It took me quite some time to decide which island (apart from Oahu) my fiancé and I would be staying. Hawaii has about eight main islands. The most popular ones are Hawai’i (The Big Island), Maui, Oahu, and Kauai. Apparently, each island has their own distinct personality. Pressed for time and money, I knew I can only visit one more.
It boiled down to Kauai and Maui. The former is a lot more relaxed, pristine, and laid-back. It was also relatively cheaper. Maui, on the other hand, was more touristy, and sort-of in-between Honolulu’s beach/city hybrid and Kauai’s natural charm. Although it’s more expensive, it’s also said to be a lot more romantic. In the end, I booked two round-trip inter-island flights via Hawaiian Airlines to Maui. It was absolutely the best decision. And I am more than happy that I was able to visit this island at least once in my life. Prepare for a lot of photos.
Although bigger in size than Oahu, its population is ten times less than the main Oahu island. I also belatedly found out that it has been voted by TripAdvisor as the best island in the world for consecutive years. It just fueled so much excitement! I was ready to get swept away into the island life and be a beach bum for at least two weeks.
We stayed at a fully-furnished well-stocked beachfront studio condo in Noelani Condominium Resort. For your information, the exact room was no. 112 (click here for the photo and description of the room). The location is great as it is away from the busier tour bus crowds and high rise hotels. The beach is right in front and a small public beach with a shore is just right beside. Although if you wish to visit the popular Kaanapali Beach and Lahaina Front Street area, it is easily about a 10-minute drive away. This area feels significantly more private and serene. It felt like the perfect place to come home to after an exhausting adventure-filled day. We (more like Al) would cook or eat our take-outs (which was mostly from Whole Foods) inside while watching television at night. It was really just chill and perfect. For those looking for mid-range to budget accommodations that will exceed your expectations, this place is great.
Our days start early as most of the activities planned required waking up at 5:30 am. We would be driving about 35 miles or 56 km daily at the very least. Fortunately, this would take only about 40 to 45 minutes here in Maui. And our everyday drives in Maui are the most scenic I’ve ever witnessed in my life. I am not kidding when there would be times when I’d suddenly get goosebumps while looking at the ocean on my left and the mountains on my right. We would almost always get to experience dawn or sunrise and it would be quiet and felt incredibly magical. I would often close my eyes and whisper a short prayer of gratitude out of sheer humility and bliss from the grandeur of nature.
I initially booked an intermediate and was more than surprised to see a convertible in the Avis driveway which my fiancé upgraded. It was my first time riding a top-down convertible (in my favorite color too!) and I think Maui is just the ideal location to rent the same. We rode top-down each morning while driving beside the ocean or through hairpin turns within the Maui rainforest.
There were three (3) major things planned during our trip: view Maui by air through a helicopter ride; take a catamaran cruise and swim with sea turtles; drive the famous Road to Hana. In between, we would spend our time along the Lahaina, Kahului, Wailea, and Paia areas, for the Maui town experience. For this post, I’ll just cover the three major activities and separate another post on the interesting towns of Maui.
I was not initially dead-set on booking a helicopter ride as it was bloody expensive. But after searching for good deals, I was able to book a promo with OhanaFun for an early helicopter ride through Air Maui. Overall, I would still highly recommend splurging on this once-in-a-lifetime kind of luxury, if you can.
I actually booked a Hana/Haleakala tour for the helicopter ride. But due to the weather conditions, Air Maui suggested a different route through the West Maui and Molokai mountains. It turned out so well at the end, as we learned that these islands can only be accessed by air. Our pilot, Richie, answered some of the questions lingering in my head on why the mountains in Hawaii are so different from ours since the mountains of Hawaii have that distinct but beautiful moss-like appearance. It turns out that the massive mountains of Maui get a lot of rain at the top and therefore regulate the rainfall in Maui. The tour also took us to breathtaking views of lush greenery and several waterfalls that are about a thousand feet high. It was especially nice to see the coastlines and the way the water would hit against the massive rocks. There was even a patch of rain in the sky that produced a rainbow.
Another unforgettable experience would actually be soaking up so much sun while snorkeling in the beautiful waters of Maui. This time I booked a catamaran cruise snorkel tour with Pride of Maui to bring us to Molokini crater and Turtle town in Wailea. The boat was huge and their crew was helpful and very friendly. It was also nice that everything was already part of a package. Apart from the snorkel gear, reef safe sunscreen, and floaters, they also served us breakfast, lunch, and an open bar at the end of the trip. I would recommend taking a reputable company rather than waste your money in a cheap alternative, just for the quality of the facilities and the people involved.
Our first stop was to snorkel by the famed Molokini crater, a crescent-shaped volcanic caldera formed about 150 thousand years ago and located a few miles from Maui’s shore. It also happens to be a marine and bird sanctuary. The waters are clear and the corals and fish diversity is beautiful. It is apparent that the locals and even the tourists respect and maintain the beauty of this sanctuary.
The photos above clearly show how tan we both have gotten. Throughout my entire Hawaii trip, I found it so easy to embrace the Aloha lifestyle–out in the sun, sand in between your toes, the overall laidback atmosphere that is, honestly, not me at all. But it was exactly the kind of vacation that I needed. I still slathered on heaps of sunblock (let’s just say I used up about three bottles throughout) since skin cancer and the actual pain of sunburn is a big painful deal.
The second stop was off the south coast of Maui near Wailea, where several sea turtles nest and swim around. It is aptly coined “Turtle Town” and was just quite an experience. Although a bit harder to manage since the waves were pretty strong that day, I was so ecstatic to actually swim a few feet away from these beautiful creatures. I also love that once the sea turtles see us, they actually come out of hiding and go up towards the shore! We still had to maintain a few feet in distance (although a bit hard because of the waves). The cover photo is just one of the only shot we had of it! But we did capture some on video.
Of course, we could not leave Maui without taking on the Road to Hana. Road trips with Al have always been memorable. He’s a great driver and an even better company when he’s not in some sort of mood. 🙂 In our case, we went way past Hana and off into the last stop planned — Oheo Gulch. That is basically 87 miles or 140 kilometers from our hotel. Unlike driving from Manila to anywhere else at the same distance, this drive takes only about 3 to 4 hours, without stopping. But as the locals say, this experience is all about the journey and not the destination. Hence, we packed a few snacks and sandwiches, left before 6 am, and were ready to begin our adventure.
The photos above were taken at Oheo Gulch, which actually forms part of the Haleakala National Park. Parking is crazy at USD 25 and can only be paid through credit card. There’s a short trail to get to this point. But the views are awesome. There are actually a dozen pools and a multitude of waterfalls flowing through the Oheo Gulch and into the ocean. However, there can be no swimming in this area as the terrain and currents can be dangerous. Still a worthwhile drive and a place to highly consider in your Road to Hana journey.
The drive is famous for many things. For those who do get motion sickness, I suggest bringing some sort of pill or medication before the actual drive as the roads will get very curvy and winding for hours. Unlike the West side of Maui, the East side will feel a lot more familiar to us here in the Philippines, as you will be driving along familiar terrains of lush rainforest. Driving top down with your favorite road trip playlist was perfect, as you get to smell the bamboo, appreciate the greenery, and soak up the best kind of sunshine (morning sun).
There is a bit of danger in driving as the roads are narrow and, like you, there will be a bunch of cars heading the same or opposite way. The winding road stretches past many narrow bridges, taro patches, fruit stands, seascapes, waterfall pools, botanical gardens, and verdant rainforests. Note that the signal in this part of town is terrible, so make sure that your GPS is saved offline. It is difficult to actually go back once you skipped a destination. Trust me, we know this.
My suggestion is to truly plan ahead. There are way too many pitstops which you can make, but if you’re not staying overnight in Hana, I suggest marking only a few, so you can actually take your time in that area. Al and I went our way to the farthest spot and worked our way backward. It worked well as we were able to finish the entire journey by the afternoon, allowing us more time to do more things and rest early.
Make sure to pack several extra clothes and snacks along the way. Although you will pass by a few fruit stands and eateries, those would be expensive and not as good as bringing on something to munch on. Al and I packed some sandwiches, brought it in our hike, and ate it under a tree overlooking the tidal pools at Oheo Gulch. It’s so simple, but looking back at that moment, now feels like such a special memory.
We went down a few stops and did a few mini hikes to be able to get a better view of the waterfall or the tidal pools. If you feel sticky and sweaty, just take a dip into the clear waterfall pool and make friends with a lot of fellow tourists taking the same shared journey with you.
Maui just feels extra special. I doubt anyone would actually not have a good time on this island. There are infinitely so many things to do and the connection with the island (I know it sounds cheesy!) is absolutely spot-on. But I think the best part is really just taking it slow and soaking it all in. Will share a new post next time about Maui’s colorful towns, the food, and some other worthwhile sights.
Image Credits: Rickmon Albert Alcantara, Pearl Margaret C. Ganzon, Air Maui