Island Time

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The plane landed in Maui after dark, and I drove across the island unable to see the scenery I’d come for. It felt slightly unsettling, like I was being led around by blindfold, to know I’d wake up in a world far away and vastly different from the damp chill I’d left behind in Seattle.

When the lights flipped on the next morning, the great wide hump of Haleakala rose above a ring of brown clouds, and the ocean sparkled beneath great, arching palm trees and chunks of black volcanic belch.

My week in Maui was the perfect mix of these two very different landscapes: the alluring sand and crashing waves, and the rainforests and high altitude of “up country,” on the slopes of Haleakala. My first order of business was to soak up some much-needed vitamin D on Charley Young Beach, near the house I rented in Kihei.

I’d read Kihei was the tourist epicenter of Maui, and the description wasn’t far off. I did expect high rise condos a la Gulf Shores or Destin, so that was a welcome difference. There was a cluster of t-shirt shops and over-priced restaurants that gave the place the air of Florida’s manicured commercialism–except, oh hey, the enormous hulking volcano in the backdrop. Still, I was happy to lounge on the beach before my sunset cocktail cruise, which I wrote about for Viator here.

The next day was an early start for a snorkeling trip to Molokini, an island that’s a half-sunken arc of a former volcanic vent. Now, it’s a coral reef and a favorite with snorkelers. I half-pictured myself getting finned in the face by clueless kids and bumbling land lubbers, but there was plenty of room to spread out and enjoy the reef without getting knocked into other swimmers. On the way back to the harbor, I gorged on pulled pork while keeping an eye out for sea turtles; we saw several.

Then, it was time to explore the rainforested creases of Iao Valley State Park, which protects the stunningly concave Iao Needle. Rain threatened up-valley, but just a few sprinkles fell on the hike I took into the forest. You can’t go too far into the valley here; it’s off limits because it’s a sacred spot for indigenous Hawaiians. While the valley looks like a tantalizing place to backpack for a few days, you get plenty of views and photo-ops on the hike.

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Next, it was off to Hana Road, the famed coastal highway that encircles East Maui and Haleakala. Waterfalls, coast views, crashing surf, and rainforest are the highlights here, though the road is busy and narrow. A few frustrating driving interactions took away from the experience a bit. But I did swim in the bracingly cold Seven Sacred Pools and hiked through a humid bamboo forest to a 400-foot waterfall, so I can’t complain too much.

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I’d read about sunrise on Haleakala’s 10,000-foot summit, but decided against a chilly, early morning drive to the top. Instead, I caught sunset after a hike into the crater’s big bowl. The crater slowly grew dark while the sun sank against a massive carpet of clouds. I sipped coffee from a thermos and peered off at the Big Island’s own volcanoes far in the hazy distance, thinking, “Next time.”

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