Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Ocean Vodka, Maui

Hooray for vodka! Especially if you just spent time with your kids at Surfing Goat Dairy next door. Surfing Goat Dairy is uninteresting to say the least, making Ocean Vodka look like an oasis if the distillery is going to be your second stop in the area. (I don’t think anyone is going to stop and tour the nearby landfill, but hey, you never know.)

The first thing you’ll notice when you get to Ocean Vodka is how nicely landscaped the grounds are; simple and clean. In fact, simple and clean is how you might describe the entire operation, from the vodka they make to the facility itself which is shockingly spotless, not to mention mostly self-sustaining. Another thing I like about OV as a company is the fact that almost all the employees (except for the girls in the gift shop) participate in most aspects of the company, from playing tour guide to bottling. And on tour, the guides are quite knowledgeable and friendly. My wife and I were fortunate enough to have Kai on our private tour and he answered our numerous questions without missing a beat. While there isn’t a whole lot to see on the tour – it’s really just a look at and explanations of the different sugar canes on site and the facilities – the tour is very informative and ends, appropriately enough, with a vodka tasting. Yes, OV is definitely the smoothest and most enjoyable vodka I’ve ever come across, though that’s coming from someone who is more of a whiskey man.

At $10 a pop for the tour, I feel the tour was worth its price (unlike at Surfing Goat Dairy, sorry). It’s also nice that the on-site gift shop does not charge anymore for a bottle of their vodka than you’ll find in the store. Actually, it’s the same price at Costco in Kahului and more at other retailers. It would be nice if Maui Brewing Company did likewise at their facilities, but I guess you can’t have everything. 

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Chutes and Ladders, Maui

I’m going to begin with what I am not going to tell you. I am not going to tell you where Chutes and Ladders is. I certainly could tell you and would have liked someone to have posted the location so that my crew didn’t spend literally half a day looking for it, but there are reasons why no one is giving up this location easily (don't even bother asking a local in the area). The first reason is that Chutes and Ladders is on private land, though anyone determined to find this place isn't going to care about that since the land is supposedly owned by the Maui Pineapple Company; at least that’s what I remember the “No Trespassing” signs saying. Those “No Trespassing” signs may be there to protect the land owner for the second reason no one says where this little adventure is, that being the high risk of injury. I will say that the ‘trail head’ is about .4 miles past mile marker 37 (long before mile marker 38) on the eastern side of Honokohau Bay. If and when you find the trail, proceed at your own risk, following the trail towards the water and then to the left where the trail turns into grass. That’s where you will find the ropes.
Arial view of the location.

When you find the ropes, you’re going to say one of two things, either “It doesn’t look that bad” or “I’m not doing that.” The cliff face you need to climb down is about 40 feet high; certainly not 60 feet high as other blog posters have written. The incline is about an 80 percent slope, meaning that unless you rock climb regularly, you’re going to need the ropes to get safely down to the bottom. There are plenty of toe holds and crevices to get your fingers on, though having long legs is certainly to someone’s advantage here. If you arrive and find the rocks wet from a recent passing rain cloud, I would advise against attempting this descent. In fact, if you do not do this kind of thing regularly or if you do not consider yourself fit or if you mind getting a little scraped up, I would not attempt to climb down. I was quite nervous going down, probably due to an old repelling accident when I was in the Army years ago. Has anyone died here? Yes, at least one person has died here, though probably more. The media in Hawaii tends to gloss over or ignore these kinds of things for fear of hurting tourism. On the other hand, if you’re young and somehow have it in your head that you are immortal, then by all means, proceed without caution. (There is, by the way, another eight foot wall of lava rock to scoot down right next to the pool. Though it’s a 90 percent slope, it’s not that big a deal after the rope climb.)
The rope climb down. The pool is hidden to the right.

The pool itself is quite inviting, though no more interesting than the more well-known Olivine Pools a few more miles to the east. That is to say, no one comes here for the pool itself, rather they come because there is a potential for death and danger. At about five feet deep, the pool is deep enough to cannonball into from a modest height and there are fish in the pool but thankfully, no sea urchins, at least not that I saw. I would recommend bringing reef shoes / tabis since walking around on the volcanic rock is a bit much on tender feet, plus the algae in the pool makes climbing out with bare feet slippery. As a general precaution, if the ocean is pounding the shore and waves are splashing over the rocks into the pool, don’t go in the pool. One rouge wave is all it takes to wash a person out to sea.
Blackbeard the Goat.

When my crew was done, the climb back out was infinitely easier, at least for me. The black goat awaiting us at the top didn’t seem too pleased with us, though. Either we were on his land or he was angry we weren’t going to feed him. We were hungry, too, and needed to get ourselves over to the Maui Brewing Company so we beat a hasty retreat to avoid getting head-butted by this guy. Remember, when you’re done, please pack everything you brought in back out, unless you brought rope. You can never have enough rope if you ask me. Future ‘adventurers’ will thank you.

Video taken with my beat up Cannon Powershot.

Sunday, July 13, 2014

Kaanapali Beach, Maui

Kaanapali Beach, a few minutes north of Lahaina Town and about 40 minutes from Kahului, is the collective term for the strip of sand that runs along much of the western shore of Maui. Many people estimate the beach to be at least one mile long and as much as three miles long. My own estimate puts the beach’s total length at about two miles from the southernmost end at Canoe Beach (or Hanakao’o Beach if you’re Hawaiian and can pronounce Hawaiian words) to Black Rock (or Pu’u Keka’a).

Black Rock in the center, Kaanapali to the right.
Black Rock in the center, Kaanapali to the right.
Serving as a backdrop, there are no less than nine hotels and rental condominiums right off the beach. That being the case, Kaanapali Beach if far more crowded than any other single beach on Maui. If you don’t mind crowds, this fact provides ample opportunities for people watching. For example, if you want to see how the locals live on the weekends, go to Canoe Beach where they gather en masse during the weekends to celebrate birthdays. (Mind you, Canoe Beach is the least beautiful section of Kaanapali Beach.) Near the middle of Kaanapali Beach on the sea side of the Whaler’s Village shopping Plaza is “Dig Me” Beach where allegedly beautiful people gather to flaunt their feathers. Frankly, the only high marks this area of the beach gets is for its preponderance of inflated egos. At the northernmost end of the beach is Black Rock where snorkelers and cliff jumpers gather. The snorkeling if decent if you swim around the rocks towards the north but the afternoon currents can be a bit tricky. Turtles are as common here as anywhere else and people seem to see eagle rays here a lot, though I’ve never seen one here. You do have to watch yourself snorkeling, though, as kids and teenagers jumping off Black Rock into the water generally have no qualms about cannonballing you. At sunset, there is a traditional Hawaiian prayer said on Black Rock after nearby torches are lit, capped by a dive into the water meant to evoke the spirit of Hawaiian royalty.

As I said, the beach is long but it is also wide with a fairly steep drop-off at times which often makes for good body- or boogie-boarding. The sand here is fine and powdery for the most part, which no doubt once earned Kaanapali Beach the distinction of being voted the best beach in the world a few years ago. (By whom, is another question, since everything in Maui appears to be voted “the best.”) Yet, the best snorkeling is off of Black Rock since there is hardly any coral or underwater topography for the remainder of the beach’s length. The rest of the beach is still good for swimming, though, provided one stays out of the way of Stand-Up Paddleboarders (SUPs), kayaks, para-sailing tourists, and now, sadly, jet skis. This beach that was once content with sunbathers, swimmers, and snorkelers has now been turned into a circus. If you’d some exercise while watching the circus, you can walk the narrow beach path that runs along the beach from one end of Kaanapail to the other, only, don’t be surprised if you are offered some illicit drugs by locals, usually in front of condo rentals (maybe because the hotels run tighter security?). If you want shop or grab some grinds (food), Whaler’s Village is between the Westin Resort and the Aaston condo rentals. Naturally, all the shops and restaurants are overpriced, but as far as food goes, I have found Hula Grill to be the most consistent in terms of quality and value for your dollar. There is a McDonalds in Whalers Village if you want to save money, but I don’t think it’s worth your health.

Finally, if there’s one big problem with Kaanapali Beach, it’s the lack of public parking. Yes, there are two covered parking lot where you can pay to park, one just past Kaanapali Beach Hotel and the other next to Whaler’s Village; that’s your best bet if you don’t want to spend a lot of time looking for the other mythical public parking lots. (I believe the current per hour price for parking there is about $5 an hour. If you buy $15 worth of goodies in Whaler’s Village or eat at any restaurant, they can validate your parking ticket; another option.) For a complete rundown of all your parking options, please visit the Trip Advisor link below. Mind you, the review is from 2009…

Overall, Kaanapali Beach gets 3.5 out of 5 stars from me, losing points for becoming too overrun in the past few years. Otherwise, there are far worse places to be. Enjoy your stay!

Roy's in Kaanapali

Once you forgive the fact that Roy’s offers you nothing more than a view of a golf course and is, ironically, the least Hawaiian themed Roy’s I’ve personally been to, this place has some great eats.
The fish trio.

The short ribs.
Okay, I just said Roy’s has some great eats, but the complimentary edamames aren’t among them. Served cold with just a touch of salt and spices, they remain flavorless. So, if you’re really hungry, order an appetizer. (I never do since I like to save room for dessert.) If you do opt for an appetizer and you like to go spicy, try the Canoe Appetizer for Two, featuring Peanut Thai Chicken Satay, a Spicy Tuna Roll, and Szechuan Ribs. The rest of your meal will be just as spectacular from here. Most nights, I opted for Roy’s classic trio of Jade Pesto Manchong, Blackened Ahi, and Macadamia Nut Crusted Mahi. Both the Pesto Manchong and Blackened Ahi are nothing short of stellar. I don’t pretend to be a food critic but if neither of these two preparations do anything for you, I would say that your tastebuds are unrefined, to be polite. The first time I had Roy’s Ahi was the best piece of fish I’ve EVER had; slightly warm but completely fresh, and melted on my tongue. This piece of fish reminded me of a scene in the movie “Once Upon a Time in Mexico,” where Johnny Depp’s character wants expresses a desire to shoot the chef because his food is so good, no one else should ever taste it. And although I was less impressed by the Macadamia Nut Crusted Mahi, seeing how macadamia nut preparations are common in Hawaii, it was still well-prepared. On the downside, the portion size for this dish is much smaller than had you ordered each piece as its own entrée. This is not a complaint, merely an observation. Another observation: A limited beer selection; opt for wine or a cocktail instead.
Meanwhile, my wife typically chooses the Honey Mustard Beef Short Ribs which thankfully are barely glazed with the honey mustard sauce, yet prepared so perfectly that the meat melts in your mouth, as any well-prepared meat should. I have to say that for us, who may be considered smaller people, the beef ribs were a sizable portion. Sometimes we save a little to take home.
For dessert we always have the Chocolate Soufflé which really is the only choice if you care deeply about chocolate. The soufflé is like a brownie on steroids with a warm syrupy center and a side of vanilla bean ice cream and raspberry puree. Simply incredible and not something I can pass up even when I am already full. If you want this dessert, you have to order it ahead of time as it takes at least 20 minutes to prepare. When you taste it, you will see why. You can't rush a good thing.
View of the dining room.
As mentioned in the beginning, Roy’s doesn’t have much of a Hawaiian theme going on in terms of its ambiance. Instead, the dining room feels somewhat like an old Victorian gentleman’s club where they smoke cigars and talk about politics. This is to say the dining room is perfectly clean with dark wood veneers from one end to the other, but ambiance is not why I go to Roy’s. I do not go for the service either but at least the service is top-notch. Roy’s wait staff is always great; attentive, professional and courteous, though I do find their insistence to fold your napkin every time you get up for a restroom break a bit over the top. I suppose people who are used to personal service will enjoy this touch or figure it is par-for-the-course, but I don’t enjoy it. It’s a particularly unsettling act when you’re sitting at the table by yourself when your dining partner gets up. Still, Roy’s get four out of five stars because what they do food wise, they do very well. As a result, Roy’s can be a little pricier than many other Maui restaurants. Dress attire is still casual, though. After all, you're on vacation.