Thursday, March 1, 2012


Executive summary by darmansjah

Mount Haleakala for daybreak, grinding tourist traffic was fast turning the road up the sacred peak into ungodly gridlock. Sunrise at the summit of this 3,000-meter shield volcano is reputed to be glorious, on an 1866 visit, Mark Twain described it as ‘the sublimest spectacle’ he ever saw. Hence the bumper-to-bumper crush of tourist vehicles. But flashing taillights and honking horns only reminded me of the reasons. I’d steered clear of the Hawaiian Islands all my life. Seven million visitors descend on America’s farthest-flung state each year, and as far as I’m concerned, no matter how physically stunning or meteorologically blessed or culturally endowed a place might be, paradise overrun by crowds is no paradise at all.

But time and curiosity had worn me down, and I eventually booked a flight to Maui. Even if it was the overdeveloped, over hyped honeymooner haven I’d long believed it to be, I figured I could surely ferret  out a bit of laid-back tranquility.

Just not on this mountain. deciding to skip the sunrise swarm, I swung into a parking lot to turn around. Instead, in the pale light I could just make out a faint path. Leaving the car, I scrabbled down the empty trail to a glass shelter offering views deep into the crater of the world’s largest dormant volcano. The sky shimmered from salmon to baby blue, and fleecy brown cinder cones materialized like mushrooms below the crater’s craggy rim. According to local legend, Maui-the Polynesian demigod for whom the island is named-lassoed the sun from atop Haleakala in order to lengthen the day. With views like this, I could understand the desire to stretch out the moment.

I watched in peace as the sun rose from the silvery Pacific, while somewhere in the ashen morning behind me, carloads of holiday makers streamed upward to share this same view with thousands of others. Perhaps finding Maui’s hidden allures would be simpler than I’d imagined: just watch the tourist cavalcade, and head in the other direction. The sun streamed up from the sea, and two nenes, or Hawaiian geese, broke my reverie when they waddled over to me and began squawking. It was the only kind of honking I could tolerate this early.

“The oldest, Biggest, and Most glamorous resorts on Maui are on the western coasts,” said one guidebook I consulted prior to my trip. On arrival, it counseled, tourist should make haste westward to either historic Lahaina or chichi Wailea. And so most of them do-which is why I headed east.

My first couple of nights I spent in the artistic enclave of Makawao, where I checked in to a converted 1920s plantation house that’s run as a bed-and-breakfast called the Hale Ho’opkia Inn. The great misconception about Hawaii is that it’s all beaches and bikinis separated by waterfall-festooned tropical rain forests. There’s certainly plenty of that. But at 480 meters above sea level, Makwao, a funky amalgamation of galleries and organic restaurants tucked in a highland cleft on the flanks of Haleakala National Park, is more Boulder, Colorado, that Baywatch. And with handmade quilts on the poster beds, claw foot tubs that beckon a lazy soak, and a lanai that opens onto a garden to catch breeze off the mountain, the Ho’opkia Inn was about as far from the big-box glitz of the coast as I could get.

Makawao’s proximity to Haleakala, and my first morning’s trip up the volcano, colored the rest of my stay on Maui-and not just int the pastels of dawn. On the return from sunrise, I marveled as much at the pristine ribbon of highway that wrapped the mountain like a cripsply packaged gift as the views. Downward I plunged, through                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                     as many eco-zones in 50-odd kilometers as you’d pass through on a trip from Canada to Mexico. Though I’m generally indifferent to driving, as I approached Hale Ho’okipa I found myself wishing for more road to blaze. “If you thought that was good,” said Cherie Attix, the inn’s owner, “just wait till you head out east.”

I set out on the Hana Highway the next day. But instead of hitting the road early as Cherie advised, I dindn’t get rolling until late afternoon. This left the secenic coastal route, normally clogged with day-trippers who speed th Hana town for lunch and rush back to their west-coast resorts in time for cocktail hour, virtually empty.

Did I say “highway?” Make that a 109-kilometer thread of winding, sinuous pavement accessorized with blind turns, nose –to-the-dashboard-steep climbs, roller-coaster descents, and single-lane stone bridges glistening with waterfall spray. Every once in a while, I’d come around a corner that opened to ocean vistas so precipitous as to be literally breathtaking. I loved it.

After such an epic journey, I expected more than the small cluster of buildings and quiet lanes I found in Hana. That’s not to say the place was disappointing; quite the contrary. Sustained by a sugar plantation in the 19th century and a cattle ranch after World War II, today the town offers little more than broad seeps of pastureland, lava sea cliffs, a fes black-sand beaches, and unfathomable, blessed peace.

I headed for the Travaasa Hana (until recently know as the Hotel Hana-Mui, one of Hawaii’s best-loved resorts), a scattering of sea side cottages that retain all the sophistication and swagger of the brand of travel they embodied when they opened in 1946. I fully expected to see Katharine Hepburn strolling across the manicured grounds as I headed to my room. Instead, I got a diminutive Hawaiian bellboy, who hefted my bag across the lawn. Once he had retreated, I parkedy my self on a private lanai overlooking the sea, splashed some Hendricks’s over a fes cubes of ice, and watched albatross boobing on the evening surf. At last, I’d reached the end of the rainbow.

Beware the Pi’lani Highway

That ‘s what everyone told me. A travel agent described the road, which takes you from Hana back to the more populated west half of Maui along the arid south coast, as too dangerous to drive. The guy at the ariport who rented me my car said I’d void my insurance if I went that way. Even Cherie cautioned that it ws long and rough and not to be undertaken lightly. Needless to say, I had to give it a shot.

Officially State Highway 31, this country byway has taken a thrasing over the years from flooding, lava flows, and, most recently, a 2006 earthquake. It’s slender as an eel and Brillo-pad rough in spots. But given that the quake damage was repaired and the loose cliffs braced with steel netting before th highway’s reopening in 2009, all the warnings seemed a bit histrionic.

Not far south of Hana is the area’s biggest attraction, Ohe’o Gulch and the Seven Sacred Pools. A quick look revealed nearly two dozen pools, most of them brimming like over stuffed lobster pots with sunburned tourists. When I couldn’t even find an explanation of why the pools were sacred (I suspected savvy marketing), I gave up and headed across the orad for the trail to Waimoku Falls.

Once again, the sideshow, in this cas the falls, made as much of an impression as the headline attraction. First came a rooty, roughshod overlook with a lagoon receding into a massive cave that made the sacred pools look like puddles. Next up was a monstrous banyan tree prbably 15 meters arround that begged to be climbed. And finally I passed through a Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon-style bamboo grove so dense and wide and profuse that I kept expecting wuxia warriors to come soaring down from the over story. I as satisfied before I even reached the falls, a 12-meter cascade down a sheer, inky-black lava cliff, and then even more amazed to find that I had them virtually to myself. Everyone else was apparently getting consecrated with a roadside swim back at Ohea’o Gulch.

the tortuois kahekili highway past beautiful coastal scenery including the tinny seaside village of kahaikkuloa

As with the best trips, more memorable than all the landmarks were the unscripted moments. At Laulima Farms, an organic garden with a rickety fruit stand and smoothie shop off the front, I churned my own ginger coconut shake by pedaling a rusty bike the owners had rigged up to the blender. To my query about what was in the cookies on the counter, the shopkeeper responded simply, “Cane sugar, carob, and lots of love.” How could I resist? At the Kaupo General Store, a dilapidated wood structure brimming with antique clocks and colored glass bottles, I bought a cream soda and sat watching the sea as the occasional tourst rolled past. And near Keokea at the end of the day’s drive, I pulled over at a hawker stand and was accosted by a feisty old lady with leathery skin and a floppy straw hat selling banana bread.

 silent as the grove, thick stand of bamboo tower above the trail of waimoku falls

“It;s Candace by day, Candy by night,” seh said by way of introduction, then set about filling me in on the local scene. Those goats over there in the tree were “moofalongs”-as in, move along, you pesky varmint-in local parlance. Up the hill was Oprah Winfrey’s 24-hectare ranch-“We always know when she’s here because of the helicopter,” Candace said, crinkling her face up in there-goes-the-neighborhood disgust. And as for the “dangerous” road I’d just driven. “Just bunk to scare away the traffic,” she tells me. “Would you want that beautiful road full of cars?”

waimoku falls

I catted with Candace for nearly an hour, but when dusk began to fall I opted not to barave her nocturnal alter-ego and set off for my hotel. And though I’d had no intention of buying banana bread, the charismatic old gal sent me off with two loaves at US$8 apiced. I had the sense that I wasn’t purchasing a snack so much as buying into the notion of Maui at its most authentic, and I’d have happily paid more.

If one thing was clear after a week, it was that even on a mass-market dream island like Maui, there’s plenty of tropical isolation if you’re eilling to skirt the edges of the tourist track. That lef me wondering why more people don’t seek it out, and, thinking it further through, if there was anything to be gained from the more scripted smorgasbord of luaus and all-inclusive beach resorts that most visitors experience. I decided I couldn’t head home without at least a taste of mainstream Maui.

 hana highway

So it was that, a few evening later, I drove across the wester half of the island that I’d been so fastidiously avoiding, headed for a slack-key guitar show at the Napili Kai Beach Resorts in touristy Lahaina. And while it was immediately clear that developers had long ago forgotten the proscription against building higher than the tallest coconut tree, I had to admit that the place was still slap-your-head beautiful. The balck rock of the West Maui Mountains glittered in the evening sun like obsidian ,with flaxen grasslands pouring down the slopes to a seemingly endless swath of Hollywood-worthy beaches.

When I arrived at the show to find the theater bursting with oversize American tourists in gaudy flower prints, I nearly walked out. But then Grammy-winning guitarist George Kahumoku came on stage, and the combination of his big, disarming smile and easygoing island tunes drew me in. I listened and beamed and, between numbers, noticed that most of the others in the audience looked as batific and satisfied as I felt. For a moment, I understood that Maui’s allure lay not neccesarily in any particular experience but in the very act of escape that hte island allows. For a lot of people, the slow pace and diversion from obligations back home are what make Hawaii so appealing. Paradise is a very personal thing, and that Maui could accommodate package tourists seeking buffets and beaches as well as my desire for small-town charm and rugged isolation suddenly made me like it all the more.

 lava rocks of maui's rugged northwest coast

At dawn the next morning, while all those concertgoers from the night before were either still asleep or gorging on big breakfasts at their big resorts, I drove onward along the Kahekili Highway, another narrow, tortous coastal road that tucked and dodged into yet still more magnificent country. Cerulean waves lapped at the shoreline, sunrise bathed dark cliffs an velvety hillsides in golden light, and I didn’t seee a single other car in either direction. Like Maui, the demigod of lore, I wished I could lasso the rising sun and make the moment last.

Getting There
Currently, the only direct flight between Souteast Asia and Hawaii is a thirce-weekly Manila-Honolulu service operated by Philipine Airlines ( Chinaeaster Airlines ( and Korean Air ( offer regular flights to the Hawaiian state capital from Shanghai and Seoul, respectively. From Honolulu, it’s a 30-minute hop to Maui’s main ariport in Kahului.

When To Go
Mid-april to mid-June and September to mid-December mark the off-season in Maui. Interms of cheaper rates and fever crowds. These are the best times to schedule a trip, they also happen to offer the island’s best weather.

Where to Stay
Hale Ho’okipa Inn 32 Pakani Place. Makawao: 1-808-572-6698;; doubles from US$a40
Travaasa Hana, 5031 Hana Hwy: 1-808-248-8211;; doubles from US$325

Four season resort Maui at Waiela, if you’re planning to spend night on the big-box resort side of Maui, do it here 3900 Wallea Alanui Dr. Wallea; 1-808-874-800;; doubles from US$465.

Where to Eat
Market Fresh Bistro, reserve a table for the weekly mulitcourse Farm Dinner at this slow-food eatery, 3620 Baldwin Ave. Makawao; 1-808-572-4877

Koiso Sushi Bar, this 16-seat raw bar serves the freshest fish on the island. 2395 s.Kihei Rd. Kihei; 1-808=875-8258

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