Wednesday, April 1, 2015

Maui: Highway 30 (Honoapi'ilani Highway)

The Road to Hana provides arguably the most beautiful drive in Maui and has even been listed as one of the 12 Amazing Drives Drives in the United States and is listed first in America's Most Scenic Roads. As impressive as the Road to Hana is, I found the drive and scenery along Highway 30 (Honoapi'ilani Highway) in west Maui to be particularly impressive in its own right.

Highway 30 forms forms an oval around the northwestern portion of Maui and includes cities and towns such as Wailuku and Lahaina. We didn't do the complete circuit, but mostly limited ourselves to the "reasonable" portion of this road (Wailuku through Lahaina to Kahakuloa). We had a few things we wanted to see on Highway 30 and felt like the day of the morning ride on the Atlantis Submarine and our visit to Lahaina was a good opportunity to see some of these sights.

Heading north out of Lahaina on Highway 30 takes one past fancy resorts near Ka'anapali Beach and Kapalua (Honokahua). As you drive north on Highway 30 past Kapalua, the view gets especially impressive as evidenced by the two previous images and the next photograph.

One of the highlights on this route is the Nakalele Blowhole. The next photograph shows that from a distance. We did not go closer because of time constraints based on the morning Submarine ride, lunch in Lahaina, and other activities planned for the day. If I ever get the opportunity to visit Maui again, I'd like to spend more time and get closer here.

Another highlight of this drive is the so-called Olivine Pools.

We only looked at the pools from above because it was a windy day and it didn't look like we'd be getting in or near the water in those pools that day anyway.

The Olivine Pools are another Maui attraction that I'd like to spend more time getting closer to on a future visit.

We ended our travel in that direction in Kahakuloa near the gorgeous Kahakuloa Bay.

The road is narrow (one-lane) for a bit here and falls and rises rather quickly.

The last photograph and the next photograph attempt to demonstrate this narrow road at this point, but the photographs don't do it justice. To get a much better idea of what it's like to drive on this section of Highway 30, see the YouTube video Honoapiilani Hwy.

We turned around at Kahakuloa Bay and headed back to Lahaina and ultimately to where we were staying in Kihei. However, I thought this drive from Lahaina to Kahakuloa and back was fantastic. We didn't complete the entire circuit and others have provided warnings about how harrowing it can be. These include Driving Maui’s Wild Highway and Death Road of Maui.

Like the Road to Hana, I found Highway 30 to provide exhilarating and inspiring views. Also like the Road to Hana, this route has its curves and narrow roads requiring the driver to focus sometimes on the drive more than the beautiful surroundings. This route is shorter than the Road to Hana and can be covered in less time. My suggestion for anyone visiting Maui for the first time is to do both!

Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Maui: Lahaina

Our primary reason for visiting Lahaina was to board the boat that would take us to the Atlantis Submarine from Lahaina Harbor. It was nice to have a motivating reason to visit Lahaina and presented the opportunity to travel a portion of the picturesque Highway 30.

Lahaina offers the Lahaina Harbor, but it also presents many other things popular with tourists such as art galleries, restaurants, and numerous shops (including small local shops, the Lahaina Cannery Mall, and the Outlets of Maui). Lahaina also features several places of historical note including the Pioneer Inn where we picked up our tickets for the Atlantis Submarine Ride.

After the submarine ride, we sat down in Lahaina's Lahaina Banyan Court Park (also known as Lahaina Courthouse Square or Banyan Tree Park) to eat the lunch that we had packed. The massive banyan tree that is the focal point of this part provides appreciated shade and an aesthetically pleasing environment for enjoying lunch or a break from other activities. I was disappointed to see parents encouraging their children to climb and sit on this banyan tree despite signs stating that people should not climb it.

Lahaina is a popular tourist destination and I have read that its parking can be difficult. We had no issues finding a parking space because we were willing to use the paid parking, but we also arrived in the late morning. There did seem to be fewer spots available later in the afternoon and I can imagine it's more difficult to find spaces in more popular times than June.

A week in Maui is not nearly enough time to see everything in as much depth as it deserves. Although I enjoyed our brief visit to the town of Lahaina, I would have liked to have had more time to spend there than the few hours we had.

Monday, March 30, 2015

Maui: Atlantis Submarine

One of the activities on Maui that seemed to appeal to people of all ages in our group (from young child to older adult) was the Atlantis Submarine Ride. There is also an Atlantis Submarine Ride on Oahu, but the Maui one departs from Lahaina Harbor in west Maui. A boat takes passengers to the site where the submarine emerges from the previous submarine trip so that the riders can see what it looks like upon emerging. After the riders from the previous trip disembark from the submarine and step onto the boat, the riders for the next ride get onto the submarine and the submarine descends.

The submarine takes its occupants on a small cruise underwater (reaching depths of roughly 100 feet) and around an artificial reef arising from the intentionally sunken Carthaginian. The submarine captain does a nice job of attempting to maneuver the trip so that occupants on both sides of the submarine can see interesting schools of fish and other sights from their own side of the submarine. I felt like the cruise itself wa appropriate in its duration and it seemed popular with passengers of all ages.

I was very impressed with the organization and people running Atlantis Submarines Maui. They were courteous, professional, helpful, and made it fun for everyone. When I was pre-ordering the tickets online before we traveled to Hawaii, one of their representatives called me at home to make sure that I hadn't overbooked when I arranged for tickets for my own family and the family of my brother with the same number of family members and same last name. As I was explaining the two orders, the woman who called realized that I qualified for a generous discount that I had not been aware of and offered to apply it to our purchase. I found the service related to the excursion itself to be similarly helpful.

The photographs I have included in this post do not do the views of the underwater marine life and formations justice. Although there are a few things about the submarine cruise that appeal to children, it is still an interesting ride with fascinating views for the adults. For those of us who don't scuba dive, it's a great opportunity to see different things in water this deep than we can see when we snorkel.

Saturday, March 28, 2015

Maui: Iao Valley State Park and Iao Needle

The Road to Hana is probably the best known part of Maui for being lush and green. However, Iao Valley State Park is very lush and green and is more easily accessible than the Road to Hana. Iao Valley State Park and its most recognized feature, the Iao Needle, can be seen in a matter of minutes, but offers additional interesting scenery that can warrant a little longer stay.

Iao Valley State Park features the Iao Needle, Iao stream, multiple and relatively easy small hiking trails, and lots and lots of green. The potential setting of mist and clouds in the vicinity add to the visually stunning scenery and make for many photographic opportunities.

As of this writing, Iao Valley is the #4 attraction on Maui according to TripAdvisor.

The parking lot is decently sized, but not enormous. Fortunately, the park can be covered in as little as half of an hour and, for most people, probably in not more than a couple hours, so parking spots should open up frequently as needed.

The next image shows the parking lot (and restrooms) from one of the short trails.

The short trail to the Iao Needle gets most of the attention, but there is another short trail that breaks off this trail and rejoins it later that has quite different sights to see. The next series of images show looking over the mini valley that break-off trail goes into and some of the vegetation and scenery down in that area.

The Iao Valley is lush and green because there's water everywhere. The air is humid and there are numerous streams and mini-waterfalls.

Iao Valley State Park offers the Iao Needle and numerous other visual delights. The whole thing can be seen briefly in less than an hour and more comprehensively within two hours. It's easily accessible from Kahului Airport (OGG) and some of the more popular lodging areas in Maui (5 miles/15 minute drive from Kahului and 15 miles/25 minute drive from Kihei). We enjoyed Snow Ice at Snow Factory in Wailuku after seeing Iao Valley and the Iao Needle.

Monday, December 22, 2014

Oahu: Hanauma Bay

We did so many fun things during our two weeks in Hawaii on Oahu and Maui that it is difficult to say what my favorite activity was. Although my response might be different on different days, I think if I was hard-pressed to provide an answer to the question about my favorite activity, it would often be snorkeling in Hanauma Bay.

I had heard many fabulous accounts regarding snorkeling on Hanauma Bay Nature Preserve from people who had snorkeled there many years ago and from people who has snorkeled there relatively recently. Some had even stated that it is the one thing that one must do on Oahu. At the time of this writing, TripAdvisor reviewers had reviewed it with a "thumb up" 86% of the time and it is ranked #15 of 124 Honolulu attractions.

One of the things that I had heard about snorkeling in Hanauma Bay was the number of fish that were so easily accessible to the snorkeler. Years ago, people fed peas and other things to the fish and this brought even more fish of the more aggressive species up close to the snorkelers. Improved conservation efforts have eliminated this practice and the park ranger warned us that we'd not see as many fish up that close if we were used to that from years ago, but I was still very pleased with the number of fish and number of species of fish that we were swimming alongside. These photographs of the fish don't do their numbers justice because I tended to use video more than still photographs for the more impressive sightings.

I had never snorkeled before this two-week trip to Hawaii and I became a much better snorkeler by the end of the two weeks. Hanauma Bay was a good place for a beginning snorkeler to practice because of the protected and relatively calm water and because of the many places with sand bottoms and shallow water that I could stand to figure out what I was doing without touching coral or rocks.

We arrived at Hanauma Bay just a few minutes after the 6 am opening of Hanauma Bay and I'm glad we got up early enough to do that. We got one of the closest parking spots in the main parking lot to the park's entrance, but more importantly, we avoided the mob of people that would show up later that morning. There is normally a video to watch about preservation of the ecosystem at Hanauma Bay, but the staff was not fully available at 6 am, so we were instructed to review the instructions on personal, marine life, and ecological safety in the entry building before descending to the beach.

Because we snorkeled at Hanauma Bay early in our trip before we had decided to buy own own snorkeling equipment, we needed to rent some and that rental shack was not open until around 6:30 am. Fortunately, we had one snorkeling kit of our own we had purchased near Waimea Bay and we were able to set up on the beach and enjoy some wading in the water until the rental shack opened. The Hanuama Bay rental snorkel sets were reasonably good ones. They were not as good as the ones we'd purchase or the ones we were provided at Shark Encounter, but they were better than the ones we were provided on a couple other snorkeling excursions we took.

I cannot believe how quickly the time went by. We snorkeled for over 3 hours to just past 9 am, but it felt like we had been out there much less time than that. I also felt like I had so much left to see. We had other plans for the late morning and afternoon and so needed to leave. I was surprised at how busy the beach had become in those three hours, but was even more shocked when we ascended back up the paved trail to the park entrance and saw the long line of people curling around the entrance and onto the sidewalk in front of the park. Whereas we had been able to walk right into the park at 6 am, there was a lengthy wait by 9 am. Part of this was probably due to the film, but I also don't think that Hanauma Bay would be nearly as much fun with all those people snorkeling and on the beach at the same time. The main parking lot was also full and people were driving in circles waiting for a spot to open.

Although I was disappointed in having to leave, I realized that if I ever have the opportunity to visit Oahu again, I'll make it a point to visit Hanauma Bay on multiple days as soon as it opens (6 am). The lesson I learned from this experience is that it would be better to visit Hanauma Bay multiple times in the early morning hours for smaller sessions than to visit it once for a long session. Two to four hours at Hanuama Bay on 2-3 early mornings would be far superior to 8-12 hours there at a single time. Snorkeling is best when there are fewer snorkelers and they all know how to calmly float and watch the fish and let the fish swim around them with confidence. As the number of snorkelers increases, and particularly just one flailing snorkeler, can scare most of the fish away.

Hanauma Bay Nature Preserve is currently closed on Tuesdays as part of their conservation efforts. The admission and parking costs are very reasonable and well worth it, especially in the morning when so few others are there. For people who have their own snorkeling equipment, the overall cost of the visit is very small. It is also ideal for beginning snorkelers, but offers interesting sights for everyone in a picturesque environment. For more experienced snorkelers, the water farther out into the bay and beyond the reef that breaks up the outside rough waves, greater challenges are available.

Saturday, December 20, 2014

Oahu: Pu'u 'Ualaka'a State Wayside

We planned our two weeks in Hawaii for more than a year before going and, during that year, I watched all the episodes of Magnum, P.I., via NetFlix streaming to see if any sites popped out that I wanted to make sure to see while in Hawaii. Because much of that show was filmed on Oahu, I especially hoped to find some Oahu attractions in the show. It really paid off in the latter part of the series when Thomas Magnum went to Pu'u 'Ualaka'a State Wayside. Based on the view from this park as seen in the television episode, I decided to go see it and am glad that I did.

The Hawaii State Parks page on Pu'u 'Ualaka'a State Wayside describes the spectacular view from there like this: " Lookout provides sweeping view of southern O'ahu from Diamond Head to Pearl Harbor, including Honolulu and Manoa Valley." That pretty much sums it up. We went to this point above Honolulu multiple times and had the good fortune to have clear days each time that did allow us to see all the way from Diamond Head crater (on the left when viewing the city) to Pearl Harbor on the far right with downtown Honolulu in between.

Pu'u 'Ualaka'a State Wayside, which is also referred to as Pu'u Ualaka'a State Park, includes a short hike/walk called Ualaka‘a Trail that is rated "Easy" and is about one-half mile long. We did not take this hike, but instead focused on the breathtaking views from the lookout point.

It is a very short distance from the small parking lot to the lookout point. The slope is gradual and heads down from the parking lot to the lookout point, but most people should have no issues returning up the short slight slope to the parking lot after they've finished looking at the views from the lookout.

Because Pu'u 'Ualaka'a State Wayside is above the city on Mount Tantalus, drivers must travel on a Round Top Drive that is a winding road through residential areas to get to the state park. There are some pretty impressive views of the city as this ascent is made.

Pu'u 'Ualaka'a State Wayside, at time of this writing, has 86% of reviewers on TripAdvisor rating it "thumb up" and it is currently #28 of 124 Oahu attractions. It has also been called "a must see scenic point for anyone visiting Oahu" and I agree!

The proximity of Pu'u 'Ualaka'a State Wayside to Honolulu, the easy accessibility of the stake park and its lookout point, and the ability to see so much of the Oahu coast from Diamond Head to Pearl Harbor make this an attractive destination for just about anyone of any age or fitness level to enjoy even when their time on Oahu is limited.

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Maui: Waiala Cove at Ahihi-Kinau Natural Area Reserve

Peg from Paddle on Maui recommended Ahihi-Kinau Natural Area Reserve in South Maui as a good place for snorkeling and it was great!

Although much of the ʻĀhihi-Kīnaʻu Natural Area Reserve is currently (as of this writing) closed to the public, one of the areas open to the public is Waiala Cove and that is where we went snorkeling.

We parked in the larger parking lot with a very rough surface about a quarter mile south of Waiala Cove. There were two port-a-potties in this parking lot and it was a leisurely stroll along the road back to Waiala Cove.

There is a sign on the south part of Waiala Cove warning about the negative environmental impact of walking on the coral and other things in that area of the cove. This is also the more difficult side to enter the cove from because of sharp rocks and coral. The better entrance is at the north end of the cove where there is a cement block at the entry point that can be used to stand or sit on while adjust snorkeling gear.

When you enter the code from the area near the concrete block, the cove appears as shown in the next two photographs.

One of the appealing features of Waiala Cove for those who do not snorkel (such as very young children) is that fish will swim right up near and around people standing in the water near the concrete block without going very far out. In fact, you wouldn't want to go too far out because there are sharp rocks, coral, and lava that waves can push you into if you're not ready to snorkel.

There is a narrow corridor starting at the concrete block that waders can walk in or snorkelers can use to adjust to the water. The bottom here is made up of generally smooth rocks and pebbles and fish swim in and around your legs as you walk along.

Unfortunately, we did not learn of Waiala Cove until close to the end of our time on Maui. We liked it so much, however, that we went snorkeling there twice in two days. The first day was in the later morning and the second day was in the early morning. Mornings seemed to generally be better for snorkeling because the water is calmer, there are fewer other people there, and the water is clearer because of the calmer water and fewer people stirring up sand. When we went in the later morning, we shared the cove with about 15 people. When we went around 6 am the second time, we had the cove to ourselves.

Because it is a cove, Waiala Cove is a nice place for beginning and intermediate snorkelers. The cove protects the snorkeler from the worst of the ocean's waves. However, early mornings seem to be calmer even in the cove and snorkelers still need to be aware of how close they are to sharp rocks and coral in the cove as occasional waves come in hard enough to push snorkelers into or on top of these rocks and coral.

There is very little legal parking right next to the cove, but there is a decent sized dirt parking lot just past (south of) the cove.

The Ahihi-Kinau Natural Area Reserve has other interesting features besides Waiala Cove, but many of them are not currently open to the public. However, even walking from the dirt parking lot to the cove has some interesting lava on the side of the road.

Waiala Cove is a beautiful cove with several species of fish readily viewed in its relatively clear water. There are also some interesting features on the bottom of the cove. It's a relatively small cove and the parking lot is only moderately sized, so it's often best to get there early to enjoy it at its fullest.