Somehow, despite my protestations that I was pale and freckled, a nervous driver, and entirely satisfied in a European sort of a way with a compact car, I left the airport in Maui with a convertible Mustang. This is a very impractical vehicle, as one can barely see when sitting in it as it is very low slung. Having never driven an automatic before, I bunny hopped my way out of the car hire lot. Once I got the hang of not needing to put my foot on the clutch when braking, things went much more smoothly, and chanting “stay on the right, stay on the right” repeatedly to myself, I set off towards my hotel. Soon the satnav died, leaving me with no idea where I was going, but eventually I did make it there in one piece. The room was large, last decorated circa 1980, but pleasant enough, looking out over a golf course. Once again I was told I would have to pay for wifi outside the lobby, making updating this blog a challenge. I booked myself on a sunset cruise so I would not go straight to bed, as there was a three hour time difference and I had got up at 3.30am to leave for my morning flight from San Francisco.
The cruise was more than just a way to off set jet lag. Any thoughts of sea sickness were banished when some dolphins swam so close to the boat that I was able to snap them with my phone. Watching them for a few minutes cured my nausea, and even though it was not the most spectacular sunset ever seen, it was a fun evening with Maui’s only all female crew on the Teralani and chatting to a very nice couple from Sacramento. I was also warned that the drive round the Hana Highway, which I planned to do the following day, would be tough.
Despite the warnings, I decided to test my new-found wrong side driving confidence with a trip on the Hana Highway. For those unfamiliar with Maui, it is shaped a bit like a foot with a giant big and only toe. If you picture the foot pointing to the left, most of the hotels are on the bottom of the big toe in West Maui. Hana is on the heel in East Maui. It is not too far away, but it lies on a narrow and winding road that is most definitely not for the faint of heart. Along this road lie many stunning waterfalls. But the experience was not really to be about the scenery and the waterfalls, it was about the road. Ah, the road. It is so narrow and winding it has a speed limit of 15 miles per hour, occasionally rising to a speedy 25 miles an hour, but dropping to 5 or 10 miles per hour on the bridges. Let me tell you about the bridges. Along the road there are no fewer than 54 single lane bridges along this two way road. At each one, you have to slow to a crawl, and peer through the dense rainforest foliage to determine whether there is any on-coming traffic. If it appears not, you can cross. If there is, you let them past. As these bridges usually mark the spot where there is a waterfall, on either side there will be pull-outs with space for a few cars to park. For the first part of the trip, I found that many of the spots I had read about in the guide book had no available parking, so I was not able to stop. After having to pass a number of the sights, I eventually stopped at a pull out simply because it was there and free. There was not much to see other than rainforest speckled with orange flowers. These are really pretty, but apparently are an invasive species called the African tulip which is destroying the indigenous vegetation. Having spent the drive to that point in a state of abject terror at the state of the road, I decided to relax, put down the roof on my over-priced hire car and start to enjoy myself. I stopped again at Kaumahina State Wayside Park, where I attempted to photograph a Brazilian cardinal (a bird not a cleric) but it was chased off by someone whilst I was changing lenses.
There was a nice view from the hill just beyond the restrooms, though. In this improved state of mind, I was excited to see that there was a spot available at the Ke’eane Arboretum, so I stopped to go and look at trees. Not even the sight of a car at the bottom of a ravine by the entrance could spoil my mood. A short hike through the trees was very pleasant. The Australian rainbow eucalyptus are particularly pretty. While I was there, it began to pour with rain but I took shelter under a densely leaved tree and stayed mostly dry.
Unfortunately it then rained heavily at regular intervals for quite a way. I suppose the clue is in the term rainforest. And the fact that the water for all those falls has to come from somewhere. I turned off at Ke’eane to see what was there. I found Sandy’s, a stall staffed by friendly girls selling delicious banana bread and much needed water. There were also resident cardinals who like to ask for crumbs, tame as sparrows. I returned to the car for my camera thinking I would not have a better chance to get my shot when it began to rain so torrentially I could barely see the little red headed birds. I decided to press on. You will note no cardinal shots on this post!
The heavy rain did not make the difficult driving conditions any easier, and I began to despair of seeing a waterfall. Once more I passed a lovely cascade, known as the Three Bears, and once more I could not stop. I eventually made it to Hana feeling exhausted by the effort. I stopped at Koki beach to watch some locals surf, but the waves were so strong that after 15 minutes they had made little progress and I decided I had better keep going. A detour here was challenging as I had two cars behind me who were very unimpressed by the fact that I obeyed the speed limit, even though in the rain, on an uneven and narrow road and with men working at the side of the road, it would have been unsafe as well as illegal to speed. I eventually was able to pull over and let them pass, which they did with much hooting and gesticulating. My positive mood evaporated, and once more I started to feel daunted by the drive.
Not long afterwards, I arrived at Wailua Falls and there was space for me to stop. Relieved and cheered up, I pulled over and was able to get some pictures of the falls, playing with my neutral density filter. I decided to continue to ‘Ohe’o Gulch, which was a particularly challenging bit of the drive, with cars heading the other way on roads only wide enough for one car and requiring all of my concentration to stay on the road. On a positive note, I did not have to worry too much about remembering to stay on the right as there was only one side of the road – and the sun came out again along this stretch. Having admired the falls, I struggled to take pictures as I could not see a thing in the bright sunshine but I quite like the moody result even though it was so blustery it is not quite sharp! I resisted the temptation to explore further, and chatted to the ranger who persuaded me to continue and complete the loop of East Maui despite the fact that the road was unpaved in places from that point on. As it was shorter, and I was scared of being caught on that terrible road in the dark, I pressed on.
I am glad I did. There was not a lot of traffic, and the other cars were content to drive slowly along the gravel road. The initial part was challenging, with many blind corners, but the views were spectacular. The scenery abruptly changed from the lush jungle to a dry yellow grass and black lava rocks. The road improves as it becomes freshly paved, although it is a single lane in two directions, with signs warning of cattle on the road and lots of little hills where you cannot see if there is a car coming the other way over the rise. I passed a natural arch of lava and eventually the island’s only winery. Having been driving for 11 hours at this point, I decided regretfully that sampling the wine would not help my driving as I still had a way to go.
If you ever decide to do that drive alone, my tip would be to stay overnight in Hana to break it up so you will not worry about how much time you are spending at each stop. It took me more than 12 hours and I did not stop much. If I had been able to stop for the hike at Twin Falls at the start of the trip, it would probably have added an hour and a half to my journey. Also, set off really early to ensure you can park at the popular spots. I started at 7.20 am, which was not early enough! There also seemed to be an unwritten rule along the way that you had to be driving a Jeep or a Mustang convertible. The Jeep is probably better for the road, as sitting so low down in the Mustang does not help one see. One big advantage of the Mustang, however, is the soft top which closes at the press of a button. When it first started to rain, I was able to close my roof quickly after feeling a few drops, whereas I passed some people with a Jeep struggling to close theirs by hand in the pouring rain! As an alternative to driving, there are bus tours, and joining one of these will mean you focus on the scenery and not on the road, although the road is very winding and if you have motion sickness you may prefer to be driving! And there is the satisfaction of having come through the drive unscathed.
The following day saw me drive 45 minutes to Maalea Harbour for a snorkelling expedition to the Molokini Crater aboard the Trilogy II. Snorkelling at the first reef I saw lots of fish and a moray eel. The eel was gorgeous, pale with black spots. It swam below me for a few minutes before backing into a crevice and gaping its mouth. At the second site I went diving for the first time in years using snuba, where your tank sits on a raft above you. At this site we looked for turtles, and saw one floating gently past us. You will have to take my word for all of this, as I do not have an underwater camera.
The sail back was hilarious, with the captain, who was from Japan, cracking jokes in his fluent but heavily accented English. Again there were very nice people aboard. We saw turtles on the surface on the sail back, but I was not quick enough to photograph them before they went under!
I went for a walk along the beach in the afternoon to see a monk seal which has been coming to the beach just 70 metres or so to the left of my hotel to moult. Surprisingly she has been joined by an unrelated young seal, also female. This is surprising as monk seals are so called because they are solitary, but they certainly lay companionably enough snoozing in the afternoon sunshine, occasionally flopping further up the beach as the tide rose. From time to time they would bury their heads in the sand, presumably as it was cooler, then emerge with loud sneezes. Local wildlife conservationists mobilise a team of dedicated volunteers to rope off a section of the beach for the seals, and stop people from disturbing these very endangered animals. They also provide lots of information about the seals to the public, and I learnt a lot from Darren, one of the volunteers.
On my last morning I contemplated a pre-dawn start up the mountain to watch the sunrise over Haleakala crater. But a cold and early start driving up a mountain in the dark before rushing back to pack did not appeal as much as a morning run, followed by a swim and packing. Even at 7 am it was a hot run, and when I stopped to visit the seals I was just in time to see them swim off, which gave me no excuse to linger and catch my breath! A brief swim to cool down and I was on my way, top down in the convertible. I stopped to put it back up after about 20 minutes when it became clear my sunblock was no match for the Hawaiian sun! I am on my way to Kauai, having survived the airport at Kahului, which is not air conditioned and is hotter than hell.
What have I learned in Maui? That monk seals usually do not have any friends. That driving at 15 miles an hour can be an adrenaline sport. That you should take an early morning flight when the airport is cooler! And that I have not completed forgotten how to scuba dive. Aloha from Maui.