Weatherwise Kihei No Ka ‘Oi

Whether you’re escaping the bitter cold of Canadian winters or the sometimes brutal heat of the American southwest, the climate of Hawaii is a welcome relief. But if you’re from the Pacific Northwest like we are, there is one meteorological phenomenon that you most want to avoid:  rain.

Every Hawaiian island has its microclimates and Maui is no exception. From the daily downpours in the West Maui Mountains (up to 400 inches per year!) and the lush jungles on the road to Hana to the parched cactus lands in the rain shadows of Mount Haleakala and the West Mauis, there is enormous variability. The dryest part of inhabited Maui is the southwest coast including Kihei, Wailea and Makena. The entire area is shielded from the rains that make Hana so green by the 10,000 foot Mount Haleakala.

In this dry corner of Maui, the dryest place is Kihei – which is why we say Kihei No Ka ‘Oi (Kihei is the best).

Everywhere on Maui the wettest months are December through March. The best months to avoid rain are May through September. But hey, this is Hawaii – even if it rains, as long as you’re not on the mountain top, the rain is warm.

A Walk on the Beach

If you’re on the west coast of the U.S. or Canada and look at the web cam of Charley Young Beach a few hours after sunrise, it will be early morning on Maui. (Click on “View the Live Cam” on the left-hand side of this page to see the beach.) All is calm and the long shadows of the palm trees stretch across the beach out to the blue waters of the Pacific. Early morning strollers traverse the field of view. Couples hold hands. Dogs bounce happily along with their owners or walk sedately by their side. Joggers lope by at their chosen pace. The first swimmers take to the water. The day has begun on Charley Young Beach.

As the sun climbs higher over the rim of Mount Haleakala the shadows shorten and more walkers, joggers, and beach lovers of every kind begin to arrive. When we’re on Maui, that’s when we first go to the beach.

Our ritual is simple. We wake to the dawn chorus of the many birds who make the trees of Maui Vista their home. We wait awhile or sleep some more, then get up, make coffee and sit on the lanai where we read an on-line newspaper while we have a light breakfast. Next destination: the beach. We kick off our sandals and stroll from one end to the other – a round trip of about 3/4 mile on the sand – our bare feet washed by the lapping surf. Not a bad way to start the day.

Dale Zarrella and Helper Carve a Vision in Sand

Dale Zarrella and Helper

Sometimes artists play at their work. From our other posts (and maybe other sources) you know that Dale Zarrella is an accomplished sculptor on Maui. (See Maui Artist Dale Zarrella at Work and Frank Lloyd Wright and the King Kamehameha Golf Club.) We can’t call it a timeless work of art, but in this photo Zarrella and his granddaughter have created something wonderful out of the shifting sands of Charley Young Beach.

This female turtle has laid a clutch of eggs. Like her more sentient sisters she will soon disappear beneath the waves – never to know her young.

You can never tell what you’ll find when you cross the road from Maui Vista and explore Charley Young Beach. We do it every day we’re here.

A Breakfast Favorite – the Kihei Caffe

Kihei Caffe from the south

The Kihei Caffe, located across the street from Kalama Park on South Kihei Road, is a ten minute walk from Maui Vista. We rarely go out for breakfast. We usually sip our coffee and have a light meal on the lanai while listening to the birds and gazing at the ocean through the canopy of monkey pod trees. (See why we stay at home?) However, if we do go out, the Kihei Caffe is our destination of choice. In fact, every time we fly to Maui we ALWAYS go to the Kihei Caffe the first morning. We usually haven’t been to the grocery store (Emergency! No coffee!) and we’re still on west coast time so we’re up early.

Getting up early for breakfast at the Kihei Caffe is important. They are EXTREMELY popular in the morning. They open at 5 AM and are generally crowded not long after 7:00. If you want to avoid a long line, get there early or plan to eat late.

To be generous, from the outside the Kihei Caffe does not look upscale. (Ok – it looks like a hole in the wall.) If you want white table cloths in a romantic hand-holding setting, go to Wailea. You can still hold hands at the Kihei Caffe, but you’ll have to bring your own romance.

All seating is outdoors at the Kihei Caffe

You order inside where the line often snakes through a (short) stanchioned pathway like a ride at Disneyland. There is no inside seating. You order and pay then find a table outdoors. We suggest you buy pastries and/or coffee you can take to your table for something to munch/drink while you wait for the rest of your order to arrive. When it’s ready, one of the waitstaff will shout out your name as they carry your breakfast from the kitchen. The portions are large and the food is excellent. We usually split an order (ask for an extra plate) and have a big macademia nut cinnamon roll while we sip our coffee and wait for the main course. Enjoy!

NOTE: Cash only…as in NO credit cards or checks. They do provide an ATM machine, but we assume that carries a fee.

Sea Kayaking in South Maui

Kayaking off Charley Young Beach

There’s nothing like being on the water. In Maui you can use a paddle board, surfboard, boogie board or – to travel in style – you can rent a kayak. The nearest kayak rentals are at Maui Wave Riders, a few blocks north of Maui Vista on South Kihei Road. In May 2012, two hour rentals for a two-person kayak were $35; all day rentals $50. Since the best (and safest) kayaking is in the morning before the winds pick up, you may be able to get by with the two hour rental if you’re efficient with your time and don’t travel far. On the other hand, most days have at least four hours of reasonably calm seas, so a $50 rental may be worth the extra bucks. At Maui Wave Riders the price includes pads and tie-downs so you can take your kayak just about anywhere. Start early in the day to have the  most fun.

Almost all the kayaks you see on Maui are one-piece hollow molded plastic boats. You might get your bottom wet from splashed water but, without taking an axe to the hull, they are virtually unsinkable. That said, be aware that kayaks will roll when sideways to the waves, so be cautious. If you don’t know what you’re doing, think about signing up for a group kayaking tour before going out on your own. They provide guides, give instruction, and, if there is a problem, someone is there to help. It’s no joke to be out on the ocean when the seas get rough and the winds are against you.

Our favorite place to kayak is Makena Landing. If you’re at the Landing in the morning you’ll see lots of kayak tours starting from there. Many of these tours are combined kayak/snorkel groups. You paddle out to a good snorkel spot then roll out of your boat into the water. The tour guide secures the kayaks so they don’t float away while you’re snorkeling. I’ve never tried it but I think it’s probably a lot easier to roll out of a kayak in deep water than to get back in.

A turtle swimming past our kayak

The reason why so many kayak tours start at Makena Landing is why we like it too – green sea turtles! From the beach it’s a short paddle to the area the big snorkel boats call “turtle town.” When the snorkel boats are there it’s easy to find. If they’re not, paddle out from the cove and keep to the right. There are two long fingers of lava jutting out under the water from the end of the point. Float over these and look for caves in the lava tubes. That’s were the turtles are – including big adults that can weigh hundreds of pounds! Listen for their hiss when they surface and exhale. We had to pull our paddles out of the water to avoid bumping the beauty in the picture above.  They get that close.

There are turtles to the south of Makena Landing as well. Avoid the obvious rocks, and those that are barely submerged, but keep reasonably close to shore while you float over coral formations and look for turtles and fish. As you head south you’ll pass an old stone church and then come to a large sandy beach and resort. Kayaking further south toward the cinder cone is fun too.

As you may have noticed, green sea turtles aren’t actually green – at least on the outside. From what I’ve read, it’s the meat inside that’s green. Perhaps the color comes from their diet of sea grass and algae. Despite what sounds like an unappetizing color, green sea turtle was a delicacy for whalers and others before it became a protected specie.

Even when the waves are small, landing a kayak can be difficult. The trick is to keep the boat perpendicular to the surf. Move slowly toward the shore while looking over your shoulder to time the waves. Paddle quickly just before the break and glide in. It’s best if the person in back jumps out and holds the handle/rope at the stern to keep the kayak from turning while the person in front gets out. If you do get sideways, you’re going to get wet. That’s why you wear a bathing suit and leave those valuables behind. If you want to take pictures, keep your camera in a secure water-proof container when not in use.

If you want to get close to turtles but don’t want to rent a kayak, see our post titled South Maui Snorkeling – Makena Landing.

Kula – a Drive in the (Up) Country

Looking West from the Kula Highway

Too much sun or just looking for something new to do? Consider a drive to Kula and through the Up Country on the western slope of Mount Haleakala. It’s shorter (and easier) than a drive to Hana. You won’t see any magnificant waterfalls or show-stopping marvels, but there are fabulous panoramic views and several places worth a visit. In the picture to the right you can see the Island of Kahoolawe, the cinder cone by Big Beach, and the tiny crescent of Molokini. Click on the photo to to enlarge. Farther to the right (outside the photo) is a great view of the West Maui Mountains, Maalaea Bay, the Island of Lanai and, if the clouds aren’t in the way, Molokai.

It’s not far from Kihei to Kula as the crow flies (or Oprah drives). But unless you’re a crow or have a key to Oprah’s private road, you have to go through Kahului before you head uphill. (See our post What’s Up with Oprah and Maui? if that’s confusing.) As you get to Kahului, head toward the airport then turn right onto the Hana Highway. Turn right again at the stoplight a few miles down and follow the signs to the Haleakala Highway. It starts getting interesting from Pukalani on. For this post, ignore the cutoff to Haleakala National Park, we’re staying on the Kula Highway.

While a trip to the Up Country is about the journey and not the destination, there are fun things to see and do as you drive the Kula Highway. Sadly, our favorite botanical garden, Enchanting Floral Gardens, closed at the end of 2011, another casualty of 9/11. (Long sad story.) Continue on to Keokea where you’ll find a small but lovely Catholic Church (especially inside), a small county park (with the only public restrooms in town), an art gallery and Grandma’s Coffee House. (See our Grandma’s Coffee House posting – you’ll want to stop for the locally grown fresh-roasted coffee, a snack, or a meal.)

View from Sun Yat-Sen Park with Kihei in the distance

Look for the Sun Yat-Sen Memorial Park between mileposts 18 and 19. It’s very small but it has a couple of cool statues, picnic tables, and a terrifc outlook. (Notice how close you are to Kihei in this photo!) The park grounds were donated by Ulupalakula Ranch and the improvements by the Sun Yat-Sen Foundation for Peace and Education. Often called “the father of modern China,” Sun Yat-Sen was a pre-communist revolutionary who lead the overthrow of the Quin Dynasty in 1911. A nice place to enjoy a picnic.

Past the park the road narrows and winds through pasture lands. The occasional house may be luxurious, ordinary, or “rustic.” The views, however, just don’t stop.

There’s not a lot of traffic on this road but people coming the other way may have been imbibing at the Tedeschi Winery where the samples are free or the Ulupalakua Ranch Store and Grill (where they’re not). I wouldn’t worry though – it’s probably more dangerous on South Kihei Road. And speaking of the Winery and the Ranch Store and Grill, that’s our next stop.

The Ulupalakua Store and Grill

The Ulupalakua Ranch and the Tedeschi Winery are well worth a visit. In the photo to the right, Kathy is making friends with some of the locals. I think they’re a little shy.The old guys sitting on the bench, and other solid country folk about the place, are a foretaste of what’s inside. There are the normal souvenirs, local arts and crafts, and so forth. But there are also old and sometimes odd things. One sign on the wall says “Bad decisions make for good stories.” A look around and a hamburger or sandwich from the grill won’t make a great story but it wouldn’t be a bad decision. You can eat there or take your food across the road to one of the picnic tables on the winery grounds.

Unlike a lot of wineries, tasting at the Tedeschi Winery is free. I’m not going to give a review here but if you like sweet wine (think pineapples), you may like what they have to offer. Suffice it to say, I’m not a fan of sweet wine. Like I said, it’s the journey, not the destination.

The small grounds around the tasting room are very nice with some amazing tree specimens. Check out this one!

If you drive the Kula Highway you get to do it twice. Unless you plan to keep on going you’ll eventually have to stop and turn around and the Ulupalakua Ranch and Winery are as good a place as any. The views are just as fine in the other direction.

There’s lots more to see and do on the roads above Kula – not the least Haleakala National Park – but I’ll save that for future posts.

What’s up with Oprah and Maui?

As can be expected with anyone so wealthy and famous, lots of stir is created by Oprah’s presence on Maui. Here’s what we can piece together based on newspaper and magazine articles.

Oprah owns three properties on Maui. The first property she bought is 1,000 acres near the rainy town of Hana. That’s right….the town that’s about 65 slow miles from us at Maui Vista 2418. The second property is about 300 acres in the up-country outside Kula which is on the slopes of Mt.Haleakala and looks down over Kihei. We can see “her road” from our front door as shown by the red arrow in the photo below. This road is controversial because Maui County approved Oprah’s private road which would save all of us from many miles of driving to get to Mount Haleakala National Park and other up-country destinations. Many Mauians wish the county would have built the road instead. At almost $5 per gallon of gasoline, it would have spoken well for sustainability!

Oprah’s most recent purchase is reportedly a waterfront home in the posh Makena neighborhood just a few miles south of Maui Vista 2418. The homes in that area are incredibly expensive. For example, we know of someone who paid $14million for a non-waterfront lot!

When we were at Grandma’s Coffee House in Kula the lady who works there reported Oprah having been in the restaurant a few times. Other than that, Oprah is known for being very private and is not able to saunter around the island on foot like many other stars such as Steven Tyler, Willie Nelson, Mick Fleetwood and Kris Kristofferson. My advice: don’t go to Kula for the chance to see Oprah.

Maui Tacos – Yummy Fast Food

Maui Tacos – now two locations in Kihei to serve you!

Head toward the beach from Maui Vista and turn left on South Kihei Road. A short 10-minute walk brings you to Maui Tacos. Head toward the beach and turn right on South Kihei Road and the same thing happens in the other direction. If you like Mexican food both are good – with the fish tacos being especially yummy.

Both locations serve breakfast, lunch, and dinner and the menus are about the same. Both are often busy and, since they cook everything to order, consider the “fast” in “fast food” to be measured in island time. With so much the same, what’s to choose between the two?

The Maui Tacos to the south of Maui Vista is at 2411 South Kihei Road at the somewhat ambitiously named “Kameole Beach Center.” The “center” has just a few shops and the Maui Tacos sign is easy to miss. Look for it just after Snorkle Bob’s. This small restaurant has a few inside tables and bench seating but we far prefer to order take-out and go across the street to the grassy area at the south end of Kameole Beach I. There you’ll find picnic tables and a few benches facing the ocean where the view sure beats looking at the parking lot from inside Maui Tacos.

The Maui Tacos to the north of Maui Vista is at 1933 South Kihei Road about a half-block before you get to Foodland. This is the “new” Maui Tacos in Kihei. (For those familiar with the area, the new Maui Tacos occupies the same storefront as the now closed Alexander’s.) The distinguishing feature of this location is ample outdoor seating – much of it shaded. You can also order take-out and walk across the street to enjoy your food in Kalama Park. The picture above is from the “new’ Maui Tacos.

Paddle Board Dog at Charley Young Beach

Paddle boarding – it’s so easy your dog could do it.

Maybe you didn’t bring your dog, or your paddle board to Maui. You can rent a board at places all over the island. (Sorry, no surfing dogs for rent – at least that we know of.)

The closest place to Maui Vista for paddle board rental is Maui Wave Riders at the south end of Kalama Park. They give lessons too. Some people surf with paddle boards. You can watch them off the park – particularly in the morning. Others just paddle around – with or without their dog.

The best time to go is in the morning when there’s not much surf and the winds are calm. It’s not hard. But unless you really know what you’re doing, please don’t try to do what you see those little specks way out in the ocean do. That would be a bad place to be caught in a big wind. Use common sense and you’ll have lots of fun. If you’re lucky, you might even paddle with a turtle or two!

Castles in the Sand on Charley Young Beach

There’s a lot of construction down on Charley Young Beach. But don’t worry, the builders and their tools aren’t likely to disturb you. Most of the “projects” range from modest to completely random. But then, what can you expect from a six year old?

Occassionally, however, the inspiration and perspiration combine to make something memorable – albeit temporary. Here the whole family has gotten into the act. Pretty ambitious if you ask me!

While the construction noise probably won’t ruin your day, watch out for what creeps out of the deep!