Hawai’i - 2001

What is there to say? Hawaii is one of the closest things to a tropical paradise that I have personally experienced. Countless films and television shows owe at least part of their backdrop to these famous islands. South Pacific was filmed at Kea Beach on the island of Kaua’i (Bali Hai). Jurassic Park has numerous shots from both Maui and Kaua’i. Fantasy Island made use of the Na Pali coastline and Wailua Falls in the opening scenes. Raiders of the Lost Ark. Gilligan's Island. Too many car commercials. Our trip started out with a visit to Maui for three 1/2 days, and then to Kaua’i for four 1/2 more. Three weeks would not have been enough to see everything on any of these islands, let alone several days. But, enough complaining - on with the story.

- Maui -

Day 1: Saturday
Upon landing in Maui, and were immediately greeted by the lovely folks from the travel agency and presented (in a rather businesslike manner) with a traditional Lei. Most think of these floral necklaces as fragrant, beautiful, and festive. True, they are all of these. But they're also a bit heavier than you would expect! (What irony that we both had sore necks after being Lei'd) After this initial shock, it was time to get our car and drive to the hotel in Wailea. Mind you, it was not just any hotel, but the Four Seasons. I know what you're thinking - yeah, a hotel is a hotel. I beg to differ. There is something about being completely at ease because everything - yes, everything - was taken care of. I was so at ease that I was almost worried! But, after picking my jaw up from the ground, we proceeded to relax the remainder of the day and sauntered along the beach. I'll say this - the shorline of New Jersey has a very long way to go to being this nice. After a nice dinner and early bed, day 1 was over.

Day 2: Sunday
One of the things that travel packages to Hawaii usually include is a free breakfast. Yep, it's free. But it's also a "breakfast briefing" where they go ahead and try to sell you a bunch of other activities on the island. So, we trekked the forty-some-odd miles up to Lahaina and managed to grab something that looked like scrambled eggs and bacon. I'm still not sure what it was. But, in the moment we decided to book a dinner cruise. (More on this little misadventure later).
Heading out, we decided to drive up the coast toward the north end of the island, and ended up traveling down roads that would supposedly void our car rental contract. Not that they were really all that bad or anything. Honest! We made it a bit past the northernmost point in the island before turning back. The Maui coastline is truly stunning. Volcanic rock, pounded by the surf, deep blue water, dark black and the occasional deep red rock, light colored sand, deep green vegetation, and sunny skies. Vibrant colors everywhere. One word: Wow.
A quick trip back down the coast, some lunch and a visit to the monster Banyan tree in Lahaina, and we were off on the cruise.  A word to the wise - book a cocktail cruise and dinner at a nice restaurant, but not a dinner cruise. Allow me to explain...
Step 1: Stand in line.
Step 2: Slowly make your way onto the ferry (the actual dinner cruise boat is too big to get into the harbor) and have your picture taken. Wonder why.
Step 3: Follow the cattle line onto the boat, into the main cabin where there's no ventilation.
Step 4: Wait. Step 5: Listen to the captain tell really bad jokes.
Step 6: You're finally out at the "main" boat. Cross the gangplank, and continue to be herded into the main cabin. Pick up a very weak Mai Tai and keep meandering to the top deck.
Step 7: Find your table.
Step 8: Realize that the chairs are bolted down, and have left you with enough room for a six-year-old.
Step 9: Enjoy the lovely sunset (it really is great) and look back at the deep red color of the sunset on the land. The sunset picture was my computer wallpaper for quite some time.
Step 10: Eat fairly average food, drink weak drinks.
Step 11: Hope you get lucky enough to have some great conversation. We had a great couple sit across from us that was from St. Loius. They were a blast!

Step 12: Breathe diesel fumes and hope the odor will wash out of the clothes.
Step 13: Get back on the very hot shuttle.
Step 14: Listen to more horrible jokes.
Step 15: Get back to the dock, and realize that they're selling pictures of you for $20. Hope that nobody buys your picture and tries to blackmail you.
Step 16: Write about your experience and warn other would-be cruisers.
Drive home, Sleep.
Day 3: Monday
Interestingly enough, a friend of mine was out from California. We found out that they were going to be in Maui the same time we were, and coordinated to meet up with them.  We also found out that there is a kick-butt Luau on Maui for which they had managed to procure tickets. Aaah, the proverbial Hawaiian experience - a Luau.  After a day of shopping, eating, relaxing, and some uneventful snorkeling, we made our way back up to Lahaina for the Old Lahaina Luau.  What a great time!  Besides the fact that the drinks were actually made with the proper proportion of ingredients, everything about the evening seemed perfect. Once again, they let you in and take a picture of you.  This time, it's actually a professional photographer.  Hmmm... things are shaping up.
We were seated in "traditional Hawaiian" seating - in other words, a low table and cushions, no chairs. The advantage here is that we were literally front row.  Aaaah, the ocean breeze. Uh, it's time for the pig to be dug up?  I never knew they grew pigs underground.  Actually, they roast the pigs in an underground oven throughout the day, and dig it up that night. When they say "falling off the bone", they aren't kidding! The pig is still wrapped in banana leaves in this picture.
 Ok, so the pig's now being prepared to be served, and we're all getting pretty hungry. But, there's still time, so we decided to admire the sunset - again. By now, the entertainment has started. It was getting pretty dark, and I had forgotten my flash. At least I managed a picture of two lovely ladies dancing the Hula (no, they're not cheerleaders). The Luau was a blast, and the dancers were utterly amazing. All things said, it was a great night. Back to the hotel, and some more sleep.
Day 4: Tuesday
The day to pack and fly over to Kaua’i. The folks at the dinner cruise gave us some good pointers on out-of-the-way spots to hit - we'll have to remember them.  We packed, checked out and headed up towards the airport. Realizing that we had more time, we hit the Eio needle. This is a nice spot that's up in on of the valleys of Wailuku, on the northern end of the island. The flight over to Kaua’i was uneventful, but provided for some nice aerial shots of Maui.

- Kaua’i -

Again, we were Lei'd upon our arrival (geez, I love these islands). We immediately discovered that besides being termed "The Garden Isle", Kaua’i is much slower and quieter than the other islands.  I probably spent a good half hour speaking with the car rental agent, an older man who gave me some great pointers on getting cheap eats and a taste of the local culture. Opting for a convertible, we finally left the airport and were on our way.  Being several hours since our last meal, we decided to stop for dinner at a local eatery the old man had recommended. I've never had Saimin, but soon found out that it's nothing more than noodles and soup, with various meats / vegetables / seasonings thrown in. Two specials, a BBQ chicken skewer and desert later, we were filled for a whopping $12. Gotta love the local joints.
On to Princeville. The drive was great - a full stomach, the wind in our hair, a nice setting sun. By time we reached the hotel, it was almost sunset. Just enough time to check in (with another Lei) and head upstairs for the end of the day. But talk about a view!

Day 5: Wednesday
We drove down the road some more, and found a nice little cafe that served breakfast - The Postcard Cafe. Unfortunately, they didn't want to serve us - or at least they claimed it was too late to do so.  Oh well, their loss. At least there's plenty to eat, as small as the island is. Where else can you get really (and I mean really) fresh Blackened Ahi Tuna sandwiches with the same ease as a Ham and Cheese? Eating aside, Kaua’i is also a great place to hike.  Just make sure you have good boots and plenty of water.  We decided to take a day hike on the Na Pali coast. It was a relaxing drive to Kee beach (Bali Hai), and then a not-so-relaxing hike in about two miles to Hanakapiai Beach. What they don't tell you is that it's over crazy rocks, tangled roots, and terrain that is almost never dry.
Complaining aside, after a nice workout we finally made it to the beach. There's a great waterfall just another two miles inland? Sure, why not!  So, we ate some passion fruit and headed out (or in, as the case may be).  It's only two miles, but those two miles are over and up some pretty challenging terrain. Up to that point I thought the first couple miles in was rough - was I ever mistaken. This was a trail on which one had to cling to vegetation so as not to slide off wet rocks and down a steep dropoff. Several stream crossings, and a good effort later, we finally made it to Hanakapiai falls.
All the sweat and hard work paid off as we entered the clearing and saw the towering waterfall cascading down the cliffs. Another couple had passed us on the trail, and was enjoying the cool mountain pool at the bast of the falls. It was truly unbelievable.  The only problem now was that we had to hike a tough four miles back to the trailhead before sunset and had just about two hours to do it.  Ok, not so bad. Except that we had to scramble over slippery rocks and steep rocky trails to get there.  Even after almost passing out from heat exhaustion, it was a great time.  A word to the wise - if you're hiking to the falls, leave in the morning, not the afternoon! A quick run back to the hotel (and a quick dash past the patrons holding their noses), a nice dinner at the Postcard Cafe (at last we ate there!), and sleep was a welcome friend.
Day 6: Thursday
Today we visited the lighthouse at Kilueae.  For the most part, it's the northernmost point on Kaua’i and what seems to be the northernmost point of the Hawaiian islands. The lighthouse itself has quite an interesting history, aside from falling into the category of "quaint."  It's actually been decommissioned and replaced with a rather ugly metal light that sits behind it. But, it still houses the largest clamshell Fresnel lens of it's type (or so the literature indicated).  There are flocks of local birds (if you're into birdwatching) that inhabit the cliffs over which the lighthouse watches.  It's fascinating to watch them ride the air currents that rise skyward from the small bay to the east.  I forgot what else we did that day besides eat.  Ah, yes - relax!  We headed down the road, and found a great eatery - Sushi Blues. You guessed it - Awesome Sushi and great Blues music.  I love this island.
Day 7: Friday
We decided to drive up to Wailea canyon.  Mark Twain is quoted as calling this the "Grand Canyon of the Pacific."  After seeing it, I can understand why.  On our way out there, we stopped to catch a glimpse of the falls that were used in the opening scenes of "Fantasy Island". They don't allow any hiking to the falls, as people have managed to get injured (and apparently killed) on the slippery rocks.
But, after realizing that there still is a great view of the water gushing over the rocks, it was worth the trip through the sugarcane fields to see them. After a few moments (and a few "no thank-you's" to the local peddlers) it was off to the canyon. Taking a cue from both the "Cruise couple" and the rental agent, we took the less-traveled road up the side of the canyon.   It was really difficult to drive an extremely windy road and take in every vista that seemed better than the one before.  There are some amazing vistas at the top, but one never knows if they'll be visible. At 3500 feet, you're right in the line of the clouds. And there are plenty of them. We arrived at the end of the road, and much to our dismay were almost immediately pelted with a serious downpour.
Five minutes later, the skies had cleared. I can now understand why this is called the wettest place in the world! There's a statistic that places the average rainfall up there at something around 460 to 480 inches a year! Pictures up here were tough to time. With a stiff wind coming up the valleys and rushing clouds over the peaks, a vista that's gorgeous one moment will be nothing more than a white blur seconds later. The picture at the right was absolutely amazing in person - this representation does not do it justice.
We made our way down, stopping for some more pictures, including one of the local chicken population. Don't ask me why I decided to take the picture - perhaps it was one of those "caught up in the moment" things.  We decided to continue driving around the island to the end of the road, and try to get to Polihale beach.  One thing I highly recommend is not to take a sports car on a dirt road in Hawaii.  Even if the road looks smooth enough.  A mile in and fifteen minutes later, we both were feeling a bit bruised - without even setting foot outside the car. We won't even mention the fact that the poor vehicle had bald tires and an extremely out-of-tune engine.  Well, after too much time and extreme patience (as well as a few scrapes on the undercarriage), we made it to the beach. It was beautiful. What they always forget to mention is that despite the beauty, you're sandblasted by the loose surface sand until you're actually at the water.  So, we're here - may as well put our feet in the water. Braving the impending sandstorm, we made it to the blue ocean and dipped our feet.  Was it worth it? I think so. However, turning the car around in very soft sand was a different story. You do the math: bald tires + low clearance + soft sand = stuck car.  Luckily, there was a van full of windsurfers that appeared as if on cue out of nowhere. Six guys later, we were back on somewhat solid roadway. As quickly as they appeared, they were gone with nothing more than a "Hang Loose!"  I really felt like it was an episode right out of "The Twilight Zone."  I'll tell you this much - that car will never be the same.
What's funny about Kaua’i is that it's a relatively small island.  However, the roads only go about 3/4 around the island, as they can't build a road on the unstable Na Pali coast. I hear they've tried, each time met with failure. Two hours later, we were back at the other end of the road (and the hotel), perhaps 15 or 20 miles away from the same Polihale beach from which we just came.
Friday nights, the Princeville hotel has a really wonderful seafood buffet. I've been to quite a few of these things in my time, and most are struggling to claim what would be considered decent food. Not so this evening. Between the fresh sushi (I think it was still twitching!), the excellent mixed seafood salads, and a dessert table that, well, let's put it this way - just looking at it I probably added a few inches to my waist - we were very happy. As a child, my mom used to make a really great blueberry cheese pie.  Mom, I hate to say it, but theirs was better.  Sleep was a very welcome friend that evening.
Day 8: Saturday
Not much of a sightseeing day compared to the rest of the days. The couple from the Maui cruise had told us about a neat little waterfall on Kaua’i that's off the beaten path and not on any of the tourist pamphlets. We never found it, but did manage to get a picture of the "Angel in the mountain". Unfortunately it was on a roll of film that was developed long after these pictures, and was never scanned.  After saying our farewells to the folks at Princeville (including the very helpful valet / surfer dude), we grabbed a hearty meal at another local (read cheap) eatery. After a week in paradise, it was time to return to reality.
I learned several things during our visit:
1. It is possible to live there for under $20 a day. You just have to camp or live out of a car - and there are quite a few that do.
2. The people are among the friendliest I've ever met - anywhere.
3. They have really funny names for things. Prime example: the official fish of Hawaii is the Humuhumunukunukuapua`a or Hawaiian Trigger Fish. At least they're funny until you start to be able to pronounce them - at which point they become downright scary.
4. Be sure to stretch your tongue before trying to pronounce Hawaiian words. It'll save you the pulled muscles.
5. It is possible to relax on the Hawaiian islands, even if you're as tightly wound as a Wall Street trader.
6. If you hike to Hanakapiai falls, stop in the clearing and have some fruit from the local guy there. There's no charge, but he does take donations. Besides the fruit, he gives away free advice on the local trails. It's worth at least a buck or two.
7. Learn at least one word - Mahalo.  Translated, it's "Thank You" or "gratitude".   Use it.
8. If you're ever bored on these little islands, it's your own darned fault.
9. Don't forget mosquito repellent if you're going to be on the tropical sides of any of the islands.  Trust me.
10. There truly is a God. How else such a beautiful place could exist defies explanation.
11. I want to go back.