Sunday, December 17, 2017

Maui Christmas Day 5: Hippie Town, Abandoned School, Baldwin Beach, Iao Valley

Thursday, December 7, 2017

Thursday we had a full day planned and left early to see some sights in central Maui near the airport area and Kahului. Our first stop brought us to the hippie surf town of Paia.

Stupa in Paia

We did some shopping and I FINALLY found a store that sells local dog and pet supplies. Do you know how hard this was to find? I was searching literally the whole time we had been in Maui and we stumbled upon it by accident! I was so excited! I loaded up on some gifts for our pup friends and we enjoyed some local coffee at Paia Bay Coffee, which is a darling little establishment hidden off the main road where you feel like you are submerged in a private jungle. Clearly a place the locals frequent, you feel you are getting a real flavor for the town. I would have loved to post up with my laptop and just sit there writing for the afternoon.

But adventures were to be had! After our brief respite, we continued on our way, stopping to examine an abandoned mill before making our way to Old Maui High School. 

The school was the first coed high school on the island, opening in 1913 and abandoned since 1972. This didn’t particularly float Todd’s urban exploration boat, as it’s been abandoned for so long there are no artifacts left, just a gutted skeleton of buildings. But for me, a much less daring explorer, this was just the right pace. 

I couldn’t help but imagine attending school here. Visions of students carrying books and backpacks paraded past my eyes like ghosts as I walked the crumbling corridors. Despite being recessed down a long and lonely road now overgrown with vegetation, I imagined how hard it must be to focus on your studies with a view of the ocean from your classroom window.

With our exploring complete, we headed out to Baldwin Beach Park. 

I had read many reviews online marking this beach as one of the loveliest on the island, and one that locals prefer. I always love to get a feel for local culture instead of just tourist resort life, plus I’m always on the quest for the most perfect beaches (Blue Beach in Vieques, Puerto Rico, sets the bar exceptionally high). Despite a reputation for some seedy characters, the photos of the beach and local flavor were enough to entice me for the afternoon.

Baldwin Beach did not disappoint. If the waves hadn’t been so aggressive, this would have given Blue Beach a run for its money. The water is an unbelievable shade of turquoise with a huge stretch of gorgeous golden sand. There aren’t any amenities, but that makes it feel more like a local spot and less of a tourist attraction (no umbrellas for rent, even). There is a lifeguard and plenty of natural shade, and the beach itself has tons of room to spread out.

There were indeed a few questionable characters, especially loitering at the edge of the parking lot and perhaps completing some clandestine transactions near the restrooms, but I’m no stranger to unsavory characters and I never felt uncomfortable (I mean, no thanks on the heroin, but I didn’t feel like anyone was targeting me or anything, and they kept to themselves). Maybe don’t leave your belongings out of eyesight, but I wouldn’t do that even at our resort, so not an issue at all for me. If you've ever spent time in a big city like San Francisco or Seattle, this is pretty normal.

There were plenty of families enjoying the beach, some surfers and boogie boarders, and quite a few local dogs enjoying the waves. One dog in particular was especially fond of Frisbee, barking at his owner until she threw the disc into the ocean. He would dive right in, jumping with the waves like an old pro, swimming out to retrieve the toy and bring it back so proudly. The farther the better! Hours of visual entertainment here.

We spent our time down on the far end at the portion called Baby Beach, which is somewhat calmer as it is protected by a reef barrier. I’m not a swimmer, so I spent my time in the shallows of the waves, hunting for interesting shells and keeping an eye out for sea turtles. I hear they frequent this beach and visitors almost trip over them as they sun themselves on the sand, but no such luck for us.

Other bonuses to this beach include the large covered picnic area, complete with barbecues, plus multiple water spigots where you can rinse your feet, and one even set up with a hose to rinse sand off whatever else. The bathrooms aren’t the cleanest you’ve ever seen, but are on par with most public beaches I’ve been to (Stinson, Huntington, etc.) and have hooks in the stalls to make changing convenient.

Once we were cleaned up, we headed back towards Kapului to stop for an early dinner at the highly rated restaurant, Da Kitchen, where we enjoyed some truly tasty burgers. The meat was especially excellent, but the water they gave us was almost undrinkable; it tasted just like pool water.

Our last adventure of the day took us to Iao Valley National Park. We arrived an hour before closing so we hustled through to get different vantage points of the Iao Needle at sunset.

Settled between the mountain peaks in a tropical oasis, the paths are paved and easily accessible, with great views from a high bridge over the river as well as from a curated garden below, and a hut at the very top of the trail. 

Definitely easy to do within an hour, and we got some spectacular photos. Highly recommend as an activity, but bring some bug spray/long sleeves.

On the way back to the Westin, we stopped at Island Cream Co. for a dessert to cap off the day. They have their own patented recipe somewhere between ice cream and gelato, with some seriously amazing flavors. I could have tried them all! I ended up with a fruity palate of passion fruit and pineapple guava, while Todd went for the chocolate macadamia and coffee route. Another spot I would highly recommend! I could have gone back to this place every day and been in flavor heaven!

Saturday, December 16, 2017

Maui Christmas Day 4: Petroglyphs & Pies

Wednesday, December 6, 2017

Wednesday we spent another leisurely morning watching joggers and snorkelers from our balcony before heading out for some more adventuring. More prepared this time, I donned some athletic yoga pants and my new Maui Wine tank top with some SPF 100 sunscreen, and we went to Olowalu Cultural Preserve to see the petroglyphs carved into the rock wall, over 300 years old.

We had seen these previously on our last visit to Maui (and Todd even before that), but with his new camera equipment he wanted to get some new shots. This time, we did some exploratory hiking around the grounds (until we realized we were hiking on a path covered in dozens of bees!), discovering some great views of the mountains and some hidden picnic areas near the river. 

Check out the little dudes behind us!

It’s amazing to me that this attraction is so remote and hardly trafficked at all. It’s poorly marked, so it’s hard to find unless you know where you are going, and it's somewhat in the middle of nowhere. 

Dudes on the rocks behind me

Can you see the carving that looks like Dave??

I guess it’s a good thing so that the petroglyphs aren’t damaged—you can already see modern graffiti competing with the rock drawings of people and animals, but the art historian in me would love to see some kind of preservation tactics set up and even admission charged to help with preservation costs. Though there is something really primal in seeing them up close in nature, much how they would have been viewed at the time of their creation.

More dudes!

On the way out, we stopped to pick up some mini pies at the highly rated Leoda's Kitchen and Pie Shop. I highly recommend the award-winning banana cream pie, as well as the key lime.

These fish tails mark the way to the petroglyphs from the pie shop

I finally got to break in Orangina II in the pool that afternoon, enjoying more piña coladas poolside in my overpriced plastic drink tumbler bought in the resort gift shop to make transport to and from the room easier. (I vote they should supply these in all the rooms as standard procedure! Who wants to spend $22 on a plastic cup?!)

View from the lounge chair

This cup cost $22

We had a 6:00 PM reservation for dinner at Star Noodle, which is apparently the happening place to dine in the Lahaina area. Great views of the mountains and even the LDS church greeted us along the way.

Todd had accidentally booked our reservation for the following week, so it was a good thing we showed up early enough to snag seats at the bar before the restaurant completely filled up 15 minutes later! We enjoyed some tasty and hip tropical cocktails (the Prickly Pear is to die for) and some Asian fusion-type noodle dishes. Nothing like feeling super trendy eating at a restaurant where you literally don’t understand more than half of the items on the menu! But there were some excellent surprises in there. I highly recommend the steamed pork buns, which are nothing like the ones we typically get when out for dim sum, but are even better! They were almost like tasty little tacos, but with steamed buns for taco shells.

How do I look as a hula dancer?

The vacation gallery at our resort

After dinner, we went to downtown Lahaina to see the Banyan Tree all lit up in dazzling Christmas lights. Photos and videos do not do this experience justice. It was truly magical walking underneath the low branches with sparkling lights mingling with the dangling vines just above our heads.