After spending 14-18 hours in transit and 3 days working on Lana’i, it seems a waste to pack the suitcases to head home on another 14-18 hour journey. Though the first two times I went to work were pretty last minute, the last time I had enough advance notice to ask for a few days off and spend them in paradise. So I picked the closest island to spend a couple of days in: Maui.
After 3 days on Lana’i, I found myself on the ferry to Maui, somewhat sad to leave the island that I was increasingly growing fond of but very excited to explore what lay ahead. How could I possibly fit it into 2 days?! I had to get realistic about my expectations. I honed in on two things I wanted to do: the road to Hana, and discovering the charms of Lahaina.
Thursday, 6pm to midnight
I had booked a room at the extremely well located Best Western Pioneer Inn – literally across from the ferry dock (see Puu Kukui picture above) – and so I rolled off the ferry straight into the hotel and checked in. The Pioneer Inn used to be a hub for whalers back in the early 1900s, hence the proximity to the dock and also the ultra quaint, old timey – dare I say pioneer looking – exterior. Lahaina was once a whaling town but has since put this controversial activity with only the pretty hotel as a reminder of days gone by. With wrap-around balconies, a restaurant with a view of the sunset, and – my personal favourite – a twinkle-lit courtyard, the Pioneer Inn has kept an old New World charm. I walked out onto my room’s balcony and took in the view: Puu Kukui to the North, Lahaina harbour to the South, and the great Banyan tree directly in front.
The Banyan tree is so big it spans an entire city block. I didn’t know this but this is apparently characteristic of Banyan trees. They keep growing due to the vines hanging off their branches that eventually grow long enough to take root and form a completely new “wing” of the original tree. With park benches and enough thick, low-lying branches for additional seating, this was the ultimate place to cool down from the hot sun. Walking underneath twisting branches and hanging vines felt nothing short of magical.
Having checked in and cooled down, I decided to start walking. I didn’t know much about Lahaina, but with my reduced itinerary, I had time to poke around the town. The sun was beginning to set at this point, and since I was steps away from the harbour, I decided to follow my eyes and take in the scenery with unobstructed views. A crowd had gathered to do the same naturally, because who doesn’t love a good sunset? A few boats were out on the water, some surfers were catching the last few waves of the day, and behind it all, the island of Lana’i sat peacefully. Sometimes it’s nice to look back.
I wandered my way to Front Street, where the crowds gathered to do some shopping, grab a bite to eat, stroll through art galleries and just enjoy the views with an ice cream cone in hand (ice cream cone completely not optional because obviously… but more on that later). The buildings all had that “whaling town” vibe about them, which sounds weird to say because I’ve never been to a whaling town nor do I have some degree in whaling town architecture (I suspect I’m in good company there). But something vaguely early 20th century industrial was happening that even my “uninitiated into the ways of whaling town chic” eyes could recognize. As we all know, old-time industrial has been revived nowadays so that what was once utilitarian is now sharp and fashionable. As my mom used to say “just wait 20 years and everything will be back in style!” How true that was, and, might I add, on a rotational 20-year basis.
With my stomach demanding some attention, I shifted my focus from the architecture, views, and crowds, to the restaurants. You’re really spoiled for choice in Lahaina with different restaurants catering to different tastes. Would I grab a burger by the sea at the aptly-named Cheeseburger in Paradise, or get a bit fancier at the Lahaina Grill? Would I go local Hawaiian at Kimo’s or choose the French Gerard’s? I like to live by the “when in Rome” philosophy so I headed to Kimo’s only to find out that there was a 45-minute wait. My stomach threatened to stage a coup, so I decided to try somewhere else. Fortunately, a few steps down from Kimo’s is the Lahaina Fish Co., where there was no wait for my excited and hungry party of one. Having seafood on an island definitely qualifies as “when in Rome”-ing it. How did my food philosophy serve me this time? I have a five words for you: Macadamia nut crusted Mahi Mahi. Which is Hawaiian slang for the best fish I’ve had ever! So the slang part I made up but the fish was actually so incredible, it goes down as one of the most memorable dishes I’ve ever had, anywhere. Plus it came with Moloka’i sweet potato mash which is a. purple and b. delicious. All that and a glass of California Chardonnay and my stomach was throwing a parade in my honour.
Heading back toward my hotel, the crowds had thinned out just a bit. I could hear some live music spilling out of Cheeseburger in Paradise and the waves crashing on the shore. The night seemed very near perfection, save for one thing: I didn’t have any ice cream. Fortunately for me, I found myself in front of the brightly decorated and waffle-cone-scented Ono Gelato. Ono is Hawaiian for delicious and I can confirm that my cup of Big Island mocha lived up to the hype.
Saturday 6am (what?!) to noon
How can anyone who is on vacation (albeit for 2 days) possibly wake up at this hour? I know that’s what you’re thinking because it’s certainly what I’m thinking! Ok so maybe you’re not thinking that, maybe you are more industrious than I and like to keep a schedule going, fair enough. But here’s the thing about waking up at 6am on a day off and in paradise no less: it’s the easiest thing when you are 6 hours ahead of the destination in which you find yourself. Seriously easy. I’ve learned that Hawaii mornings usually start at 4:30am for me, and slowly get later and later until I’m almost rising with the sun. Almost. But anyway… what were we talking about? Right, paradise.
I was up and out of my hotel room at 6am on Saturday, and apparently one of 5 other people in Lahaina. What happened to lazing about? See paragraph above for answer. I suspected that most people and businesses would not be up as early as my East Coast North American self, so I thought I’d head out for a stroll to work up an appetite while taking in the scenery.
One of the best things about getting such an early start is that you get the streets (almost) to yourself. Whereas the sidewalks are thick with crowds noon onward, the early morning is for the joggers, city maintenance workers, and (I suspect) other East Coasters not yet accustomed to the time zone. The sun was also out in full force that day, and before long, that appetite I was looking for came in full force. (In case you haven’t realized yet, food is a quite central to my travels. I blame my Armenian heritage for that. We tend to plan our next meal over our current one.)
Though my original plans were to “do as the Romans do” and head to Aloha Mixed Plate for a typical Hawaiian breakfast, Cafe Cafe was right there and I needed to get some coffee in my system, so I walked in for my daily dose. Maui roasted coffee and a selection of vegan and gluten-free options are the name of the game here, but they diversify as well. Jewelry and crafts from local artisans are sold inside, and for something a little different, they also have a row of Vespas parked out by the front patio if you’re in the market for some wheels for rent. Having rented a moped in Honolulu, I highly recommend this experience. I also recommend it if you’re trying to head north toward the beach towns, Old Lahaina Luau, and Aloha Mixed Plate like I was. As I was about to learn, that hot morning sun can be unforgiving to walk under. ? Spray on some suntan lotion and make the most of that Hawaiian sun!
The 2-mile stroll got me sun-kissed and sweltering so I headed back to my hotel for a dip in the courtyard pool. No better way to cool down with the clock ticking away to my departure time.
With so little time in Lahaina, I chose to do exactly what struck my fancy and not necessarily the major sites. Would I do it differently? Not for the amount of time I was there. But when I do return (and I will), I’ll be checking these sights out:
For the love of history:
Stand-up paddleboarding, swimming with turtles, SNUBA at Molokini are all waiting to be had by yours truly on the next visit. But stay tuned for the epic road to Hana!
Check out some pics from my time in Hawaii on Instagram! Search for #PortjamInHawaii or follow me @portjam!