Day 4 – February 20, 2023, Monday (President’s Day)
So a lot of what happens on the islands revolves around the typical work week – as in, on the weekends, and holidays like today, the beaches will be crowded with locals and more shops in smaller towns will be closed. Knowing this, we had decided to drive the Highway to Hana today – save the beaches for the less crowded days!
We woke up at 5:30 am – sounds terrible, but we went to bed at 9 pm last night so that’s like 8+ hours of sleep! It was still dark out and we all snacked on yogurt or Belvitas and coffee. We have a feeling the staff here feels bad for us and our collection of grocery store food as they left even more coffee pods than normal next to our coffee makers.
We packed into the Jeep and off we went! We drove through Lahaina then to Kahului, where the airport is, then headed north and east, off to the Hana Highway! We did this 19 years ago, using “the blue book” – a guidebook that had not peaked in popularity quite yet and we are still questioning how we even found out about it. The blue book told us everything – which secret waterfalls and pools and attractions to go to, which to skip – on the entire island. It was super helpful for this highway though. Now the author has an app that has waypoints that are GPS connected and if you plug into your car, will just start up with a narration at various points. We really enjoyed this today!
Off we went – the Hana Highway is about 64 miles long, mostly 1 lane bridges and about 1.5 lanes wide (some parts 1 lane) and threads along the north and east coasts of Maui. It is stunning – waterfalls, foliage, tiny fruit stands, and isolated beaches. We had fun adventuring this last time and wanted to share with the kids. Note: this part of the island tends to be wet but holy smokes, we got drenched. It rained, it poured, it sprinkled, it was sometimes just foggy. At one point a large piece of fruit fell from a tree and hit our car. It was that kind of day.
Hana itself is a small town and every person who reviews the island says you should stay here sometime for few days. Clearly we haven’t done this, but it is a calming tropical overgrown collection of stores, and scattered houses everywhere. It is something else.
We continued on to an interesting sliver of Hamakelea National Park. This park includes the crater and mountain that tower above the island, but also extends down to the ocean in one sliver. We stopped here to see the Seven Sacred Pools and Wikimi*** Falls. (Note: we were convinced when we did this that we had not stopped for this last time, but apparently we did and have pictures from 2005 to prove it – but neither of us adults really remember this?!?).
They had a nice visitor center and of course, stamping station. Zoe was bribed into not complaining on the hike with the purchase of a small stuffed bird, and Matt happily purchased more magnets. Sarah and Noah and B eyeballed the clusters of people who seemed to be obsessively cleaning off their shoes. Perhaps we should have wondered why everyone was doing that….
We made sandwiches and ate chips and off we went! Plan was to hike to the Falls, a 4 mile round trip. Now, we set off on this journey and few things became evident:
- It was all uphill – or as Noah said “this is Avalanche Peak all over again”. Well, I mean, it is just all a giant mountain here, and we need to go up to see the waterfall…. He’s not wrong…
- The MUD. Oh for the love of all humanity, the mud. Those people at the visitor cleaning their shoes? The signs in the bathroom about not cleaning your feet in the sink that we thought were cultural? The sheer quantity of mud, more than we have ever seen? Yes, MUD.
- Zoe was done with us. She scampered so far in front of us, nimbly hopping from rock to rock to tree root on the muddy trail. She had no need for us. We only held her back.
- The pigs. Just when you thought the mud would take us out, we were wrong. It was going to be the feral pics. Mama and her piglets were here, and those sounds they made were clearly warning all of us. We all saw the piglet on the trail, and B said “those leaves moved – i bet the mom is back there”. Go B, he was right. None of us saw what he did.
- We adults were not 100% certain exactly what we were hiking to. I mean the trail clearly followed a bunch of cascading waterfalls and the river, and we knew there was a water fall at the end that was stunning, but were these the Seven Sacred Pools? Where were we? Where were the pools? Neither of us said anything until after we saw the beautiful waterfalls (like 5 or 6 of them, more than the 1, due to the high water conditions) in the valley and hiked all the way back. Note: the pools are down where the river meets the ocean and we did find them on a separate 0.5 mile trail loop that crushed Zoe’s spirit as she thought we were done hiking. But there was no frolicking in the pools. You would have died due to, you guessed it, all the rain.
We tromped back to the car, and then didn’t know what to do. We were all covered in mud. So was everyone. We tried in a fruitless effort to pour water over our legs and shoes. Haha! We all were wearing Keen sandals except Zoe – her shoes and socks were removed and feet washed and we just popped her in the car. The rest of us just waited until the mud dried and we got in the car.
Then we drove down a somewhat dicey stretch of road allll the way around the island for what felt like hours. We stopped only for pretty pictures.
We arrived back at the hotel around 6 pm or so and realized we had to walk through the lobby covered in mud carrying bags of trash. Sarah discretely threw some of it away outside the hotel entrance. We looked… wrecked. Everyone hit the shower and then realized the mud turns into a glue. The poor housekeepers. All the shoes are resting in the showers right now. It won’t come off them either. Zoe’s shoes were tossed. Sorry, Z.
Matt picked up more Maui root beer (so good!) and Round Top Pizza because we stopped caring, unfortunately. Zoe and B are watching basketball and bouldering on TV while the rest of us collapsed.
Day 5 – February 21, 2023, Tuesday
We have now fully sunk into the Hawaii mindset. But we still keep getting up obnoxiously early as we are Central Time Zone folk at heart. Ironically, by the time we are operating on Hawaii time, it will be time to leave.
Today we lallygagged around the hotel room for an hour or two until finally leaving at 8 am, in search of great waves and a beach and possibly boogie boarding. After getting very lost north of here (we found the very first Hawaii hotel we had ever stayed at though by accident when lost!), we finally arrived at DT Fleming beach park. This had been recommended by the guy at the surf shop Boss Frog’s as a good boogie boarding place, especially for families. Matt had noted on the beach safety webpage it was black flagged, but we drove up anyway.
Oh good god no. We strolled down to the beach and were glad we left our stuff in the car. Hell NO. The waves were kicking and no one (save the surfers) were allowed in the water. We saw experienced boogie boarders chatting with lifeguards and not getting in either. Eesh. We jetted out of there. Even we knew it was not safe.
We then decided, what the hell, let’s drive the hour down to Big Beach in South Maui. This is a beach that we adults found by accident 19 years ago and absolutely loved. It may be considered “the beach” on Maui – an almost mile long crescent of beautiful sand. Don’t listen to the TripAdvisor reviews, including the woman who broke her leg there in the surf one month ago. We are sure it is all true, we just don’t want to know about it.
We cruised down there and easily found a parking spot in the lot and grabbed our gear and headed in. Sarah had purchased a large hat to try and avoid any further sunburns. She is not winning that war. The waves were amazing and killer (haha literally) shore break. A woman told us no boards today and Matt talked to the lifeguard who said even with less high waves he doesn’t recommend this beach for boogey boarding. Upon further inspection, we suspect it is likely because the waves break so high and so close to shore and then it gets deep quickly – maybe boogie boarding is better at beaches with gradual descent into water that break further from shore, like Hapuna? Eh, we are just Wisconsinites, what do we know?
We plopped our stuff down, put on a million layers of mineral based sunscreen, then all ran into the water immediately washing it off. The waves! The sun! Everyone around us white and sunburned, screaming with joy at the huge waves! Beautiful aquamarine water. A sight to behold. We took frequent breaks, partially to hydrate and apply more sunscreen (Sarah only), partially to swat the birds away from our cooler (one bird ran away with a shrimp chip), and partially to take a break from being tenderized by the washing machine like waves. #1 beach for head and neck injuries, woo hoo!
After 3 hours, we were done for the day. We staggered out to the car and cruised slowly back, listening to our Maui guy’s guided driving tour, and eventually getting back to the hotel. Zoe REALLY wanted to go back in the water, so Noah and us two adults collapsed into the sand in front of our hotel, while B and Z played in the waves for another 30-60 minutes. We trotted upstairs just as a wedding set up next door – oh good, entertainment to watch from the balcony.
Matt ran out for more Coke and Mexican food truck food (YUM) and we settled in for the night. On the docket for tomorrow? Why, sunrise at the Crater in the National Park, anyone? Heck, yeah!
Day 6 – February 22, 2023, Wednesday
Nothing like a 3:30 am wake up call! Our goal was to be on the road to the crater by 4 am – takes 2 hours to get there and sunrise is at 6:52. Of note, clouds are a good thing when it comes to this as the sun seems to emerge from the clouds and the clouds refract all the colors, making this gorgeous. We had to buy tickets for this 2 months in advance – the ticket costs 1$ from the national park but give you admittance between 3 and 7 am.
The kids intermittently rested and argued on the long dark drive up to the mountain – Matt marveled at how little traffic there was at 4 am! We then processed in a scant line of cars to the booth, where a lady took our name but not our ID or electronic ticket, go figure. If you get there early enough, you get to park at the summit, but when that fills up, you park at the visitor center. The lady told us, you will be parking at the upper visitor center.
Well, it turned out to be a good thing. The pelting rains and horizontal sheets of moisture began shortly after the ranger booth. Matt told all of us “those are the clouds and soon we will be above them!” Bad news, it only got worse. We parked and there were rows of running cars – people were getting out and immediately soaked. At 6:30 am, we knew we had to go – we cowered behind a large rock with a group of other people, some wearing ponchos, everyone in their finest and warmest airplane wear. The temperature? 41 degrees. The wind? Had to be like 20-30 mph. The rain? Extremely cold. We shivered until 6:52 am and saw the sky briefly lighten behind all the rain and clouds, then ran back to the car. We reviewed as a family we will never speak of this again.
We did hang out for a bit then drive up to the summit. It may actually have been worse there weather wise, so we dodged a bullet. Matt ran up to the top and saw some beautiful colors when the sky opened up for approximately 20 seconds, then ran back down. We all looked at each other, then began down the mountain. Eesh.
We eventually stopped in Makawao at a Starbucks on the way down. The kids voted and the parents didn’t care any more.
We cruised back to the hotel, changed up, and proceeded out to the beach. It was 10 am and we were exhausted. The kids played in the waves while we baked on shore. The best part of today were larger than normal waves. B and Z were floating in the water happily and we spied a large shadow moving toward them. Matt pointed it out and Sarah reflexively yelled “kids, it is a shark!”. The woman and kid boogie boarding near B and Z totally heard her too (oops). It was actually a large sea turtle! Matt dashed into the water with his GoPro but he didn’t make it in time. You could watch the sea turtle move down the shoreline in the water, delighting swimmers and snorkelers.
Haggardly, we popped inside for some lunch and showered up, then made our way to Lahaina town. goal? Shopping – the kids wanted to buy presents for their friends. Other kid goal – shave ice. Mom goal – malasadas. All goals accomplished – Matt got us out of the hotel room, kids trolled a variety of tourist shops, buying things for friends, Matt and kids got shave ice, and Sarah got her precious malasadas from a shady appearing trailer food truck called Manuela’s Malasadas in a gas station lot and they were the BEST ever. We ate them in a parking lot and almost got hit by cars when we went to buy them. Worth it!
Back to the hotel for relaxing (we LOVE getting updates on school getting cancelled and the big storm, haha) and Matt picked up burgers from Sparky’s food truck for us adults. Us adults then went on a romantic sunset walk on the beach. We did try to spy on the luau (due to poor google reviews, there is no way we would pay the money, but Zoe REALLY wants to see those fire dancers) to see if able to watch from the beach, but alas, no.
One interesting thing – we saw that the moon here appeared tipped on its side. When we think of a crescent moon in Wisconsin, it is upright. Here it looked like a bowl or a smile. It is called a wet moon, and is seen usually between January and February in the tropics, and its name comes from Hawaiian history. It is called a wet moon as it looks like a bowl that can be filled with water, presumably from the rainy season here.
Day 7 – February 23, 2023, Thursday
Another day of sleeping in… to make up for the mountain sunrise disaster of yesterday, which we will never speak of again. We laid around, planning to hit a beach again today. In a stunning vote of 4-1, the family voted to go to Big Beach again. Noah: “Why would we take a chance on another beach when we know this beach will be great?” Sarah: “But the guidebook says Napili Kai is the beach with the most fun, and (blah blah no one was listening…)”. So off to Big Beach we went.
Just after we hit the highway, we got a text message: “Please call Feast at Lele”. Whoa. So yesterday, after Zoe professed for the 5th time in 5 days how much she really really wanted to go to a luau, we had checked into the luau at our hotel (not highly rated, not great food, etc) and then checked into the luau that we adults had gone to 19 years ago. It was booked full but we called them and got put onto a wait list. WELL. Guess who moved up in the world! (We are thanking the multiple mainland blizzards that probably caused some flight cancellations for this). We happily signed up to go tonight. Score!
We made our way to Big Beach and the waves were kicking, AGAIN. This time we had rented an umbrella so we wouldn’t fry as badly in the sun as last time. The beach had more people on it, our people: slightly sunburned clearly touristy people smiling and happily getting pummeled by the waves and paddling around. Beaches here have the happiest people. We played, ate snacks from our most excellent Safeway cooler, bobbed up and down in the water, and played in the sand. It was perfect. We motored away after 3 hours, which is about the amount of time our bodies can take in those waves and sun.
We headed back to the hotel and the boys washed up quickly then headed to Lahaina town to get Hawaiian shirts for the boys (Matt brought one). Sarah and Z tried to look at the hotel shops but they were too expensive, so the boys found a Hawaiian shirt for Z (who just laughed and said no when Sarah suggested a Hawaiian dress) and a dress for Sarah, that turned out to be so short she had to wear a skort under it. Apparently using FaceTime and holding the dress up to Braden in the store, who is only one inch shorter than Sarah, didn’t work out as well as planned length-wise.
We were getting ready and hanging out on the balcony in the hotel room, and we saw another sea turtle! It was shadowy and slowly swimming down the length of the beach. We saw a family excited and pointing at it, and then we saw it slowly swim within 3 feet of a couple hanging out in the waves that didn’t even notice it. Ms. Sea Turtle continued her slow journey down the shore until out of sight. Meanwhile, a humpback whale was blowing water from its blowhole in the distance. This really is a pretty amazing place.
Jumped in the car and encountered the most stressful part of the day: finding parking for the luau in Lahaina town. Every lot was full, Matt was insistent that the Jeep could fit into the underground parking ramp that had 6 foot clearance, Sarah was barking he absolutely could not, and by subtly cutting off an obnoxious Mercedes by doing a U-turn in the middle of the road, we did get some sweet street parking that was free. Done and done!
We received our leis after waiting in line and were brought to our table – this is a different kind of luau, and you are seated at individual tables and have food brought to you – 5 courses, each a different kind of Polynesian cuisine and you see dances relating to that cuisine. Hawaiian, New Zealand, Tahitian, and Samoan. The food was spectacular, the many drinks were delicious, the table service was excellent, and the kids got some wooden carvings from a man selling them. Sarah accidentally negotiated down the price by us not bringing enough cash, which she was proud of. Afterward, Noah was sent down into the parking ramp entrance and easily the clearance marker was at his jaw – he couldn’t even get into the ramp without ducking. Comparing him to the Jeep, there is NO WAY the Jeep could have fit into the ramp, just saying.
We came home and collapsed. What a perfect day!
Day 8-9 – February 24-25, 2023, Friday-Saturday
Writing this makes our trip seem really long, but this is really more the hellacious day of travel back to the Midwest associated with a trip to Hawaii. Lessons were learned.
We all slept in, with the door open and waves lapping at the beach. Ahhhh…. We will miss this when we return to our barren winter wonderland. We packed slowly, eating the last few Belvitas (hey, that box saved us money on breakfast all week AND gave us a protective container to pack fragile souvenirs in!).
The kids were supposed to work on their homework while we packed, but Zoe was insistent: we have to go downstairs and play all the resort lawn games. So Zoe and Sarah went downstairs first and rapidly Zoe instructed Sarah on the rules for all the games. Sarah tried googling them, but Zoe was insistent she had been watching people play them all week and she knew how, and told Sarah how. She wasn’t wrong… Bocce ball (or some type of lawn bowling?), shuffleboard, and bag toss were all played. Matt and the boys appeared on the 11th floor balcony at some point and then appeared downstairs too, and everyone played. Shuffleboard was really fun! Nothing like feeling like all the people staring down from the hotel are watching. Because that’s what we did all week.
We then slowly went back up (we will never get used to the fact that the easiest and fastest way from the beach and pool area is through the dining room and everyone does it) and finished packing. A beautiful rainbow was visible from our balcony and we all oohed and ahhed. We lugged everything downstairs and Matt settled the room bill, tipped the housekeepers, loaded up the jeep, and we were off!
This last day in Hawaii is always awkward. You have a car full of stuff so you cannot really leave it unattended so no hiking, you cannot be covered in sand for 8 hours of flying, and you need to fill at least 8 hours with stuff and time an arrival to the airport around supper timr. First we drove to Lahaina for more malasadas at the gas station food truck (oh man, these are just the best, although the guy working will only let people order 6 at a time max).
We then drove up the coast of west Maui toward the northern part of the island – it was beautiful! We saw the blowhole, which was entertaining. The best part of the pretty journey was not Julia’s banana bread (which was devoured) but rather the stranded super yacht on the rocks. Sarah had seen an article on /maui reddit about this – the evil charter yacht captain from Oahu and his family had hit rocks with their yacht a couple days ago after illegally mooring outside of Honolua Bay, which is a state/national protected marine area. Oh, guess whose yacht is now leaking oil all over? Guess who is super upset about it? Answer: everyone on Maui. We got to see the helicopters and police and their attempts to the drain the yacht of the fuel, and couldn’t believe that their were snorkelers at the beach nearby when this was going on. (side note: we 100% want to come back at snorkel at this beach, it looked beautiful).
By this point, the kids had made us turn off our downloaded app/tour guide (“Make Andrew stop!!!!”) and we did note his way of saying you missed a turn for an attraction (“So I guess you didn’t want to see the hidden black sand beach, and that’s fine. Whatever.”) was KIND of passive aggressive. We adults still enjoyed it!
We then slowly made our way back toward the airport in the terrible traffic we have come to know in Maui. Stopped at the Maui Ocean Center, which is an aquarium in ***. This was wonderful! We saw beautiful exhibits and a sea turtle feeding and presentation, and 3D movie on the humpback whales, which was really cool. All of us enjoyed this. Great gift shop too. Another rainbow appeared around this time. The universe is telling us to stay!
Everyone insisted they were hungry at this point despite the fact it was only 4 pm. So the kids got McDonalds (let’s not pretend that they ordered the local Spam and rice McDonald’s options, they ordered “their usual”). Us adults googled some place called “Tight Tacos” in an industrial district that was slightly shady and they were wonderful – Matt got the fish taco bowl and Sarah got shrimp tacos with a side of esquitos (??).
We then returned the rental car, changed in the bathroom into our “travel/Hakalea mountain clothes” and journeyed slowly into the airport. Always a depressing moment. Checked in, and checked out some gift shops, told the kids “no” to neck pillows (B lost his in the past) and then waited to sadly board our flight to Denver. We all minimally slept on the plane (dang, wish we had neck pillows) except for Noah and Braden who purposely stayed up. Then we had a terribly long 4 hour layover in Denver, complete with Caribou coffee, and snacks, and then boarded our plane to Madison. We disembarked and staggered to get our suitcases while Matt warmed up the car, then made our way to Culvers. Yes, tis true. We then journeyed home to the cold north to be greeted by a driveway completely filled with snow (no snowblower as Matt felt that he could fix it in the spring and banked on there being no more significant snow falls (hehe)), welcoming cats, and feeling so tired we couldn’t even stay up to enjoy ourselves one last night. haha! Another trip to Hawaii done – and totally worth the wait!