Haleakala National Park Sunrise and Summit Hiking

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When I did my research in preparation for my Maui trip, one of the experiences that was considered a “must do” was watching the sun rise from the summit of Haleakala. I read breathless accounts of how beautiful and almost spiritual the viewing experience could be. Based on the fact that it can take a while to drive to the top of the summit, Mom and I elected to stay closer to the mountain by staying upcountry in the town of Makawao. The town of Kula is closer to the base of Haleakala, but it wasn’t THAT far away to add too much to the driving time.

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We were visiting in the spring, so sunrise was around 6 am and the drive from our hotel was projected to take about 60 minutes. So to leave enough time to drive up the mountain, get a parking spot and be waiting for the sun to peek over the horizon, we left our hotel around 4 am. The drive to the entrance of the national park was quick and isolated, but as we drove the long, dark, twisty road up to the summit, we saw more and more cars and there was a line of cars ahead of us. We figured there would be plenty of time to get to the summit to enjoy the pure darkness and stargaze a bit, and since it was a weekday in the spring and it wasn’t spring break, the crowds would be minimal. How wrong we were on both accounts.

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The highway up to the summit of Haleakala National Park is Highway 378, and it is really only 21 miles to the top of the summit, which doesn’t sound like it would take long at all. However, the road is a bit narrow in places (though it is a well paved road) and it is extremely twisty at points with very narrow shoulders winding around very steep drop offs. The effect is exacerbated by the inky darkness, so I slowed down a bit to make sure we didn’t drive off the mountain to our deaths. When we started the journey, it was so beautifully dark out. I mean, a pure darkness you just don’t see in cities, because there was no ambient light around, so all the stars just popped. I was hoping to get some time to enjoy it before sunrise, but there was a very long pre-dawn, and when we were about halfway to the summit, we saw it getting lighter. No, sunrise wasn’t happening earlier than we thought, but the sky was brightening up in preparation for sunrise.

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Then when we arrived at the upper visitor center, which is located between mile markers 20 and 21 (the summit itself is just past mile marker 21), we saw that the parking guards were directing us to park at the visitor’s center, because the summit parking lot was full already. As it was, the visitor center parking lot was stacked multiple cars deep and they were stuffing them into the bus lanes.

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There were still ample makeshift parking spaces left, but the crowd by the fence facing the crater and sunrise was packed to the gills. People were stacked up on rocks to get a higher vantage point. I walked around hoping to find an open spot that would afford a quality view, and was about to despair of finding one and settling for a blocked view behind a bunch of taller people, when Mom worked her magic. Amazingly enough, Mom is shorter than me and at times she takes advantage of the fact that she is a very short, sweet looking older lady to get what she needs. And what she needed this morning was a clear spot on the fence. So all Mom had to do to get us some good spots was politely ask some very tall gentlemen if we could stand in front of them. Since we are both so freaking short, their view wasn’t blocked in the slightest and we all got an amazing view to enjoy the sunrise.

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As I said before, this morning was an extremely long pre-dawn, so we watched the colors on the horizon shift from dark blue to lighter blue to red, pink, orange and then yellow. For the most part, the sky was clear, though there were some clouds that just added to the colorful scenery. When reading up on a Haleakala sunrise visit, one of the accounts I read said that how good the experience would be depended on if there were any clouds. Meaning that if there wasn’t a cloud in the sky, sunrise is pretty but not exactly awe inspiring. However, the addition of clouds makes for more of a majestic experience as the sunlight plays across the shapes and adds depth. So I was very glad to see that there were some nice clouds, but it wouldn’t block the view of the sunrise.

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Sunrise itself almost felt like a teasing experience, because it seemed like the sky was going to keep getting brighter and brighter, but no sun would emerge. However, our waiting was rewarded when the sun peeked over the horizon and shone across the clouds and the Haleakala crater. It was definitely worth the wait, the long drive and the hideously early wake up time to experience. We stood there taking it all in and capturing it with photos until the sun rose high enough that the light was basically bright and not as colorful.

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At that point, crowds started dispersing, but we elected to stay and do a little bit of hiking. There are plenty of hiking opportunities on the mountain, though unless you are already acclimated to altitude, you probably want to take it a bit easy. The altitude around the upper visitor’s center is between 9,740 feet and we felt it immediately upon exiting the vehicle, along with the bracing cold of the spring morning. I have spent a fair amount of vacation time in the past at altitude, so I recognized the feelings of lightheadedness and near drunkenness. I typically adjust to altitude reasonably quickly, but even so, this is not an environment I want to run in or even walk too fast, because it is easy to feel lightheaded again and run out of breath. Since it was still just past 6 am and we had a light itinerary planned, there was no need to rush or anything. So Mom and I strolled around some of the trails to another vantage point about 1/2 mile away.

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At this point, Mom had reached her fill of summit hiking and just wanted to relax. However, I wanted to hike a bit down Sliding Sands Trail which descends into the Haleakala Crater and is located a short walk from the upper visitor’s center (there are clearly marked signs directing you where you need to go). The full trail is about four miles, but it descends 2,400 feet over the course of the trail. Now while that means descending the trail is reasonably easy (though a bit hard on your knees at times), you have to be mindful that you will be ascending that entire time, and hill climbing at altitude can be a physically taxing experience if you aren’t pretty physically fit.

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I knew I wasn’t going to do the entire trail, but I wanted to see some different views of the crater from inside rather than just overlooking it from a distance. I figured I would walk until I was ready to come back. The walk down wasn’t too bad. For the most part, the trail is well groomed and maintained. The initial descent was a switchback (keeping in mind I would have to come back up that way on the return) and then it straightens out. The surrounding view was for miles and distances a bit deceptive, but the different colors of the sand were just so entrancing. Every time part of me wondered if I should turn back now, I would spot another landmark in the distance and say I’ll walk to there and then turn around. Eventually I did decide to turn around after a nice stop at some natural pools and resting a bit to drink in the view and some water to gird me for the long, slow walk back to the trailhead.

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I eventually did make it back to the trailhead and Mom and I marveled one last time at the amazing view before us before deciding to head back down. On the way down, we stopped at some different pullouts and viewpoints just to get a different vantage. One particularly worthwhile stop was at Kalahaku Overlook. This stop is only possible when you are DESCENDING the road, since there is no turnoff when you are ascending the road. This spot is located a bit after mile marker 19 and provides more great mountain views after a short walk. It provided a very different, but extremely beautiful view of the crater and is well worth your time.

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We stopped at another viewpoint, the Leleiwi Lookout, which is located just after mile marker 17, and it had a short hike (about 1/2 mile round trip) out to a completely different view which was of western Maui, and you could see all the way to the ocean miles away. You can see a good chunk of the island and it puts it all into perspective.

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If you are visiting Maui, I HIGHLY recommend this as a day trip. I can personally attest to how nice the sunrises can be (though they obviously won’t be on rainy days), and I have heard the sunsets are really nice as well. I can only imagine how spectacular the stargazing is up there on clear nights. We had planned on going back up for stargazing, but the clouds started rolling in, and we didn’t want to take the chance of driving up all that way for nothing, and elected not to go. But stargazing from a Hawaiian mountaintop is very much on my list of remaining must-do activities at some point in my life.

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With that being said, there are a couple things to keep in mind. One of the big things is the drive time. If you are coming from upcountry, you need to budget AT LEAST 60 minutes to get to the top. Even more so if you are staying anywhere else. So that means if you want to see a sunrise, you will need to get up VERY early. Also keep in mind that this is a hugely popular activity, even in a supposed off season, so don’t expect you will be alone. Again, another reason you need to leave early. One to get there and two to get a parking spot and three is to get a clear viewing spot. The parking attendants at the upper visitor’s center were adept at dealing with the throng of traffic and managed to squeeze everybody into bus lanes. However, keep in mind that unless you are on the end, you are liable to blocked in for a period of time. The good news is that most of the people visiting for sunrise are there just for the sunrise, so they are likely to leave within 30 minutes of the sun rising. Since we planned on spending a couple more hours up top, we just had to wait for our car to be unblocked and then re-parked in a now available car parking spot. Also keep in mind that it is cold up there. I brought my fleece jacket, warm hat and gloves solely for this trip and they were definitely needed until the sun warmed me up.

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If you love sunrises and you love beautiful mountains, a trip to Haleakala National Park summit is not to be missed.

 

Haleakala National Park Hiking- ‘Ohe’o Gulch to Waimoku Falls (Pipiwai Trail)

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There are many pleasures to doing the Hana Highway as a two-day or more trip. I have detailed all the number of beautiful nature sights along the highway itself (the sheer number of waterfalls is spectacular, especially during the rainy season). However, there is another benefit, and that is skipping most of the tourist crush. Since most tourists do the Hana Highway as a day trip, that typically means they start early and stop mainly at the big sights or for a short time at each of the sites. That allows the multi-day trippers to start later in the morning so the sites are not as crowded when they arrive. It also allows the tourists who do stay overnight in Hana to reach Haleakala National Park before the crush of tourist vans later in the morning or early afternoon.

When most people hear “Haleakala National Park”, their thoughts assume it is just the mountain summit and immediate areas, but the park also extends from the mountain top down through the valley, the Kipahulu Gap, all the way to the ‘Ohe’o Gulch (also known as the Seven Sacred Pools), which is an absolutely gorgeous series of small waterfalls.

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The day we went out to this area, the day was a bit cloudy, but it was still warm and a bit humid, so the scenery was not as bright as it is during a bright, sunny day. But it still felt like a lush, tropical wonderland. Since we started early in the morning, all the day trippers were still tooling along the Hana Highway, so it was not as crowded as it would become later in the day. That meant Mom and I could enjoy the waterfalls in relative peace without having to elbow gaggles of tourists aside to get a good photo.

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After enjoying the ‘Ohe’o Gulch, I decided to hike up the Pipiwai Trail to see the Waimoku Falls. The trailhead for this hike is off the highway toward the ‘Ohe’o Bridge near mile marker 42, and there are well marked signs from the parking lot and ‘Ohe’o Gulch to get to the trailhead. The hike is only two miles from the starting point to the falls, so I decided to ditch the water bottle, which was kind of stupid on my part. While I can easily hike four miles with minimal water, this particular day was warm and a bit humid. While I didn’t come close to passing out from dehydration, I wish I had some cool water, because I was parched by the time I returned.

Since Mom and I had a full day planned, I didn’t want to take too much time ambling up the trail, so I set a fairly brisk pace for me, with a goal of less than an hour to get to the falls. The trail on the way to the falls is nearly all uphill and gains 650 feet in elevation, some of it steeper in parts than others, so I felt it a bit at the beginning. Like many hiking trails I’ve been on, the trail ascended rapidly in the beginning through a series of steps, but the trail did level off around the first mile. Haleakala National Park hiking-8

For the most part, the trail is not filled to the brim with spectacular nature. Yes, there are some very beautiful views on occasion, such as this very nice waterfall, Makahiku Falls which drops 200 feet (not obvious when looking at it from the overlook), that was located about 2/3 mile into the hike. When I was hiking the trail on this day, I didn’t see any lookout to get a very clear view of the entire waterfall, but I was able to get some reasonably good shots through the foliage.

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Continuing up the trail, I shortly arrived at a huge banyan tree just hanging out on the trail, which is perfect for photo ops. My guidebook detailed numerous side trips from this trail, but I didn’t see the trails for most of them and with my limited time, I wasn’t going to spend too much time hunting around for the trails.

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Soon after that, I came to a couple of bridges that afforded some really nice views of the stream and some small waterfalls, which makes for a nice stop for photos.

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After this, all of a sudden you find yourself transported to another land in the form of a thick bamboo forest. I’ve run into these type of forests in Japan, but not as much in my travels of Hawaii. I personally love bamboo forests, as the trees are just so odd looking but streamlined and beautiful. The ground during the bamboo forest was rather muddy, so it was very good that the trail is covered in a wooden boardwalk to keep your shoes clean and make it easy to walk on the trail.

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I was starting to wonder when I would reach the falls, and shortly after exiting the bamboo forest, I came to the end of the line. The trail ends at Waimoku Falls, which is a narrow 400-foot waterfall down the rock wall. There is a sign near the falls that advise against getting closer to the falls, which many people ignore to get right in the waterfall pool. I was feeling the walk up and wishing I had some water, so I just sat back with a wide view of the falls and took all the beauty in.

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Thanks to my brisk pace, it took me about 40 minutes to hike the two miles from the trailhead to the falls, which was faster than I had allotted for myself. I took plenty of time to catch my breath and take in the gorgeous view before deciding to head back down. The hike down was even quicker going down than up, because it was all downhill. If you are out in the Hana area, you really NEED to visit this part of Haleakala National Park (which most tourists do on their day trip, so they speed down the Hana Highway to get here before it gets dark), because the nature is just astounding. If you have the time (which I recommend you budget), the Pipiwai Trail is very much worth your time. It’s not THAT difficult, and all you need is a moderate level of fitness to see really beautiful waterfalls (assuming you haven’t overdosed on waterfalls already the time you get to the park). All in all, this was a great stop on your Maui extravaganza.

 

Journey to Hana and Back (All the Other Beautiful Nature)

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The absolutely gorgeous Hana Highway is most known for the abundance and variety of waterfalls, but there is also other beautiful nature to behold as well. One of the first stops out on the Hana Highway was at the Waikamoi Nature Trail. It is located between mile markers 9 and 10, and there are a couple nature loops. I did these walks myself, because it was raining and Mom decided to guard the car while I got wet and sort of muddy. It wasn’t pouring down rain, but there was sort of a constant drizzle. Both trails are pretty easy, though like I said, they were a bit muddy when I visited. However, at one point, there was a nice view of the green valley (a common theme at many of the stops along the Hana Highway).

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Thanks to my guide book, Maui Revealed, I knew that you could walk a bit from the main trail and come to a pretty waterfall. Yes, I did say that this post was going to be about everything but waterfalls, but just one more (since my Hana Highway waterfall post was just packed to the gills with them). I followed the directions in the book, where I took the longer trail out to a picnic area and then walked past the “End of Trail” sign. The book said to take the trail to the left and walk a few minutes, where it would lead to a stream an dam. I think I must have missed some critical step because I didn’t find myself where the book described. I took one path down a bit, but then it started getting super steep and slippery so I hiked back up and tried another wider path that was more like a road. I eventually did come to a nice view that overlooked the top of a waterfall, but I don’t think I was where I was supposed to be. However, the rain started picking up and we had many, many more stops along the way, so I turned back and walked to the car.

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We made a stop in Ke’anae, and the turnoff road is between mile markers 16 and 17. You pass a stand called Aunt Sandy’s selling pretty good banana bread and then come to the end of the road at the Ke’anae Peninsula, which opens up right onto the seas. In the past, there used to be a small village there, but thanks to a massive tsunami in 1946, all the buildings but the stone church were destroyed. However that church still remains standing to this day.

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In addition, the view of the sea is absolutely marvelous from this vantage point, and the day we were there, the sea was churning mightily with some powerful waves crashing against the young lava rocks.

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We made a brief stop at Wailua Valley State Wayside, which is just before mile marker 19. It is a short trip up the stairs, but at the top, you have a wide open view of the Ko’olau Gap with the lush green valley laid out before your eyes and a far off waterfall visible (at least at the time I visited, because it was raining).

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My next stop is probably the weirdest, and it is extremely easy to miss if you don’t keep your eyes out for it. But there is a small lava tube cave just off the right (mountain side) two turnouts past mile marker 23. But if you know what you are looking for, you will spot it and know you are in the right place.

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Yeah, on the face of it, it might seem stupid to crawl into a hole off the side of the road when you don’t know what’s down there. But Hawaii really isn’t filled with creatures that can kill you, so you are probably safe. I crawled into the cave (make sure to bring a flashlight, because it does get dark, and there are plenty of loose rocks to fall on if you aren’t paying attention). But inside, you can scramble through the 140 foot long cave and come to an opening in the forest where you can climb out and see inside. Overall, it is a different diversion and a nice break from all the waterfall beauty.

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Just a few miles before you reach the town of Hana, there is a very nice beach stop at Wai’anapanapa Park. The turnoff road for the park is located just after mile marker 32. There is ample parking there, and plenty of signs for things you might want to see. Most of our time was spent enjoying the coastal view and sort of frolicking on the gorgeous black sand beach (sort of frolicking, because the surf was pretty rough that day- even though there were a couple local surfers riding the waves out there).

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There is an easy trail that leads down to the  volcanic black sand beach, known as Pa’iloa Beach and right when you get down to the beach, there is a small sea arch that looks like a cave. You can walk into it and enjoy the sea view from a different angle.

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We spent some time just enjoying the texture of the beach and the beautiful black stones.

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We eventually left, because the tide was coming in and we were only a couple hours from sunset and we wanted to get to Hana and settle in at our inn before it got dark. But it was still amazing to witness the awesome power of the ocean crash into the beach. I have always had a thing for stormy beaches and crashing waves, and there was an abundance of both on this day.

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The town of Hana is small, but nice. There aren’t THAT  many hotels out there (since most tourists do the Hana Highway as a day trip), and most the hotel rooms are sort of inn rooms or Air BnB type rooms in someone’s house. Our particular inn room was very nice with an outdoor shower, which is one of my favorite things when visiting the tropics. We got up early the next morning to head out to Haleakala National Park for some hiking and waterfall viewing (subject of my next blog post), but we had a nice sunny morning to start the day in Hana.

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If you have the time, I would highly recommend staying overnight at Hana. It gives you that much more time to stop and see the numerous beautiful sights on the Hana Highway. It allows you to really enjoy the scenery rather than just zooming by it or just taking a minute, because you have a packed itinerary to complete in a day. It is also likely to help you avoid the crush of the tourists. Overall, I think taking your time on the Hana Highway will allow for a deeper traveling experience.

Hana Highway Journey to Paradise and Back (Nothing but Waterfalls Edition)

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When I was researching my trip to Maui, my guide book touted the Hana Highway as one of the “must do’s” on Maui. The 35 mile drive along Highway 360 is considered one of the most iconic drives in the world, since the windy, twisty road is like driving through a  remote tropical paradise, like Jurassic Park (assuming it is not overrun with tourists when you do the drive).

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A 35 mile one way drive to Hana doesn’t sound like that much, but the trip turns out to be longer than you might think. First off, this road is one of the curviest roads I have ever driven. Supposedly it has 600 turns, though I didn’t really keep count. What I do know is you will probably never go faster than 35 mph for very long, because you are always slowing down for a tight turn, and there are many, many one lane bridges that you have keep a watch out for oncoming traffic.

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Plus, this is not a road you want to speed. The drive to Hana is very much about the journey and not the destination, because while the drive to Hana (and beyond) is so beautiful, there is not anything exceptional in the village of Hana. There are so many stops of exquisite nature on the road to Hana that it seems like every few minutes, you will be stopping at something to admire and gawk.

Most people do the Hana Highway as a day trip, and it is entirely possible to do it in one day. However, know that unless you start very early and finish late, you will probably not be able to see everything (assuming you want to see as much as possible), so you will have to pick and choose what stops are the most important to you, or at the bare minimum, not allot much time at each stop. Since Mom and I weren’t in any hurry, we decided to make the trip out of Hana into a two day affair and spend the night at Hana. That allowed us to leave a bit later in the morning, thus letting any sort of tourist crush get ahead of us, and then take our time on the way out to see everything we wanted to see, knowing that we would have a full day to see anything we missed on the way back.

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The day we drove out to Hana was warm, but rather cloudy and rainy. Everything still looked like a lush, green, very wet paradise, but we had to balance it with taking advantage of the breaks in the rain, and in some case, going out to the views myself and taking all the pictures while Mom stayed in the nice, dry car. The nice thing about all the rain though, is that the waterfalls were full, and there were just so many waterfalls to stop and gush at.

We undoubtedly would have missed some critical stops along the highway if it was not for my trip making guide book, Maui Revealed. There are some signs for a few of the sights, but for many of them, you have to know what to look for, because they are easy to drive by and miss. The nice thing about this book is that all the sights are listed in relation to the highway mile markers, so you have a pretty good idea when something is coming up. The ONLY problem we ran into, is that some of the mile markers from 9-16 seemed to be missing, though maybe that problem has been corrected since we visited. That resulted in us having to occasionally guesstimate where to stop, but for the most part, we were able to figure it out.

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There are so many waterfalls to enjoy that honestly some of the waterfalls start blurring into the next, and it can get a bit difficult to keep track of where you are. If you really want to know which waterfall you are at to remind yourself later, it’s probably best to write down the photo number and the location. Every time you get out of the car, you can barely see any surrounding roads, so it just seems like you are alone in a lush, super green, and while we were there super wet paradise. When we were there, all the foliage around us was thick and green, broken up only by the white of waterfalls, the black of the seaside cliffs and the blue of the sea. And for the most part, we were on our own. I think it was because we were there in the off season, mid week, and it was raining, but we avoided the crush of tourists that are certainly possible during this drive.

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One of the first waterfall highlights we stopped at was Lower Puohokamoa Falls, just short of the 11 mile marker. There is a tiny pullout on the sea side of the road, and it is easy to miss (look for the telephone pole), so we had to turn around and go back. Right by the pole, there is a muddy trail (assuming it has been raining like it often is) that leads you down the hill. At first, I wondered if the short hike was worth it, but other persons I ran into said to keep going, because it is worth it. You will know when you are in the right place, because the foliage opens up and you see the falls amidst the greenery.

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What makes the Hana Highway such a fun drive is that a good chunk of the waterfalls are basically just off the roadway, so you can see them very easily from the road, or with just a short walk. The bad thing about all of this goodness, is that there are few very parking spots alongside the road, and the road is often narrow. You can often find a pullout for a car or two near the bridges, but other times, you might have to park a bit away from the waterfall and then walk along the road back to the site. That is when it is nice that most people (or at least most tourists) drive pretty slowly along the highway.

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One of the easily photographed waterfalls are the Upper Waikani Falls (sometimes called the Three Bears Falls), which are located between the 19 and 20 mile markers. These falls will vary fairly dramatically, depending on the time of year and the flow of water. This particular time, the water was flowing pretty well, so it all looked like one falls.

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Just short of the 21 mile marker, we drove by the Wailua Iki Falls. The falls viewable directly off the road are pretty, but the true majesty of the falls isn’t viewable until you walk (or drive) up a little further on the road toward Hana. The road twists a bit and rises a bit in altitude, and that vantage point shows the truly wondrous view of the lush valley and full falls above and below the road. That view is the title photo for this blog post.

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A quick and easy stop for some light and easy waterfall viewing is at Pua’a Ka’a State Park, located between mile markers 22 and 23. Unlike most stops along the Hana Highway, there is plenty of parking and even a bathroom. The waterfalls are small, but still pretty to enjoy for a bit.

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The Hana Highway doesn’t actually end in Hana. Highway 360 continues, though the mile markers shift and start counting down from mile marker 50 once you get past Hana. On the first day of our trip, we just went as far as Hana, because we were staying overnight. I am glad we made the choice to stay overnight, because it gave us the opportunity to just relax and take it all in. The last major waterfall we stopped at on the Hana Highway was Wailua Falls. We saw it the next morning as we were driving out to Haleakala National Park to see the sights there and do some hiking (which will be in another blog post). Wailua Falls is right off the road, right around mile marker 45 and is the bridge over Wailua Stream. This is a major stop on the highway, so there is a decent sized parking lot. However, since it is a popular stop, many tour vans and buses will stop there, so don’t be surprised if you see a crowd. Luckily they usually don’t stay there long and will disperse.

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If you love waterfalls, you should just adore the Hana Highway. There are just so many waterfalls in so many different configurations, and none of the waterfalls look the same.

 

Western Maui Driving Pleasures

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A while back, I was in Hawaii for work and I decided to take about a week’s vacation on the back end to travel to Maui. And it worked out that my mother also planned a trip to Maui for a week after I was going to leave, so she just backed up her flight to come several days early and we could pal around Maui together together before her friends arrived. Since I tend to be a combat traveler when I am on a limited time, I packed our 10 days with so much stuff that gave us a good overview of Maui (with the exception of southern Maui, since I knew she was going to be based out of there on her trip with her friends).

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The first stretch of our vacation was four days on Ka’anapali Beach. There are so many hotels on that stretch of the beach that it makes it very easy to pick a place to stay. Most of the hotels are right on the beach or very near the beach, which makes things very convenient. Ka’anapali Beach is centrally located in western Maui, so it is easily accessible to the larger town of Lahaina to the south and the more isolated stretch of land to the north. It is also a great place to walk along the long stretch of sandy beach, swim in the ocean and enjoy the sunsets.

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We used our hotel in western Maui as our base for the first few days, and we went ziplining, snorkeling out at Molokini Island and driving up the coast to the north. It is actually possible to drive all the way around the north of west Maui, though there is a stretch of one-lane road that is supposed to make the drive a bit nerve wracking. On our trip, we weren’t able to drive all the way around on our long drive thanks to traffic congestion around the village of Kahakuloa on the one lane road. However, we were able to complete the drive from other side of the island on our last day in Maui together.

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We didn’t spend too much time in the town of Lahaina, as there were plenty of restaurants around Ka’anapali Beach, but we did make one stop early morning for breakfast. This enabled us to find a decent parking spot (it is gets extremely crowded later in the day), and made our stop at Banyan Tree Park more pleasant as there were less people crowding the park (and thus getting into my picture frame).

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I knew the tree was big, but I didn’t appreciate just how big until I was standing in front of it. When you first look at it, you think the park is a collection of smaller banyan trees, but nope, it is one large tree that has spread its roots all around. It is quite the site to behold, even if you can’t climb it.

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For this particular drive, I pretty much followed the suggestions from the travel guide, Maui Revealed: The Ultimate Guidebook by Andrew Doughty, which was filled with lots of great tips on places to stop, both of larger interest and more niche interest. The book also provides some very good tips on directions and parking and the like, which is very helpful for some of the stops.

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After leaving our hotel, we drove north on Highway 30 and our first stop was Makaluna-puna Point that had the Dragon’s Teeth, located in the village of Kapalua. Parking was limited out there, but we were there early enough to get one. From the parking lot, it is only a short walk out to the point. The rock shapes out here are rather different than other rock formations on the island, due to the salt spray from the ocean.

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The day we were out there, it was fairly windy and not too crowded, but the site itself was rather entrancing to behold, just because it was another example of the power of nature.

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West Maui driving-6Just a short walk away from the point is the view to Oneloa Bay, but the most interesting thing was this sacred maze on the ground made out of rocks.

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Continuing the drive north, we stopped at Honolua Beach, because it was considered to be good for snorkeling. There is limited parking along the side of the road (again, good thing we were early), but the walk is short down to the beach. The view was pretty, and the water was pleasant on this sunny day, so we decided to do some snorkeling. You had to swim a bit ways from shore to get any decent snorkeling, but once you got into deeper water, there were some good sights out near some reefs. It certainly wasn’t the most amazing snorkeling, but it was fun, with a variety of fish.

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The drive north around the western part of Maui was definitely uncrowded when we did it, so we stopped plenty of times to enjoy the view of the cliffs and of the ocean.

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One of the views was of the Olivine Pools, which are these beautiful and swimmable tide pools (sort of, but not really) right near mile marker 16 on Highway 30. Mom and I decided not to venture down to the pools, as they certainly were not without people, and neither of us relished the idea of scrambling down the rock to get to them and then scrambling back up.

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Like I mentioned at the top of the blog post, our original intention was to drive all the way around the peninsula and then come back to our hotel. Alas it was not to be. The road turns one lane around the village of Kahakuloa, and apparently there was some sort of traffic congestion (we heard one of the tourist drivers had a panic attack from the narrow road and had to be coaxed to turn around, but I have no way of knowing if that was true) that formed a long line of cars at least a half mile long. Not wanting to wait, we turned around and went back to our hotel.

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However, on the last day of our trip, we were able to complete the circle by driving it from the eastern side and Wailuku. The first stop we made was at the Iao Valley, which is a short drive off the junction of highways 30 and 330. It is pretty easy to get to, though I warn that the parking lot is not THAT big (and costs $5) and we ended up having to park along the road and walk in.

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The stop isn’t an exceptionally long one at Iao Valley, but it is very attractive, even though it is the site of a tremendous amount of death during a war over three hundred years ago. Today, it is set up as a short walk around the valley, looking at the beautiful views and the abundant plant life. The scene reminded me of Kauai at times.

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After that stop, we still had some time to kill, so we decided to drive around to Kahakuloa village from the eastern side. We were tempted by the promise of delicious banana bread that was heavily touted in our guide book. Sure there are numerous banana bread stands in Maui, but this one called Julia’s was reputed to be the best. For the most part, the drive is pretty solitary, as there weren’t too many places to stop, and I was grateful for the lack of vehicle traffic in some part, as part of the road is rather narrow.

We very much enjoyed our time in western Maui for a few days and then prepared to head eastward out to Hana and upcountry to complete our trip. One of the best things to do in western Maui is just to leisurely drive around the peninsula, stopping every so often to admire the view, walk along the beach, or even go for some snorkeling in some of the more protected areas.

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Thrilling Roller Coasters and Halloween Haunts

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Fall is now in the air (though it’s still not cool enough here in Missouri), and that means my favorite time of the year in America. I love the blend of beautiful nature and all the Halloween fun. While I enjoy a wide variety of activities, one of my favorites is visiting amusement parks. For me, it’s the best time, because the temperature has dropped from the stifling heat and humidity of summer AND all the Halloween haunt activities are in full swing. Missouri has two really nice amusement parks, conveniently located on opposite ends of the state: Worlds of Fun in Kansas City and Six Flags over St. Louis.

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I’ve been to Worlds of Fun Halloween Haunt three times, and this was the first time I went to Six Flags in St. Louis. Unlike previous years, I decided to go very early in the season, so there would not be as many crowds as there would be later in the season. The first two times I went to Worlds of Fun, I went either on Halloween or a day after, so as you can imagine, the crowds were enormous and the lines long. I HATE waiting in lines, and even though I mitigate line waiting by purchasing fast passes for the haunts, it is still too long for my tastes. Having heard that earlier weekends were not as crowded, I decided to test that out by going to Worlds of Fun on their second operating weekend (which this year, put it at the last weekend in September) and the opening weekend at Six Flags, which was the first weekend in October. The only downside to going so early? Most of the fall foliage is not near peak. But hey, small price to pay for shorter lines.

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I always make a full day of it, because I want to get all my roller coaster riding fun during the day, and leave my evening for haunt experiences. And I have also seen that the lines for rides are MUCH shorter the first few hours after a park opens than later in the evening. So my typical plan of attack, at least when visiting Worlds of Fun, is to ride all the thrill rides first and then eat and be ready for Halloween fun after the sun sets.

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That was pretty much my plan this time around at Worlds of Fun. There was always plenty of people at the park during the day, but the lines are much, much shorter (except for the water raft ride), so I was able to get my adrenaline thrills done fairly early. So by the time night fell, I was ready to get my Halloween on. Just like last year, I purchased a Fright Pass and a Skeleton Key pass. Like I said, I hate waiting in line, so anything that can cut into that, I am usually willing to pay. It really does make a tremendous difference in the amount of line waiting, and I was able to see all of the Halloween haunts in only about three to four hours.

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I also went a bit further and purchased a Skeleton Key pass. That comes in the form of a glowing necklace you wear when going through the haunts, and at certain points of the attraction, you get pulled aside to do something different, something that is supposed to push your boundaries and gross you out. I was a bit wary about the Skeleton Key this year, because I had mixed experiences of fun last year, but since I think most of the mixed experience came from the crowds, I decided to give it a whirl. I enjoyed the Skeleton Key activities more this year. There are six of them at different haunts, and three of them I was able to do alone, and three of them were with small groups. I did prefer the solitary experiences more, especially the blackout maze at Lore of the Vampire, though the Asylum Island small group experience was probably my favorite overall, just because it was rather different.

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Having gone two years in a row, it is interesting to compare the haunts from the previous year. While some of them kept the same themes, they weren’t identical. Overall, my favorite was Asylum Island, followed by Blood on the Bayou, a new haunt for this year.

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I have been to Six Flags in Dallas and Atlanta, but had never made it to the other side of Missouri. I made it a long weekend in St. Louis by combining it with some other haunted houses in St. Louis. But I had one full day and night devoted to Six Flags. I had the same plan of attack for Six Flags. Get there right when it opens, get a Slasher Pass Express to cut down on line waiting (Six Flags does not have a Skeleton Key equivalent), load up on fun roller coasters before spending the evening at the Fright Fest sites. The difference is at Six Flags, I decided to purchase a Flash Pass to cut down on line waiting for the roller coasters. Since it was my first visit, I wanted to ride roller coasters during the day and night, and I know lines can get long at night. Now, personally I think the Flash Pass is a bit overpriced ($80 for the Platinum pass), but I can’t say I didn’t get my  money’s worth. I never waited more than 10 minutes for a ride, and I was able to ride when I want to. I imagine lines might be longer during the height of the summer season, but this day I was able to book a ride whenever I wanted and walk in immediately. Thanks to this, I was able to ride all the thrill rides at least twice, which was a hell of an adrenaline rush.

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Having been to Six Flags and Worlds of Fun in back to back weekends, it was interesting to compare the two. They do have similar thrill rides. I mean, similar setup and concept, though I have to give the edge to Six Flags.  I couldn’t get enough of their Batman ride, as it was a bit smoother and twistier than Worlds of Fun (called Patriot there). Their high speed wooden coasters were equally good, though I had forgotten how freaky it was riding it at night since I could not see where I was going. But for sheer WTFness, I have to give it up for Mr. Freeze’s Reverse Blast. I have never been on a roller coaster quite like this one, and it was a HELL of a ride. You ride the same track twice, but you start backward. It is not the standard roller coaster where you chug to the top and drop down. Nope, this one shoots you out of the ride dock at a high speed and you speed UP and twisting before stopping in a near vertical line and then dropping and doing the track all over again. Oooh yeah, that was one amazing adrenaline rush, and if I smoked cigarettes, I would have wanted one afterward. While super fun during the day, it was even more fun at night, when I couldn’t see where I was going.

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The Six Flags Halloween haunts were good, though my favorite one was Voided Vision, because that was basically a blackout maze I was allowed to wander through on my own since it was early in the evening. Like all of my other Halloween experiences, I was alone. One of my frustrations with these super popular attractions is that they send people through in large groups. I get that most people are there in large groups, and they want to get as many people through as possible, but it still sucks when I am with a group of people. Sure some groups are fun and get into the spirit of it, but some just talk way too much, or are clearly not having a good time. And going through in a strange group can be particularly disappointing for blackout mazes, so I was glad the attendants sent me through alone. Like usual, I get the round of compliments about how brave I am, but hey. I want to do Halloween stuff and I would rather do it alone than not at all.

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Overall, I had a LOT of fun at both Worlds of Fun and Six Flags. I got my thrill ride adrenaline rush and my Halloween season kicked off in grand fashion. If I am still living in the state of Missouri next October, I will definitely be back to both.

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Fiji Islands Beautiful Flora and Plants

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Fiji is located in the South Pacific, so it has a very tropical climate. Hot and sunny, but also plenty of rain in some spots (like Tavenui Island) to produce lush vegetation and bright, colorful flowers. These flowers just inspired me to want to turn them into watercolor and pastel paintings.

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Pineapples don’t grow on trees. They grow in bushes. And these are tiny, but sweet local pineapple.

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