It always felt like everyone around me has been to Hawaii and raves about how amazing the islands are. Especially in California, it's as close as you can get to Hawaii from North America. My girlfriend and I finally decided to visit Hawaii and picked the island of Maui based on recommendations from friends.
We bought our plane tickets 4 weeks in advance for the President's Day and Valentine's Day long weekend and figured we'll find lodging when the time came closer to the trip. The following week we started to look at lodging only to find the island to be almost entirely booked, with the remaining available places costing over 400 USD a night. Panic quickly set in - this either was going to be the most expensive trip we've ever taken or we'll need to cancel the trip entirely.
During one of my lunches, I was complaining about our predicament and one of my friends suggested that we camp the trip. I felt like I was pulled out of a hole and became hopeful and excited again. I've done a few road trips where we camped the entire way so this is nothing new to me. However, this would be the first time my girlfriend experiences this kind of "vacation", if one can even call it a vacation. Thankfully, she was open to new experiences so we ended up booking 2 campsites, 1 cabin stay, and 1 glamping spot for our 8-night stay. When the day came, we packed up our tent and sleeping bags and hit the road.
The Road to Hana
The first two nights we glamped on a farm in Wailuku. We tried a lot of the host's fresh grown fruits and spent an excessive amount of time having fun cracking macadamia nuts. During the day, we did some short hikes around in Iao Valley and relaxed in the river streams. There was this one spot where one could lie under a small waterfall and get a back massage from the water. We also made it a mission to test out as many coffee shops as we can throughout the trip as we were told Hawaiian coffee is really.
The second morning, we left early and hit the road to Hana. Throughout the drive, we encountered many waterfalls and swimming pools. The GyPSy Guide provided interesting commentary and directions as to where to stop. As we drove deeper into Hana, it felt like the roads were slowly becoming narrower and narrower. Then, around halfway point of the drive, I hit a road hazard and punctured the tire. It was a tight blind turn and the oncoming car swerved into my lane to make their turn. To avoid a collision, I swerved a little to the right and got too close to the cliff and probably hit a rock. The good news is that I'm a terrible driver and I've gotten numerous flats throughout my life so I'm pretty good at changing tires. Just kidding, most of them are just from treacherous road conditions during road trips. That being said, this time around it was pretty difficult since the road wasn't even.
After this incident, we lost quite a bit of time and I had to drive fast to reach the campsite before sunset, or else we'll have a bad time setting up the tent in darkness. The worst part about this entire ordeal was that we needed to return to the airport the next day to exchange the car since there's no way we'd be able to drive the car out of Hana from the other side of the mountain on a donut.
We set up the tent and experienced our first night of camping. Needless to say, it was very hardcore. At night, it gets very windy and it felt like the tent was going to be blown straight into the ocean. Before camping in Maui, I was imagining relaxing nights where I can fall asleep to the peaceful sound of nature. But in reality, it was very loud and scary, which made it difficult to sleep. Peaceful would be the last word I use to describe it. Thankfully, I brought earplugs so we were able to block out the sound. The earplugs didn't block out the crippling fear that we'd get blown into the ocean though. To calm our minds and reduce the wind, I moved the car, benches, and beach chairs around our tent to act as windbreakers. Finally, we were able to sleep.
The following morning, we explored Hana and went all the way back to the airport to exchange the car. Nothing story-worthy happened that day, just standard touristy stuff.
On our way out of Hana, we took the roads on the backside of the mountain which were absolutely treacherous. Many parts of the road were single lane, unpaved, and right beside the mountain cliff dropping into the ocean. The scenery was incredible and was worth the struggle. It reminds of California Highway 1, except with much less drivable roads and more diverse views. I highly recommend driving this road if you're confident in your driving skills. However, many guides tell you not to drive this road because car rental companies have restrictions around driving there. But from personal experience, none of the big rental companies (ie, Hertz, Enterprise) have these types of restrictions.
The hike at Haleakala was one of the most incredible hikes I've ever done in my life. We started at the summit and hiked down into the crater. The landscape changes dramatically throughout the entire hike and it was a visual overload. Also, almost everyone that went to the summit just looked at the crater from the summit and didn't choose to hike. As a result, we saw maybe 10 people total the entire 6-hour hike.
During our descent to the crater floor, we had sweeping views of the various smaller volcanic craters. From our "plane's view" at the summit, we eventually reached a ground view of the crater floor, and it felt like we had landed on a different planet. The crater floor is extremely flat with patches of jagged volcanic rock littered everywhere. There is minimal life except for these bizarre-looking silver plants which could only be found in Haleakala crater system - the Haleakala Silversword. Apparently, these plants grow for years to bloom once and die forever, leaving a skeleton behind.
Guides online mention a hitchhiking spot that we can hike to instead of turn around and return by the same route. When we reached the turn-around point, we decided to test our luck with hitchhiking and hiked back up a different route. On this new route, we hiked through rain clouds and walked along the cliff for the ascent. We observed the landscape change from dry and desolate to wet and full of life, which felt like we came back to Earth.
By the time we reached the parking lot, my legs felt like jello and I could hardly walk. I had a strong sense of achievement since we had just completed a 14 mile, 2500ft elevation change hike in less than 6 hours. Then came the toughest part - finding a hitchhike back to the summit. It took us 20 mins to get picked up, but the fear of unable able to find a hitchhike made it feel like an eternity. That being said, I definitely think it was worth taking the alternate path despite the waiting in the cold under crippling anxiety. After hitchhiking myself, I can sympathize with hitchhikers and will try my best to stop for them.
Many guides recommend not visiting west Maui driving from the north side, and it's understandingly so. The roads are even more narrow than the roads to Hana with just as many, if not more, switchbacks. While driving to the Olivine Pools, there was this long stretch of single-lane right on a cliff that's connected by two switchbacks. Another car and I drove on this single lane at the same time and got stuck in the middle, which resulted in a giant backup of cars. It was extra scary for us because the cliff was our right side. To pass the incoming car, we were almost scraping the incoming car and the right wheels were inches away from the cliff. After we made it out, the cliff effectively became a stop sign for one car to go at a time.
Originally, we were planning on swimming in the Olivine Pools. Upon arrival, the winds were so strong it felt like we were getting blown off the cliff. There was also a plague documenting the death of an unfortunate traveler who got consumed by waves for swimming too close to the edge of the pool. Needless to say, we did not even attempt to swim.
The next day, we went swimming with turtles then whale watching. My initial expectations for these two events were admittedly quite low since I'm not a huge wildlife person. But I have say, swimming with turtles is really cool. The turtles were much bigger than I expected and were actually quite cute. It's definitely an experience worth trying out if the opportunity comes. As for whale watching, we were blessed with a curious whale who swam right up to our boat and circled around us. According to the guide, it's remarkably rare to be able to observe whales in such proximity. I always knew whales were big animals and even though I could imagine what they're like, the feeling of actually seeing such a huge animal move around was incredible and jaw-droppingly beautiful.
To conclude the day, we reserved an expensive Luau (~125 USD) for dinner. Luau is a traditional Hawaiian celebration involving feast, partying, and entertainment. I was mostly excited to see traditional Hawaiian dancing, but the Luau was much more than that. It was an entire cultural experience. Before the feast, there were multiple areas and events we could explore, learn, and experience about Hawaiian culture. Indeed "feast" is the perfect way to describe the dinner - there was a crazy variety of food made in excessive proportions, all of which are actually tasty. After dinner, we finally saw the highly anticipated dance performance which told a brief story of the history of Hawaii. The dance performance showcased many quirky dance moves that I've never seen before and was fun to watch.
In Maui, I've never seen so many happy people in my life. It didn't matter where we went, every local we met, whether the waitress or our hosts, they all seemed very genuinely happy and enjoying life. They say hospitality is engrained in Hawaiian culture, and it's definitely evident as I think I've received some of the best restaurant services in Maui (not including fine dining). Every Hawaiian we encountered was eager to share their culture, and everywhere we went we were greeted with smiles. It might just be a Maui thing though since my friends who visited Honolulu said people there are more similar to big city people.
Although the prices of restaurants in Maui was high, we never had any bad food during our stay. What I mean by that is I've never regretted spending money on food there. It felt like the variance for the tastiness of food is very minimal, everything is consistently really good. There's nothing that's mind-blowingly good, but there's also nothing average tasting or worse. Even random food trucks in the middle of towns had very tasty food.
But enough writing, it was an extremely memorable trip with lots of challenges throughout, especially in terms of driving and lodging. I've always believed a picture means a thousand words, enjoy the photos!