Travel: Adventure, Maui style
Editor’s note: This is the second in a two-part series. Visit http://www.vaildaily.com to read the first story.The butterflies in my lower stomach didn’t start flying around in tight circles until I strapped the bright yellow inflatable life jacket belt around my waist. The real problem was I still had 20 minutes until the helicopter was set to take off with us buckled inside. It was our third day in Maui, and we had decided that seeing Haleakala Crater and the oft-talked about Road to Hana from above would be preferable to sitting inside a car for most of a day. With only a week in Maui, time was precious.The fact that our tour company, Air Maui (www.airmaui.com or 877-238-4942), has a perfect safety record calmed my nerves, though, and after boarding the ‘copter, our very personable pilot, Captain Kirk, killed the last of the flutters with his friendly banter. First up was Maui’s dormant centerpiece – 10,023-foot Haleakala, where the desert-like terrain was a sharp contrast to the lush, emerald green rain forests near Hana we soon flew over. Maui is famous for its waterfalls, and Captain Kirk flew us over some beauties, rotating the ‘copter mid-air so each of his six passengers could get a clear view and a nice photo.
That afternoon, we visited the Hawaiian Island Humpback Whale National Marine Sanctuary in Kihei where we watched in vain for whales and sea turtles before heading to West Maui. The Hyatt concierge recommended we try Cane & Taro (2435 Ka’anapali Pkwy, Lahaina, 808-662-0668), located in the Whaler’s Village, for dinner. Following our waiter’s advice, we ordered a table full of appetizers – rock shrimp dynamite, calamari salad, garlic edamame and a delectable Dragonfly sushi roll and shared them family-style. It was one of the best meals of the trip.The next morning, we switched hotels, moving north to the Westin Ka’anapali Ocean Resort Villas on the other end of Ka’anapali Beach. The one-bedroom suite had an ocean view, a full kitchen, a giant soaking tub and, of course, the Westin’s signature Heavenly bed, which is more comfortable than my own bed. In all, the resort is luxurious, yet laid back, and struck me as the perfect spot for a multi-generational family getaway. We immediately donned swimsuits and, with a fruity drink soon in hand, lounged by the pool – one of six on the property – for a few hours. After watching dozens of whales spouting in the ocean, sometimes remarkably close to shore, we decided we’d like an even closer look and booked a half-day snorkel and whale watching trip with the nonprofit Pacific Whale Foundation (www.pacificwhale.org or 800-942-5311). We shared the boat with about 80 other folks, but the price was right and our ticket included breakfast and a tasty barbecue lunch. Plus, a few of the crew members were also marine biologists and quite knowledgeable. We saw plenty of fish while snorkeling at Lanai, and on the way back, a handful of spinner dolphins played in our boat’s wake for a few miles. We saw dozens of whales as well, and a few surfaced less than 100 yards away. Their dark bodies glistening in the sunlight.
On one of our last days in Maui, we decided to spend a day “Upcountry,” exploring the farm country at the base of Haleakala Crater, where much of the island’s produce is grown.We stopped in Pa’ia, a small hippie town on Maui’s North Shore first. There were some fun shops and we poked our heads in a few before grabbing a table at Pa’ia Fishmarket Restaurant (2A Baldwin Ave., Pa’ia, 808-579-8030). There’s a line out the door for good reason – the food is excellent, especially the grilled opah (moonfish) burger with a scoop of slaw and cheese.With full tummies, we got back in the car and headed along the Kula Highway to the Ali’i Kula Lavender farm (1100 Waipoli Rd, Kula, 808-878-3004). It started to rain as we got out of the car, but it didn’t matter. Buckets filled with big purple umbrellas were scattered around for visitors to borrow. We bought a cup of lavender tea in the gift shop and then explored the grounds a bit by ourselves, but there are also walking tours each day. Next up was the Surfing Goat Dairy (3651 Oma’opio Rd, Kula, 808-878-2870). We talked to the baby goats in the pen, and watched intently as one of the employees snuggled with the thrilled-to-see-her kids that gathered around her, vying for pats and hugs. We just missed an afternoon tour, so we took a seat on the covered patio and sampled a goat cheese plate filled with some of their award-winning chevre.
We skipped our planned third stop at the island’s only winery in favor of heading to my great aunt and uncle’s home in Makawao. One look at their yard and I was in heaven: there were banana trees laden with green fruit, guava trees and a garden covered in fine mesh to keep out the moths that like to dine on the leafy greens. In the Aloha-spirit, they made us a home-cooked meal, undoubtedly the best of our trip. My aunt Rosie grilled prawns and fresh opah and served it alongside a salad she made with lettuce from her garden topped with local mango, avocado and homemade dressing. For dessert, we indulged in warm-from-the oven apple pie with a cup of rich Maui coffee.My great uncle Robert was born and raised in Colorado but fell in love with Hawaii the first time he visited. His wife, Rosie, grew up on Maui and the two have a deep affection for the islands. On our last day on Maui, they took us to see Iao Valley State Park, a lush, deep valley that felt magical in the waning daylight. You can’t miss seeing the Iao Needle, a spire that rises nearly 2,000 feet above the valley floor. Mark Twain once dubbed the valley “Yosemite of the Pacific.” I’ve since dubbed Maui as a place I’d like to live – someday.High Life Editor Caramie Schnell can be reached at 970-748-2984 or email@example.com.