Our epic 15 day journey to the alluring, rainbow-infused state of Hawaii is something we shall not forget. It was magical and filled with adventure. It’s a place where “trouble melts like lemon drops.” Here is my brief (?) trip report from our August, 2014 vacation to Maui and the Big Island.
Day One: I was surprisingly NOT tired when my alarm chirped at 3:45am. After showering and completing some last minute chores, we loaded our luggage in the awaiting cab. We used SYR Airport Taxi and would definitely recommend. I made the reservation online; it was confirmed by email, and the driver was sitting in our driveway 15 minutes early. We checked in with American at the airport, zipped through an efficient TSA check point, and were sitting at our gate within 15 minutes of getting to the airport. Our quick flight to Chicago was uneventful. During our layover we had a decent breakfast at Chili’s and bought a new iPad charger as we discovered Xander’s iPad had not charged overnight due to a now-broken charger. Grrrreat! In the short time we had left, his iPad only charged up to 5%. We didn’t think it would be a big deal until we got on-board the United 777 and saw how old it was. It had no TVs or movie screens. This was shocking figuring we were going on a long 9 hour flight and had paid an arm and a leg for the flight! Once we got up in the air, we were told the WiFi was broken, too. WTH! A travel agent I met in Maui at dinner said it was unacceptable and told me I must file a complaint.
I let Xander use my iPad and he played Minecraft until he ran the battery to 0%. During the rest of the flight, he and I completed a Highlights magazine, drew pictures, and played Uno. When we began to approach Hawaii, he was glued to the window, eagerly awaiting the first sight of the rugged coastline. It did not disappoint. It seemed to appear out of nowhere and looked magical with its jade greenery and tall mountain slopes.
As soon as we stepped into the Kahului airport, we were hit with a block of heat and humidity. The airport had no walls: it was open-air! The baggage claim was a zoo. Apparently Saturday is a very popular day to fly into Maui. Peter and Barbara, Nick’s parents, had arrived a little awhile before us, and happily greeted us at our gate. We collected our bags, hopped into the rental car shuttle, and collected our mini van for the week. It was a tight squeeze but we managed to fit all our luggage inside. Before we went to the condo, we picked up a snack and some food items at the Costco nearby. The drive to North Kihei was short and simple to navigate using our Google Maps app. Our condo at Sugar Beach was perfect for our needs. It was a 1 bedroom oceanfront condo with a kitchen, living room, and balcony. The kitchen was well stocked for the foodie in me; it was better in fact than any rental we have ever had plus it had spices and oils available. In the bedroom closet we also had beach toys, multiple coolers, beach mats, beach chairs, an umbrella. During our trip we took advantage of all these fabulous supplies. The condo was within a short walk to a small plaza that had a general store, shaved ice stand, bakery, and a daily farmers market. The complex never felt crowded and often we were the only ones at the beach– Well, except for some turtles and rays! It was perfect!
Maui is a tropical destination that is characterized by mountains, breezes, and stiff Mai tais. Some warned me that it was commercialized beyond enjoyment, yet I disagree. Certain parts are for sure touristy (Ka’anapali!!) and laden with sunburned foreigners wearing a floral shirts, driving rented jeeps, and habitually saying ‘Aloha’ to every passerby. Yet if you look past the Hawaiian button up shirts, and look closely, one can see the beauty, the serenity, and the an array of culture that makes Maui so desirable. It’s a place where the skinny palm trees sway with the trade wind gusts and the beach sand is a kaleidoscope of colors. The breeze is fragrant, the sunrises mesmerizing, and time moves a little bit slower. Ahh, Hawaii! Day Two: I didn’t sleep soundly the first night and found myself wide awake at 3am. I cursed my internal clock, rolled over, and tried desperately to fall asleep again. The six hour time difference was messing with me! Luckily I did fall back to sleep, but slept restlessly until 6am. Therefore, I got up and watched the sun light up the beach. Nick soon joined me, and we watched the other early risers walk or run on our beach. Most were barefoot. Soon Nick’s dad joined us, and we enjoyed a leisurely couple hours reading and conversing on the balcony while Xander and Barbara snoozed on. It became a morning ritual. Xander slept til 9am that first morning!
Prior to our trip I researched a spot for breakfast in Kihei. Hands down, I determined the Kihei Caffe needed to be on our list for breakfast. It is a stand-in-line-to-order-then-find-a-table type of joint. Menu items are written on chalkboards. The line extended out the door and included tourists and locals with their flip-flop-clad tykes. Items we ordered included pancakes with bananas and macadamia nut topping, pork fried rice garnished with a fried egg (my fav), vegetable egg scrambled tower, fish and lox, and French toast. We ate al fresco with visiting birds and chickens. We all raved about this breakfast; I wish we had gone back for a second time.
Afterward we crossed the road to watch the surfers, seasoned and amateur, tackle the waves at Kalama Park. Then we headed over to an open air market to buy cheap t-shirts, and admire the koi fish. On the way back to the condo, we stopped at Foodland to buy some staples. I picked up some fun items like Kona coffee and dragon fruit. In fact, I’d say half of our $300 bill was from the produce section. We luckily had the food saver card and saved $50 at checkout. I brought my shopping bags from home since Hawaii doesn’t have plastic bags (AWESOME IDEA) and charges for paper bags. Overall, they had amazing fruits, but I found the vegetables to be severely lacking in freshness. The carrots I bought, for instance, were moldy. I have been spoiled living here in upstate NY where farms are my next door neighbor. I have a high standard these days.
En route to Sugar Beach, we pulled over at Yee’s produce stand to pick up some of the legendary mangoes. The woman at the stand told me the best ones are determined by color, not touch. She picked out two lovely yellow ones. We also bought some baggies of sugarcane and coconut. The two resident peacocks were quite jealous of our picks. The mango was exquisite and unlike any mango variety I have ever tried. I would highly recommend a stop at this stand! The woman was very forthcoming with information. Her fruit put the grocery store fruit to shame! The remainder of the day was spent on the beach talking, laughing, and enjoying a Hawaiian afternoon. The trade winds were whipping but we enjoyed boogie boarding and soaking up the rays. We watched paddle-boarders and wind surfers. Xander tackled the waves and seemed to laugh constantly. It was an absolute joy to watch his enthusiasm and absolute contentment. That evening we each contributed toward dinner. We dined al fresco with ribeyes, loaded baked potatoes, steamed cauliflower, and salad. We were all in bed soon after 9pm.
Day Three: We woke up around 6am. Again, I had slept restlessly since 3am. I made coffee, scrambled eggs and fried potatoes with steak for breakfast. It was another beautiful morning so we spent more time out on the patio watching the morning paddle-boarders and outriggers. After 10 we headed out to Iao State Park for a morning hike. The 20 minute drive was scenic due to the lush green mountains that towered next to the road. At the gate to the park we were greeted by an old man who was seated, holding a hooked cane in his hands. He looked like and spoke like Mr. Miyagi from Karate Kid. Too bad I didn’t sneak a picture. After a 5 minute, descriptive monologue about the trails, we parked and set off for the 40 minute loop. It is a beautiful, truly Hawaiian hike, and we are glad we made the morning excursion. As we were leaving two large buses rolled in and dropped off a herd of cruise ship passengers. So glad we got to experience e beauty of Iao before these people arrived.
After an afternoon spent at the beach, we dolled up in the stereotypical Hawaiian attire and drove into Lahaina. The Old Lahaina Luau is advertised as an authentic Hawaiian Luau that includes an open bar, so we said ‘Why not.’ Overall it was a nice evening despite the intense heat. We arrived early to ensure prime parking. We were greeted with a lei, partook in the demonstrations and watched the Imu unearthing of the Hawaiian underground oven. I didn’t really enjoy the food, but then again, I’ve never been a fan of buffets. The sunset was breathtaking, and we all took a bazillion photos. After the sun went down, the music and hula show began. After about an hour of watching the show, we opted to depart early. The show was dragging on a bit, and we were all ready to go home.
Day Four: We set out early to meet up with Haley (student) and Mel (marine biologist) to participate in a turtle project. We met them at a beach park and sat down on beach mats. Together we spent about 40 minutes learning about Maui and various fish. The main focus, however, learning about sea turtles. Once we were educated, we suited up and walked into the ocean ready to look for turtles, butterfly fish and trigger fish.
We had already predetermined hand signals we could make underwater if we saw one of them. It wasn’t long before Xander was making a butterfly signal and turtle signal. Within 10 minutes, Xander was screaming through his mouthpiece and tugging on my arm to look at something. Behind me, he had spotted a massive, old turtle. Haley later said that he must have been 300 pounds.
It was an amazing sight! We were all exhausted by the time we finished snorkeling. We had a fantastic, educational morning, though. As expected, we spent the remainder of the day lounging on Sugar Beach, savoring the warm air and water. Day Five: Besides our typical lanai-beach-pool routine, today we surfed. I’ll admit I was a bit nervous, but ultimately, the experience was unforgettable. I picked Surf Maui based on their reviews on TripAdvisor; not only were they kid-friendly, but they had only 5-star reviews. The company was trustworthy and manned by incredibly fun, friendly individuals. We were paired with Eddie, and all of us were standing on our boards by the end. We trained initially on the grass in front of the beach, learning the technique to get from our stomachs to feet. Xander was the best out of all of us. The water we surfed in was shallow (at Kalama Park), so I didn’t have to worry about him if he fell off. He could stand in the water and walk with his board afterward. I was up on my second wave, and Peter and Nick soon after. The waves were small, slow, and manageable for first timers. Eddie, our instructor, pushed us off and offered verbal commands which helped us get to our feet at the correct time. For a handful of waves we had surfboard races or tried various ‘tricks’ like laying backwards on the board. Eddie showed us his headstand surfing technique which was wicked! If the hurricane wasn’t coming, we may have gone back out for a second lesson later in our trip. Thanks to Eddie for his patience, fun going attitude with Xander, and thanks to Summer for her nearly instant email replies. It was a great morning!
Day Six: We originally had planned to drive to Hana today, but we had to cancel our plans due to the fact that Hurricane Iselle has planning to show up. We diligently watched the news and I received phone calls from the condo’s rental agency and from the owners of our two units. It was becoming clear that the island was going to shut down after the lunch hour. The sun was blazing, with no storm in sight, so we decided to drive over to the Whaler’s Village in Ka’anapali for a little shopping and lunch. This part of Maui is very manicured and is the ideal spot for a tourist who is uncomfortable renting or going off-the-beaten track. All the familiar hotel chains have towers here and some have golf courses, too. It kinda reminded me of Disney Village. It’s not for me. I grew up in Orlando.
We parked our car in the parking garage and then headed over to the “Village” to browse familiar shops. Xander found a nice pair of $50 crocs and my husband bought an expensive pair of flip flops. We went into Tommy Bahama and a few a t-shirt shops. We then headed over to the beach side of the Village to pick a restaurant for lunch. Ultimately we chose Lelani’s- it sits on a BEAUTIFUL stretch of azure water. Its backyard view is stunning. The ocean is so blue! Beyond the ambiance, the food is another reason to dine at this restaurant. We had one of our best meals at Lelani’s. I recommend the onion rings, kalua pork sandwich, and the fish tacos. All were piping hot, fresh, and finger licking good! As we walked to our car, we noticed that most of the shops had already closed up. Some had even put sandbags by their doors. When looking up to the sky, all I could see was blue sky. Hmmm…. in fact, the rest of the day was nice! The trade winds were quite fierce in the late evening, but that didn’t stop us from going to the beach and pool. I began to wonder if the storm would come after all. Day Seven: Today was our last full day. Most things on the island were closed due to the impending hurricane. We had made all the necessary precautions and planned to stay put, as directed, at the condo. First thing I noticed when I looked outside was that it was business as usual. Runners were running on the beach and paddle-boarders were out on the water. Clouds rolled in and out, but the wind never showed up. We spent the day eating, sipping cocktails, and hanging at the pool. Luckily, the hurricane was a no-show in Kihei! By late afternoon, we noticed that the surf had risen and it was much more rough. It seemed that everyone was out trying to boogie board in it. Nick and I both tried. We both ended up swallowing salt water and storing copious amounts of sand in our suits. But, it was FUN! We cooked at the condo as all restaurants had announced they would be closed. We originally had reservations for this evening at Mama’s Fish House, but they called me to say they too were closing. Bummer! Day Eight: I couldn’t believe our week on Maui had come and gone so quickly. I wanted to stay longer, to experience those missed opportunities. I wanted to lounge on the balcony and quiet beach a few more days, too. Without a doubt, I will return to Maui again. It’s definitely an ‘over the rainbow’ type of place.