Sunday, August 17, 2014

Commando Hike Maui, Sort Of

Disclaimer…I do not think just ol’ anyone is capable of doing this hike. The potential for a serious mishap is high. You will slip, fall, cut, scrape, and/or bruise yourself. And the higher the water flow, the tougher the hike is. This hike requires balance, limber joints and upper body strength. If you are not adventure-minded, skip this hike altogether. There is a reason why this hike does not appear in any guidebook.

My buddy and I stopped at the gate just passed the mini-bamboo forest hike, about .25 miles passed the 6.5 mile marker on Hana Highway. We jumped the fence there and trudged up a path to the left, being careful not to agitate the very hefty cow lying in the shade (who would still be there hours later). Other reviewers say you have to pass a field of cows, but we only encountered the one. Then, at the top of the hill we could see a reservoir. We went down a slippery grassy slope to where we could meet a stream feeding into the reservoir. (Meaning, if you’re facing the reservoir, the stream will be towards the left side of it but not passed the gate that will be further on your left on the trail. I suppose you could go around the other side, but that would be a much longer walk.) And on up that stream we went.

Just another 7' high wall in the stream.
Very quickly we learned that neither my hiking shoes nor my buddy’s sneakers would grip the slippery rocks, basically forcing us to spider-walk much of the way upstream. Even as an experienced hiker myself, multiple time we caught ourselves saying, “Are you kidding me?” as we bruised our ankles against rock after rock. Navigating the stream took focus and it got a little bit old fast. I don’t remember how far upstream we got, but at an early point we encountered a fork in the stream. We decided to go left and it turned out to be the wrong way, so, go right at the fork. Of course, we didn’t know that at the time so we kept going upstream to the left, sometimes through 6 feet of water, never seeing the thicket of vines you’re supposed to encounter and wondering when the hell it was going to be over. Eventually we came upon an access road and man-made drainage ditch at that point we knew we were way off course.

Thinking we were screwed, we wandered the access road going downhill, figuring we’d try again some other day. Somehow, we turned left at Albuquerque and stumbled upon the exit of the cave portion of the Commando Hike! We couldn’t believe it. We checked out the
Going DOWN to the cave entrance.
surroundings and our way out was either down a 70 foot cliff or back through the cave, basically doing the Commando Hike in reverse. (A third option would have been to continue down the access road, but we hadn’t thought of that yet.) Since I wasn’t jumping off the cliff we went into the cave and made our way towards where the entrance is supposed to be. I have to say this part of the hike was really fun until we saw the part of the entrance where you shimmy up the 10 foot waterfall and we both refused to go down this way. It just looked too tricky. So, it was back into the cave and out the way we were supposed to go. Again, fun, until my buddy said he was stuck between two rocks where there were no hand holes to lift himself up and out. Somehow he squirmed his way free and we continued up the cave. There is a 10 foot rock wall inside the cave to climb but it was pretty easy since the rocks were rough and easier to grab. (Well, my buddy did slice a finger open on a jagged rock.) Oh, and you will need headlamps for this bit as it is really dark in the cave.

Once we came out the other side, we were quite proud of ourselves. Not only did we go a much longer way upstream than we should have, but we did the cave portion of the Commando Hike down and up. Booyah! But we weren’t done yet. We turned left to a really sweet water hole with a small cliff to jump off. There was an option to grab a rope and climb the waterfall there, but the day was wearing on and we had no water or food with us. Stupid? Yes. We hadn’t planned to be out there so long but apparently shit happens. So after my buddy jumped off the cliff, we went back to the access road, backtracked a little bit, until we could keep heading downhill keeping the hike’s ravine to our left and the ocean in front of us. The car was a blessed sight. Flatbread Pizza Company here we come!

Our little adventure would have been better had we packed food and water in a dry-bag, but hey, there’s always next time. It may be a while but I’m sure we’re game for another go ‘round. Also remember to go right at the fork in the stream. You can thank me later with a brew. Cheers.

Monday, August 11, 2014

80's Night at Gannon's, Wailea

You would think that given all the information on the Internet, there would more reviews about Maui nightlife. It is true that there isn’t a great deal of nightlife on Maui such as you would find on the Mainland and this is due to the fact that vacationers mainly come to the island for the beaches. Between this fact and the time difference between Hawaii and the rest of the world, Maui is generally a quiet place after 9pm. Not always, though. Outside of the well-known “Triangle” in south Maui’s Kihei – The “Triangle” being a collective of several bars – some Wailea and Makena restaurants occasionally turn themselves into a dance venue. During the summer months, once a month, Gannons in south Maui itself hosts “Gannons After Dark: The 80’s in Wailea.”
Time to rock!
First, the facts: Gannon’s is located up a hill on 100 Wailea Golf Club Dr. The cover is $10 a person or $15 a head if you want to reserve a table. There is plenty of free parking. The event begins at 9pm and goes until 1am, which for Maui, might as well be more like 4am. Once inside, you will notice how spacious the venue is as most of the restaurant’s tables have been stored away, leaving a few tables surrounding the dance floor and outside on the lanai (patio). This is a breath of fresh air as it allows you to actually get to the bar without much trouble. On the other hand, there are some tables too close to the dance floor which cuts down on the actual dance floor area; the “dance floor” itself is actually quite small by Mainland standards. The crowd was mostly locals; about 80% by my estimations, with ages ranged from the 20’s to 50’s. The rest of the crowd was comprised largely of vacationing 20-somethings doing the bridal shower thing or looking to get out of their hotel rooms and away from their families. The drink prices are about what you would expect for this ritzier part of the island though surprisingly not all that insane. This is Hawaii after all.
The experience: My group arrived shortly after the party started at 9pm and by the time we walked in the dance floor was already hopping. It appears as though the locals take full advantage of any nightlife down this part of the island and I don’t blame them. We were also surprised to see how many people actually took the time to dress up in their 80’s paraphernalia: You had your aerobic junkies and jocks, preppies, Madonna-wannabes, neon-clad girls, metal-heads, etc. Actually, so many people put some effort into what they were wearing it made the people who weren’t in costume seem silly in comparison even if those people were dressed nicely. (Of course, I’m sure no one goes on vacation expecting to pack an 80’s costume, especially since Hawaii has long maintained a psychological connection to the 70’s.) The crowd was friendly and few people in this setting thought twice about striking up a conversation just for the sake of it. Unfortunately, as the hours and alcohol wore on, a few people did get out of control on the dance floor which was small enough to begin with. As The 80’s in Wailea seems to be a popular event, I would advise Gannons to back the tables away from the dance floor a little more. It just seems odd that given the amount of space available to the venue that they would try to box in the dance floor so much. (However, one suspects a more crowded-in dance floor makes for better photo and video opportunities.) Now that I think more about some of the tables being so close to the dance floor, I would advise against reserving a table as people are simply going to put their drinks down wherever they can find space, whether your table is reserved or not. If you really need to sit down, there were plenty of unreserved tables outside on the lanai.
Meanwhile, the music, supplied by local boys DJ LX and emceed by Jay J, was passable enough despite some early technical glitches. And I personally would have enjoyed the music more if they would have let more songs pay all the way through. It’s just as a musician myself, well, I probably pay too much attention to these things and maybe shouldn’t criticize. But I will definitely give DJ LX credit for mashing up several songs and giving a few of them some much needed backbone with some extra beats and bass. That aside, how much fun this event is doesn’t rely much on the DJ but rather the already high enthusiasm of the patrons going in. All things considered, I can’t wait for the next retro-80’s party at Gannons. I’ll be there; just look for one of the ten guys in zebra-striped pants.
Totally gettin' rad here!

Totally gettin' rad here!

Fabiani's, Wailea Maui

A view from the bar.
Being Italian (Sicilian actually), moving to an island in the middle of the Pacific may not have been the best idea when my native food cravings occur. Aroma D'Italiano's may have been the go-to place up until two years ago, but since that restaurant closed there had been a dearth of reasonably palatable Italian food, to say nothing of the lack of edible pizza on Maui in general. That all began to change with the arrival of Fabiani's Pizza and Bakery a year and a half ago (as of this writing) in Kihei. Driven by the success of Fabiani's Kihei location, Fabiani's has opened a second location in Wailea, an area that is essentially the Beverly Hills of Maui.

Found at the north end of the Wailea Gateway Plaza building at the southernmost end of Piilani Highway, Fabiani’s Wailea is not usually busy. This may be due to the fact that the new location is still gaining traction amid stiff competition from Monkeypod Kitchen across the parking lot and Manoli’s Pizza a very short distance down the road. Although those restaurants are perfectly respectable, there is something about Fabiani’s that feels a little more like home.

Despite being located in Wailea, this Fabiani’s location does not go out of its way to wow its customers with expensive d├ęcor. This may seem like a negative given that this location does not have a view of the ocean (although Wailea Gateway Plaza is located on a hill), but what stikes me about this Fabiani’s is that it is clean; very, very clean. Granted, this may be because it is new, but having been in the military, I respect cleanliness.

“But what about the food?” you ask. Although the pizza menus differ slightly between locations, there is something for everyone on each menu. And, if you don’t see a pizza you like, you are given the option to build your own. Here at the Wailea location, my brood usually opts for the Real Hawaiian (Pineapple, Portuguese Sausage & Caramelized Onion) or the Makena Meaty (Portugese Sausage, Ground Beef & Applewood Bacon). It should be noted that the pizzas are basically personal-sized if you take into account what is a typical portion for most Americans. All of Fabiani's pizzas are thin-crusted, too. So, if you’re really hunger, a single pizza may not satisfy you. This is okay, however, as there are many other choices.

There is, of course, lasagna. I can’t say Fabiani’s lasagna will knock your socks off, but I do think it is the best I’ve had on Maui in the last two years. It’s not overly salty, though, which may displease some customers. If you would like a little seafood, there will be the catch of the day which is entirely dependent upon the fish market; you simply cannot expect that Today’s Catch will be a really good fish such as Mahi Mahi. There are always the crab cakes, too, but again, they’re not something that is going to bowl you over. If you’d like a little garlic bread for an appetizer, they come four to plate and are very buttery and garlicky. Overall, I cannot see anyone walking into this restaurant and saying there is nothing on the menu they would order. Even if they did, hopefully they saw the dessert display when they first walked in which is immediately to the left. All the desserts are made by the owner’s wife for both Fabiani’s locations. If the Red Velvet Cake and the various macaroons are any indication, everything else in the display case is magnificent.

Service-wise, you have to keep in mind that Maui’s population is transient to say the least, so you have to take any bad service with a grain of salt. This is not to say I’ve ever had bad service at either Fabiani’s, in fact, just the opposite. But, I have to keep this fact in mind about Maui service just in case the service ever does slip. Currently, there is an Irish girl waitressing whose voice I could listen to all day, but she is going back to Ireland at the end of summer. Then there is a new bartender, a “mixologist” by his own account, who should be able to step it up when it comes to devising incredible cocktails. This is good news to a Portland, OR transplant such as myself.

Lastly, the prices at Fabiani’s are more than reasonable given the location they are catering to (entrees will be anywhere between $13 to $25). This location also has an unlisted Happy Hour from 3-5pm which gives you half off the pizzas plus you do not have to sit at the bar to get Happy Hour prices, unlike their Kihei location (where Happy Hour is only at the bar).

Overall, Fabiani’s Wailea is a cozy-casual, family-run business that delivers on most accounts. My biggest complaint is that they do not have a view. On the other hand, here on Maui, you generally get what you pay for and the prices reflect a room without a view. However, if you have been at the beach all day, does that really matter?
Delicious Fabiani's pizza.
Delicious Fabiani's pizza.

Flatbread Pizza Company, Paia Maui

Being something of a pizza connoisseur and having been to Maui many times before moving here, I am astounded that I have only now gotten around to trying Flatbread Pizza Company in Paia. I suppose this has something to do with the fact that I consider Paia Town overrated as a tourist attraction, but after a recent debacle at the once reliable Milagros Mexican restaurant across the street, my wife and I were looking for an alternative. Flatbread Pizza Company was suggested by our friends and neighbors.
The first thing that struck me as we walked into what looks like a hole in the wall from the outside was the expansiveness of the restaurant; their space is wide and deep and features several large wooden booths that can easily accommodate six to eight people to a table. Soon thereafter, I noticed a deep, fresh aroma that only quality ingredients could give off. And, if the employees were any indication of what goes into the food, I knew this pizza was going to have a ton of character before even taking a bite.

As our waitress explained to us, Flatbread Pizza Company uses locally sourced and organic ingredients, and that includes the dough. Even their meats (sausage and pepperoni) are nitrate free. Their salads have their dressings literally massaged into them and some of their juices are fresh-squeezed. Thrown for a loop and not knowing what to order our first time in, the waitress suggested we order a half-and-half pizza. Given the delectable aroma, the explanation of ingredients, the sight of the wood-fired stove…I was salivating at the thought of what would arrive on our table.
Forgoing the salad – a possible mistake given the sight of greens and other veggies stacked high brought to another table – my group opted for one half-Kula pork half-Pesto pizza (which has no tomato sauce) and a standard pizza (“Jay’s Heart”) with just sausage on it. Before the pizza came, I wet my palate with some fresh squeezed lemonade which was, no joke, the best lemonade I have ever had; truly fresh and not ruined by copious amounts of sugar. If this was going to be any indication of things to come, I was already happy. Then the pizza came. I’m not one who swears much in public, but one bite into the Kula pork pizza and colorful metaphors did leave my mouth when I regained my breath. I haven’t had pizza this fresh since I left Brooklyn many, many years ago. Fortunately, since we had been hiking we chose 16” pizzas which you may find too large if you don’t bring an appetite here. Their 12’’ pizzas are probably sufficient for many couples to share. If I have anything bad to say about the food, I would simply state that the crust seems closer to thin-crust than actually being flat bread, but that is really splitting hairs. I really have no complaints about the food. Maybe they make the pizza so good because the kitchen is open and everyone is watching the cooks make it.
To address complaints about the food I have seen in other reviews, I can’t imagine anyone saying this pizza is tasteless unless there is no refinement whatsoever to their palate or they put salt on everything they eat. Other complaints address the location, lack of parking in Paia, that there is no air conditioning, and other things besides the food. This is because the food itself really cannot be complained about. Is the food pricey? Maybe a little; Paia prices reflect that it is a tourist trap, but if you eat at you’re resort you’re certainly going to pay more for food. Might you have to wait up to thirty minutes for a table during dinner hours? Probably. Can service be slow? I can see how that might be an issue as there is only enough room in the oven for so many pizzas. Overall, though, I do think these complaints are minor. On a more positive note, try dining here on a Tuesday night when some of the Flatbread’s profits go towards aiding local community organizations. There is hardly a better way to give a little and get something excellent in return.

Snorkeling 101

You’re finally ready to go on your Maui vacation but you’ve never actually snorkeled before. Here’s a guide to help you prepare for your new favorite water activity.

Your Gear

This includes your mask, snorkel and flippers (and if you’re me, Speedo hand flippers which provide me with greater mobility in the water and allow me to swim faster). Your mask can be either be one large optical piece or the more common two eye piece divided by the nose cubby, which I think is more comfortable. At any rate, your mask should stick to your face when you breathe in gently through your nose and not cause pressure on the bridge of your nose or your forehead. Your snorkel should be attached to the head strap of your mask and can go on either side of your head (what side it is on only really matters for divers). When you put your mask on when you’re on dry land, the top opening of the snorkel should be behind your head. The bite guard goes fully in your mouth. It takes some getting used to the first time you try to breathe with this gear on since you cannot breathe through your nose, but most people adapt quite readily. If you get water in your snorkel while swimming, most snorkels have a purge valve that will clear the water if you forcefully breathe out. Next are you flippers which should be able to fit snuggly on your feet so that they feel like they will not fall off, but not so tight that they look like they are cutting off your circulation. If possible, it is best to get fins that have an adjustable heel strap to avoid sizing problems. You can snorkel without fins, but I don’t suggest this unless you are a naturally strong swimmer. You can go further, faster, with less fatigue wearing flippers than without. You may see some people with particularly large fins; these people are advanced snorkelers who are able to free dive; larger fins are not necessary for beginners. If you have any reservations about how well you’re going to float in the water, it is best to take a noodle, inner tube, boogie board, or some other floatation devise with you. These devises will also help keep you afloat if you have to make any adjustments to your gear while out in the water. Additional gear may include your mask de-fogger which prevents your mask from fogging up, especially when there is a significant difference between your body temperature and the water temperature. Spit is fine but needs to be re-applied often. I recommend a 10-1 solution of water to baby shampoo; the shampoo is bio-degradable and will not harm the coral or fish as much as other product such as sunscreen. I do not believe in wearing sunscreen into the water as this is very harmful to coral and other marine life. Instead, I prefer to wear a full length shirt and bike pants or a dive suit. I can only ask you do the same in order to protect Maui’s fragile ecosystem. When you finally do get in the water, keep your eyes faced down or just slightly ahead of you and try to keep your fins in the water while moving your legs. Keeping your flippers in the water minimizes slashing, which may potentially be misconstrued by a shark as a fish in distress. Last thing to know if you are a beginner, never go in the water alone. Hopefully, this is common sense.

Ocean Safety

When it comes to the ocean, the first rule is to keep your eyes on her. If the wind is kicking up and you see white caps, it is not a good idea to go in the water. Although you are level with the waterline, high winds can make it tough to swim, even with flippers on. Three to four foot waves are larger than normal for Maui’s beaches (not included well known surf locales such as Jaws) and generally indicate that the water near shore will probably be murky due to churning sand. Sharks tend to hunt in murky conditions, so it is not wise to swim or snorkel near shore when the surf is “up.” (Note: sharks also tend to hunt during the dawn and dusk hours; another time it in not wise to snorkel.) Sometimes, waves come in that are larger than normal during times the surf is otherwise calm. These are simply wave sets that come three to five a set. So, if it looks too rough to get in, try waiting a few waves and see if the surf calms down. Many beginners put their gear on while on the beach and “duck walk” or “moon walk” into the water which is fine. I say it is easier to wade into the water waist deep and then put your gear on, but this is a personal preference. Try it both ways. Once in the water, the second most important rule of the ocean is not to panic. This is easier said than done and you might have to literally tell yourself to calm down if you get in trouble. Panicking only makes bad situations worse. Fortunately, serious situations are few and far in between. If the wave action kicks up while you are away from shore and this bothers you, try turning your body perpendicular to the waves. This will minimize how much you get bounced around.

Other Ocean Rules

Please don’t touch anything! This applies mostly to turtles and coral. Countless times I have seen people try to touch turtle. Getting too close to turtles on your terms disturbs a turtle’s behavior and causes them stress. Many turtles are used to humans, though, and do not have a problem with you getting close, but let them do so on their terms. As a general rule, give them at least 10 feet and let them approach you, not the other way around. I might also mention that it is technically illegal to touch a turtle here in Hawaii, just so you know. People standing on coral is another huge problem. Visitors do not seem to realize that coral consists of live creatures and cannot withstand the slightest force of someone standing on them. This is probably the number two reason why the coral around Maui has been looking worse and worse over the last few years (the other reason being snorkel and fishing boats that come too close to shore and waste run-off from construction and hotels). And while we don’t get many jellyfish around Maui, you’ll certainly want to stay away from any kind of black sea urchins, which you will see as either a small ball or a fist-sized series of spikes. Don’t touch these either; their spikes carry mild neuro-toxins which cause their flesh wounds to heal very slowly.

Best Beaches for Snorkeling

Finally, which Maui beaches are best for snorkeling? That depends upon who you ask and the weather conditions, but most locals would agree that Honolua Bay (which doesn’t have a beach per se), Black Rock (too crowded for my taste), Poolenalena Beach, Makena Beach (the one in front of Makena Beach and Golf Resort), and Ulua Beach are certainly among the top-ranked.

Last Words

That’s the basics of snorkeling. Have fun and enjoy your stay but always be safe. We look forward to seeing you year after year.

Thursday, August 7, 2014

Wailea Beach, South Maui

Wailea Beach is a long and wide stretch of soft sand nestled between the Four Seasons and the Grande Wailea in Wailea, south Maui. Whether or not you think this is a good beach depends upon what activities you have in mind. This beach is a great location for sitting and soaking up the sun, playing in the waves thanks to the sandy bottom that extends yards into the water, playing with a ball in the waves, and people watching. If you so desired, there is even enough room in the early hours to set up a volleyball net between the resorts. If you like easily accessible beaches where you can sit or build sand castles in fine, velvety sand, Wailea Beach is a good choice. However, if you are looking for good snorkeling or diving, you may want to seek out another beach.
A view of the south end of the beach.
A view of the south end of the beach.
As Wailea Beach fronts two prominent hotels, the beach and surf can get crowded fast. The beach serves as a popular place for touring kayakers, canoers, and paddle-boarders (SUPs) to shove off. The waves here tend to be somewhat more prone to strong currents than other south Maui beaches. This appears to be the effect of each end of the beach's rocky points being more flat than pointy, as is the case at many other beaches where the arrangement of a beach’s rocky points serve to protect you from currents. This aside, another strike against Wailea Beach is that I have not found the variety of fish or as many turtles as other nearby beaches. The coral is terribly beat up here as well, which I suspect is due to waste run-off from the hotels. The south end of the beach (your left if looking out to sea) features an extensive field of this coral and the water tends to be calmer on this side. Problem is, you have to swim at least 100 yards away from shore to see any remotely colorful coral. The north end of the beach does not have as much coral, which will cause you to stay near the rocky shoreline where the surf is typically rougher. However, if you follow the right side north towards Ulua beach, the water may get rougher but you will be rewarded when you spot the Turtle Town amid the better coral hugging this edge. Overall, this makes the snorkeling better at the north side of the beach as long as you are comfortable snorkeling; if so, attempting to swim in this direction shouldn't be too challenging.
If you don’t mind crowds, I’d say Wailea Beach is a perfectly respectable beach if you don’t want to stray far from your nearby resort, though I contend that there are better beaches a five-to-ten minute car ride away. I would beware of reviews of Wailea Beach that say the snorkeling and diving are fantastic or that this beach is uncrowded; these observations have never been true in my experience. There is a hill behind the south end of the beach near the public parking area that is good spot for a picnic since you can easily spot whales during whale season, or you can just watch the strange characters that walk by on the beach path. If you want to take a walk, the Wailea Beach path is easily accessible from either end of the beach. There are no lifeguards here but the gentlemen staffing the cabanas and activities booth are surely able to help in an emergency. Finally, there is a bathroom facility and rinsing area at the south end of the beach by the public parking lot.
Looking north onto Wailea Beach from the beach path.
Looking north onto Wailea Beach from the beach path.


Drive south on Wailea Alanui until you pass the Grande Wailea. The first right past the Grand Wailea is the public access parking lot. If you don’t see any parking in the lower lot, there is a large parking lot hidden to the right after you've made your initial right turn and descended towards the parking lot. Conversely, if you find no parking in the lower lot, the hidden parking lot will be on your left as if you were going to leave the parking lot. If you're driving south and you see the Four Seasons, you've driven past the public parking lot.
Looking south onto Wailea Beach from the beach path.
Looking south onto Wailea Beach from the beach path.

Honolua Bay, Maui

When all things are considered, Honolua Bay (north of Kaanapali) is often ranked as the best snorkeling spot on Maui. Regardless of unpredictable weather in the winter months which can bring high surf, clouds and/or rain, the usually well-protected Honolua Bay is the top place when conditions are right. Though, if it has rained overnight at this location, the water will be murky due to run-off from the surrounding cliffs. Otherwise, the fun begins even before you get to the bay as you descend through the jungle paths that are teeming with fierce…roosters and chickens. Okay, maybe not so fierce but they can be loud, making the walk down to the bay amusing.
When you do reach the bay, you’ll notice there is a little bit of sandy beach to your left and the rest of the bay is lined with boulders. Since most people snatch up the sandy spot right away, prepare to boulder hop until you find your own little niche. (I hope you have good balance; I’ve twisted my ankle a few times here.) Personally, I always find a spot to camp on the boulders to the right of the bay (if you’re facing out to sea) since the middle of the bay is where the concrete ramp is and tends to crowd. Surely the concrete ramp makes it easy to get in and out of the water; getting in from either side of the bay off the boulders can be quite slippery, to say nothing of the sea urchins that like to hide between the rocks. At least you won’t have people sitting on top of you, though. Moreover, if you enter the water from either side of the bay, you will not have to go as far to get to the coral and you will see fish the second you put your head in the water. You can rest assured that the fish count at Honolua Bay is almost always high.
While the fish count is high, you’ll see a better variety of fish to the right side of the bay where there is also more colorful coral (although the coral has been taking a beating in the past few years due to the snorkel cruises using this spot more often). The coral to the left of the bay is not quite as good but the fish tend to be much bigger on the left side of the bay. There’s really nothing quite like being surrounded by a school of fish half your size; it’s pretty amazing. You will also see larger turtles on the left side of the bay as they eat algae off the rocks. The middle of the bay is sandy and there’s usually not much to see unless you run into the large school of small silver and green fish that are being corralled by some larger blue fish. But in addition to the fish and turtles, eels and octopi are also common here. (Octopi can be hard to spot as the blend in with the rocks.) I have also seen squid and “crown-of-thorn” starfish (rare) here. Yes, further out in the bay are white tip reef sharks but they are docile unless you actively bother them. Even then, they are more likely to run away than fight. I have even seen pods of dolphins come into the bay in the afternoons, but not while people are in the water. Note that it is also possible to swim around the left side of the bay to Slaughterhouse Beach, but keep in mind that the currents can be unpredictable, especially in the winter.
Honolua Bay is also good for beginning divers and even surfers when the waves kick up near the outer edge of the bay’s right side. Mind where you are; the surfers will run you down if you get careless and stray into their territory. There is no lifeguard but there are portable potties at the parking area. The parking spaces fill up quickly during most of the year so it is best to get to the bay before nine in the morning. If the weather is good, people always snatch up the best parking spots so you may have to park on the side of the road. I personally hate doing that since I don’t want to entice any of the smash-and-grabbers common to the area. This is to say, please don’t leave anything remotely valuable in sight when you leave your car.


Honolua Bay is in Kapalua, northwest Maui, on Honoapiilani Hwy between the 32 and 33 mile marker. There are two main parking areas, one right past Slaughterhouse Beach (this is the beach with a staircase down to it) and one right past the one lane bridge which is the bigger of the two parking areas. Otherwise, parking is on the road. From there, take whatever obvious trail leads towards the water. When you reach the water, a gentleman sitting at a table will ask to talk to you and ask you not to wear sunscreen in the water since Honolua Bay is a fragile marine preserve.

Hiking on Maui

Haleakala National Park

Pick a trail, any trail! Due to its accessibility, visitors usually opt to hike Sliding Sands Trail which begins just around a small hilltop opposite the Visitor’s Center at Haleakala’s summit. As its name implies, this trail is mostly sand which is perfectly fine when hiking down to the horse hitch on the crater floor (3.9 miles according to the park’s map). Assuming you’re planning to go that far, keep in mind that if you plan to go out the same way, hiking in this volcanic sand is not nearly as much fun on the way back out. Since you’ve already seen stunning cinder cone after cinder cone on the way down, you’re going to need a little mental strength to get back out. Having strong legs will not hurt either. In that case, you may be an experienced hiker who wouldn’t mind continuing east past the horse hitch another 1.7 miles to Kapalaoa Cabin or even 5.6 miles to Paliku Cabin and campground. For the seriously hardcore hiker, you can hike the Pipiwai Trail from Paliku down the Kaupo Gap to the island’s desolate southeast end. There is also the option of hiking around some of the cinder cones and doubling back or hiking around the cones and heading out of the crater on Halemauu Trail. If you go that 5.7 mile route, you’ll need to park a car or hitchhike back to your car at the summit from the Halemauu Trailhead. Planning your hike in this particular manner allows you some expansive views of the crater. And, as the sun changes position during the day, dramatic color schemes will come to life you may not have seen from other areas in the volcano. Depending on your route(s), elevation changes will be in the neighborhood of 1,600 to 3,000 feet. Other things to note: The crater receives little rainfall which makes for a fragile ecosystem. There isn’t much life up here but what little there is doesn’t need to be run over by visitors going off trail. Please respect the unique and indigenous Silver Sword bushes and please do not feed the Nene geese that live here. Bring sunscreen, a warm jacket so you can dress in layers, a poncho, and a hat. You’re closer to the sun up here; even if it is cold and cloudy you can still get a sunburn. Speaking of cold, it can be as cold as 32 degrees up at the summit depending on the time of year. Of course, if you are hiking, you may get warm, hence the advisory to dress in layers. It can also rain at any moment at the summit, so be prepared for that. Lastly, bring food and water as neither are served inside the park’s boundaries. Park entrance fees are currently $10 per passenger vehicle and $5 per bicyclist.
Nene birds. Please do not feed them.
Nene birds. Please do not feed them.

Lahaina Pali Pali Trail

Or as I like to call it, the West Maui Windmill hike. If you’ve seen the windmills running up the West Maui mountain’s spine, you should know there is a trail that leads to the very middle of those windmills at an elevation of about 1600 feet. There are two ways to approach this hike, from either the Maalaea Harbor side or the Lahaina side of the West Maui mountain. Hiking from one side to the other will take you 5.5 miles, but the Lahaina side of the trail is considerably steeper if you’re beginning the hike from that end; something to be aware of. Myself, I usually only hike to the top and go back the way I came, which is usually from the Maalaea harbor side which still has decent elevation gains for its first mile or so. Either way you go, though, gives you wide angle shots of the southern and west ends of the island. The nearby islands of Lanai and Kahoolawe are also clearly visible from the windmills themselves. During whale season, this is a spectacular hike as you can spot whales puffing far and wide. (Bring binoculars if you want to actually see the whales if they breach.) Careful when hiking this trail during or after a rainfall; for some reason the rocks here are more slippery than usual, so I advise wearing dedicated hiking shoes. And, you’ll want to go early in the morning, preferably in the winter. Midday summer heat is brutal on this hike and there is very little shade to spare you the onslaught. This hike can also be very windy; that’s why the windmills are placed here, so be prepared for this as well. To get to the Maalaea side trailhead, the trailhead is .2 miles south-southwest of the junction of Honoapiilani Highway and Kihei Road. There is a gate there but you can open it and go through it (close the gate behind you) and drive up the gravel road to a small, six-car parking lot. The Lahaina side trailhead is .25 miles past (or before depending upon which way you are driving) the Pali tunnel on Honoapiilani Highway.
Location of the Lahaina side trail head. Note the tunnel.
Location of the Lahaina side trail head. Note the tunnel.
Location of the Nailiili Trail. Note the hairpin turn.
Location of the Nailiili Trail. Note the hairpin turn

Nailiili Stream and Waterfall Hike

You may have heard of the Pipiwai Trail/Bamboo Forest Hike that is just past Hana and granted it is a nice easy hike that takes you to a stunning bamboo forest. If you’re the more adventurous type like myself and don’t want to go all the way to Hana to see some bamboo, try this hike which is on the way to Hana. You’ll be treated to four waterfalls, but you’re going to have to work for it. To begin with you have to go .7 miles past the 6 mile marker on the road to Hana and park on the side of the road. Basically, park where you see all the other cars once you make a hairpin turn around a stone wall where it becomes one lane (don’t worry, it goes back to two lanes eventually). Once parked, go into one of the spur trails in the bamboo groves and follow the sound of the water. This will bring you first to a foot and a half stream you have to cross and then to a small waterfall area about twenty feet wide that you have to cross. On the other side of the bank, you will see a fallen tree. To the left of the fallen tree is the main trail that runs along the stream (do not go into the bamboo off-shoot trails unless you like bamboo; these trails go nowhere). Follow the trail upstream. You may soon see a raging waterfall to your left, but this is a diversion waterfall from too much rain in the area. Most of the time it is dry and you may not even see it trickling. When you follow the trail to a nice swimming hole with a twenty foot high waterfall, this is considered waterfall #1. To the left of this fall is a slippery rock face with a rope to help pull yourself up fifteen feet to where the trail continues. Not a particularly difficult stunt, but you are taking your chances nonetheless. Further on is the second waterfall which has a very rickety ladder and suspect rope which you must climb about twelve feet up to continue the trail (the ladder is to the left of the waterfall). From here, it’s approximately another fifteen to twenty minutes until the trail runs out when it hits a large pond with a waterfall (#3) on its far side. Here’s where the fun really begins: If you swim across the pond to the waterfall and climb up its ten-foot face, there is another waterfall a minute or so away. As this waterfall (#4) is the biggest at about 35 feet high, it is the best. Combined with its wading hole, it’s worth the effort to get here. Most visitors never get this far on this trail which is really a shame. Allegedly there is another waterfall beyond this one, but you’d be crazy to try and scale this waterfall. You have been warned. Final note, take bug spray as the mosquitoes here can be merciless. Also be aware that all Maui streams are prone to flash floods. Check local weather reports for recent rainfall before going. This is a short hike, about forty-five minutes to the last waterfall, but it is challenging for its length.

Saturday, August 2, 2014

Stand Up Paddle Boarding in Maui

When it comes to getting out and paddling around on the water, your two main options are kayaking or stand-up paddleboarding (or SUP for short). I strongly prefer SUP for a variety of reason: First, SUP gives you more of a full-body workout as opposed to just the upper body when you kayak. Second, getting into and out of the water with an SUP when you want to snorkel or swim is much easier than it is with a kayak. Third, you get better views of the land when you’re standing up, as opposed to sitting down in a kayak. (You also have a better view of what is beneath you on an SUP.) Fourth, it's easier to lie down and get some sun on an SUP. If there are any advantages to ocean kayaking, I would say it is easier to keep any gear you have with you dry and it is an easier vessel not to fall off or out of. Kayaks are also generally faster, though long SUP boards can be fast if you have the strength to paddle these heavier boards up to speed. Short SUP boards are more maneuverable than their larger brethren due to their size and lower weight, but are more difficult to balance on and require more strokes to go the same distance a longer board goes under similar power. Short and/or skinny SUP boards are generally for the more advanced stand-up paddleboarder. Here in Maui, your only option is to SUP on the ocean which is a little different than on a lake. Here are some tips on choosing a board, how to paddle, and which locations off the Maui coastline are best for SUP.
Headed south from Kamaole Beach I.
Headed south from Kam I, Kihei.
Your first concern when choosing to SUP is whether you will be able to stand and maintain your balance. If you suspect or know you have poor balance, opt for a board that is at least 30” wide and 10’ long. The longer and/or wider a board, the more stable it will be for you. Note that the downside to this is that such boards are heavier and will not be as easy to carry. Also make sure your board has traction foam on top or you’re going to slip right off your SUP unless you’re wearing non-slip rubber boots. Your paddle itself should be approximately six inches taller than you and float if dropped in the water (though, I don’t know of any retailer or rental agency that would give you a non-floating paddle). At the end of the board should be a leash which attaches to your ankle so that if you fall, the board doesn’t get away from you. There should also be a hand hole in the middle of the board’s top for carrying the board by hand. (If not, carrying a board around just became a two person operation.) Last, if you are not a strong swimmer or think you are going to fall a lot, you may want to wear a life vest or other floatation device, though most people don’t paddle out far enough for this to be a huge safety issue.

Next is getting the board onto the water. Observe conditions; if the water looks too rough to enter, wait and see if the waves are just coming in sets and put the board in the water when the waves calm down. [Keep in mind that as general rule, the surf is usually rougher in south Maui in the summer while the west and north sides of the island are calmer, and vice versa in the winter.] When you put the board on the water, guide it out until you are in at least knee deep water before getting on. When you get on, do not stand up right away. Get onto the board in a kneeling position as you push the board toward open water and begin quick, short strokes to get yourself past any breaking waves as quickly as possible. Once you’ve cleared any shore break and the water is a little flatter, you will want to put your hands forward on the board (paddle across the front of your body in your hands) and “hop” into a standing position in the center of the board, legs shoulder width apart. If you try to stand one leg at a time, standing will be much more difficult. If you are too forward on the board, the rear of the board will rise. If you are too far back, the front of the board will rise. Also, keep your head up and looking out towards the horizon. One of the main reasons people fall is because they are looking at their feet. Looking towards the horizon stabilizes you.
That's not me.
That's not me.
It’s time to put your paddle in the water and start paddling. First, keep in mind that your top hand is going to provide the power and your bottom hand is going to help guide the stroke. Keeping the paddle’s angle facing forward/away from you, stick the entire end of the paddle into the water so that your top hand begins the stroke parallel to the water. Your hands should be as far apart as is comfortable. It may be tempting to hold your hands close together, but this will result in a weaker stroke. Also, keep your knees a little bent; this will help you generate power from your stronger back muscles than your weaker arm muscles (plus, keeping your knees straight will only help you pull yourself off the board). Follow through with the stroke as far as is comfortable. If you fall off, get back on and try bending your knees more; if you have a high center of gravity, falling off an SUP more is to be expected. Regarding steering, rowing on the right side will turn you towards the left and rowing on the left will turn you towards the right. You want to paddle on both sides to go straight, though currents and wind conditions often influence just how much you paddle on any given side. I’ve been in situations where I’ve been paddling on my right side due to the current only to turn around, have the wind change direction, and find myself still paddling continuously on the right side! You can also steer by dragging your paddle in the water, which will turn you toward the side you are dragging the paddle on. If the wind kicks up, as it often does in the afternoons, you may have to return to a kneeling position so that stronger winds don’t blow you out to sea. (You can also lie down and paddle with your hands in a dire situation.) If the waves get too bumpy when you are out on the water, try to remember that keeping the front of your board perpendicular to the waves is a much more stable option than being parallel to the waves.

As for the particulars when it comes to SUP-ing around Maui: Cove Beach at Kalama Beach Park in Kihei is almost a beginner’s paradise, where the shore break is small and there are two SUP rental companies directly across the street (Maui Wave Riders and The Surf Shack). There are some rocks near shore but nothing too bad unless you try to launch or come in at the boat ramp a little bit to the north of the beach itself. From Cove Beach you can either go north towards Maalaea Harbor (once you’ve gone out far enough to navigate the shallow coral) and see lots of turtles or south towards the Kam beaches where the surf tends to be smoother further out. On the west side of the island, Launlopoko Beach Park is considered a good place to launch from, though I think that if you head north from this location there is too much boat traffic and other water activities going on to suit my tastes. Further north, Kapalua Bay is way too small for all the SUP activity that goes on there and I consider it a safety hazard. Other areas you should avoid include Maalaea Harbor due boat traffic and the high winds that travel south between Haleakala and the West Maui Mountain. High winds are also a concern when it comes to La Perouse Bay. High winds and unpredictable surf are a concern for the north, north-eastern, and east shores of Maui as weather usually approaches the island from this direction. While there is no limit as to how far you should go out on the water, keep in mind that currents and wind patterns can change quickly. Until you’ve built up some experience, I would suggest staying under 700 yards off shore.
Takin' a break.
The wife, taking a break.
There is some “surf etiquette” to keep in mind while on the water. First, respect the wildlife; give turtles and whales plenty of room to maneuver (by law it is 100 yards for whales). Second, slow down, steer around, or stop for snorkelers; they cannot see you nearly as well as you can see them. Third, give surfers plenty of room. Frankly, they seem to hate paddleboarders for some reason, probably because many beginner SUP-ers try to ride their waves when finished for the day. Lastly, fast moving boats should slow down or give you a wide berth if they approach, but you surely cannot always count on this so prepare to be rocked in their wake.

When coming in for a “landing” as I call it, choose a non-rocky area where the waves are breaking the least. Paddling with the incoming waves can be fun as you get propelled forward quickly, but try to get off the board when you are in waist deep water and guide the board in for safety. And don’t get distracted by any big blue fish you see in the water when landing. Getting distracted during landing can result in getting run over by your board in knee deep water, as I quickly learned hurt my pride as much as my head. Pick up your board and carry it onto the beach as quickly as possible so that the shore break doesn’t make getting the board out of the water any tougher than it has to be. Overall, SUP is a little more challenging than kayaking but I find it more rewarding. I hope you do, too. See you in the water!