Travel Diary: Discovering Maui (Again)

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I’ve been meaning to write about my trip to Maui for over a month now, but every time I think about it I’m overwhelmed by memories of tropical relaxation and I have to immediately lie down on the floor and pretend I’m on the beach instead. But now I’m really going to do it, even if I have to put on a swimsuit and sit next to my space heater while I write. So here goes…

If you’re having a bit of deja vu right now, you might recall that I also went to Maui last summer with my best friend Katelyn. I wrote a little bit about that vacation, specifically some life lessons I learned from sea turtles, but I didn’t mention that Katelyn just happened to meet her soulmate under a banyan tree on the second day of the trip (true story!). When she went back to visit him in January and invited my boyfriend Nick and me to come along, we jumped at the chance to take a relaxing Hawaiian vacation as a couple and spend some time with them in Hana (where The Soulmate lives).

Beach Time

Nick and I stayed at a hotel in Kihei, a town on the east side of the island that boasts ridiculously perfect weather–and a ridiculous amount of tourists. I wasn’t digging the crowds and chain restaurants at all, but there are three big beach parks in town–Kamaole Beach Park I, II, and III–that are lovely and sunny and allow people to spread out pretty well. When Katelyn and I went to the island last year, we stayed at Napili Bay, which has much dicier weather (spoiler alert: it rains every day), but it was much less crowded with people and buildings. Napili Bay is still my favorite beach in Maui, but on this trip Nick and I spent some time at Ulua Beach Park in Wailea, which was gorgeous and great for boogie boarding.

Being in Maui on Super Bowl Sunday turned out to be pretty awesome. While everyone else was inside watching the game, we enjoyed a day of completely empty beaches:

 Kamaole Beach Park on Super Bowl Sunday.

Whale Watching

We didn’t purposefully plan our trip to coincide with the humpback whale breeding season, but I’m so glad it worked out that way. Everywhere you looked, humpback whales were breaching and spouting and slapping their flippers on the surface of the water. It was amazing. We spent a few evenings laying out on the grass at Kalama Park watching the sunset while pods of humpback whales swam by. Totally worth the mosquito bites.

 We also practiced our dancing and jumping, obviously.

Food

Restaurants in Hawaii can be pretty hit or miss, but with a little luck and a lot of frantic Yelp searches, Nick and I tracked down some amazing food we’re still salivating over. Here are some of our favorites places to eat in Kihei and Wailea:

808 Deli: Amaaaazing sandwiches and salads. Nick was so obsessed with a sandwich called the “porkie” that it started to threaten our relationship.

Local Boys Shave Ice: Handmade syrups and free additions, including locally made ice cream, made this our go-to spot for shave ice. And when I say “go-to spot” I mean we went there every single day, sometimes twice.

Da Kitchen: Gigantic plate lunches that will fill you up for days, plus awesome service.

Sansei Sushi: The panko-crusted ahi roll was one of the best things I’ve ever eaten. Ever. Go on Sunday for happy hour–everything on the menu is half price.

Lappert’s: Three words: Iced. Kona. Coffee.

The Road To Hana

OK, so when Katelyn and I were in Maui last year, this really pushy “activities advisor” at our hotel followed us around trying to convince us to book an inter-island booze cruise (despite me telling him my only goal in life is to never go on a booze cruise) and at one point he gave us a brochure for a Hana Highway van tour. “Over 600 curves and 59 one-lane bridges!” it said in big block letters. “Wait, are those supposed to be good things?” Katelyn said, genuinely baffled. We both have some driving anxiety, and this “adventure” sounded like some kind of cruel and unusual punishment, even though coffee and pastries were included. We laughed about it for awhile, not knowing that Katelyn was about to meet her soulmate, who lives in Hana, and we would both eventually have to drive on the Hana Highway to go visit him.

Flash forward to this trip: after spending a few days in Kihei, Nick and I rented a car to start the journey to Hana to see Katelyn and The Soulmate. Well, we tried to rent a car, only to realize I’d forgotten to bring my ID, proof of insurance, and credit card, which complicated the process slightly. After a trip back to the hotel for my ID and a double-super-pinkie-swear that I was insured, we somehow convinced the company to give us a car, and voila: we were on the road. The highway weaves along the coast through a couple little towns before you become completely engulfed in a “Ferngully”-style rain forest. It’s painfully beautiful, bordered by waterfalls, rivers, thick green jungles, and stunning views of the ocean. Here, just look:


The one thing to remember about the Hana Highway is best summed up by the old cliche, “it’s about the journey, not the destination.” Don’t rush this journey. Partly because speeding will greatly increase your chances of driving off a thousand-foot cliff, but mostly because it’s truly one of the most beautiful drives in the world. Take it slow, pull over to take photos and explore, and for the love of God, force yourself to pee at every single rest stop.

When we arrived in the town of Hana, we were instantly charmed (and soaked, thanks to a rain storm that started almost immediately upon our arrival, but mostly charmed). We spent some time at the red sand beach, went cliff-jumping at a gorgeous swimming hole, and ate fresh-picked bananas, avocados, and lilikoi.

I would highly recommend spending a couple days in Hana if you’re visiting Maui. It’s a uniquely beautiful place with so much to experience and explore.

Quick word of warning: learn from our mistake and do not, under any circumstances, drive the Hana Highway at night. We left a couple hours later than scheduled for our return trip, and had to drive the entirety of the highway in the dark, in a rain storm, in a rental car with questionable brakes. Not fun.

Maui Love

My travels to Hawaii have now taken me to Oahu, the big island (I spent a semester at UH Hilo), and Maui. Kauai is still on my travel bucket list, and I’d love to visit Molokai, but Maui is–for now–my favorite island. There’s so much to see and do, and I’m sure I’ll be back again in the not-too-distant future. For now, I’ll keep huddling in front of this space heater in my swimsuit, daydreaming about shave ice and languid evenings whale-watching under the palm trees.

Contact the author of this post at winona@thefrisky.com.

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