Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Cafe O'Lei, Kihei

There’s something you should know about south Maui – there aren’t a whole lot of good restaurants in this area. Sure, you could go to nearby Wailea if you’re willing to spend some bucks, but Kihei itself isn’t exactly a foodie’s paradise. There are some really good mediocre restaurants, though, such as Café O’Lei.

Located between Kam Beach I & II in a strip mall, Café O’Lei is a mixed bag. The décor is pleasant enough with its pseudo-Pan-Mexican vibe, but not so much that it saves the restaurant’s ambiance from spectacular views of the adjacent parking lot. Still, the décor beats that of most Kihei restaurants. What the décor does not make up for is the spotty service. Most of the times I’ve been here, your server will be attentive exactly when you don’t want them to be and then disappear for a good 15-20 minutes. We did have a great server last time, however; I believe his name was Ty. He was super friendly without BS-ing you and not overly attentive.

Oh yeah, the food! Something Café O’Lei does do right is their seafood. The Blackened Mahi Mahi and Macadamia Nut Ahi are always done correctly. I would also say that their sushi is above average in taste and presentation. Be warned though that on a busy weekend night, they sometimes run out of sushi before 8:30pm. They also get their onion soup right; it’s not overly salty or weighed down with a block of cheese like it is done in most restaurants. I can’t say much about any of their meat dishes. I’ve never thought enough of any meat I’ve eaten here to give it a second thought.

Despite the mediocrity of Café O’Lei, it is very popular. That said, I STRONGLY recommend making reservations. We never have had to wait very long when we make a reservation but have seen many people wait our entire meal for a table because they neglected to do the same. So, make a reservation @ (808) 891-1368.

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Keawanaku Beach, South Maui

This is a beach in south Maui hidden south of the lava fields of La Perouse Bay. It is sometimes referred to as ‘Death Beach’ by my wife due to the large, dead, bleached pieces of coral that she thinks looks like skulls against the beach’s black and green sand. It’s very secluded here; not many people visit this beach since it’s only accessible by hiking in or by boat. The people who do go here usually appear later in the day it seems. I’ve been to this beach at least half a dozen times and have only seen a small handful of people in the morning hours, when is when I usually go (since the winds really pick up around La Perouse Bay after 10am or so). Chances are if you come here early, you’ll be by yourself. That can be a good thing or bad thing – good if you just want to sit quietly in the sun or shade of the trees, or bad if you try to swim here. Fact is, of all the times I’ve been here I’ve only seen the water calm enough to enter once. Unfortunately, I did not have my snorkel gear with me. Too bad, because the underwater topography and fish you can see from up on the rocks to the left side of the beach look like it would make for amazing snorkeling. The right side, though, I wouldn’t go near even if the water was calm seeing how one rogue wave would smash you against the jagged rocks. (The wave action tends to push water into the rocks on the right and drives that energy across the beach – not safe! And, if you get in trouble out here, help is a long ways off.) Still, I love going to this beach since it is quiet and secluded and even mostly protected from the trade winds that blow through this area 99% of the time. If you want to see a nice slide show video of this beach, click here for Hawaiian O’Brian’s site.
Directions: From La Perouse Bay, hike along the shore to the south/left. You’ll eventually come to a lava field where ahead of you, you will see some trees WHICH IS NOT KEAWANAKU and a rock wall on your left. Turn left through the wall before you walk into that tree-y area (which hides its own rocky beach, fyi) and about 100 feet in turn right at the sign so that you’re on Hoapili Trail/King’s Highway. This rocky ‘highway’ can have loose footing but believe me, it’s nothing compared to walking through the lava field itself. (You did bring footwear you don’t care about, right?) Go about .75 miles on this trail and to your right you’ll see the beach. You can’t miss it; it’s an oasis in the lava field. Turn right on one of the worn paths to the beach. Oh, one more thing, BRING WATER and maybe some food. There ain’t no civilization out this way.

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Ulea Beach and Mokapu Beach, South Maui

Ulea Beach and Mokapu Beach: (It’s really just one beach separated by a few trees and a bit of lava) I’ve somehow managed to miss visiting this beach until late 2012. I didn’t know what I was missing! This is a fantastic beach that fronts several luxury condos in the Wailea area. At about a quarter mile long featuring good views of Molokini and Lanai, the swimming here is fantastic, particularly in the middle of the beach where it is sandy and as long as you stay within the confines of the rocky points. The snorkeling is great, too; both ends feature beautiful coral and a high fish count. Now, I’ve heard people argue that the north end of the beach is better for snorkeling but personally I’ve had better luck finding turtles and eels around the rocky point to the south. I have also found that the further out you go, the stronger the current and wave action is at this beach, though I don’t know why that would be. (Most south Maui surf is pretty safe most of the time. I don’t know what’s different here.) The north end of the beach is popular with divers, so be aware of that if deciding to set up camp at this end. As for the little spit of sand called Mokapu Beach on the north side of Ulua Beach, I can’t say that I find it is anything to talk about other than it connects you to Keawakapu Beach if you want to take about a mile long walk along the beach(es). There is another walkway above the beach, a paved path that extends past this beach north to the southern end of Keawakapu Beach and south going past the Grand Wailea to the Fairmont Kea Lani. This path, known as the Wailea Beach Path, is about 1.5 miles from end to end.

I will inform you that this beach gets crowded, especially on the weekends. Now keep in mind that this beach has only one small parking lot for its public access. So if you want to come here from outside Wailea you’ll want to get here by nine in the am to snag a spot. From the parking lot then, it’s a short walk to the beach. There’s a rinse off area and restrooms between the parking lot and beach but there are no lifeguards here.

Driving directions: Drive south on Wailea Alanui Drive. Make your first left past all the construction for the Andaz hotel (still under construction as of Jan. 2013). Welcome to Ulea Beach’s small parking lot. If you see the Shops at Wailea, you’ve gone past the parking lot. If driving north on Wailea Alanui Drive, it’ll be your second beyond the Shops at Wailea. 

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Maluaka Beach, South Maui

Maluaka Beach, south end looking north
Maluaka Beach is without a doubt, one of my favorite beaches in the world. Sometimes called Makena Beach – which is incorrect; Makena Beach aka Big Beach is further south – is a nice stretch of white sand that fronts the Makena Beach and Golf Resort. I like this beach because during the week it’s usually not crowded at all and as such, is generally quieter than most Maui beaches. Yes, sometimes a snorkel tour boat roars and lands itself smack dab in the middle of the beach to pick tourists up, but that’s usually as loud as it gets. And of course, the earlier you get to this beach the quieter it is. (Get there before 10am and there’s hardly anyone ever here.) This beach has a small amount of shade on its south end where a tree shadows a lawn overlooking the beach and has a small cluster of trees shadowing the rocky point at the north end.

What’s best about this beach is the snorkeling; it’s simply great for beginners and intermediates. The water is usually tame here unless the trade winds are kicking or it has just rained, which can make the water murky. As with any beach, the surf can be a little cloudy near shore anyway but usually the further you go out, the clearer the water becomes. As a snorkeler, you’ll want to head to either end of the beach’s rocky points, though I feel the south end of the beach is way better in terms of coral and the chance to see turtles (which is not to say the north end of the beach is not worth snorkeling). But, if the water is too rough for snorkeling and you still want to splash around, just grab your boogie board. I never go to the beach without one, even if I just use it to sit on or put my gear on.

Lastly, since the ocean is usually agreeable in south Maui, particularly in the winter months, the waters down this way are good for kayaking and paddleboarding. You can rent kayaks and stand-up paddleboards from the activities kiosk near the south end of the beach, but it’s much cheaper to rent gear from places like Maui Dive Shop, Snorkel Bob’s or Boss Frog’s and bring those items yourself.

Oh, I almost forgot! If you want to explore a bit, walk the rocky shoreline towards the south and you’ll find a black sand beach. If you’re thinking about going up and over that red hill you see here (Pu'u Olai), keep in mind two things 1) The slopes are very steep on this side of the hill and 2) on the other side of the hill is Little Beach, where nudists frolic. You’ve been warned!

Maluaka Beach, north end looking south
Driving directions: Assuming you’re not staying at Makena Beach and Golf Resort, drive south on Wailea Alanui Drive. If you want to go to the north end of the beach, veer to the right onto Makena Road. [If you miss the turn you can turn right on to Honoiki Rd, then left onto Makena Road.] When you see Keawalai Congretional Church on your right, immediately past that you will see a parking lot on the left. Parking is free and there are restrooms here. Then, keep walking down the road a few hundred feet until you see the beach access on your right. [Note: If bringing a lot of gear to the beach, you may want to drive to the access point and drop the stuff off with whomever you came to the beach with.] If you want to go to the south end of the beach, you can actually keep walking down the road until you get to a paved path that crosses in front of the hotel, or drive to the other end (recommended). To do that, go past the initial right onto Makena Road and take the next right onto Makena Road, which is past several roadside vendors. This road will take you to another free parking lot which you will see on your right, or there are a few slanted parking spaces near the turn around point a few feet further on. Walk the path toward the hotel, then turn left when you see the beach. There are restrooms at the entrance to the beach, too.