Maui High, Maui Low
The "Valley Isle" has plenty of peaks: Secluded beaches, folksy villages, teeming rain forests, and a 10,023-foot-high volcano
Day 2: Kuau to Halea-kala
I've never windsurfed, but I figure Maui, a mecca for the sport, is the place to try it. I book a two-and-a-half-hour lesson from Hawaiian Island Surf & Sport, but there's no wind so they offer a mini surfing safari as an alternative.
I meet the guide and three others, all beginners, at Kahului's Kanaha Beach, adjacent to Kanaha Pond Wildlife Sanctuary, once a royal fishpond and now home to the rare Hawaiian stilt and Hawaiian coot. The surf is feeble and barely breaks 200 yards offshore, but at least the paddling is invigorating.
Afterward, Nancy and I cruise along through several sleepy upcountry communities, including Pukalani, where we'll sleep tonight. The windward landscape is a deep shade of green from frequent rain, with steep, rutted lava cliffs overshadowing the coast.
Though the main crop, pineapple, still dominates, the old canneries no longer process it. Many have been converted into shops and businesses. At Haiku Cannery, we eat at Colleen's Cannery Pizza & Sub, then drive deeper into the greenbelt where cattle, horses, and deer mix in pasture and rain forest. We're forced to drive slowly because of the narrow, winding road, but that gives us more time to enjoy several rainbows along the way.
While the tree fern protects us from sprinkling rain, Nancy questions the next morning's predawn drive to Haleakala's summit for the sunrise. I'm insistent on making my first trip up top, so instead she suggests that we start the 38-mile meandering drive in the early evening and catch the sunset.
We detour to the paniolo ("cowboy") town of Makawao, visiting Hui No`eau, the island's first art collective, dating to 1934. By the time we get to Komoda Bakery -- where locals wait for the doors to open at 7 a.m. -- all their famed cream puffs and malasadas (lightly fried dough filled with vanilla, coffee, chocolate, or passion fruit cream) are gone.
Another bummer: Our drab unit at Pukalani Studios costs us $100, plus an additional $75 cleaning fee for staying only one night!
It's 4 p.m. when we begin the drive up Haleakala, passing green pastures, views of sunny west-side beaches 30 miles away, floral gardens, and unattended flower stands, where customers are trusted to leave $1 in a rusty coffee can.
At the 6,500-foot level we emerge from dense cloud cover to a view of indigo skies and the black-lava summit. Except for two others, we're alone at the crater a few minutes later, where we watch shadows engulf the moon-like landscape. At the actual summit, the giant yellow orb transforms into shades of orange and red before disappearing behind gray clouds. We open a bottle of Maui pineapple wine to share with our new summit buddies.
Day 3: Pukalani to Lahaina
The morning is clear and crisp on our way to Tedeschi Vineyards, and there are about 10 cars and trucks outside Grandma's Coffee House in upcountry Keokea. Grandma began roasting and blending Maui organic coffee here in 1918; the original roaster can be seen through a viewing window. We step into the cottage-like dining room and owner Al Franco immediately greets us with a hello, though he seems to know everyone else by name.
After Grandma's we stop to watch a pueo (Hawaiian owl) gliding over a green pasture searching for a morning meal. With the windows down, I smell night-blooming jasmine. A short while later we're in Tedeschi Vineyards' tasting room, where the centerpiece is an 18-foot-long bar cut from the trunk of a single mango tree. The room was built in 1874, created specifically for the visit of Hawaii's reigning monarch, David Kalakaua, and Queen Kapiolani.
There's no direct road to Lahaina from here, so we backtrack through Kahului to get to the former whaling village turned tourist haven. With its bright-pink facade and sky-blue trim, pool, and tropical garden, the Old Lahaina House is hard to miss. It gets hot in Lahaina on the dry, leeward side of the island, and I'm happy our mountain-facing room has a ceiling fan, air-conditioning, and a nice cross-breeze.
Nancy and I head to the neighborhood beach, where small sailboats are moored in shallow water. Two men are trying to launch a large catamaran and I help, declining their invitation for a sail but asking if I can borrow their one-person kayak. A receding tide sucks the craft through a narrow channel in the reef and I paddle north, close to bustling Front Street and its oceanfront restaurants. The water is sparklingly clear and I spot yellow tang, a humuhumu nukunuku a`puaa trigger fish, and gaudy-colored moorish idols.
We walk to Lahaina for dinner at Cafe O'Lei, getting an ocean-view table on the deck just in time to see the sunset between Molokai and Lanai. We then explore the town's curio shops. While Nancy hits the galleries, I amuse myself in tourist stores, looking at T-shirts with the names of fictional yacht clubs and coconuts with painted scenes that people mail out as oversize postcards.