Saturday, September 9, 2017

MAGIC OF MAUI, HAWAII


Hawaii, with its peach-colored beach stretches and blue-green clear waters, its tropical flowers and fruits and trees finds a place in every ardent traveler's bucket list. Our younger son had a conference in O'ahu, Hawaii in 2015 and he managed to take his family along. Needless to say they had a blast .... So when both our sons and families visited us last year, they put forward the idea of the 2017 family get-together in Hawaii - before we parents got too old ..... 

Within months, the prep work started. The month was decided - August 2017. 
The island - Maui. Online searches and researches zoomed on to an ocean front resort - Papakea in Lahaina, West Maui - where a spacious 3 bedroom apartment was booked for our 10 member family including four kids for Aug 7-14. Air tickets were booked too and we were practically set as early as March-April. It was then that I chose to take a good look at Hawaii islands on the world map. My heart missed a beat as I saw those tiny specks of islands in the midst of nowhere in the Pacific Ocean! One of my friends told me about his daughter's stint in Hawaii - she had sent him photos of herself in the midst of trees and foliage - he in turn had teased her saying their ancestral home in Kerala boasted of several trees and she didn't need to go to Hawaii for that! As if that wasn't a dampener, my daughter-in-law assured me the place would remind me of India - Kerala or Goa in particular. Oh no - did I have to go all the way to have a taste of a slice of India again, I pondered inwardly. I upheld my optimism - surely tourists are not crazy to make a beeline for Hawaii if it does not merit it! 

We looked up for more details online about the islands - Maui in particular - made a list of the top 'must-visit-spots' and 'must-do-activities'. Scuba diving was out but snorkeling was happening - only the ladies in our family were apprehensive about attempting it as we were non-swimmers. But we were reassured that we'd be fine if we just practiced the breathing techniques. So we were going equipped with our snorkeling gear. 

We felt the place must be a small one, so we wanted to check the stores in the vicinity. Well, Walmart was there. But no Indian stores. So we decided to carry our tiny pouches of Indian spices, and also condiments like roasted semolina and vermicelli and Basmati rice too - we had planned to have at least two of the three meals at home daily. The rest of the commodities would be available there. Prices of course would be high as supplies had to come from the mainland of USA.

We spent a part of our long flights making lists of whatever we'd need to get soon after landing in Hawaii. We had been advised to make a halt at Walmart located somewhat closer to Kahului airport during our drive to our resort in Lahaina.

We landed at the airport with our younger son's family from Salt Lake City. Our elder son and family had flown in from North Carolina almost at the same time. 'Hi's and hugs were exchanged and the little cousins lost no time catching up as all of us took the coach to the Rental Car company. Formalities completed in half an hour, all of us were ready for the hour long drive to the resort in the two rental cars. But the first halt was at Walmart.

The consolidated list had run into a long one - cosmetics to kitchen utilities to condiments for at least a couple of days. As the family members started picking up stuff, we managed the kiddos. It was a mad scramble at the store, many of them visitors who we guessed must have landed along with us! 

We loaded the cartload of groceries on to the cars - don't ask how we managed to have space with all our luggage too - we simply did. Then we drove to a quaint looking restaurant on the way. They managed to ready for us a table for ten. We ordered a pot pourrie of dishes - couple of (Indian) curries with rice, hummus and pita bread, and salads and soups. I gingerly tasted the curries - hm... not bad at all - one of them was pretty decent, tasting like a North Indian vegetable in gravy and the other somewhat like a Kerala dish with coconut milk. Everyone was hungry and exhausted, and were happy to eat whatever was on their plate.

Then we drove to our resort - the GPS on the iPhones guiding us. 
We didn't fail to take note of the exotic palm trees, 

familiar flowers ...



..... not to forget stretches of turquoise beaches .... lining our drive. Man, the place is so beautiful .... The roads and places were spelt with a lot of vowels, specially a, e, and i and consonants like k,l,.... 

'Papakea' Resort in Honoapiilani Road, Lahaina, beckoned us with a breezy welcome with 
its palm trees swaying against the azure backdrop of the waves and sky.
Our address here for a week was going to be J - 405 - the 3-bedroom apartment on the third floor of Jade building.

Exotic blooms and plants beckoned us as we walked from the parking lot to the elevator. 
                 
The resort looked well-maintained, a putting green, fountain and fishes and swimming pool right in front of our building.

We stepped into our 'home for a week' and inspected every nook and felt really satisfied - well furnished, cozy bedrooms, well-equipped kitchen including minimum cleaning supplies. As we explored more, we found surf boards, beach toys, board games and a good stock of beach towels and regular towels, extra beds and pillows.

An added attraction was the extra breakfast table for four on the balcony - the view from there was breathtaking.. 

We could see not only the other apartments lined up in the form of a C but also the landscaped garden, fountain and the ocean beyond. It was too late to take a walk on the beach and all of us had had a very long day - we were now 4 hours and 6 hours behind our time zones, it was well past our bedtime even at 8.30 pm. Incidentally we stuck to this routine - early to bed at 8.30 and up at 6 am, so we could catch all those invaluable morning beach hours.

We began the next day with a bang - a hearty breakfast was followed by family time on our resort beach - you could say it was an extension of the famous Ka'anapali Beach.
The kids had a blast swimming , with or without noodles 

                     
or surfboard, 
and building castles and tunnels on the sand or simply jumping and racing with the mighty waves, squealing and screaming in delight and fear. 

Elders took their time figuring out the use of their snorkels. The concentration of snorkelers near the rocks revealed that such areas were ideal spots to snorkel. The swimmers in the family came back with encouraging tales of colorful shoals of fishes they had seen. The rest of us were not so lucky. We were promised of a better beach for snorkeling the next day.
                                
Just sitting in the water was also so very relaxing.

All of us washed off the sand at the water fountain before we entered our building. While the kids lined up for shower at home, the ladies cooked up a piping hot quick pulao and raita. Post lunch everyone was glad to relax at home.

The evening took us to the Banyan Tree Park which was just a 15 minute drive - it is said the seedling was brought from India and was planted ..
in 1873 by William Owen Smith. 

It is now a sprawling tree with so many more branches rooted to the ground.

So wide-spread is it that some extra support has been provided to it at some points.


After this, we walked to the nearby town of Lahaina with its quaint shops. 
We just did window shopping - things seemed pretty expensive. We then went to Sale Pepe restaurant for Pizza. The wait was unusually long and the kids had lost their patience and appetite by the time their order of Mac & Cheese arrived. They were compensated with yummy pineapple ice cream at one of the ice cream shops in Lahaina. Also, a sugarcane stall had caught the eye of our sons but it had already closed. They resolved to return to the place before 5pm another day! 

We began our next day by going to the nearby Farmers' Market after a good breakfast at home. Plenty of mangoes, bananas and 
great looking, reasonably priced Maui Gold pineapples.We bought a couple of them for 3$ each - great buy! Needless to say they tasted great. 
The kids got to feed the birds in the parking lot there.


Then we drove to Kapalua Beach. 


The beach was simply awesome - 
honey-hued fine sand lashed by sparkling clear turquoise water churning it into a frothy chocolate milk shake! On the left end there were rocks, on the other end there was a crescent shaped rocky cove. 
Snorkelers flocked towards the cove and our sons ventured there and returned with great enthusiasm to share their fabulous experience with us - they could swim with shoals of multi-colored fish. Our two elder grand kids chose to join them, so the foursome swam again to the spot, spotted more fish, and enjoyed swimming with them. But their hopes of seeing turtles were unfulfilled. But they were really excited. 

They wanted the rest of us to enjoy the experience, so they patiently instructed us about snorkeling techniques, hitched us onto the snorkeling gear and took us to chest-deep water and asked us to put our face underwater and breathe through our mouth for as long as we could. We took some time to get the hang of it.  It was such an awesome experience to watch the fishes swim under our body with each wave. 
We didn't dare to venture too far, so the fishes we saw were not that colorful! 
The water was so clear, we could sometimes see fishes with our naked eyes even as we sat relaxing in the water.

In the evening we drove to Lahaina town again for sugarcane juice and ice cream. 


$10 down the drain as the sugarcane juice was a far cry from the Indian 'ganne ka ras'. 


In the evening, we took a stroll around our Papakea resort (the term 'aloha' (welcome / goodbye) had become a part of our vocabulary during the week). We then walked down to 


our resort beach to catch the sunset at 7. 

Two days of continued beach activities had tanned us in spite of sunscreen etc. We decided to take a break from beaches the next day. We drove to Iao Valley State Park. 

On the way, a sign board about sale of hot banana bread caught our fancy. We stopped, bought a warm banana bread for 7 $ and a tender coconut for 10$ . The banana bread simply melted in our mouth - decided to pick up one more while driving back! 

We reached Iao Valley State Park, paid 5$ parking fee and just about found parking space for the two cars. A couple of thousand feet above sea level, it's a small tropical rain forest with a stream running down through it and surrounded by towering emerald peaks. 

This State Park is home to a Maui landmark, the 1200 foot Iao Needle which is an iconic green-mantled rock a high peak created by erosion of the softer rock around it over many millennia!  This is one of the wettest places in the world, and the second wettest place in Hawaii - the summit of the valley receives an average of over an inch of rain per day; it could rain 7 inches one day and take the rest of the week off! Luckily our visit was on one of those break periods. It is also recommended that we reach there early for a good view as the needle gets engulfed in clouds. 

It has a foot bridge and we could see a stream flowing below and some waterfalls too. 
We walked along the trail and went higher up to have a good look at the Needle. 

We also climbed up 135 steps to reach the lookout for some fascinating views.

Then we returned, took another loop down and took a walk along the rain forest - the place which had a lot of vegetation. 


We saw bananas on trees, sugarcane, some more tropical plants, but the place itself was a bit of a let-down after the fairly long drive. The reason, we gathered, was the park had been reopened just a couple of days ago after closure for a year due to severe storm damage in 2016 and was not in its best form. We also had to use 'porta-potties' as there were no regular restrooms. 

On our drive back, the kids wanted some beach time - we conceded on their assurance that they wouldn't go swimming (no change of clothes handy as the beach was not on the morning itinerary). 
It was a brown sand beach with a lot of grey-black rocks and the kids went about looking for beach glass. They also swam in a small tide pool.  So much for the plan to not get wet!

The next day's agenda was beach-hopping. During our drive to Kamaole Beach (Kam III) in the South of Maui, we got to see stretches of beautiful small beaches. 
Kam III proved to be a little more angry than the beaches we had visited. Everyone was happy without snorkeling activities and enjoyed riding the giant waves. 



Every beach we visited seemed better than the others! It was sunny (average day temperature was high 70s) but breezy, so it was not like we were getting roasted, but we did realize we were getting tanned a toasty brown!

After an hour there, we just washed off the sand, dried ourselves a bit in the sun, hopped into our cars and drove further South to reach Makena beach. 



Oh so irresistible it was that some of us raced towards the beautiful sands and the giant inviting waves. The more cautious ones in the group called back the daredevils to listen to the life-guards perched farther away - they were warning swimmers about the dangerous waves and to stay way back on the sands. 
So after just a little bit of frolicking with the waves, we stood gazing at the waves racing to engulf the shore. We could have stood there forever!

While driving back, we halted at a Farmers' Market and bought 'pineapple-smoothie-in-a-pineapple' and yet another disappointing sugarcane juice, and continued the rest of the usual schedule after getting back home.  For sunset, we decided to go to the nearby Kaanapali Beach. We parked at Whalers' Village and walked through the shops, and bought something to validate our parking. It was fun window-shopping while the kids enjoyed their ice cream.  We then walked along the beach barefoot, holding our footwear in our hands while watching the activities at the eateries of Westin.

The kids had heard about the dormant volcano in Maui and were eager to see it. We jacked up their enthusiasm in a bid to prepare them for a long drive up an elevation of over 10,000 feet above sea level - to the famous Haleakala National Park in East Maui. 

The park features the dormant Haleakala Volcano which last erupted between 1480 and 1600 AD. An extremely winding yet well maintained road took us up the mountain. 

During the course of our drive, at different levels, we could see areas dotted with different types of trees and vegetation and experience different weather conditions too. We soon reached the summit area which includes Haleakala Crater, the summit of the volcano and the surrounding area. We took a halt at the Visitor Center with restroom facilities and then drove up further to the summit with another parking lot and an observation tower. 
 The view from here was simply overwhelming. 
It seemed as if we were above the clouds.

Haleakala Observatory located here is an important site as it is above the tropical inversion layer and so experiences excellent viewing conditions and very clear skies.


The most attractive feature of the Park is the huge Haleakala Crater. 

The interior of the crater has volcanic features including cinder cones. 


We went along one of the trails leading to the crater - Sliding Sands Trail and had a tough time keeping the kids away from the vegetation and rocks. 

It was pretty cold due to the elevation. But it was sunny too. We couldn't be there for sunrise or sunset which are touted to be spectacular.

It was one o'clock by the time we decided to drive back. And you're not going to believe this, but one of the cars was low on gas and we had to drive some 35 miles (with no gas / facilities available).  But since it was downhill, we decided we could probably make it by driving on neutral gear. We sent up prayers and kept our fingers crossed and ...... we made it and got to the gas station. Some dramatic moments at the end of a glorious day.......

We had been delayed, it was past 2 pm. Kamana Indian Cuisine restaurant was on our drive back. We called the place and did reservation for 10 for lunch. Needless to say, the hungry brood thoroughly relished the good Indian meal.

We had a quiet evening. There was a slight drizzle and then came the sun. And two rainbows appeared right above us. It was the first 'no-beach day'.

Next day it was to be Kapalua Beach once again as we had not had enough of the relatively friendly waves and shoals of fishes! More swimming, riding the waves and building castles and tunnels..... 
and of course a beautiful family picture at our favorite beach!


In the evening we had more beach time once again at the much-trampled on sandy Ka'anapali Beach next door ....



 ... and also watched the sunset.

As we were walking back, we got to listen to live Hawaiian music at Westin.
It was our last night at the resort and the family gathered to end it on a celebratory note with a party to ring in Grandpa's 75th year!

On landing in Maui, we had wondered how we'd spend a whole week in the small island. But it seemed we had still not had enough of the beaches! 
Everyone from minus 7 to 70 plus frolicked with equal gusto!

One spot on the to-do-list in Maui is the scenic road to Hana - a narrow single lane road along the coastline, but one cannot return from any point without completing the loop. It was too long a drive with kiddos in tow, so we had decided to give it a miss.

Before we realized it, our last day in Maui had dawned. It would definitely not end without a short visit to our beach. We had to check out of our resort home at 11, but our flights were at night. So we spent the day driving around making brief stopovers at some beaches. We had plans to go to the highly rated upscale 'Monsoon India' restaurant which had tables facing the beautiful beach, but it was closed on Mondays. So we ended up once again at Kamana Restaurant near Makena beach - this time for a delicious Indian buffet. Guess what? We had eaten out only six times during our trip - otherwise, it was home-made upma and poha to chole and sambar to tortillas and pulao and pasta.

We hadn't yet shopped for souvenirs; we found this quaint place near the restaurant, next to Tutu's Pantry - Kihei Kalama Village - with a lot of little shops selling reasonably priced items exclusively Hawaiian. Needless to say we had a good time and picked up our favorites. A nice way to end a tour!

We returned the rental cars at the airport. As we entered the terminal, we realized we had to have our check-in bags screened first (for plant / animals) as Hawaii is a quarantined place. Some Hawaiian pineapple-chocolates and Macadamia nut-chocolates from the airport, and we were all set for our return to mainland USA after a fantastic week-long trip to Maui, Hawaii.