Hey there fellow adventurers! It has been a bit since I last wrote! I have been very busy with work stuff and life in general. BUT, I did manage to sneak in a weekend trip to HAWAII! WHAT? I can hear it already! Weekend and Hawaii, those are two things that should never go together! Well, they did and it was fantastic! (If you are interested in how to get to Hawaii, as of this Feb, please scroll to the 4th paragraph with the big star!)
This will be my first two part post on a trip. I was originally going to do a Haleakalā post and a Maui post. Then I decided that was dumb, they are essentially one in the same. Then I got to the end of my first full day and realized that post was already SUPER lengthy. (There are some nice pics to be found after the first few paragraphs, fyi!) so the first day gets a post and the second day gets a post!
So this how this trip got started: Several months ago, I was sitting on about 25,000 Southwest points. If you check out my 2021 wrap up post, I traveled a LOT using Southwest almost exclusively and paying for exactly one flight of the bunch. That flight was my El Paso trip and the reason I paid for that was to extend my companion pass through this month of February. My sidekick was unable to come and really this was the type of trip that anybody coming with me would have probably wanted to kill me anyway…so cut to around the time of that El Paso trip and Southwest dropped a 40 percent off sale to Hawaii! I had not even considered because A) Southwest did not actually allow you to book or even see fares to Hawaii other than calling them. And B) I just assumed Hawaii was out of my price league for now. C) I was unsure of the whole travel to Hawaii procedure (more on that later) Well, with that sale I saw an opening for A and B. Southwest had finally started advertising fares with this sale and I found round trip flight patterns from Tampa to both Maui and the Big Island for 22,000 points! I only had two personal days from work available to me, so I found a flight landing there around 4 PM Friday giving me the entire evening with a couple hours of sunlight, all of Sat, all of Sun, and flying back early on Mon. Then began step two, rental cars and places to stay. I was very much aware of how expensive Hawaii is, so at this point I had a flight booked and for the next like 2 months I was not even committed to it, but I had my eyes on a few things. I eventually settled on a hostel and a car, which together cost me only about $450
The trip from Tampa to Kahalui, Maui, was lengthy, as you might imagine. As of the trip in mid Feb, to get to Hawaii is not as easy as getting on a plane and flying there. Also, this is my experience and of course check on your own, don’t take my word for it, it’s a very fluid and moving procedure! (Since writing that last sentence I have to delete part of my post since things have changed again regarding dining indoors!) You must be FULLY vaccinated for Covid (not only one or two doses) or provide a negative test recognized by the state of Hawaii. It is best to set up an account with Hawaii Safe Travels. You can upload your documents there and they provide you a QR code. With that code you get scanned either at the last departing airport or once you land AND YOU NEED THOSE DOCUMENTS WITH YOU. No copies either. With Southwest they had a counter in San Jose and did it there and provide you with a wrist band. That band was checked multiple times after landing in Kahului, by the way. It sounds like some airlines don’t offer that service and then you are stuck in a long like at the Kahului airport to get through. When I was indoors to dine, my vaccine card was required, and the hostel also required it, but as of Feb 24 I see that vaccine cards are no longer required for eating indoors. I will say that having the entire procedure done ahead of time was vital. The line of people in the Hawaii airport waiting to be let through was lengthy and I am very glad I was able to sail right through!
Anyway, back to fun stuff! I had never flown over the Pacific before. It was a long time to not see land! But finally, LAND HO! I was so relieved to see the Big Island start rising out of the endless blue ocean and then it was but a short bit until we were flying over the midsection of Maui! After grabbing my luggage I booked it to the rental car station. We landed around 3:30, about 30 minutes early, and I had about 3 hours of sunlight and my plan was to book it up to the summit of Halekalā to catch sunrise! The drive to the summit was lengthy and quite interesting. This side of the mountain is quite a bit dryer and not really tropical at all! It has to do with how the winds are hitting the island, that the western side is very grassy and dry, while the the other side of Haleakalā is one of the wettest places on the planet. As I drove up the 10,000 feet of elevation change, the temperature steadily dropped and the views became increasingly striking above the clouds! I think Hawai’i must be the only place in the country that you can drive from sea level to 10K plus feet like this! The only spot that I can even think of that you even look up at 10,000 feet of elevation change would be the mountains of the Alaska Range! Sorry Colorado! Looking at a 14er from 7K elevation is not the same as looking at 10K from sea level! I made it up to the parking lot just below the summit parking lot, which was closed due to too many people. In any event, the views were SPECTACULAR. I was unable to get sunrise tickets…not many are available…but sunset was quite amazing! From this exact spot you could see all of Maui to the north and west, the shadow of Haleakalā on the clouds over the ocean to the east, the observatory above on the legit summit area, and the crater of the volcano! Seeing the island from 10,000 feet above and not in a plane was pretty awesome! After the sun dropped below the ocean I was off to sea level again. Ninety minutes later I had settled down for food and beer at the Maui Brewing Company, then it was off to the hostel!
I stayed in the North Shore Hostel in Waikulu, just adjacent to Kahalui. What can I say? It was cheap and it provided a bed. I had never stayed in a hostel before. For three nights at the cost of one night in a regular hotel on the island it did the job! Good place if you want 0 amenities other than a shared bathroom, bedroom, and kitchen. Let’s talk about chickens for a minute. I live in a spot where feral chickens are occasionally annoying. These damn Maui roosters start going off at like 3 AM. SUPER ANNOYING. The hostel windows were not very thick. Something to consider, maybe, if you are a light sleeper!
I came to Maui without much of an itinerary. I had a rough draft of things to do, but didn’t really know how the timing would work out! Upon making a beautiful sunset at Haleakalā I decided Saturday would be my trip down the Road to Hana. The Road to Hana is listed in many resources as THE most scenic drive in the entire country. And is WELL DESERVED! This drive is a mere 50 some odd miles to Hana, and it can take HOURS!
I started the Road to Hana, officially called the Hana Highway, around 5:30 or 6 from my hostel while it was still pre-dawn, and I’d say I made it no more than 10 miles before I had already stopped 3 times and spent an hour doing so! This road runs along the coast north to east along the more or less sea level section of Haleakalā as it descends into the ocean. The Gypsy Guide mentioned 6 HUNDRED and some odd curves and some 59 bridges of which like 50 of them are one lane and require careful interaction with other vehicles! As you drive, the right side is entirely tropical mountainside with breaks for GORGEOUS waterfalls. The left side is usually beautiful coastline/ocean vistas. I stopped for a few waterfalls, including the Twin Falls which required a about a 2 mile round trip hike (easy peasy but youy do have to walk through some water). This was found early on and is also private property so there is a convenient parking lot and attendants willing to take $10 dollars from you!
I also stopped to visit the Garden of Eden Arboretum. To be honest, this place kinda looked like a tourist trap and cost 20 bucks to enter, but was absolutely gorgeous. The grounds are stunning and include rainbow eucalyptus trees and also stunning views of the ocean, including (as they like to REALLY harp on) views of Keopuka Rock, shown in Jurassic Park.
After the stop at the Garden of Eden, I made the decision to not stop much more. However, the Gypsy Guide was ALL IN on stopping at a town on a sea level point called Keanae. The view here was awesome, at sea level, among volcanic rock. And, there is Aunty Sandy’s Banana Bread. This was what he actually wanted me to stop for. AND IT IS AMAZING. I ate almost all of it immediately. Its warm out of the oven when you buy it….omg. So good! After the banana bread indulgence I continued on my way to Hana. As a side note, I made a mistake here. There is a beautiful black sand beach along this road called Waiʻānapanapa Beach and unbeknownst to me, it requires ADVANCED reservations. So I could not go. I am not sure if this is a Covid thing or not, but just heads up! Upon getting to Hana I stopped for lunch and to get some beverages for my upcoming hike.
The National Park is actually accessible in only two places and they are pretty much as far apart from each other as can be. The summit access comes in from the northwest through the more populated area of the island. The other one is called the Kīpahulu District. This area is kind of a sliver of land from the coast up the mountain a ways on the southeast side. The only thing to do here, though, is some hiking and sightseeing. The Pipiwai Trail is the big draw here. This trail is about 4 miles out and back with 900 feet of elevation gain. Main things to see on this trail include a very large banyan tree, a bamboo forest, and a few waterfalls including the famous Waimoku falls and the Falls of Makahiku. This was a very pretty hike with lots of variety. Most of the elevation gain was right at the start up to the first waterfall, the Falls of Makahiku. Not far after that came the huge banyan tree. Past this are a couple smaller falls and pools and then a really neat trek through a bamboo forest. The sound the bamboo makes in the wind is really quite neat. The trail was not too populated, but had enough people that I was never really alone. The draw is to get to the end of the trail to view the 400 feet tall Waimoku falls as they cascade down a sheer volcanic cliff! A beer and snack later, and it was time to return. The Falls of Makahiku were actually quite underwhelming, even at 185 feet tall. I was on Maui during one the rare stretches that had to rain, so the falls were tall, yes, but not much more than a trickle. However these fall into the top of the ‘Ohe’o Gulch and lead into the Seven Sacred Pools which go out into the ocean.
After finishing Pipiwai I started down the Seven Sacred Pools Trail. This is a must do for some awesome views and is very short, only half mile loop with about 100 feet of elevation chance, mostly paved sidewalk and a few stairs. Here you can see the ocean come crashing on the black sand at the bottom of the gulch and look up the stream going up the mountain and under the road bridge above. Really stunning sight!
After finishing my trails I was very tempted to violate rules of my rental car….but I didn’t. The Road to Hana actually changes to the Pilani High was past the Kipahulu part of the National Park down here. This road is predominantly one lane, can be unpaved in parts and generally not the best condition. It does wrap around the island and connect back to the middle of Maui, avoiding taking the Hana Highway back, but the guides say a tow from here can cost thousands so I decided just to traverse back the way I came, on the Hana Highway. Without making all the stops the drive was quite a bit faster but still, when they say to plan an entire day to make that drive and back, that’s legit. The earlier you start this drive the better and the more you can see! Upon getting back to Waikulu I grabbed dinner and a couple beers at Mahalo Aleworks, a really nice semi outdoors brewery with some delicious beers, and prepared for the early start the following day!