Thursday, December 26, 2013

Hidden Hazards of Maui

There’s a few things you should know before visiting Maui, the kind of things ‘they’ don’t talk about.


Small as the island is, Maui has several distinct micro-climates. Depending on where you are on the Valley Isle you could get scorched, sun- or wind-burned, drenched, or chilled to your bones. Let’s start with “scorched”…

The Hawaiian sun does not play around. Even on a cloudy day, even if you’re a regular at the tanning salon, even if you have SPF-30 on – don’t go less than SPF-50, I say – you’ll probably get burned at some point during your vacation (usually at the beginning). Around here, even your ears need a good, strong sunscreen. Don’t forget those guys! What’s that, think taking an umbrella to the beach will save you? Think again; light reflecting off the water and sand is almost as potent as lying or standing directly in the sun. You may think I’m kidding about the sun being strong even when it is overcast, but don’t just take my word for it. Learn from experience if you want, though it’s a decidedly more uncomfortable route to go. You have been warned. [The sun is strong everywhere on the island but skies are usually clearer with direct sunshine hitting the southern and western facing shores most of all.]

The combination of Maui’s heat and humidity occasionally sends people up to the volcano (Haleakala) summit to cool off, or, people simply visit the summit to see the sunrise. The weather at the summit is definitely cooler – about 15-20 degrees on average than the coast – but is often quite windy, too. Like, really windy, the kind of wind that’ll exfoliate you more than you want it to. Combine that with the average 40 degree temps in the morning when you want to see the sun rise and – let’s just say you should go up Haleakala dressed in layers. And, rain can kick in any moment near the summit outside of the summer months. Even then bring a poncho if you are determined to stay dry. Although, it’s usually dry by the time you’ve hiked down 500 feet or so inside the crater as long as you stay east of Kuapo Gap on the trek. That shouldn’t be a problem since Kuapo Gap is about 10 miles away on the opposite side of the crater.

Speaking of getting wet, are you going to stay in or drive the road to Hana? If so, then you’re going to get wet. There’s always a 50% chance of rain in Hana due to the weather pattern, meaning, on the day you go there there’s an almost 100% chance you’ll get dumped on with torrential water. At least that’s been my experience all the times I’ve been. (More on the Road to Hana later.) Likewise in the northwestern area of Maui, up and around the Wailuku area and beyond. Air gets pushed up by the eastern slopes of the mountains, condenses, and voila! you’re wet. Granted, it doesn’t rain as much up this way as it does in Hana, but still. At least bring a hat.

Sea and Surf

The Sea is a dangerous mistress. As of this writing in 2013 there have been 8 shark attacks, 2 of them fatal, and yes these are abnormal numbers. Shark attacks were also up in 2012, but this is getting ridiculous. No one is sure why the number of attacks is up, but they are. Sure, statistically speaking you are not likely to be attacked by a shark but if you like snorkeling, splashing around in the waves, or fishing off a kayak you may want to know this: Sharks in Hawaii are more likely to come near shore during dawn and dust when light conditions are low. They hunt under such conditions. That said, it is also wise to stay out of the water when the surf is cloudy, usually the day after it has rained or when the trade winds have picked up and made the water choppy. Don’t wear high contrast clothing or jewelry either. And above all else if swimming, stay away from fishing boat as they have baited the water nearby which may attract sharks. If fishing off a kayak, don’t dangle your feet off the kayak for this very reason. That’s how the latest fatality happened. If you’re still determined to go in the water, though, consider scuba diving since sharks never seem to attack divers. Also know that in the summer, the west and north shores are generally calmer for swimming and snorkeling than south Maui beaches, while in the winter the weather pattern and currents change and the south Maui beaches become calmer. Other things to know include not touching the goddamn turtles unless they approach you and it cannot be avoided. Same goes for the whales, but since it is law that you need to stay 100 yards away from whales, that shouldn’t be a problem, right? Dolphins? Eh, they’ll initial contact if they’re curious but don’t chase them down; it stresses them out and they’ve got enough stress trying to avoid sharks. If taking a boat out on a snorkel or other adventure tour, take Dramamine or eat something with ginger an hour before getting on the boat. Many people who don’t think they’re going to get sea sick do and once you’ve headed out, the captain isn’t going back to shore unless you’re literally dying.


Island life comes with a number of hazards and one of those hazards is driving. Why? Two reasons: First, the locals tend to drive like bats out hell. Quite frankly, I’m not sure why since they’re not going to do anything once they get wherever it is they are going. Hawaiians (ethnic and senior haoles alike) aren’t exactly known for what might be considered a Mainland work ethic and as such are on Island Time all the time they are not driving. So, I don’t know why they drive so fast and dangerously. They run red lights and think nothing of the concept of right-of-way or yielding. So, if you’re on the road and see a car that doesn’t look like a rental, beware. Wait, I take that back;  since tourists spend a lot of time looking at the sights – usually the ocean during whale season – they spend less time watching the road as they drive. This creates a lot of accidents as people stray into oncoming traffic. While the number of collisions is nowhere near as high on Maui as it is on Oahu, still. Please drive defensively, even on vacation.

Sugar Cane Burning

Did you know it snows on Maui? Central and south Maui is often afflicted with what is known as “Maui snow,” black ash that rains down on these parts of island from the burning of harvested sugar cane fields between the central and south sides of the island. And it stinks really bad. Unfortunately, the burning of the fields – which btw happens to be fairly toxic – takes place most of the year and can really make south Maui beaches unsightly when the wind favors the ash-fall. I suppose it could be worse if the HC&C Company didn’t burn mostly in the morning, but even when they do, their trucks are busy for the rest of the day raising a ton of dust clearing the debris, making a drive between Kahului and Wailea/Makena in a convertible seems like a terrible idea. The only way to avoid Maui snow is to stay on the west side.


Finally, shit’s expensive on Maui and in Hawaii in general. But, what do you expect? We’re out in the middle of the Pacific Ocean here. As a consequence, Maui restaurants are generally way overpriced, even for entrees that aren’t very good. So, if you ain’t prepared to pay the piper, don’t pick up the flute. You have been warned.
Despite all this, there are certainly worse places to be. Just don't rush into things or expect too much and you'll be just fine here. Aloha!