred the ones covered in chocolate.

The Western coast turned out to be much drier and sunnier, which was very welcome. Especially Kona, where we stayed for four nights, was a pretty nice tourist resort town at the seaside. Most of our days here, we spent on the beach and in the water. Our favourite snorkeling location was Two Steps in the south of Kona, which had easy access to the water and abundant marine life. Our favourite beaches were Hapuna beach and Mauna Kea beach in the north of Kona, mostly due to the gentle slope and the fine sand. We also discovered a new favourite beach activity, called body boarding or boogie boarding. It’s like surfing, except the board is smaller and you don’t have to stand up on it, which makes it much easier than surfing. We could spend hours riding the waves like this without getting bored.

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One day we visited Pololu valley, located on the western end of the rugged valleys that start with Waipio valley we already visited from Hilo. From the slippery and muddy hike to the bottom of the valley, we saw the most stunning scenery we have seen on the island. A black sand beach and the sea on one end and deep green rainforest on the other, framed by steep cliffs to the West and East.

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On our last evening in Kona we watched the local Christmas parade, one of the most important annual events in the town. The streets were full with locals and tourists alike. The parade was a great way to see some American culture. It was big, it was bright, it was loud, and most importantly, it was extremely commercial. Each of the many Christmas floats was made by a different local business or organization, who made sure to prominently display their logo. In the meantime, a moderator introduced each float and read some advertising text from the respective business, telling us how awesome this company was and why we should spend our money there.

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Even later that same evening, we did the ‘must do’ attraction on the Big Island – snorkeling with giant manta rays. The entire activity happens at night and snorkelers are holding a surfboard with lights mounted underneath, which attracts these animals. Manta rays luckily do not eat people, just plankton. The experience was absolutely splendid. The manta rays were passing literally centimeters before our snorkeling masks. Seeing these 4 meter giants in their natural habitat, joyfully frolicking under the surface was our most memorable moment from the Big Island.

Posted by samandmarta 13:55 Archived in USA Comments (0)

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