Hawaii. I think every American at one point or another in their life wants to visit this mystical place. We see it on our tvs from a young age. Read about it in magazines. Here stories from our aunts and uncles or friends of parents as they relay their adventures on the islands. Children grow up thinking, when I'm old enough to travel, I'm going to hawaii. Then somewhere along the line something changes. Perhaps its the realization that this is a dream for too many. More people = more crowds. More crowds = less fun. Maybe its that first or second trip to disneyland that drives that home. The long lines. The expensive foods. The corporate machine feeding you with wants and desires and unnecessary junk you don't need.
We find ourselves escaping this, taking shelter from the mega-monster that will tell us anything to make us spend our hard earn dough on something that does not hold a candle to the illusion. In order to get you to continue to visit a once magical place, it is gutted and reinvented. Cleaned and sanitized and put on a shelf to be purchased at a local travel agency. It's a disappointing taste left in the mouth that makes would be travelers cynical. It's the reason why many of us don't take the time to travel to the Hawaiian islands. It's a tourist trap. Those who don't visit tell themselves there isn't anything special there that can't be found somewhere else for cheaper, and closer to home.
The truth of the matter is, like any vacation, the time you put into planning it, researching it, exploring your options is equal to the experience you will have. Not just Hawaii but any trip for that matter. Have someone else do the work - well, you're gonna have as much fun as someone picking out your clothes to wear everyday and using that same style and size for everyone else who comes their way.
Determined to see Hawaii in its true state, we spent months figuring out if it would be possible and worth it. Months trying to decide if there would be enough for us to do without feeling we were being sold an adventure that didn't fit us. Would we be able to go hiking in parks? Is there anything else to do besides lay on a beach all day? Would we be able to find unique local restaurants, those striving to provide a culinary experience and not out to make a quick buck?
We discovered that in fact, there were things we could do besides lay on a beach all day, so we set our plans and made our reservations. A small post was made for our plans which you can read here
This adventure of ours was not only going to satisfy our curiosity about what Hawaii really was, but also serve as a guide for those who are thinking about taking the plunge as well.
First off - why Maui? Avoiding the big city and the major destination for tourist was one of our main goals, we also wanted an area with a beautiful natural park that we could spend days in. It seems odd, two people going to an island and making plans to avoid the beaches, but that's what we did. Snorkel gear was packed, but we didn't want to spend our days underwater seeing a bunch of pasty white legs and avoiding getting surfed on, so the gear was brought as a "we will see" kind of thing.
I'll start off right now by saying if you are thinking of going to Hawaii and not snorkeling. You are a fool. Go get that gear. If you are in Hawaii and you forgot your gear or you don't own any, no worries, every food shopping store sells basic snorkel gear for cheap. No need to rent it. You can pick up fins, goggles, and a snorkel for under 30 bucks from almost any food shop. It's not optimal and probably not as comfortable, but grocery store gear will get the job done.
Maui, by far, was the adventure of our lives. It was an experience I am glad I took the time to do. Considering avoid it? Don't. There are ways to experience Maui without any of the issues we were so worried about running into. Avoid the tourist crowds, the corporate sale trap, the white pasty legs, other than your own.
You just have to be wiling to make your own adventure.
Which we did. And here we were, landing in Maui in February. Note the month. It's important. Prices change drastically depending on the season and we decided to take our trip during the off season to avoid the crowd. That being said, we did this trip without seeing the on-season. There isn't much to compare it to but the illusion that has been built up in our head.
The plan was to spend 9 nights in Maui. 2 nights in Wailea-Makena, 4 nights in Hana, and 3 in Haiku-Pauwela. The trip plan was posted back in December, you can read it here
Our hotel was a bit of a trip from the airport, a 35 minute drive. The distance wasn't because there were no hotels there, (there are tons), but because the location we wanted to start in was on the other side of the airport. Most people don't want to make a drive. They want to get off the plan and relax. Probably try to get away without renting a car. It's possible. I am not saying it can't be done, but in my experience having a mode of transportation allows you a freedom you cannot put a price on.
Driving for 35 minutes on the 311 highway the first thing that stuck out was the speed limits. I rarely saw a road in Hawaii that permitted speeds over 40 mph. A few miles from the airport the traffic dispersed and the rented Jeep cruised along at an average 35 mph towards our destination. A jeep is recommended for the visit to Hana.
We stayed at the Hotel Wailea
. Why a hotel? It would be wrong to review an experience without giving both sides a fair chance. On the opposite end of the spectrum from the custom picked airbnb rentals was the standard beach side hotel.
Our hotel was set back from the ocean a bit ways and not really close to the beach as we had expected. It was still an incredibly nice resort. The lobby was gorgeous Lovely wood with all open areas.
Finding the place was easy, but the part that threw me off was it wasn't as close to the beach as I had expected. I felt a little upset about this. As much research as I had done on the location, I had assumed it would be at least walking distance to the beach. The location is not walk-able A good drive through about 3 golf resorts and 2 housing communities will get you there. For some reason I had pictured in my head a short walk to the beach, a bit of stroll before dinner. Maybe a nice walk after dinner as well.
That's not to say the location was not gorgeous.
The front entrance is mesmerizing. The wood glows at you and the small pools that run through the complex are captivating as well. You can see the sea from any outside location.
The rooms are bit outdated. Not as bright as the pictures advertising the space seemed. There is a bit of an age on the walls that I recognize from old Las Vegas hotel rooms. The good news being, we did see plans for updates and overhauls but didn't see the information regarding a completion dates. With an overhaul the place would be as good as new and worthy of the price. Will they keep it the same? I'm not sure.
But we didn't sit 2 hours in line at the airport, 5 hours in a stuffy overcrowded airplane, and drive a half an hour across Maui to sit here in our room. These accommodations would be sufficient for what we needed them for. Sleeping in.
Unloading, unpacking, and crashing for a while the desire for food hit us like a heatwave. We needed fuel and wanted something fast and close but nice. A list of restaurants was already picked out by us before we even set foot on the airplane, but we like seeing what the locals and staff recommend. The hotel staff was courteous and helpful and informed us that Monkeypod
was the answer. Monkeypod was already on our list and was noted as the popular local hang out when it comes to drinks and food in Wailea-Makena.
Monkeypod is a social haven. A large bar and bright lights, the seating encourages social interactions with other guest. The wait staff is fast and friendly and chipper. We soon learned that this is pretty much the norm, no one in Hawaii seemed to be in a bad mood. To be honest, can't blame them. You could tell they sometimes would rather be out on the beach than inside. Can't blame them there either. I found that the majority of the workers attention was affixed to the television over the bar, which we had no view of. I figured it with Super bowl since we were there over super bowl weekend. On the way out I caught a glance, and it was a surfing competition.
We ordered their signature mai tai, which arrived overflowing with foam.
Monkeypod Mai Tai -
old lahaina light rum, maui dark rum, lime, orgeat, orange curacao, honey-lilkoi foam (egg whites)
Raw Bar Mixed Plate -
Sesame Ahi Poke, Shrimp Ceviche, Tako Poke
The seafood tasted fresh, but when your restaurant is located next to the the Ocean having fresh seafood should be the norm.
Poke Tacos -
Raw Ahi, Ginger, Shoyu, Cabbage, Avocado Cream Sauce, Crisp Wonton Shells
Fresh Fish Tacos -
Local Cilantro, Cabbage, Roasted Tomato Salsa, Avocado Cream, Corn Tortillas
Although fresh, the taco plates were bland and lacked seasoning. The avocado cream, provided with both taco dishes, lacked flavor. The raw bar mix plate was the better of the three and we would recommend it. Overall, if you are looking for a social drinking spot, Monkeypod seems to be the place. If you are looking for a nice dining experience, it may be better to look elsewhere. The food isn't bad, but it lacks creativity and flavors.
With food in our bellys and flip flops on our feet we made our way down to the beach in our rental car. There wasn't much of "Hawaii" where we were. All of the land between the hotel and the beach had been turned into golf courses. Anything that wasn't a golf course was a house. The beachfront properties were all hotels. It was a bit difficult to find a parking spot near the beach, for the purpose of visiting the beach. This is common across the entire island. The space that is reserved for beach parking is about the same size as the garbage dumpster space at the hotels. Like the dumpsters, are always full.
The view that awaited us, though, was spectacular.
Maui's beaches are like no other I have seen. The black rocks and the crystal clear waters. I am amazed that the businesses have been allowed to set up here. I wonder what it would have been like to experience Maui before the land was torn apart to put in golf courses.
After sitting there admiring our view for awhile I spotted something in the distance.
It was a pod of whales! We for sure spotted three, one calf with an adult and another lone adult further ahead. When they merged together it appeared that there were more but from the distance it was hard to tell. The two of us were amazed to catch a glimpse of whales on our first day.
We watched the whales till they disappeared into the distance. As the sun set over the waters we walked along the expansive hotel properties, enjoying our time. As disappointing as it is to see so little of natural Hawaii remaining, the view to the ocean remains untouched. Will there come a time when our access to the Maui beaches is no longer allowed because the ownership has denied passage? Every sign I saw tells me it could one day be a possibility.
The hotel must have been designed for evenings outdoors as the ambiance was warm and inviting when we returned.
Later that evening we ended up at the bar at Capische the fine dining restaurant I was eager to visit, but you can't get in without a reservation. We weren't hungry so the goal was to view the menu while having a small taste from the dessert menu.
White Russian and Lavender mint chi:
House Made Lady Finger, Lilikoi Caramel Sauce, Mascarpone Ice Cream, Brandy Cake, espresso
A perfect end to a very long and exciting day.
Continue on to Day 2 of our Maui adventure!