Hawaii travel report 2023 (a Japan away from Japan) [Part 3/5]

By | August 11, 2023


Crazy Road to Hana

Overall we had a pleasant experience on Maui. It was much more spacious and much less touristy than Oahu, and since we rented a car there it gave us great freedom to explore. One of the locals told me that there are some regulations that limit building new properties on Maui, which helps to explain why much of it is in a pretty natural state (and also why existing properties are so expensive there). Maui is truly a tropical paradise in many respects, but when we decided to visit the town of Hana we ran into a bit of an uncomfortable situation.

The road to Hana from the west is only a few miles long, but due to the large number of sharp twists and turns it was estimated by our GPS to take 1.5 hours (and I think due to making some stops it took us around two). There generally was good safety railing and trees to cover the fact there was a steep cliff below, so the roads themselves, if driven slowly enough, aren’t that much of a challenge. I will say that the constant turns at times felt like a roller coaster, so I would caution those who are sensitive to such conditions. But the bigger problem is twofold. One is that if you drive too slow (= the speed limit) people behind you will try to pass, even though most of the road is a “no-pass” zone. 

But the even bigger issue is the places where the road is too narrow to permit 2-way traffic and becomes a single lane, which means both directions compete for the same space. Often due to the curves it is hard to see ahead, so you have to drive slow enough (but not too slow) so you can see if a car is coming from the other direction. If it is, you have to stop early enough so you can let them drive by (there is a marker for this), or try to go ahead if you think you can make it. The problem becomes if the cars on the other side are going fast, and often don’t let you in, you can get stuck waiting for a bunch of people to pass by until you can finally squeeze in. There are no electric street lights or even stop signs. Worst case, if two cars get too close for either to get by one of them will have to back up, or (and this happened to us) you will end up trying to pass through an extremely narrow space where the plants on the side brushes up against your car.

Initially I thought these rude, impatient speed demons were just wealthy tourists, but after talking to a longtime local he said most of them are likely natives who are used to the roads and try to get by as fast as possible. 

You can partially avoid the stress on this road if you go very early, but even then you might run across a few cars. If you are not comfortable driving (aggressively) on curvy roads I would consider skipping this area on your trip, or consider taking a professionally-run tour. By the way, the sinks at the bathrooms in one of the rest stops said the water is not drinkable, which is probably the first time I have seen that spelled out in the US. It’s a bit strange since I felt things in Maui were generally pretty fresh and natural, but according to one local it is probably related to the pipes. Oddly, some of the natural parks we came across in this area said a reservation was required to visit, which is somewhat inconvenient. But one nice bonus to the road to Hana is the many visible waterfalls, and there is one or two where you can easily park to walk around and enjoy the view. We even came across a stray black cat near one of those areas, which was nice.

Except for the crazy road situation on the way there, we did have a nice time in Hana. For food we ate at a place where a few food trucks lived, and the food was tasty (though quite pricey). We also stopped by another ornate Japanese temple in the city of Paia, which has a few touristy shops including an ice cream store where I got a delicious ice cream milkshake.

Kahala Resort

One of the best experiences we had was eating at the restaurant inside the Kahala Resort, which is a somewhat famous place in Oahu. The restaurant had a wonderful-looking buffet with amazing variety, though we decided to order from the menu due to the insane price of $55. But all of the things we ordered from the menu were great. Personally, I got an unique dish involving blended Acai mixed with various berries, served inside of a pineapple. While it wasn’t the most filling, it was extremely delicious and worth the price of ~$15. 

Like many high-end places, the Kahala Resort was on the beach, but the real star of the show was the pool where a handful of dolphins swam around freely. I was told there were a total of seven dolphins there, and we were lucky to watch the dolphins come up for feeding time. Later that afternoon we saw a few families enter the water to play with the dolphins, which is apparently one paid service the hotel provides. The inside of the hotel was also quite glamorous, and there were a few stylish gift shops. The pretty waterfall outside is icing on the cake, though this is an element found commonly on some of the more expensive hotel grounds.

Had the lodging cost of Kahala not been over three times what we paid for a less-famous hotel, we might have considered staying there a few nights.

Historic Lahaina

I already mentioned the temple we visited in Lahaina, but overall Lahaina was one of the more enjoyable touristy areas we visited. There were a lot of historic places, like a famous hotel, and a dock with a bunch of boats available for various tours. After reading about it in our guide book, we were really looking forward to a well-known park where giant banyan trees grow all over. But unfortunately when we got there, we were greeted with giant “no climbing” signs, destroying my son’s hopes of climbing on the trees. Apparently the signs were recently put up more to protect the trees (which themselves are quite historical) as opposed to preventing people from getting hurt.

My son had some delicious shaved ice at a multi-storied food court that had koi fish swimming around in ponds, and I had a delightfully fresh acai shake, probably the best acai-based drink I ever had.

My favorite store was an art gallery by Andrew Shoemaker, a photographer who makes wonderful pictures of nature on a variety of topics. The most memorable was one of lava pouring out over the ocean. The pictures were printed on a type of metal using some special technique. I considered buying something until I heard that they had no stock onsite and only would ship it (for free). This is good in a way, but I lost motivation to buy something there that I could order online any time.

Update: after writing this article, but before posting it, I learned that there was a terrible fire in Maui on Aug 9, a few days after we visited. There were many casualties, and it seems basically the entire city of Lahaina was destroyed by the fire, including the temple in Lahaina that I discussed in part 2 of this series. I think the Banyan trees were also mostly burned down, but perhaps may live on in some way. My prayers go out to those affected, and I wish for a speedy recovery of the area. It feels like a strange form of fate that we were allowed to view the last days of such a wonderful historic place.

(continued in Part 4)

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