This is the one where the observing blog turns into the travel blog!
All my travelling went smoothly and I successfully managed to acquire my rental car without anyone seeming to doubt my capabilities as an adult, well, all except for the additional young drivers fee! I successfully navigated to my hostel in Lahaina, West Maui, although the traffic was somewhat similar to Leicester at rush hour.
It was funny to arrive to a dorm full of Germans! I seem to have met many here in Hawai’i! I had a little explore of Lahaina, it’s quite touristy but nice. There’s a huge banyan tree in the town centre, apparently it’s one tree but it looks like lots of biggish trees all tangled together. Beyond the banyan tree, the ABC stores begin as you walk parallel to the shore. The ABC store hasn’t made its way to Hilo yet, however they do exist on the more touristy, West side of Big Island, and are basically an executive tourist tat shop. Along the street were some other more authentic looking tat shops as well as an excessive amount of restaurants.
After I did my exploring, I went with a couple of others from the hostel to do a little bit of swimming and stand-up paddle boarding at the beach. It was lovely swimming and watching the sunset behind Lanai (a neighbouring island). On returning from the beach, we hung out in the kitchen, but I had a migraine which cut the evening short for me.
I was up at 5am the next day, with the rest of the keen beans, for a sunrise whale watching trip. I had high hopes for seeing at least one whale, after all, the advertised trip said whales guaranteed. They were not lying. We saw a plethora of whales. It was almost too easy!
As soon as the boat left the harbour you could see the spray from the whales exhaling. From a distance you could see the whales waving their fins above the water; they are actually waving to other whales! The whales come all the way down from the cold waters of Alaska to the warm waters of Hawai’i solely to breed and give birth. Luckily for me the best time to see whales is in February, the whales continuously arrive from November through to April but an individual whale only sticks around for about 3 to 6 weeks.
As the boat drew closer we saw the whale fluke, where the tail pops out of the water while the whale dives. The tail is so massive, just the act of lifting the tail is enough to propel the whale down into the depths. The ship’s naturalist was chatting about how this was a bitter sweet moment, seeing the tail but knowing the whale has dived and will be gone for at 10 minutes. Said whale interrupted her by breaching! The whales are about as big as a bus; I think it’s incredible how far they manage to jump out of the water!
The two whales we were watching continued to put on a great show, waving their fins and tails about loads and breaching every so often. As the sun rose, the morning light reflecting off the waving flippers looked really cool. I wanted to witness this experience through my own eyes, so I tried the picture taking strategy of just pointing the camera in the right direction and hoping for the best. By using continuous shooting mode, I was surprisingly successful at capturing some pretty fun pictures of the whales.
The boat drove over to check out a large group of about 7 whales, who appeared to be chasing a female. There’s actually nothing for the whales to eat at Hawai’i, so it’s a big deal for them to go chasing around. These chases go on for several hours, but unfortunately we couldn’t stick around all day and had to head back to shore.
Whale watching is definitely one of the coolest things I’ve done and a fantastic way to start the day!
Then I drove to East Maui to visit Haleakala national park. Maui is made up of two volcanoes, Haleakala being the larger of the two at 3055m. The drive up was easier than at Mauna Kea, with a tarmac road winding up the whole volcano – luxury! I parked up at the visitor centre near to the ridge of the crater that isn’t technically a crater. The crater wasn’t made in one big volcanic blast and was formed through weathering and erosion from ice, so it’s not what volcanologists would call a crater. After the erosion, there were a few later cinder cone eruptions which create the colourful landscape!
I realise that I’ve mentioned cinder cones a lot but not explained what they are. Towards the end of a volcanoes life in Hawai’i, it seems to stop producing the continuous eruption of lava but creates cinder cone eruptions. These eruptions involve explosions of volcanic bombs and pumice stones from an eruptive cone. Mauna Kea has many cinder cones, as does Haleakala, but Mauna Loa has all of this fun still to come. Since Mauna Kea and Haleakala are still dormant they could technically erupt at any time which is an interesting thing to muse about while observing in the small hours of the morning!
There’s loads of hiking you could do inside the Haleakala crater but I was only in the mood for a small walk, after all I was in holiday mode. It was awesome to have a small wander down into the crater to get a different perspective of the scale of the volcano. Then I drove the remaining distance to the summit of the volcano where there were impressive views of Big Island: Mauna Kea and Mauna Loa peeking out above the clouds. At the summit there were Silver Swords, which are endangered endemic Hawaiian plants. I haven’t seen so many at Mauna Kea so it was fun to see them at Haleakala, although I would like to know what they look like when they flower, apparently it’s impressive.
There were several view points on the drive down the volcano. My favourite was a car park, which edged onto what liked like nothing as the clouds crept up towards the view point, and on the opposite side the crater wall dropped away dramatically to reveal amazing views of the crater. It’s really fun to be above the clouds 🙂
The next morning I had a surf lesson with the Maui Surf Girls. I haven’t actually seen any huge waves in Hawai’i, which I’m disappointed about! I thought I’d have a chance of seeing the huge waves, as they get generated in the winter storms. But you have to be in the right place at the right time and thankfully for my lesson the waves were small enough for me to have fun! I managed to catch and wave and stand up myself! So I was pretty excited with this achievement! Surfing is so tiring though, it’s much easier in a kayak. Paddling back out to catch your next wave is exhausting but the thrill of riding the wave keeps drawing you out there. We were just chilling out back, waiting for another set to roll in, when we spotted a couple of whales. It was so awesome to be surfing AND see whales! Then they started waving their fins around and breaching, which was just too good to be true! Seeing the whales was definitely my favourite bit of this trip, but seeing them while suring is the icing on the cake 🙂
I stopped off for lunch in a harbour town called Ma’alaea to get some fish tacos that my surf instructor had recommended. They were super tasty, and after eating I headed to the shops to do some more present shopping. I continued driving South down to Makea state park, which contains several beautiful sandy beaches. The beach really big for Hawai’i and yellow sands, none of this coarse black sand or annoying sharp lava rocks! Black sand and lava rocks are all well and good when you have water shoes, less so when you manage to burn your feet on the black sand or cut your toes on the A’a! Its fun when it’s novel at the start but I prefer the friendly yellow sand, it made me surprisingly nostalgic for childhood holidays back home in the UK, except the sea here is way warmer than the Atlantic. I amused myself for a couple of hours with a combo of sunbathing and practising my mermaid skills by diving through the waves.
I finished off the day by driving the rest of the road south. I knew the road ended at some sort of A’a lava field but I didn’t know how far the road went or what to expect. The road narrowed to one lane and wound through the lava field, alongside the coast until finally reaching a car park where the road ends at La Perouse Bay. This is where the first Westerners set foot in Maui, the French explorer La Perouse and gang landed there in 1786. You can see the remains of the old settlement dotted around the lava field.
There was a trail leading from the car park down along the coast, I only meant to go a little way down but it was really beautiful, so I ended up going quite a way. I was trying to get a good picture of a tree for my boyfriend when I stood on some thorns. I was only wearing flip-flops so thought I had one stuck in my foot. A passer-by had a penknife which I briefly began stabbing my foot with until he pointed out that the thorns were stuck in my flip-flop and not in my foot. Awkward! I carried on regardless and the path moved up from the shore line to the A’a lava field. I was aware that the sun was setting and I wanted to get to somewhere that felt important enough to turn around at. Unfortunately as I was wearing flip-flops I managed to stub my toe on a rock. As I’ve mentioned before A’a lava is very sharp and so my toe was bleeding quite a lot. I had to walk about 10 minutes back to the sea to wash my foot and flip-flop! I guess the moral of the story here is pretty obvious but then I saw some goat chilling by the sea which made everything better again.
I managed to get back to the beach by the carpark just in time for sunset. It was a cracking sunset, with beautiful colours in the sky. If there’s lots of volcanic fod, known as vog, then the sunsets are particularly red. But vog is not so great for the lungs, so it’s best not to think too hard about it as you admire the sunset!
Once back at the hostel I went out for some dinner with a lady from Germany who was visiting Maui to learnt to kite surf. I had fish and chips, which obviously weren’t as good as from the chippies back home!
For my final morning in Maui I ate some yummy cakes from a bakery for breakfast and did some final present shopping. Then it was time to drive to the airport and go back to Hilo.
Such a fun but exhausting time in Maui 🙂 seeing the whales was without a doubt the best thing ever! 🙂