May 1, 2016

Road Trippin’ Maui

Given our west coast launch pad to Hawaii, we had talked about going to Maui for years but never really did anything about it. But then we realized that Piper was about to turn 2 and we’d soon have to start paying for her airplane tickets. Nothing – and I mean nothing – will motive you like missing out on the chance to have your little 30-pounder fly for free one last time. So in what seems like some twisted form of reverse psychology, we booked ourselves a multi-thousand dollar vacation just so we could save $500.

I normally prefer to only write about international travels because the cultural differences are so great that it makes for better storytelling. For that reason I never really intended to write about Maui…until I started editing our pictures. They were just too beautiful not to say something about them. And so this time, I write for visual storytelling.

I assume most people probably go to Maui and spend the majority of their time at their fancy resort. That is totally fine, but we have never been lay-by-the-pool kind of travelers. So we purposefully booked ourselves outside of any resorts so that we weren’t temped to spend our days in the same spot. We methodically found three Airbnb rentals evenly spaced around the island – in Kihei, Lahaina and Hana – that we used as launch pads to explore. This was the single most important decision we made because it entirely changed the tone of our trip. Without even realizing it when we devised this plan, we had completely set ourselves up for a road trip around Maui.

Road tripping Maui consisted of loading the car up every morning with absolutely everything we would need for an entire day and night. We would spend the days hopping from beach to snorkel spot to trailhead to tide pool. And after dinner, we would drag ourselves back to the rental and all-out collapse by 9:00pm. Maybe that sounds awful to some people, but it’s the perfect kind of vacation for us.

We started with 3 days in South Maui, based in the town of southern Kihei. We had great proximity to the beautiful beaches of Wailea.



Our favorites were Po’olenalena Beach (White Rock) for its snorkeling (where we swam with the biggest turtle we’ve ever seen)…


And Pa’ako Beach (Secret Cove) for its beauty.



While Steve and I took turns snorkeling, Piper spent hours upon hours running around the beach and filling up and pouring out her little bucket of water. She was in heaven.



We even took a little time to enjoy the beaches and grounds of some of the fancy resorts like The Grand Wailea on Wailea Beach.



One thing that surprised us about Maui was its proximity to the other islands. We had only ever been to Kauai before, which is fairly remote by Hawaiian standards. It was fun to lay on the beach in Maui with Molokini, Kaho’olawe, Lana’i and Moloka’i in the distance.


We also used South Maui to get ourselves up to the famous Haleakala Crater to do some hiking. I was really excited about this and so I planned this particular day-trip to fall on my birthday. 

We got an early start out of Kihei and drove through Pa’ia, unfortunately before any of their quaint stores opened. Our first stop was Makawao, a little one-street town that is flanked on one end by a ghetto bakery making famous donuts. With our donut box in hand, we found some storefront steps to sit on and enjoy my delicious birthday breakfast. 


Little did we know what we had just set ourselves up for. Within one bite of a glazed donut, the sugar went to Piper’s bloodstream instantly. I’ve never seen anything like it. I’m talking 15 seconds or less and she was completely wired. It was as if the donut had been hooked into her intravenously. We knew there was no way that we could get her back into a car seat for the remaining 1.5 hour drive we had ahead of us, so we had her run up and down Makawao’s little sidewalk to burn off some of her newfound energy.

The thing is, Piper’s getting to the age where she thinks it’s hilarious to run away from us. And so in a split second of horror, she started darting toward the street as a joke. For the first time in my life, I literally threw my body to save her. While I was in mid-air, I remember making a conscious decision to keep my arms stretched out towards her instead of putting my hands down to catch my fall. My ribs caught my fall instead…right on top of my digital camera that was strung around my body. There I was at 8:30am, on my birthday, sitting on little Makawao’s torn up gravel sidewalk with cracked ribs and an entire forearm’s worth of asphalt-inflicted flesh.

(Photo cred: Steve, who decided to take a picture while I was in agony)

Piper ultimately was saved before she hit the street…not even by me, but by Steve. And so I left Makawao onward toward Haleakala with throbbing pain and some very stern words for our little donut runner.

Once we reached Haleakala, (most of) the bitter feelings were a distance memory. It was just too breathtaking to dwell on the donut incident. We had left the stereotypical lush environment of Maui and entered into Mars. The colors were out of this world!


We first got a glimpse of our hiking trail from the Leleiwi Lookout part way up the crater. It was impossible to miss…the long white vein cutting through a vast expanse of rocky land.


The Sliding Sands Trail is really simple…it goes into the crater as far as you want to go and comes back out the same direction. From the visitor’s center you seriously cannot miss it...it’s the one with people who look like ants marching into Mars.

Steve and I had decided that a good goal would be to make it to the bottom of the crater. That would be 4 miles each way – with one hellacious climb back out and a 30-pound baby with a 20-pound pack strapped to Steve’s back. All-and-all a pretty pleasant 8-mile round trip hike for my birthday! Our goal was to make it out by sunset so that we could watch the sun dip into the ocean from the summit at 10,023 feet.

There are two really stunning things about the inside of the Haleakala Crater. The first is the landscape. It is made up of billions upon billions of tiny red, brown, grey and yellow pieces of gravel. All this rock also meant that there were ZERO trees and thus ZERO shade.



The second stunner about Haleakala are the cinder cones. These are the humps scattered around the inside of the crater where the lava once erupted from a vent. They were hands-down the coolest part of the crater.



With mesmerizing views all around us and cinder cones to our left and right, we made it down to the crater floor in about 2 hours. 



There was a palpable feeling of solitude at the bottom…I don’t think many people venture this far.


Every park ranger we talked to told us it would take twice as much time to climb out as it would to descend. That meant we would be cutting it close to make it out before sunset…yikes!

About two-thirds of the way back up, we saw an unmarked trail that lead to the lip of a cinder cone. Eureka! 


The trail didn’t exist on the map so we didn’t know how far it was – and we were worried about our daylight running out. But we were just too tempted by the thought of an up-close-and-personal cinder cone experience. So we started to run. 


It ended up being a 1-mile round trip diversion, but it was so worth it. How many babies do you know who get to take a picture perched on the edge of a volcanic cinder cone?


Back on the main trail, we had about 1.5 miles to go, and let me tell you, we were hurting. The one thing we had going for us was the temperature. Even though it looks like you’re in the middle of the desert, you’re still at 10,000 feet, so it was pretty cool outside. But the sun was low on the horizon by this point and was relentless in our eyes. Steve was hauling 50 pounds uphill, and the way the camera was strapped around my body put my back muscles into a total hurt locker. We trudged on, and made it out of the crater in 4 hours and 45 minutes – 75 minutes faster than the park rangers told us it would take, even with an extra mile addition.

By the time we reached the summit of the crater, it had turned downright cold and Steve’s legs were so burnt out that he couldn’t even walk up a stair to get to the viewing point. I’m dead serious…his leg would not go up one stair. After a little regroup, we were able to enjoy a freezing cold, beautiful sunset on top of the world. What a birthday it was!


 

After that little adventure it was time to move onto West Maui. We based ourselves in the quirky little town of Lahaina, which kind of reminded me of downtown Key West. 


I can’t say we particularly loved the town, but it did give us a great location to explore the entire road around West Maui.

Just like in South Maui, we started by checking the famous Ka’anapali Beach and its surrounding resorts off our list. 
 

We spent one evening chasing Piper strolling down the beachside path and another morning snorkeling with turtles in the light blue water around Black Rock.



But it was north of Kanapali where Maui turned wild, and it was here that this surprising island really started reminding me of New Zealand. 

One of the best and most endearing features of New Zealand is that every 10 miles you drive, there’s another little hidden gem just waiting to be discovered. Sometimes the gems are in obvious locations like next to dramatic red cliffs, and other times they’re nestled amongst farmland. The northern loop of West Maui was no different. 
 



We spent two amazing days exploring the 2-Tiered Tide Pools of Honolua…




Hiking the wildly beautiful (if not slightly windy) Ohai Trail…



Swimming in the gorgeous Olivine Pools…



Hiking the Kapalua Coastal Trail…



And navigating the Acid Warzone Trail to the Nakalele Blowhole.



We haven’t met many people who have made the trip all the way around the top of West Maui. We beg you to do so! You will not be disappointed.


With two days to go before our trip back to the mainland, we had our sights set on Hana


I had a lot of preconceived notions about the road to Hana from friends and family who had done it before. I had even heard it described as “the road to divorce”. Our goal was to make it as enjoyable as possible, and so we decided to spend the night in Hana so that we didn’t feel rushed along the way.

Let’s start out by stating the obvious…there are lot of waterfalls along the road to Hana. Some of them we breezed by. Others we took the time to hike to or swim in. Then there were a select few that really stand out in our memory – idyllic stops like Ching’s Pool…


The pretty views of both the ocean and the mountains from the Wailua Valley State Wayside…



The insanely gorgeous waterfall at Wailua Iki (my favorite waterfall of the entire trip)…


The unbelievably lush town of Nahiku…




And the imposing black sands of Wai’anapanapa Park.


Hidden along the Hana Highway was another reminder of New Zealand. Our guidebook told us that, “two turnouts past the 23 mile marker you’ll see a cave on the mountain side of the road”. We found the turn outs, and I think both of our jaws dropped when we looked to the mountain side and saw this little hobbit hole. This was the kind of stuff we lived for in New Zealand! 


It is an old lava tube 140 feet long that you can crawl into, hike through and be greeted by a huge banyan tree’s roots hanging from the cave’s exit point. With Piper in the backseat of the car, we both took turns going into the cave and then emerging…much to the relief of each other. Let’s just say I went second, and my flashlight died while I was in the middle of the cave.


One of the coolest things about our stay in Hana was the house that we rented right along the Hana Highway. We felt like locals who had escaped life’s stresses and moved to the remote and exotic land of Hana. 


The next morning – our last day in Maui – we started out at the red sand beach of Kaihalulu. 


This is where we also discovered that the annual Taro Festival was taking place in Hana all day. It drew thousands of people from all over the island and was a very cool way of seeing how the locals celebrate with music, dance and downright delicious food.


From there we went swimming at the Venus Pools. This was a tricky one to get Piper into because you could basically only enter the water via cliff jumping. We devised a plan to get her in, and then to get her to more shallow waters, Steve used a coconut as a flotation device while she road piggy back.


The last hike of our trip was on the Pipiwai Trail through the bamboo forest to the huge Waimoku Falls at the end of the trail. If you've ever wanted to feel like a panda bear in a never-ending forest of food, this is the hike for you.


To close out our trip, we completed the circle from Hana around Eastern Maui – a drive that was not even possible just a few years ago. We saw our one and only rainbow of the trip, ate dinner at a roadside hamburger farm stand that was literally in the middle of nowhere, and made it back to the airport town with an hour to spare. 


This was just enough time for us to negotiate with the front desk manager at a 24-Hour Fitness to let us use their showers. My angle was, “I’ve been swimming in ocean pools and hiking through bamboo forests all day. Would you want to sit next to me on a red-eye right now???” Let’s look past the fact that we didn’t have towels, and so we had to dry off with an industrial-sized roll of paper towels. We were clean and that’s all that mattered. We rolled up to our gate with 5 minutes to spare before boarding. Not a minute wasted on another successful Nauman family vacation.

We are so grateful that we got to see so much of Maui, and we left totally blown away by how diverse it was. From the palm trees of Wailea Beach and the cinder cones of Haleakala to the tall grasses of northwest Maui and the waterfalls of Hana, at times it felt like we had visited 4 different islands in 8 days.





And through it all, our almost 2-year old rocked the entire adventure. Before the trip we were really worried about how she would handle the time change and our aggressive agenda. She never second guessed it, and in fact, she did best on the days when we just drove, explored and kept on driving.



A friend told me that I should start a new Instagram account – Crazy Places I Have Changed My Baby’s Diaper. The crater floor of Haleakala and the edge of the Nakalele Blowhole would be my first entries. I adore my little adventure babe.

For me it was the perfect vacation – spending time outdoors, seeing things the likes I had never seen before, and having my tribe along for the ride.

  


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