Thursday, March 13, 2008

Mesmerized in Maui

The first view of this paradise is the majestic Haleakale mountain as the plane makes its final descent into the Kahalui airport. Haleakala means "house of the sun" and I couldn't think of a more appropriate name as the sun glistened down on this giant, illuminating every valley and undulation, conjuring up an image of an octopus with its tentacles flayed across the bottom of the ocean. Maui, the valley island, beckons.

We picked up the rental car and began the 30 minute drive to our hotel, the Sheraton in Ka'anapali. From the moment we arrived to this quaint, charming town, we were ushered through a palm lined driveway towars the hotel. The Sheraton is the last among a string of hotels on that beach but, in this case, last is best because it meant that the property was located on the famous Black Rock. Diving and snorkeling enthusiasts do not leave the island without making a trip up here. This was my first real snorkel adventure and, undoubtedly, we could not have chosen a better place to spend the next five days. It is here that the climax of the Sheraton's Sunset Cliff Dive takes place. Every evening, guests can view this breathtaking ceremony from the Lagoon bar or, for those who can't get enough of the sand between their toes, from on the beach. The ceremony is a depiction of the legend of the last king of Maui as he jumped off the Pu'u Keka'a (Hawaiian for Black Rock) into the pacific ocean to prove his spiritual strength. Ancient Hawaiian Legend also has it that this is the spot where their spirits have to jump off in order to meet their ancestors in order to avoid an eternity of roaming the earth causing mischief.

Cliff diver on Black Rock during the Sheraton's nightly cliff diving ceremony

Hula dancer at the Sheraton.
For the first time snorkeler and seasoned ones alike, Black Rock will surely impress. Whether or not you choose to stay at the Sheraton; it's easily accessible via the public accesses provided by all of the hotels along the beach. Feeding the fish, yes feeding the fish, was undoubtedly one of the most thrilling things I have ever done. The hotel's beach shop sells fish food that the almost domesticated fish of the Black Rock seem to prefer. Once underwater, all you need to do is tear open the pack and they will come. Oh, and will they come! By the hundreds it seems. I must admit, it can be a bit overwhelming at first: fish zipping by from all directions, so many colors, different sizes,all at once, but their only interest is the food. This is also the perfect opportunity for photos. Regretfully, we didn't bring along an underwater camera so all we have are the memories. But, rest assured, I will be prepared for the next time.

As breathtaking as being surrounded by so many different types of fish was, nothing was more exhilarating than being surprised by three green sea turtles as they glided ever so gracefully beneath us. The majesty, the power, the pride exuded by these reptiles is unmistakeable. Black Rock is a popular place for such sightings; they even nest along the Ka'anapli shore at nights. Seeing them for the first time, you begin to understand why animal activists are lobbying to keep them off the endangered species list. Touching them either on the shore or in the water is prohibited.

The other hotspot for snorkeling is the reef off the coast of Molokini, a tiny, crescent-shaped volcanic crater that slightly jutes out off the ocean which makes it a perfect habitat for reef animals. The clarity is almost 100 feet! It was like swimming in a pool in someone's backyard. The best way to get here is to purchase a seat on one of several tour boats in the town of Wailea. The boats are usually crowed but, once there, it's worth it. You might even be lucky to spot the occasional reef shark, if you consider being the the water with any kind of shark lucky.

On our second day, we planned to have lunch then do some sightseeing around the north west part of the island, along the route known as The Road to Hana. We opted for lunch at Aloha Mixed Plate, after all , this was my first visit to Hawaii and how could I leave without sampling the local food. The restaurant is ideally located on the beach, so no matter where you sit, there is a view of the pacific, in a very relaxed and casual atmosphere. the typical fare here is hawaiian: lau-lau, kalua pork, macaroni salad, lomi lomi; there was also the occasional teriyaki pork. With full stomachs, camera-ready, swim suits and comfortable shoes in the car trunk, we began the drive from old Lahaina north towards Kapalua on Highway 30.

The view from Aloha Mixed Plate.

The highway itself is in immaculate condition, notwithstanding the winding road would keep you on the edge of your seat if you are anything like me i.e. someone who constantly assumes the worst case scenario (what if there were an accident? What if we fell off the cliff?) This is why I typically don't drive when we are on vacations. The narrow, winding road took us through acres of lush, thick, green forests, passing the occasional "no trespassing, private property" sign at the entrance of the sometimes dilapidated, sometimes luxurious homes along the road, only to bring us back again to a view of the ocean. The topography of this part of the island is characteristic of its volcanic past and this becomes evident the further we drove along the north coast. The best display of this lava rock formation is at the Nakalele blowhole located 1/2 mile past mile mark 38. This geyser-like phenomenon occurs every time a wave forces water into the lava shelf below; the water has no where to go but up. It pays to always be prepared because, although the blowhole can be viewed from road side, the best view can only obtained by making the short hike (about 10 to 15 minutes) down a rocky slope to the lava plateau; hence we needed those comfortable shoes in the car's trunk.

Nakalele Blowhole.

In spite of our best intentions, the blowhole was as far as we got that day but we did resolve to complete the drive to Hana in another trip. There is just so much one can do in just one trip. For us, enjoying a few activities is better than trying to cram the entire island into five days and not being able to truly appreciate the sights and its history.

The view of Molokai from our table at the Pacific'O restaurant.

Almost everyone can claim to have seen pictures and videos of the beauty of Maui's exotic beaches and breath-taking landscapes. Little, is said, however, about the island's world class cuisine. Hawaii's chefs are world leaders in pan-asian and Hawaiian fusion cuisine. No where is this more apparent that at Roy's. Master chef Roy Yamaguchi's original creations transcends all that was previously known about island cuisine. Yes, there is fish. Yes, the dishes is light. Yes, the cocktails are breezy and refreshing. That's where the similarity to island food ends. Roy's offers the choicest cuts of meats, creative vegetable dishes and desserts that redefines the concept of dessert. So successful were his hawaiian locations that Mr. Yamaguchi has now opened restaurants in eleven states, including Nevada, California, Florida, Pennsylvania and Arizona.

At Roy's. 

Stunning. My first Maui sunset.

Whether you go for the beaches, the food, the hiking, surfing, snorkeling or scuba-diving, Maui will be etched in your memory forever. Simply put, Maui is remarkable in it's ability to heighten the senses; it allows a deeper appreciation of nature. Our five days on the island left us with a new perception of what our future vacations should be like: simple yet stimulating. We are already planning our next trip.

My Pick of the Top Restaurants:

Roy's Kahana Bar and Grill
Honoapiilani Highway,
(808) 669- 

Aloha Mixed Plate
1285 Front St,

(808) 661-3322

Pacific'O Restaurant
505 Front Street,

Five Palms Beach Grill
2960 South Kihei Road

Lahaina Fish Company
831 Front Street,
(808) 661-3472

My pick of great sights and activities:

  • The Road to Hana
  • Snorkeling at the Black Rock
  • Boat trip to Molokini (don't forget your snorkel gear)
  • Enjoying fresh mangoes and papayas at one of the many fruit stands along the road ways
  • The Nakalele blowhole
  • Enjoying the breathtaking views simply from any designated lookout point.

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