Hawaii: Much More than a Beach!
Author: Tim Reynolds
Aloha! Mention Maui and it immediately conjures up visions of beautiful beaches, suntanned surfers and natives dancing the expressive hula. But did you know that this tropical paradise of fun-in-the sun and world-class resorts also holds stunning mountain scenery, reclusive holiday hideaways, the world’s largest protea farms and lunarscapes of volcanic scenery complete with snow? Where else could you hike in pristine rain forests, go snorkeling in an extinct crater, coast 10,000 feet down a volcano, walk miles of white, black and even red beaches, pay a visit to a lush eucalyptus or bamboo forest, have a freshly grilled burger at a working ranch or marvel at the great humpback whales up close and personal? If you’ve been fortunate enough to visit Maui and have done the “must sees,” read on—you might find something new. If you are planning your first trip to this holiday playground of the Pacific you might consider staying an extra week!
Maui County is made up of three islands: Maui, Molokai and Lana’i along with the uninhabited island of Kaho’olawe. We begin our journey of less-visited spots in the picturesque West Maui Mountains. Every time I go to Maui, one of my favorites days is spent ambling along the West Maui Highway (I use the term highway loosely.) This drive has dramatic beauty of windswept shoreline and lush green valleys with little population and even less traffic. The road (a.k.a. highway) meanders from sea level to mountain ridges with all-encompassing views of the west end of Maui and Moloka’i across the channel. There are two spots along the way where the pavement narrows into a one-lane road that must accommodate two directions of traffic. When this occurs, the driver on the inside lane must pull over and let the oncoming driver through. Sounds simple enough, doesn’t it? However, this sometimes involves backing down a steep and curving incline, looking for a wide spot in the road to pull over—but hey, you were looking for a little adventure weren’t you? Along the way there are many turnouts and parking places so you can enjoy the remarkable scenery, a walk to a beach or surfing spot, explore the Nakalele Blowhole, or simply be inspired by the awesome beauty of the place. You’ll come across the requisite “shave ice” stand or kids selling bananas, mangoes and homemade banana bread alongside the road as you make your way. Enjoy the treats and the local hospitality. I think this drive is one of the least appreciated drives on the island, and I highly recommend spending at least two or three hours exploring, or, better yet, bring a picnic and make an afternoon of it. You won’t be disappointed.
Located off the west coast of Maui is what many consider to be truly the “last Hawaiian Island,” Molokai. The pace on Molokai is s-l-o-w, even by Hawaiian standards. Compared to Maui, the undeveloped (two roads, no traffic lights) and under-populated (pop. 6,700) Moloka’i holds two primary features for the tourist found amid some of Hawaii’s most unspoiled scenery. Molokai has the world’s tallest sea cliffs, the longest waterfall in Hawaii and one of the state’s largest white sand beaches. The 64,000-acre Moloka’i Ranch takes up nearly 40 percent of the island and is a working ranch with accommodations in a luxury 22-room lodge or a unique 40-tent platform beach village on one of the most beautiful beaches in the Hawaiian Islands. Property guests can participate in mountain biking, horseback riding, canoeing, cultural hikes and all kinds of water sports to keep themselves entertained. The other primary point of interest to the tourist is one of intense quiet and respect. At the foot of some harrowing and awe-inspiring 3,000-foot sea cliffs (the world’s tallest) is an isolated peninsula called Kalaupapa, home to the remnants of a past generation of people exiled to this unbelievably beautiful spot to die. Due to its remote location Kalaupapa was notorious in the 1800s as the site of the state’s leprosy colony. A place that was vile, hideous and completely neglected by the government, Kalaupapa was humanized and nurtured into a close-knit community by a 19th-century Belgian priest named Father Damien. His, and this place, are quite a story and one cannot leave here without feeling moved. Although leprosy (Hansen’s Disease) now has a cure, there are still former patients who have been given the choice to live out their days here in this remarkable spot, now part of the national park system. A visit is made fuller by reading the heroic stories of Father Damien and the remarkable people of Kalaupapa, unfamiliar to most Americans. Kalaupapa can only be visited by prearranged tour. One bonus of taking a flight tour from Maui’s Kapalua airport to the airstrip at Kalaupapa is the aerial scenery as you fly past the West Maui Mountains and approach the sea cliffs of Molokai. It never ceases to amaze and inspire.
Back on Maui we’re headed UP. Many tourists come to Maui and never visit the Upcountry, which is a shame. The term upcountry refers to the cluster of towns and villages located from 2,000-4,000 feet up the slope of the dormant volcano Haleakala. As you drive into the upcountry, you begin to get a scope of just how big this volcanic mountain is at over 10,000 feet high. The towns of Ha’iku and Makawao are a mix of old-time locals, hippie shop owners and affluent mainlanders who prefer to play in the tropics but live here where the weather is cooler, the pace slower and the people even friendlier. The town of Makawao is the hub of activity in the upcountry with some nice (some funky) shops and eclectic art galleries alongside the general store and the delicious and unexpected Komoda Bakery. For a great margarita and some tasty Mexican food you can’t beat the irrepressible Polly’s.
The town of Kula provides spectacular views over the central valley of Maui, and on a clear day, it seems like you can indeed see forever. In this area, there are numerous flower and protea farms and lots of agricultural produce grown for the restaurants, resorts and grocers of the island, not to mention the public markets that pop up at the most unexpected places. Everything is fresh and delicious. Kula is also the starting point of the Haleakala Crater Road and access to Haleakala National Park. The visitor center, located at 7,000 feet, has an average high temperature of 59 degrees and an average low temperature of 41 degrees. It is about 10 degrees colder at the summit. Are we really in Hawaii? The scenery from the summit is absolutely otherworldly. It’s like looking at a lunar landscape without any perspective of distance and size. The juxtaposition of the incredible blue skies against the myriad of dark earth tones inside the crater is striking. You can spend a great deal of time here if your schedule and interests permit. For the best hike take the Sliding Sands Trail that descends 2,400 feet over a fairly even span of almost four miles. The further along the trail you go, the grander and more majestic the crater becomes with an amazing array of colors: green, yellow, red, brown, gray and blue among them. If you don’t feel like hiking the trail, horseback rides can be arranged that will take you all the way to the bottom (and back!)—an unforgettable ride. Remember to dress warmly and bring along lots of water and snacks because there isn’t anything available once you leave Kula. And most of all, take things slowly. Besides the fact that you’re at 10,000 feet above sea level and your heart will be doing extra duty, you wouldn’t want to miss a thing!
We return to Kula, warming up from our mountaintop experience, and continue south through tiny, rural communities, rolling green pastureland, great distinguished trees, majestic mountain vistas and sublime seascapes below before arriving at the historic 20,000 acre Ulupalakua Ranch, complete with Hawaiian cowboys known as paniolo. The ranch has an interesting history recalled in a historic building that is now home to the Tedeschi Winery. Enjoy the historic building, the informative placards and pictures (pass on the wines) and make your way across the street to the Ulupalakua Ranch Store, first opened in 1849 during the Polk administration. Here you can order prepared deli sandwiches or grilled sandwiches using meat from the ranch, including fresh beef or even elk. You won’t find any fresher beef, and out on the veranda they’ll be happy to grill up a burger just the way you like it.
Fom the Ulupalakua Ranch we can see the uninhabited island of Kaho’olawe, the Molokini crater and the neighboring island of Lanai. Kaho’olawe is a barren island stripped of all vegetation by early Hawaiians for canoes and building materials, leaving the island to erode and decay. In the 20th century, during WWII, the U.S. military took control of the island and used it for military target practice. In 1994 Kaho’olawe was given back to native Hawaiian control and there is currently ongoing work to remove unexploded ordinance, replant the island with native plants and increase the amount of soil so that future generations may see Kaho’olawe much like the initial Hawaiians found it. Between Maui and Kaho’olawe is the slender rim of the Molokini crater. This is a spectacular spot to snorkel with its crystal clear water and bright vivid coral. Created when an undersea vent broke loose with lava and ash creating a tuff cone, this semi-circular reef nearly always has underwater visibility to 100 feet and sometimes up to 180.
The nearby island of Lana’i was known for most of the 20th century as the pineapple island, with nearly 98 percent of the island owned by the Dole Pineapple Company. In the 1990s, the pineapple plants were removed and the island began to return to a more natural habitat. A place of deep cultural significance, Lana’i features many historical sites, old fishing villages and unique topographical attractions along with two world-class resorts. Lanai’s’ only community is the quaint old plantation town of Lana’i City, located at 1,600 feet, with a full-time population of 2,800. It is located in the misty and verdant upcountry where you will find the Four Seasons Lodge at Koele. More Pacific Northwest than South Pacific, this elegant resort is like a gracious English country manor with sprawling gardens and enormous flagstone fireplaces in the Great Hall where tea is served every afternoon. Not the traditional Hawaiian experience perhaps, but an elegant and relaxing retreat amid tall stands of Cook Island pines and the cool mountain air.
Back at sea level, we find the exquisite Four Seasons Manele Bay Resort, overlooking the azure waters of the Pacific, an ocean-side paradise bordering a protected marine preserve. This is a resort where dreams come true. On New Year’s Day, 1994, with every hotel room on the island rented, and very few of them actually occupied, a well-known American groom rented every helicopter on nearby Maui and paid them to stay on the ground. He also hired a private security force to patrol the entire island. After all these precautions and preparations, the groom, whose net worth is nearly half of the entire U.S. defense budget, married his bride on the 12th hole of the Manele Bay’s newest golf course. This man, who could afford to get married anywhere on the planet, chose the beautiful island of Lana’i to marry his sweetheart, Melinda. Bill Gates has very good taste indeed!
Many people on Hilton Head Island know Tim Reynolds as the artistic director for the Hilton Head Choral Society, but he has also been a travel consultant since coming here in 1999. He is an associate agent with Valerie Wilson Travel, a proud member of Virtuoso, and has made an annual trek to the Hawaiian Islands for nearly 20 years.