I promised all of you a trip report on my recent engagement in Maui, which I spent some time writing during my mileage run to Bahrain. This is going to be a long one, so I’m spreading it out. If you’re planning an upcoming trip to Hawaii, feel free to ask for more details and ideas.
- The Plan
- Outbound: SEA-SFO-OGG in United First Class
- Day 1: Check-in at the Hyatt Regency Maui
- Day 2: Visiting Old Lahaina
- Day 3: Proposal at Haleakala!
- Day 4: Road Trip around West Maui
- Day 5: Snorkeling at Molokini & the Drums of the Pacific Luau
- Return: OGG-SFO-SEA in United Economy Plus
- Turning a Proposal into a Miles and Points Bonanza!
We originally planned to go to Haleakala the day before, but exhaustion got the better of us. This time we were more prepared after recovering from our journey and going to bed (relatively) early. Normally the locals recommend getting there as early as 4 AM, which can mean getting up at 2 AM or earlier for a roughly 1.5 to 2-hour drive from Kaanapali. We ended up waking up around 3:30 and made it just fine, though I don’t remember exactly when we got there. There’s something to be said for visiting Maui in the winter when sunrise happens much later, though it does come up a little sooner at the top of the mountain than at the beach. Look up the current sunrise and plan to arrive an hour in advance. You can do this on Google just by searching for “Maui sunrise time.”
Park admission is $10, and there are restrooms at two visitors’ centers, one just after the entrance and another just before the peak another 10 miles further. Most people watch at this second visitors’ center or climb the rocks just above it. The actual peak requires some real dedication because it has a very small parking lot. When we arrived, the access road to the peak had been roped off and they were beginning to double-park cars even in the larger parking lot.
It is extremely cold up there when compared to the weather down at the beaches. The wind blows up the sides of the crater, it’s nighttime, and you’re 10,000 feet in the air. It was probably around 40 degrees. Not all that bad for someone who just came from Seattle in February, but even back home I wouldn’t sit on a rock for an hour in the cold. Fortunately the Hyatt had spare blankets in the closet, so we took one of those to wrap around us while we waited. Other than that we each wore jeans, a sweater, and a light jacket. There is no need to go berserk and bring your ski gear. (And just to point out, it’s not a real crater. Haleakala is really two mountain peaks that got pushed together.)
Megan and I spent most of the hour huddled together for warmth, at first watching the starts before they disappeared in 15 minutes and then munching on a granola bar I forgot I had in my coat pocket. There isn’t much to do while you wait for the sun to come up. I did take some photos as the light levels slowly increased, but you still can’t see the crater below. I’m not a master photographer, so I relied on the stellar electronics in my DSLR. (I’ll see if I can learn how to stitch together some of the panoramas I attempted.) Eventually there is enough light that you keep expecting the sun to peak above the clouds at any moment. It seemed to take forever, but maybe part of that was just my anxiety over what was coming next.
I’d only bought the ring a week or two before, and it wasn’t very hard to keep hidden in the apartment. However, I was less certain of my ability to keep it hidden during our flight and at the hotel. I made up some excuse about why my suitcase needed to be carried on even though we were checking our other bags, hoping that TSA wouldn’t find my bag suspicious enough to do a hand inspection. How do you explain to the security personnel that, no, it is not okay to open my bag?
There was really no plan. As I said, I was originally planning to go up to Haleakala yesterday, but I had always planned to give her the ring today since it was the third anniversary after we met. In retrospect it worked out well, and my coat also gave me a place to hide the rather bulky gift box (the ring was in a box, inside another box, making it a rather large cube).
I’m not one for ceremony, and if you’ve ever seen a rugged volcanic outcropping you know it isn’t exactly easy to sit on let alone kneel down, so when the sun finally did peak above horizon, I nudged her and said, “I’ve got another surprise for you,” handing her the box. Needless to say she was almost speechless but quickly unwrapped it so I could put it on her finger. 😀 So yeah, she said “yes.”
We’d chatted with the couple next to us earlier that morning, and they kindly volunteered to take a few pictures before we headed off to drive to the actual summit. There really isn’t much up there except some more silverswords and a view of the observatories (nicknamed “Science City,” which sounds awfully generic to someone who actually is a scientist). I was just glad my job was done, so I amused myself investigating the rare silversword plants before Megan finally dragged me back to the car and begon the long drive home.
Driving the Mountain
A word about traffic: Don’t be surprised if you get passed by cars on the way up. There are some very impatient people who think it’s apparently just fine to drive 45 mph up a winding road in pitch black. That said, don’t be a slowpoke. You can drive a reasonable speed and be just fine; I’ll tell you later about some much more terrifying roads in a later post. There are few turnoffs and no places to pass (not that that would be at all safe given the switchbacks and cliffs). The worst part is going downhill. We tried to give the bicyclists a head start so they’d be off the road already, but that didn’t work as planned. They are slow and eliminate any chance to pass going downhill. We were stuck behind one particular car that refused to pull over, with a line of 10 cars bumper to bumper behind him.
I don’t think I’d ever take the bike ride down Haleakala unless I really wanted to try something different. It’s expensive (upwards of $100), and you don’t actually ride very far. The buses take you a good ways down before letting you ride a couple miles and picking you up again. Most bicyclists I saw didn’t look particularly experienced, which made me worry about being held back by the group. Anyway, once we got back into town, we just had to endure the awful traffic in Kahului and the construction delays past Maalea. I made a screeching halt at a cool fruit stand with some crazy locals on our way, making sure I had at least some fun in the convertible that morning. Once we got back, we showered and went to breakfast (it was still only 10 AM) before heading to the pool, and later the beach, to lounge for a few hours.
Dinner at Lahaina Grill
That evening we headed back to Lahaina for dinner at Lahaina Grill, which had been recommended by Jing, our concierge at the Hyatt. Although not oceanfront, it’s near the water. But really, there’s nothing much to see anyway once the sun goes down, around 6-6:30 in the winter. The restaurant was compact and busy, but service was good. We had a particularly good waiter who told us about his trips around the island (we planned to drive around west Maui the next day) and also about some of his regular customers. Our original wine selection was sold out, so he recommended one produced by a Napa Valley family that visits Maui regularly.
I’m hesitant about how to review the Lahaina Grill. Everyone recommends it, but that’s because next to Mama’s Fish House on the other side of the island, there really aren’t many five-star dining experiences. I guess I was just hoping for a little bit more. The menu was creative and local, but maybe only 90% of the way toward earning the title “amazing.” On the other hand, you’re on an island and far away from a major urban center. This was as good as I should have expected, and it was one of the best meals I’ve ever had over several trips to Maui.
To end on a positive note, my entrée and dessert were the best dishes we had that evening. The fish was Hawaiian Opakapaka, a variety of pink snapper that is difficult to get and carefully regulated. It was light, flavorful, and perfectly cooked. It was a special, so your chances of getting it again are hit-and-miss, but the dessert, the Road to Hana, is a long-running favorite. It was a chocolate torte with a cookie “road” (that squiggle below) and a spun sugar “bridge.” While the decorations were more for amusement than taste, the torte itself was very good.