Monday, February 25, 2019

On the Road Again, Hawaii: Part 4

Haleakala volcano summit at sunset (Photos by Bonnie Schupp)

From sea to summit,

the Island of Maui

was totally wowie!

Super start to a super visit

We flew from the Big Island to Maui on Super Bowl Sunday, and I wasn't expecting to see much of the big game -- especially since game time in Hawaii's time zone was in mid-afternoon.

Our first stop, for two nights, was a stay with fellow members of the international peace organization Servas, in which Bonnie and I have been members of the U.S. chapter for our nearly four decades together. Founded by idealists in 1949, and recognized by the United Nations, Servas International has some 15,000 member households in more than 100 nations and provides an organizational link for traveler members from across much of the planet to meet and stay for free with host members for a minimum of two nights. The goal is to foster friendships across borders and encourage peace on a personal basis... and allows for hosts to travel within their own countries as well.

Hawaii has just two host families, and only one of them was accepting visitors -- which in a popular tourist destination like Maui can overwhelm them with requests. So we felt fortunate to get an affirmative response from Barry and Renee, whose unusually-designed home is located on a hillside near the town of Kihei with a distant view of the Pacific Ocean. Barry built much of the structure, and they reside on its upper floor whose centerpiece is a huge round living room under a domed ceiling.

Renee arranged to meet us at a restaurant in the town of Haiku, where she was having lunch with a group of Friends (with a capital 'F') after their Sunday morning Quaker meeting. Barry was heading to what I anticipated as a small community arts center where the football game between the New England Patriots and Los Angeles Rams was to be shown on a large screen. We all headed there after lunch, and small it wasn't.
Halftime show, live

Barry was watching the game inside a large, and plush, air-conditioned movie theater, and I joined him while Bonnie and Renee headed to a center art gallery to view an exhibit. At halftime, I went outside to find them and encountered a crowd of hundreds seated at tables under an even-larger screen, and a Hawaiian band performing live music under the muted projection of the show from the football game venue in Atlanta. The outside crowd was a lot louder than the insiders during the second-half action.
A snippet of action

As the Patriots finally took command of the low-scoring game in the final minutes, Bonnie and I left ahead of the crowd to escape the packed parking lot and find our hosts' home about half an hour away.

 We spent part of the evening getting to know each other over a dinner of eggplant parmesan prepared by Renee, and shared on their deck overlooking the hillside of homes down to the Pacific. (Our hosts are vegetarians... but we endured just fine!) Retirees now, Renee and Barry first met two decades ago at the local university, where he was a counselor and she had been hired to teach literature. 
Renee and Barry

We made a quick drive to check out a monthly first-Sunday sunset celebration on a beach close to 10 miles away. We enjoyed our first Maui sunset from a wide strip of sand known as Big Beach, but never got to the continuing revel on the almost-adjoining Little Beach. We could hear the distant drumming, but getting there required a risky climb up a darkening dirt and lava rock path to reach the beach on the other side of a steep divide. Some folks were leaving, though, and as we walked back toward the parking area could not help but notice their throwback attire so reminiscent of the Hippie era  of the early 1970s.

Chirpers near the deck: Java sparrows and a lovebird
The next morning, we had more time to enjoy our surroundings -- the property of close to an acre full of tropical foliage and fruit trees, and the chirping of dozens of birds, mostly java sparrows, attracted by the bountiful feeders hanging next to the upper porch deck... barely out of reach of their interested cat and indifferent dog.  Gary and Renee used to live downstairs, and built the upper area for parents now gone. So the lower area is rented, and a separate cottage is home to their son, his partner and her young son.

 The parents had bought the property many years ago,  obviously a good investment. A neighboring house was on the market... its asking price recently reduced, but still more than $1.5 million.

Later in the day, we drove further south beyond Big Beach and past several pricey oceanfront resorts, to the end of oceanside Makena Road in Wailea, to check out the historic Keawala'i Congregational Church, built of lava stone and wood in 1856 -- which replaced a grass structure built two decades earlier.

The church was locked, but a gentleman doing paperwork in its office cottage -- the church music director -- opened its doors so we could get inside. The adjoining cemetery was fascinating -- many of the stones bearing photographs of the graves' occupants. Some of the remaining white blossoms of otherwise winter-bare plumeria trees had fluttered down and adorned the gravesites.

After photo session on the beach, a quickie near the church.
 A sign warns visitors that beach access is not allowed from the church grounds, but about 150 yards further at the end of the road  is a small, scenic public beach popular for weddings and romantic photo shoots... one of which had just ended.

Tricky drive at wildlife refuge
Kealia Pond National Wildlife Refuge, along the road between the airport and Kihei, attracted our interest. But the migratory season seemed to have ended, and there was more mud to see and trying to avoid in walking around its ponds and salt marshes than birds to admire. Even the narrow road looked tricky, but fortunately the water flowing across it was only about hubcap deep.

So many beaches, so little time... naturally, our next stop would be another, at Ho'okipa Beach State Park -- one we had passed the day before on the road to Haiku, where windsurfers play in the waves. But the best thing we found there was a couple of sunbathers near the end of the sand strip, a giant sea turtle and an endangered Hawaiian monk seal.
Sunbathers at Ho'okipa beach
The lifeguard on duty had put out signs saying the seal was not sick or dead, only sleeping, and not to disturb, and used yellow warning tape to cordon off a wide perimeter around the animals.

That evening, we joined Renee for a long sunset walk along the curving paths of a sprawling luxury oceanfront condo, and treated for a carryout dinner for us to bring home and share on our last night together.

Blowing in the (chilly) wind

We moved that Tuesday afternoon to the Maui Seaside Hotel a short distance from the airport, which served as a comfortable base camp for two days of exploration of Maui highlights -- with emphasis on the high.

We drove on Wednesday many miles up a switchback road, hoping, despite increasing cloudiness, to see sunset from the 10,025-foot summit of the long-dormant Haleakala volcano. Bonnie, thanks to the recommendation last year of our friend Kathleen Rutledge in northeastern Colorado, had brought along her bottle of chlorophyll concentrate -- drinking a dose of 18 drops in small bottle of water to improve respiration in the oxygen-thinner air at high altitudes.

About 8,500 feet up, at a roadside viewpoint, I took a cell phone picture of Bonnie standing almost level with the tops of fluffy white clouds. It is one thing to be flying at and above cloud tops in an airplane, but standing there seems magical. (And a little chilly -- and about to get chillier.)
Disclaimer: I took this one.

We reached the parking lot perhaps 50 feet below the summit of Haleakala about 5:30 p.m., nearly an hour before sunset. We had sweatshirts, and I had my all-weather Baltimore Business Journal jacket, but with temperatures dropping toward the mid-40s and a brisk breeze, they were not enough to stand near the summit's edge for long -- and Bonnie realized she had left her down vest in her suitcase. I was offering up my jacket, and to stay in the warm car while Bonnie took photos up top, when a couple from northern Virginia who had parked in the next space came to the rescue. The husband-wife team of serious amateur photographers had brought a car trunk full of camera equipment and sweatshirts, and had extra hoodies to lend.

Haleakala is most famous among photographers for pictures at sunrise, so much so that the National Park Service requires reservations to enter the gates in the early hours before 7 a.m. Our new friends had reservations for sunrise a week earlier and never went, their hopes dampened by an all-day rain. I had asked the ranger at the admission gate about the likelihood of actually seeing sunset, and she allowed as how the sun always sets. (But seeing it can still be subject to the whims of weather.) 

The Haleakala crater is enormous, larger than any we'd seen on the Big Island, with multiple lava cones that have fortunately behaved since about the year 1790.

View from the summit
Despite the wandering clouds, sunset up there turned out spectacularly fine. Photographers and gawkers lined the edge of the summit as the sun dropped to the horizon, and an orange-reddish glow commandeered the sky.

Then came the amusement -- one of the funniest moments witnessed on any of our journeys. Minutes after the 6:25 p.m. sunset, an airport cab SUV arrived at the parking lot, and about half a dozen Chinese tourists jumped out and ran up the summit path carrying cameras. I can only imagine the cab fare they paid for the winding, hours-long ride to the top, only to just miss the most dramatic moments. 

(Worth noting, there was a sunset up there nearly a week later that no one got to witness. A storm system blew across the Hawaiian islands, and access to the road up Haleakala was closed -- because of snow and ice. Hey, this is Hawaii!)

We drove slowly down the volcano mountain in deepening darkness, but there were plenty of taillights to lead the way after the curtains came down on the solar spectacle.

The Road to Hana... and beyond

 On our final full day in Maui, we took on the challenge of the Road to Hana. There's a reason the "road" is named along with the town" -- because it's more about getting there than being there.

I didn't count them all, having been busy steering our rented Nissan Sentra, but an online Maui tours site says the road's 52 miles has 617 hairpin curves and 59 one-lane bridges. And throughout the slow-speed drive (the limit is 25 mph, with cautions and slower speeds for the never-ending curves) are distractions like roadside waterfalls, ocean views, parks and trails... and vendors offering the likes of barbeque, rice and veggies served on a banana leaf, and marvelous loaves of banana bread.
Banana leaf of plenty

At a glance, you figure it's just 52 miles and you can make it there and back in a couple of hours. It took us six hours to reach Hana, and the tough decision on whether to head back the same way or continue around the back side of Haleakala -- a route that includes an eight-mile stretch of rugged dirt, gravel and choppy asphalt pavement. And even the good sections aren't all that good.

Rough road beyond Hana
So, of course we kept on going. As we've long observed on drives along rough (and even nonexistent) roads, "That's what rental cars are for." 

We got back to the seaside hotel well after dark, the adventure having taken a bit more than nine hours to complete. We missed lots of sights along the way... including hiking trails, some of them quite muddy -- and we missed finding the grave of Charles Lindbergh. (Have to wonder, when he visited here in life, to this place that brought him peace, whether he drove or flew.)

It was time to wash and dry a load of clothing in the hotel laundry room -- a bargain at $1.50 for each machine, although the job needed two wash loads and two rounds of the dryer -- and repack for a noontime hop to our third island of the journey.

Next chapter teaser: Almost blown away on Kauai


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