Maui Wowie

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Maui Wowie

Maui 2024

On Saturday we woke up dark and early before the sun in order to catch our Uber to LAX before 7am.

We were flying southwest and had checked in the day before right at the buzzer, the instant we were allowed to, but still ended up in C group. When we finally lined up we saw only four people behind us, so either this was a very light flight … or we were last.

We were last.

For six hours over the Pacific my wife and I had to be two rows apart. Her theory is that this was predetermined when we bought the tickets since part of our fare was a holdover credit from before the pandemic that was going to expire. Sam’s theory is that they punish folks like us with later boarding since they know we’ve got no choice. And I believe it. You can’t tell me on a plane with 200 seats all 200 other people checked in right at the buzzer too. (or ALL of them paid extra to get on in B group)

Six hours later we stepped out into the unmistakable sweet wet air of the Hawaiian islands. We didn’t get a free upgrade to a Camaro convertible this time, but I guess that just makes last time more special.

The first thing we did was go to Costco because Sam.

The second thing was to eat at the food truck park (on Keolani) because Hunger. Everything was expensive but the surf and turf at $35 was probably cheaper than a similar offering in LA, to be honest.

Next we checked into our hotel. Uncle Tony’s is an extended stay hotel a few miles off the main drag southwest of the airport in Wailuku. Rich people stay in the southwest or northwest on the beach. We’re not rich (at least by Maui standards), but staying at Tony’s worked out better anyway because it’s situated directly between both sides (dormant volcanoes) of the island which made everything easier to access. We’d convinced three of our snorkel/hiking buddies to join us on this trip and they also decided to stay at Tony’s so I was crossing my fingers it wasn’t a huge mistake. 

But Uncle Tony turned out to be a very jovial and helpful 84 year old man. The hotel has free beach towels, snorkel equipment, beach seats, maps, sunscreen, and so on. The room also was a welcome change from our miniature living spaces on the eurotrip two months prior. Because it’s extended stay the room comes with microwave, fridge, hot plate, and so on.

And it was cheaper than any of the AirBnBs and hotels…except for the “rent my camper van” options.

After getting situated at Tony’s we still had about 45 minutes before sunset so we took a guess at the most sensible nearby spot, setting up over the cliffs at McGregor Point. We lay on the grass watching the sun set over the low rising hills of West Maui on our right and frolicking humpbacks on our left.



We struggled for a while to find breakfast restaurants that were open. Sam eventually got a bagel at a kind of trendy place, but the acai bowl place I tried had to add cashews to all the bowls (or some other no-go) so we went back to the car and searched for something elsewhere. This might sound dumb to anybody else, but we didn’t realize so few restaurants would be open on Sunday. Sam studied her phone for a minute and then directed me to Takiyama Market where they were only open temporarily to sell specially made stuff (like turkey butts) for the Superbowl. However, since they were making poke (or something with the fresh fish) they agreed to sell me a poke bowl. And it was the best poke I’ve had in a long time, the best I’d have on the island, and my first taste of fresh (or any) marlin meat.


We went to Iao Valley State Monument, but I hadn’t realized that the “needle” is actually only visible from a tiny walk from the parking lot. So after spending ten minutes at the needle overlook we meandered along the stream for an hour or so getting lost in the forest.


Next was the harrowing hour drive to the blowhole. We didn’t know it then, but the road to the blowhole on the northern side of the island is more difficult than the infamous Road to Hana. But we’ve driven worse, much much worse in sub zero temperatures, so it was no big woop. In fact, Sam developed a refrain of “slow down!” throughout these cliffside adventures, not realizing I “cut my teeth” in worse cars on winding gravel hill country roads as a teenager.


The blowhole itself is a rocky but not too difficult hike down the volcanic rock mountainside.

no, that’s not a tiny blowhole, those are large crabs

A lady sold us homemade banana bread and dried mangos in the parking lot. (Banana bread is a big thing in Maui)

We got to Dragon’s Tooth I was about to take out my tripod when I discovered the switch plate was missing. It must have come off when I was packing and I never noticed. D’oh! (don’t worry, dear reader, I soon realized I could unscrew the bottom part of the switch plate and just connect my camera directly to the tripod that way) We wandered around a bit on the crags before getting back in the car and driving all the way back around the other side of the mountain to go to our hotel.


Before getting to the hotel we stopped at Foodland for poke. Their poke was good and they jammed a lot into the bowls, but it wasn’t as good as the market poke.


We chose to drive the Road to Hana on Monday hoping it would be less crowded than a weekend. We’ll never really know for sure if that was successful, but we do know it was not empty on a Monday in February. So much so that at Twin Falls there was a line to get in the main waterfall.

Not the main waterfall
Nope, still not it
Nope, not this one either, which, if you’re eagle eyed will notice is just further down the falls we sat next to in that first pic.

Originally when planning the trip we’d thought we’d go in the pools, but then we heard about leptospirosis on the island. And then on top of that we saw that the waterfall pools were packed with people, ensuring lots and lots of new bacteria in the barely moving water. Yum. No thanks.

Also the final falls had a stream that you’d need to wade through up to your ankles and I hadn’t brought my beach shoes with me. So I just set up my tripod and took some long exposures of the waterfall and its accompanying flesh wall.


There are more places to stop on the road, but I was pushing to get to the black sand beach earlier because I knew there was a lot to explore (we had reservations for late in the afternoon). Who was I pushing against? Sam had her own list of things to see on the road, one of which (that shows up in every YouTube video) was “the peninsula” which we stopped at for a few minutes to walk out on the volcanic rocks (but didn’t get any banana bread).


We were quickly back on the road. And here I’ll dispel some online misconceptions about the Road to Hana. If you’re somebody that only does city driving I can understand why it may be a scary drive. Lots of those types (including our friends that came a few days after us) do well to just pay for a guided tour on a little tour bus. The only drawback (other than money) of those tours is that THEY decide what stops are important and they always have to start at 5 in the morning to guarantee everyone is back at their hotels for dinner. We didn’t get back to town until about 8pm.

The roads themselves, if you have any experience driving in the country or in the Rockies regularly aren’t anything to worry about. For the most part they’re well paved. There are many bridges that are only one lane and a few other tight points and corners. The problem isn’t so much the width of the road, but the drivers on it. Repeatedly we were nearly side-swiped by retirees driving cars WAY WAY WAY too big for a tight mountain road. Boomers in white rental vans and giant SUVs are a huge problem. Without fail it was almost always someone with white hair driving one of these cars that bullied their way onto a bridge or insisted we back up or just plowed forward shoving us over a cliff or into the rock face. Of course, to be fair, there are plenty of people my own age racking up quite a few gray hairs (or watching the existing ones disappear) so maybe I should be more forgiving. I am just explaining that the only times I actually felt worried on the whole drive out and back where when a big white van came barreling towards me.

We made it to Waiʻānapanapa State Park about half an hour before our start time and they let us in. And we needed all that time because the park closes at 5:30.

Our first stop (walking) was the sea cave.

Since it was still a few hours to close the beach was packed and that meant lots of folks in the cave, including these young ghosts.

We chose not to actually swim at the beach because we wanted to explore other parts of the park and, honestly, there was nothing special about the WATER, just the black sand.


Around the bend from the beach is a trail that goes up to an outcropping of very steep volcanic cliffs that create a water funnel (a blowhole without a hole, basically). Sam and I stood on opposite sides of the hole (with me sort of down in it on a ledge) to take pictures when the water splashed up (and onto me a few times).


Around the bend the trail keeps going along the coast through a ragged terrain of volcanic black rock and neon green vegetation.


It was here that my camera did something weird. I must have pressed the wrong button or something because my focus indicator, the little yellow blinks in the viewfinder, stopped working. Unable to find a quick solution I did a settings reset in the menu. This proved to be a big mistake, but I wouldn’t find out why for a few days. (I never did find out why the focus indicator stopped working)

As the park began to close we worked our way back to the sea cave and had more time to ourselves in there.


However, not unlimited time, because Sam wanted to explore the trail on the other side of the beach as well, so we set off for the cliffs on the east side. And for good reason, some of the publicity photos NPS has for the park are from that side.

And I found another, much smaller, sea cave.


We foolishly thought we’d have dinner at one of the roadside restaurants we saw on the way in, but by 5:30 they were all closed. As such, the twisty turny 45 miles was a bit frustrating. When we finally got back to civilization we stopped for dinner at 808 Plate.


We started off our snorkeling at Mala wharf, a pier that started sinking into the ocean years ago. There’s a very small gravel parking lot next to a boat launch. It looks pretty unimpressive as a beach, but very quickly after entering the water we saw a bunch of sea turtles and the death of the pier has created a ghostly sunken-ship type of coral reef that makes for fun snorkeling.


The great thing about this spot was the large amount of turtles to see and the cool pier reef structure. Oh, also, I spotted an eel, but sadly no reef sharks (why we came to this spot) could be found.

However, there’s a huge downside. Upon entering the water we were just inches over the sharp coral that went all the way to the beach and continued for maybe a mile south past the pier. When it was time to leave we tried to swim around the coral to Baby Beach on the other side, but the coral just kept going and going, so we decided to turn back and try to climb out on the big volcanic rock boulders that tumble into the water between the old pier and the boat ramp. We did it very slowly and carefully in our bare feet and other than the ouchies of stepping on rocks and gravel thought we did the right thing. Later we discovered multiple lacerations on our hands that were so sharp we didn’t even feel them when we’d been grabbing the volcanic (glass) rocks on the way out.

Next we tried to go to a few of the popular beaches in Lahaina for snorkeling but they were all apparently only accessible via parking at resorts? But we did find a public parking area for Kahekili Beach Park and decided to walk all the way down to the south end and have a picnic. I went in the water and saw nothing but smooth sand. With nothing to see here I made my way around the rocky southern end because I knew Black Rock Beach was a popular snorkeling spot on the other side. The journey around was kind of strange, first because people had fishing lines going into the ocean from the rocky pier thing, so I had so swim out farther into the ocean than I really wanted to. Looking down during the swim I found “Fish highways” large long groupings of fish that must have ran for miles parallel to the coast. Highways wouldn’t be right because the fish weren’t actually moving much, so perhaps they were sleeping?

Regardless I reached Black Rock Beach after about fifteen minutes and discovered that it was essentially just more of the same clear water and sandy bottom on the northern side, but with way way way way more people in the water. Lots of families putting their little kids in the water with floaties, snorkel tours dropping their boatloads off for an hour, kids jumping off the rocks on the northern end of the beach, etc. But not really any other animals. I quickly decided to go back.

The way back took twice as long because I had to fight the current. I also noticed that I could hear whales singing. Poking my head out of the water I could see them breaching and flopping around in the middle of Paiolo Channel, the gap between Maui and Moloka’i.

I got out and sat on the beach more with Sam (this was one of the most serene beaches we’ve ever been to, picturesque and with very few people on the southern end). I wanted to swim out to the whales. So I tried. I hadn’t done any research beforehand. I could see Moloka’i and I could see the whale watching tourboats and the whales themselves. Distances out on the water are deceptive and can get you into deep trouble (I’m still coming for you, Grohl). I swam out about a mile and realized it was still quite a swim to get out to the middle. I was having trouble seeing the bottom, but could still make out my place on the coast if I looked back. This was a turning point. I knew if I kept swimming I might make it out to the whales, but even if I found them that also courts danger. And it’s illegal. Technically if I approached them knowing they were there I’d be breaking the law. With no escort, and in a place I’d never snorkeled before – and undoubtedly never swam out that far from shore (without being dropped off by a boat) I decided reluctantly to turn back even though I could hear the whale songs as loudly as if I had earbuds on playing Star Trek IV.

Also, we’d booked a “Humpback Snorkel” for the next day, so I made a conscious choice to decrease my immediate risk to hope it would be easier the next day.

Later I’d look up the distances and discover that I’d only swam out about a mile from shore and had probably four or five miles more to swim before I could find the whales. Assuming they’d even still be there when I arrived, and I’d have the strength to swim six miles back to Sam. Assuming this wouldn’t take three hours and have Sam alerting authorities and getting me into big trouble. It was the right choice but at the time it felt like the humpbacks were RIGHT THERE!

Back at the beach I sulked and floated, watching a trio of young honu explore the rocks.


So remember when I said I made a mistake resetting my camera yesterday? Well, I didn’t take any photos with the A7 today since everything was in the water. For water shots we’ve got Sam’s old A6000 inside a waterproof housing.


We had booked a whale snorkel back in September for today that didn’t start until 2pm and our friends flew in last night so we asked them to join us at Maluaka Beach “turtle town.” Sam and I got there about an hour before our friends so I went out in the water to explore. To the north I saw nothing. To the south I found a coral reef with signs of life. No turtles, but I did find a baby pacific octopus for only the second time in my life!


By the time I went back to the shore to report my findings our three friends had arrived. Only one wanted to hit the water before the whale tour so we headed out for a brief swim (we had about an hour before we’d have to head north to Maalaea Harbor).

It started off with not much, but we did manage to find a large turtle.


And then the second eel of my life


We almost missed the “Humpback Whale Snorkel” tour because the last (and only) mile before the docks in Maalaea took 30 mins. However it eventually became clear that everyone else was stuck in the same traffic and the tour company sent a text that the tour would be delayed by 30mins.

So at 2:30 the captain pushed back and we were off … Molokini? The tour we originally purchased had been to watch whales and then be put down in the water a few hundred yards away and hope they swim past us. We had built our trip around this point, the chance (slim, we knew, but “so you’re saying there’s a chance!”) to swim with Humpback Whales.

Because of a high tide the tour operator decided the regular spot wasn’t safe so they rerouted to Molokini, which is normally an expensive early morning tour. It quickly became apparent this would be the only snorkeling and there would be zero chance of snorkeling with humpbacks. I would later check the website for the tour and in between our booking and the tour they’d eliminated all specific language about being in the water with whales, despite still calling it “Whale Watch Snorkel” (you forgot the “and,” fellows!). And you may be saying “of course they wouldn’t do that, it’s illegal to swim with whales!”

Sorta. It’s illegal to swim TO whales, but I verified with the company via a phone call or online chat (I forget which) that their operation dropped you in the water hundreds of yards ahead of where the whales are and if they swim past you, good for you. We knew the chances of the whales swimming past was slim, but slim is infinitely larger than zero. Since booking they’d changed it to zero. Or maybe they changed it that day because of the tide or swells or whatever? It wasn’t clear and nobody else on the boat seemed to notice or mind, but I felt bad selling our friends on this adventure that was now guaranteed not to happen.

On the flip side we were now going to Molokini, which is supposed to be the best snorkeling in Maui (if not all of Hawaii). Molokini tours are usually pretty expensive and start very early in the morning. So this felt like an okay trade-off. When we got to the crater we were the only boat there.

However, at the crater we discovered that not much goes on at Molokoni except for a bunch of little flappy bird black fish.


Now I will note that the Humpbacks were technically pretty close to Molokini. We could hear them singing the entire time, but when Sam and I tried to swim out of the crater the operators would whistle us sternly back into the calmer waters of the western side of the crater. You can see water spouts below of two humpbacks drifting just off the eastern side of the crater.


For context, those whales are about 500 feet west of the crater. So technically we did swim about 2,000 feet (to the left in the photo) from Humpbacks. And I understand why the operators forced us to stay where we were. They made it very clear that the water outside the safety of the crater was extremely choppy and dangerous, so for safety they didn’t want us wandering off. But also, the legal requirement of staying 100 yards from whales and not deliberately approaching them, is something all the operators have to follow or they’ll lose their license. Still frustrating as the snorkeler to see them so close but still so far away.

After an hour there we were back on the boat and straight back to the harbor with an “open bar” of drinks that were clearly the weakest alcohol you can buy.

So the “whale watch” part of the tour turned out to just be “hey if you see a whale off in the distance while we’re heading back, good for you!”

And we saw a few flapping and breaching in the distance.

Sometimes I regret not having a wide angle lens. Other times I regret not having a zoom lens. This was the latter.

After we got back to the harbor we all went to Costco together because Sam told our friends about all the great things Costco has (that they don’t have in Los Angeles). For example we bought açaí ice cream that we had to commit to finishing before the trip was over.


Originally we were going to snorkel more today but the forecast said rain rain rain so we switched it up. We went to Kahakapao Loop Trail and walked about a mile into the forest with light rain before turning around and heading to the southern side of the volcano.


We drove south through the mist and fog along the high coastal road to Manawainui Gulch.


Then we drove on to Alelele waterfall but discovered the road was closed just before it. We knew the road was closed (there were signs earlier) but we didn’t exactly know where the waterfall would be. And we still don’t. There is a tiny side pull-off on a cliff before the road closure that says “Alelele Falls Viewpoint” on the map, but we couldn’t see any waterfalls at all from there.

The road was closed at the Alelele Bridge (the closure signs were on the bridge itself), so we pulled off in the rain to spend some time at the black sand beach before turn back.


We went to the Food trucks park in Keolani for dinner and then retired early to our hotels because our friends had their early morning Road to Hana trip on Friday.

This gave me time to look at the photos I was transferring to my phone in order to back up online (just in case anything happens to the camera itself and the photos go bye bye) and notice…they were JPEGs? WTF? Apparently when I hit the settings reset button on Monday on the A7 it reset the file type to JPEG instead of RAW. I had reset the focus settings, the favorites buttons, etc. but didn’t even think to look at the file format settings because WHY ON EARTH the default file setting for a professional camera would be JPEG (not even high quality JPEG) is beyond me. Some poor guy at the Sony headquarters in Tokyo in 2016 was probably being karoshi’d and just needed to finish the programming so he copied the file settings default page code over from their point and shoot cameras, but years later this came back to bite me in Hawaii. All those nuanced photos of mist hovering over mountains? The gradients in the mist were gone. JPEG compression lumps colors together to save space. So editing these photos was a nightmare and many from the drive through those southern hills, if you look close, have sort of a “dead” look to the clouds or a too saturated look to the grass that you wouldn’t otherwise see in photos like this. This was awful to realize, but at least I noticed it before taking star photos or closer whale shots later in the trip. Needless to say, Sony’s JPEG algorithm does not make similar editing choices to yours truly. It felt like trying to edit somebody else’s vacation photos I stole off of Facebook or something.


The snorkel reports all said that because of a swell and yesterday’s rain the snorkeling all over the island was terrible. News reports would later sound the alarm about 30-40 foot waves that were unsafe even for surfers. So we booked another whale tour, and this time we actually got to see them up close with two different breaches.


After the tour we drove up to Haleakala. It was misting, which made for an interesting view around 6,000 feet, but completely obscured the view from the top.


The wind whipped the mist at us so harshly at the top we ditched our plans to hike the shifting sands trail and just sat in the car to wait for sunset….but sunset never came.


Occasionally the mist had cleared to cold blue sky at 10,000 feet while we waited, but by sunset the mist obscured everything. Even my ability to take moody photos since the wind was so strong it would knock over the camera on the tripod….but I still tried and got some interesting shots on the road out.



On Saturday we went to Maui swap meet with our friend before dropping her off at Andaz resort. Our other two friends were spending the day golfing. Sam and I ate lunch at The Shops (most expensive – and not the best – poke of my entire life!) and then walked to Ulua Beach to see sea turtles, but there weren’t any.

Unfortunately a major swell hit the island on Thursday that persisted throughout the rest of the trip, eliminating any further opportunities for snorkeling. Our friend tried to snorkel at Ulua later that day (as part of the Andaz resort package) and got rolled in the surf.

Since there were no turtles at Ulua we went to Ho’okipa Beach Park, where there were a lot of turtles in a roped off part of the beach.


Cameras full of turtle pics we drove up to Haleakala again for the sunset. Today it was not as cloudy at the top nor as windy. We managed to be one of the last cars to squeeze through the gate to the summit parking before park rangers closed it for the night and we set up on the rocks to wait for the sunset.


The sunset was okay, but the lack of clouds below the summit made it less amazing than photos we’d seen. However, a few minutes later the stars shine bright above us in the clear air. I could have taken pictures all night, but the drive back to the hotel was long so I had to pack it up after about an hour.



One of our friends flew out while we were at Haleakala, but the others were staying on the island past us, so we went to brunch with them at the same Food truck park and made one last stop to Costco for “souvenirs” before getting on another Southwest (this time we, miraculously, made it into B group and got to sit together) flight.

Sam gave me the window seat so I could do this.

Back in Los Angeles we were met with more rain. We had atmospheric rivers punishing our windows before our tropical island trip and more of it came through upon our return.

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