trip report: Maui, January 2017

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This is part 5 of our holiday break trip around the Pacific from December 2016 to January 2017 where we traveled to New Zealand and Maui. You can also to other parts below in the index.

I’ve personally been on Maui on three different trips. Obviously, it is a place I enjoy. This part of the trip report will be based on experiences from my parents and myself on this current trip, but will also feature information from my previous visits and other research I’ve done about Maui over the years. As such, the flow will be a little bit different.

trip report: Maui

general information

Maui was the first trip I took by myself during holiday break in 2010 and I couldn’t have asked for a better first solo trip.

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Maui is the tourist island of Hawai’i and it is big enough to allow for all different styles of travel. Of course, there are the big money resort based tourism that bring a lot of money to the island, but backpacking and more immersive options in the form of Airbnb (my referral link) are well established also. Regardless of the way you travel, Maui is a top destination for the view, the beaches, the people, and just the amazing island attitude.

solo travel

That first time I visited Maui was as a solo backpacker (not in the trekking sense). As all solo backpacking trips go, the hostel really determines the experience you’d have. Banana Bungalow is the place to go if you are a looking for the full experience of Maui. Their lodging and amenities are pretty typical in that they have reliable internet, decent sized kitchen, laundry facilities, and alright bunk beds, but the key benefit of the hostel is the free trips they provide. It is expected though to tip the drivers as they don’t get paid an extra for running the trips. Their trips hit all the major places to see and beaches to visit, places I’ll talk about later on in this trip report. With you on these trips are fellow backpackers from around the world which become new friends. During my week-long time at Banana Bungalow, I made a lot of friends that I eventually visited on my big solo trip in Europe.

The warning about Banana Bungalow is that it is a party hostel and will get a loud and it will be a party every night. But I’d still recommend it if you aren’t a party animal because the trips they run really makes it easy for beginning backpackers, just bring a good set of ear buds. My introverted brother spent a few nights there and enjoy the trips even though the social atmosphere might have been a little overwhelming for him.

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self paced travel

For those that would rather explore the island on their own pace, there are several other hostels and plenty of Airbnbs around. We’ve gone the Airbnb route the last two times around. Most hosts are more than willing to provide information of places to go or things to do. Many will also provide beach towels, snorkeling gear, and boogie boards.

For Airbnbs, Kihei is a nice centrally located place to be based out and not overly touristy. That’s where we stayed as a family this time around in a condominium for around $350 a night including fees. Lahaina is the big tourist town on the west side of the island

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and Paia is an awesome hippy town

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that’s the best launching point for the road to Hana and Haleakalā summit. There are housing that can be found around Kahului and Wailuku that has the easiest access to the airport. These areas are said by some online of being shadier, but from my experience it’s more lived in with much more of the local population. Some of which aren’t very well off due to the transitioning economic landscape. With the heavy local population in this area, there are some great local food like the many awesome bakeries, several food trucks, and traditional and fusion Hawai’ian resturants like Da Kitchen.

For transportation. the local government has a cheap bus system that goes to the major towns and some of the beaches. The cost is just US$2 each ride. You can also access some of the more popular areas by just hitch hiking, which is a widely-accepted practice on the island, though it is illegal. I’ve personally hitched multiple times on multiple islands without any issues.

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For some of the best places on Maui such as the road to Hana or from bottom to Haleakalā, you’ll probably be better off planning on having your own transportation. Which is why renting a car is probably the best bet to get around the island. Apperently there is more rental cars on Maui than the Big Island. The last 2 times we were on the island, we’ve had rental cars. I’d recommend using Autoslash since they track prices of rentals and will automatically re-book for you in case of cheaper prices.

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road to Hana

Meg and I arrived in Maui after our Air New Zealand flight from Auckland to Honolulu and a separate Hawaiian Airlines inter-island flight from HNL to Kahului, Maui (OGG). My parents and brother had already been on the island for a few days ahead of time traveling on their own. Each had their own trips on the road to Hana, my parents on their own and my brother with Banana Bungalow. I’ve done both previously so this section will highlight few of my favorite areas on the road based on my previous visits.

The road to Hana is a road that winds on the north coast of the east side of Maui under the Haleakalā mountain starting from the town of Paia all the way pass the lower portion of Haleakalā national Park.

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There are numerous beaches, waterfalls, and stops you can make along the way. The road is very narrow at times and filled with curves, which Meg’s stomach didn’t agree with.

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Many people try to do the drive in one day, going out in the morning and returning in the evening. Personally, there is too much to see with just one day. My recommendation would be to take it easy driving out and staying somewhere on the highway for a night and then return. Since many tourists rush the drive, many of the beaches can be quite empty and you may want to spend some time on them all for yourself. So my recommendation is 2 days at a minimum.

Housing is actually more difficult to find as there aren’t any big hotels. On Airbnb, you can find a few spot and they are going for more than $100 per night. The budget way is to camp at the Kipahulu Campground as part of Halealaka National Park on a first come bases and covered with your park fees, which is part of the NPS Annual Pass.

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Camping here will also allow you first access to 2 of the main attractions on the highway, Pools of ‘Ohe’o and Pīpīwai Trail.

trail information: Pīpīwai Trail

  • type: in and out
  • distance: 3.5 miles roundtrip
  • elevation change: 1617 ft. ascend and descend
  • time: 2 hours
  • location: Road to Hana at Mile Marker 42 – Haleakalā National Park, Kipahulu Coastal Area
  • Apparently the National Park offers a guided hike that can be reserved a week out.

The hike starts from the parking lot and cross the road to Hana before the steeps portion of the trail as it rises above the Pīpīwai stream until you reach a couple of outlook to a waterfall and the valley.

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A little further up is a large Banyan Tree.

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Continuing on, you cross the stream a couple more times with some nice views of a set of cascaded.

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Beyond the cascades, the trail cuts through a couple large bamboo forests.

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At the end of the trail is a the Waimoku Falls,

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where you can get your shower for the day if you camped the night before (I know, y’all were hoping for Meg to be in this picture instead).

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Though do mind the possibility of falling rocks.

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ratings (1-5)

  • view: 3. Pīpīwai Trail by itself is a nice hike through the jungle of Maui with refreshing waterfall at the end. There isn’t much in term of vistas on this hike, but the creek and the bamboo forest provides nice views along the way. It is one of several hikes available along the road to Hana, so worth the hike
  • difficulty: 2. The hardest uphill is right at the beginning. The more difficulty aspect of the hike the slipperiness of the trail, especially after the rain.
  • technical: 1. The trail is a straight shot.

Pools of ‘Ohe’o

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As of Jan 2017, the Pools of ‘Ohe’o are temporally closed from a mudslide. However, when it does open up, it’s a nice provides a nice post hike swimming hole a short distance from the parking lot at the Kipahulu Coastal Area of Haleakalā National Park, the same location as Pīpīwai trail. The small cascades can be scrambled up for a jump.

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But the rocks can be slippy, so caution is needed. From the pools there is a nice area along the coast where there is some good views of the rocks and cliff.

Koki Beach Park

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We found Koki Beach, mile marker 51, on accident. The year we were there, portion of the Hana Highway was closed and there was a detour that took us right next to this park. We were there a little bit before noon and had the place all to ourselves.

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Red Sand “Kaihalulu” Beach

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Red Sand Beach in the town of Hana was a highly-guarded secret by the locals that you only heard whispers about by tourists the first time I visited in 2011. I’d heard that if you ask the locals, they’d all play dumb. Banana Bungalow’s Road to Hana trip didn’t even have it on their itinerary at the time. However, the internet probably changed all that. It wasn’t too difficult to find if you know where to look. From the Hana Ball Park and

Community Center, it’s a short walk to the end of the street and down a slope to an area of tide pools.

Continue to the left, a slight uphill,

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and around a bluff to find the hidden red sand beach. Some people find the trail a little exposed, I don’t remember too much about that part. The beach itself is isolated with reported good snorkeling. There is also reports that some may treat clothing optional on it as well, though it wasn’t the case when we visited.

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Red Sand beach is the remains of a cinder cone so the sand is a bit rough.

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The views speak for themselves though with the waters protected by a set of lava rocks. There is also a cliff jumping point behind the first set of rocks that form a bay protect from the waves, but make sure you know exactly where I’m talking about before making the jump.

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As always, please pack out your trash though so others can enjoy this cool area.

Wai’anapanapa State Park

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Mostly known by the name Black Sand Beach, there a few other things to see here just off mile marker 32. There is a freshwater cave that just can jump in and navigate with a light.

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The park also has a couple cliff jumping spots. To take in the coast, there is a set of trails to see the coast, blow holes, and some of historical monuments.

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As for cheap lodging, the park does offer camping areas and cabins through reservations.

Ke’anae Peninsula

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The Ke’anae Peninsula is a nice rest stop on the first portion of the Hana Highway. The lava rock formations make for interesting wave crashes. There is an arboretum and a trail here through some eucalyptus trees. The banana bread stand here can provide snacks here also. Nothing too exciting, but nice to stretch the legs.

Paia

The start and usually end point of the Road to Hana is the hippy town of Paia. The streets here at lined with local small shops, unlike the ones you’ll find in the big tourist town of Lahiana. Also, there are low key bars and eateries. On this trip, one of our family dinners was at the Paia Fish Market.

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Fish was decent, but you sure got a lot of it. I ended up with the Fajitas, but the sauces might have covered up the fish too much, so I’d recommend something else.

other cool spots along the Road to Hana

The two times I’m driven the Hana Highway, I’ve only hit few of the many spots. Below are other stops along Hana Highway that I’ll look to explore in the future.

  • Twin Falls Trail: a short hike to another swimming pool with some falls, info and route map
  • Commando Hike: This a more of a scramble or as the Taiwanese would call water tracing than a hike. Here are a few different blogs describing it and a youtube video.
  • Secret Hike or “Huka to the Puka” Hike – This is a hidden the locals know with a night tide pool as described by this blog post. I think it’s the same author as this youtube video where he gives a little more detailed description of it in the comments. In the description, he said the place is located at the point west or left of ‘O’Opuola Point from the ariel view. “it’s about a mile past Commando Hike and you’ll have to park either just ahead or before the trailhead on the land sand of the road. Cross the road, crawl through a metal fence and soon you should see a junked up pick-up truck. That’s how you know you’re in the right place. Continue down toward the sea. After going down the ropes near the bottom, follow the rocky lava shore around to the left. That will lead you to the cave where you can swim across the channel if its not too rough. On the other side of the channel is where the puka (sea arch) is. Be mindful of the ocean. One rogue wave can wipe you out.” As he points out, the warning about this one is more of a off the beaten path hike and that you caution need to take great caution with the ocean swells. Here are a few Youtube clips about it.
  • Upper Makamaka’ole or 13 Crossings Trail: For more water falls and swimming holes, following the Upper Makamaka’ole seems to provide that. It’s also called 13 crossings because of the number of times the stream is crossed. Here are a few blog posts about it, a gps profile, and a youtube video.
  • Lower Makamaka’ole: hiking the other direction along the Makamaka’ole. Here are a few trip reports about it.

There are plenty to justify taking it slow on the road to Hana including hidden spots like this. For more known spots along the way, check out this page.

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Makena Beach State Park

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After meeting up with my parents and picking up my brother from the hostel, we have a few hours to kill before our Airbnb in Kihei was ready. I typically don’t hang out much on beaches, but Big Beach at Makena Beach State Park about 15 minutes away from Kihei is one of my favorite in the world. Over a ledge at the northwest end of the beach is the isolated Little Beach, where clothing is optional. They also have a party there every Sunday. A short distance to the southeast of Big beach is Keawanaku Beach, which apparently is a great place to go snorkeling. Something I’ll have to check out next time I’m there.

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Haleakalā National Park – summit area

The summit and crater of Haleakalā National Park is one of my favorite places in the world. I’ve been to Maui 3 times and I’ve hiked the same crater hike 3 times. The first time with Banana Bungalow,

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the second to show the awesomeness to Meg,

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and this last time to take my parents and brother.

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trail information: Keonehe’ehe’e (Sliding Sands) Trail to Halemau’u Trail

  • type: through
  • distance: 11.88 miles
  • elevation change: 2138 ft. ascend and 3654 ft. descend
  • time: 6 hrs – 4:45 moving, 1:15 stopped time
  • location: Haleakalā National Park, Summit Area2017_1_maui-55
  • There are several different iterations of this hike depending on how much you play around in the in the crater wilderness area. With a wilderness camping permit, you can actually backpack (as in trek) this area or all all the way from summit to the sea via the Kaupō Trail through the Kaupō Gap. The few trip reports I’ve seen goes from the sea to summit. Regardless of what backpacking you have planned, there are 3 cabins in the wilderness area that you can reserve to make your pack lighter.

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As with a through type of hike, setting up a shuttle is easiest way of doing it. However, having more than 1 car as a tourist makes it more difficult. Luckily, the national park services has you covered as they even created a hitchhiking pull out at the Halemau’u Trailhead, the end point of the hike. So, the way to run it is to drop everyone off at the summit parking lot and drive back down to leave your car at the Halemau’u Trailhead lot.

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From the lot, there is a market trail across the road to a hitchhiker pickup area. With the amount of traffic to the summit, it isn’t difficult to hitch a ride. Both times I’ve done it, I had to wait less than 5 minutes. The views from the back of a pickup is pretty nice too.

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At the summit, there are 2 parking lots. The second parking lot is the observatory and where everyone gathers for the sunrise

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and sunset.

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Reservations are now needed to access the top point for sunrise due to the high demand. Unfortunately, you can’t just sleep in your car overnight in the parking lot anymore like we did 3 years ago. Personally, I preferred the sunset over the sunrise, and it’s a nice cherry on top after the hike.

The first parking lot is where a bathroom and giftshop is located and the Keonehe’ehe’e (Sliding Sands) Trailhead starts.

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There is also a small hill where you can get the best looks into the crater valley with the different shades of red and black volcanic rock.

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Make sure you have plenty of water and sunscreen for this hike that has no shade at all. The Sliding Sands trailhead start just around the small hill after a couple steps along the road. The name sliding sands is a spot-on description as it can be slippery and much more difficult for those going back the other way.

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As you descend, there are many views of the cinder cones that litter the crater. On a clear day, you can see all the way out of the ocean as some point the magma ran down the mountain.

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During the winter month, you’ll also be treated to the silversword plants flowering.

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They are unique to the Haleakalā crater and a big reason to stay on the trail.

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As some point in the past, it appeared that a trail use to go around a couple of the cinder cones, but that is no longer part of the official trail systems.

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The trail will continue to zig zag down providing different viewpoints of the different cinder cones.

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As you reach to crater floor, the first intersection on the trail isn’t far behind.

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It’s also noticeable by the big bush (most likely watered by hiker’s pee)

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and a couple baby nēnē goose

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that hang about the intersection. There are a few options from the intersection on to play around in the crater, but I’ll describe the route we took.

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Take the left trail toward the Halemau’u Trail.

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The trail will start to wind through a lava field

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before starting to help up the side of the crater Ka Mao o Pele.

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This area will make you feel like you are on the planet Mars and probably my favorite section.

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A couple zig-zags uphill

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and you reach a viewpoint that looks like the end of the world.

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As short distance further you’ll turn left onto the Halemau’u Trail.

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A couple more miles through a set of lava fields on the Halemau’u Trail

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until you reach the Hōlua cabin and campsite.

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A couple of adult nēnē usually patrol this area.

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Continuing on from Hōlua cabin, the trail cuts though another section of vegetation covered lava field of the Ko’olau Gap for another mile or so

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before hitting the climb back up the ridge.

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The climb up consists of many switchbacks up the ridge wall.

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There is some exposure, but the trail is pretty well kept and wide.

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It will climb for around a mile and half usually in the fog

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before reaching a land bridge exposed on both sides and a 360 view.

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The trail continues upwards with a couple more vistas of the crater.

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After a side trail to the Hosmer Grove campsite, there is only another ¾ of a mile left before you reach the Halemau’u parking lot.

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ratings (1-5)

  • view: 5. The out of this world views of the hike, figuratively and literally, is the reason I’ve returned to Maui multiple times and can be considered the reason to visit Maui.
  • difficulty: 2.5. This hike always feel easier than it probably is because of the views that really keeps your mind off the miles. I had this rated as a 2, but the distance and elevation change really should make this a moderate to difficult hike. The heat and the last uphill will make you breath hard. If you try to do this in reverse, the Sliding Sands trail can become a bit of a nightmare as you’ll slide back often.
  • technical: 1.5. The trail is well marked with signs at all the intersections. However, you will want to know where you are going because the there is no support in the crater.

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diving Molokini Crater

Other than beaches and hiking, of course diving is a big part of the Hawai’i. There are several major site around Maui including the lava tubes of the Lanai Cathedrals 1 and 2, 5 Graves/Caves, and the St. Anthony Wreck, but the one that lined up best with our schedule in term of flights and hiking Haleakala was Molokini Crater with Maui Dive Shop.

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These guys were pretty good in that they had a smaller boat and group, a captain that knew the area, and our divemaster Rivers did a good job looking out for the group.

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With our dive package, we had 2 dives, with at least the first being around the Molokini Crater, which is a crescent shaped sticking out in the Ocean and is a nature reserve. On the inside of the crater, it is where most of the snorkeling boats are tied up.

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The water is shallow there and the crater blocks the current. For diving, the interesting portions are the backside of the crater which I’ll detail below.

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dive 1: Molokini Drift

Our first dive started from the west side of the Molokini crater. Our boat drop us off just at the point of the crescent and our dive route followed the backside of the wall until we were down to 500psi.

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With the warm temperatures of the water at 74 degrees F, we were wearing lighter wetsuits and less weight, 18 Ibs for me.

A high point of diving in Hawai’i during the winter month from December to April are the migrating whale, who serenades you with continuous whale songs. As we rounded the backside,

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the cool rock formation of the crater becomes apparent as the wall drops vertically down into the blue.

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It’s a challenge for more advanced divers to dive pretty deep, short bottom times and long decompression stops. I think River’s maximum depth on the back side was around 185ft. My maximum depth on the day would only be 81ft. The first dive lasted 50 minutes and we didn’t see too many critters, just a massive lobster who’s protected by the natural reserve fishing laws.

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Overall, the dive was decent and not all the spectacular, but that’s because I’m much more interested the sea creatures.

surface interval whale watching

During our surface interval time between dives, the captain drove us around looking for whales. One the way to the crater, we had see a mother with a baby doing some tail slaps before diving themselves.

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During our surface time, we saw another whale going on slapping for a good 10-15 minutes.

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dive 2: backwards Molokini drift

After 52 minutes of surface time and whale watching, the captain said determined that since the water was pretty calm, we could head back to the other edge of the crater or head to dive somewhere near shore. The boat voted to head back to the crater. This time, we set up on the eastern tip of the crescent and headed along the back wall again. Right of the drop, we were greeted with a mori eel.

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I found this dive on the east side of the crater had a lot more fish

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especially in large schools

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further along the dive where the walls were once again vertical.

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The vertical walls on this second dive just seemed cooler in structure than the west side.

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My maximum depth was 79 ft on the second dive and our run time was for 43 minutes (and yes, I use my blog as my dive log).

In the future, I think I’m good with Molokini crater unless I get more advanced certification for a deeper dive. Until then, I’ll be exploring the other options around Maui or doing some night dives. One of the guys working the boat that day, Steven Edwards, said he leads groups out on some night dives from the shore. He gave me his card and his email, I’ll try to hit him up next time I’m we are on Maui.

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useful links

There are plenty of other hikes, swimming holes, beaches, cliff jumps, and sites to see on Maui that we haven’t visited such as Waihee Ridge Trail or the Nakalele Blowhole. My parents and brother also went on a helicopter ride.

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If our puddle jumper flight

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from the Big Island on a previous trip is anything similar, I imaging it would be pretty cool.

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Here are some links of other websites that might help you plan.

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getting out and home

We spent our last day on the island relaxing, eating out, and walking around. My dad flew from Hawai’i back directly back to China while the rest of us had our flights on discounted delta awards back to home. As we checked in at the airport, the Delta agent asked us if we were willing to give up our seats and be rebooked on an United flight routing to San Francisco (SFO) instead of LAX for $500 credit each. I think I can find a good use for $1000 flight credit.

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Of course the negative of flying into SFO is that our Delta flight out of SFO was delayed because of fog. It was fine as we were able to use the United Club on Concourse E in terminal 3 with a couple of passes from my Chase United Card for some dinner and sparking wine. After the red-eye from SFO to Atlanta (ATL), we visited The Club lounge for breakfast through my Priority Pass. Our last connection was back to Raleigh-Durham (RDU), which was uneventful.

Just as we thought we were home free, we had one more curveball to deal with. As our Holiday Inn Express Shuttle was pulling off the freeway toward the hotel, where we left our car, I see it being towed away. I knew I should have been more insistent with the night staff when we left about leaving a written note. After talking to the receptionist and the night manager, whose business card I had from the night staff when we checked out, it was finally cleared up. The night manager thought he had called us the day before, it was someone else he had called. The hotel shuttled us to the car impound lot and paid the fee to get our car out after another hour.

After 3 more hours of driving, our 3 week trip around the pacific had ended.

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If you’ve enjoyed this trip report and found it helpful, we would always welcome any support. Thanks!

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