Shop Like a Local: Buying Souvenirs on Maui

Many stores on Maui sell the exact same souvenirs, but at different prices. We’re talking about T-shirts, key chains, jewelry, and other nick-knacks.

If you want to buy souvenirs within walking distance of Maui Vista 2418, the cheapest place for mass produced items is at the ABC store just a couple blocks to the south on South Kihei Road.

If you want locally made items within walking distance, walk a few blocks north on South Kihei Road and check out the small open mall of vendors. Here you can find home-made soaps, necklaces, custom photos, and even a store of Maui-made food products. (There are actually two open malls with vendors. This picture is of the larger one, located a block north of the Kihei Caffe. If you like, check them both out.)

If you don’t mind driving a bit, consider Long Drugs which is about 1.5 miles north on South Kihei Road. You will find a few Maui made products and many of the same items that are sold in the ABC store, but for less money.

Closer to the airport, you can find the same products again at Walmart. It has a huge selection of souvenirs on the left-hand side of the store (just past the McDonald’s). The prices are very good but, like those in the ABC store and Longs Drugs, most of the products are not made on Maui.

If you’re going for mass quantities of macadamia nut products or aloha shirts, you might consider Costco which is also near the airport. Unfortunately, unlike some mainland Costco’s, this one doesn’t provide day passes – so you have to be a member to shop.

If you want to take pineapples home, we have one renter who told us she bought 100 pounds from Mr. Pineapple. She said they were fabulous and the on-line reviews say the same. Mr. Pineapple (located at 370 Dairy Road on your way to the airport) guarantees the airlines will allow you to check their products as luggage FOR FREE – although if you find one as large as the one in this photo you could have a problem. You might also find a 10% off coupon for Mr. Pineapple on line.

The bottom line: when it comes to buying souvenirs on Maui, it pays to shop around.

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.

Mama’s Fish House for that Special (or any) Occasion

Got a birthday, anniversary, wedding, graduation, or just the need to treat yourself and friends or loved ones to a great meal in a beautiful setting? Go to Mama’s Fish House. Very pricey, very good; Mama’s is a Maui institution. Unless you order a sandwich (still expensive), expect to pay $50+ per person for lunch and more for dinner. The + is for appetizers, drinks, and desserts. While the word “economical” doesn’t really apply to Mama’s, you could have a very satisfying meal with just appetizers and desserts. Reservations recommended anytime – a must in high season. Mention a special occasion and you just might find an aloha card on your table.

Located on a small beach at 799 Poho Place (1.5 miles east of the stoplight in Paia just off the Hana Highway), the Mama’s Fish House sign (see the picture to the right) is hard to miss. Turn in and turn your car over for free valet parking. Be prepared to stay a while.

One of many exotic floral arrangements

Walk slowly because everything you see from the time you leave your car until you drive away is tastefully done: admire the views, admire the trees, admire the woodwork, admire the floral arrangements. (Admire the restrooms.)  Before you take a bite to eat, admire the presentation of what’s set before you. Of course “tastefully done” uses every sense of the word when applied to food and drinks.

While it’s possible to get something else, Mama’s is known for fish. Even if you normally go for the turf rather than the surf, there’s a fish at Mama’s that just might be the best you’ve ever had. The menu is new every day but there are favorites that are always available. For many of the entrées, the menu tells not only where the fish was caught, but who caught it. The waitstaff is knowledgeable, solicitious and displays just the right amount of friendly.

Kathy and Carol enjoy a libation

If you can, save room for dessert.  We were stuffed, but three of us recently shared a small Liliko’i Crème Brulèe that was amazing. The perfect ending to a splendid meal.

Your wallet will be lighter when you leave, but I predict you won’t be disappointed. It’s not just a meal, it’s a memory.

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.

End of Season Whale Watching in Maui

Mother and calf swim next to our boat

From December through March thousands of humpback whales make the warm waters between Maui, Lanai, and Kaho’olawe their home. The first ones usually arrive from their arctic feeding grounds sometime in November and the last stragglers are gone by the end of April. While they’re here they mate, calve and, for months on end, do not eat. (Big exception – the calves who gain 100 pounds or more per day on their mother’s milk!) During much of the time the whales put on great displays clearly visible from the shore and awe inspiring close up. We often take binoculars to the beach to get the best views.

The photos in this post were taken in early April after the most spectacular displays of breaching and fin slapping were over. Nonetheless, we saw lots of whales on a beautiful pristine day.

Coast Guard regulations prohibit boats approaching whales closer than 100 yards, but some whales seem not to have read the regs. When a boat cuts its motor and drifts, a whale or two – like the mother and calf in the picture above – will sometimes come close to investigate. We were told that the mother will usually place herself between the calf and boat so we were lucky to get a picture like this. The calf was literally not more than 20 feet away. (Click on the picture to make it bigger so you can see the detail.)

Small pod passing by

There are many whale watching cruises – we took one by the Pacific Whale Foundation. The crew was knowledgable and the trip great fun.

In addition to the highlight of the mother and calf swim-by we saw lots of spouting and tail flukes like this small pod in the photo to the left.

Snorkeling at Molokini

School of fish at Molokini

There are many boats that will take you to Molokini for snorkeling. Some also go to “turtle town” where it’s likely you’ll see a turtle or two. (See our posting on “South Maui Snorkling – Makena Landing” for a no-cost option to swim with turtles.) Some trips to Molokini are longer and some shorter. Some provide food and drinks. Some do snuba at extra cost. (Snuba is sort of like scuba but without the  freedeom of movement and without the air tank on your back.) While we provide free snorkel gear at our condo, all the boats provide their own. Shop around to find the trip which is best for you.

The seas are generally calmer before the wind picks up so go in the morning unless you have no other choice. On a clear day you can see to a depth of 80 feet or more so the ideal time to go is a calm morning with no, or few, clouds. Of course, you usually have to make reservations in advance, so the conditions may not always be perfect.

Snorkel boats leave from Maalaea Bay – about a 20 minute drive north of Maui Vista. (They also leave from Lahaina, but don’t bother.) Take the road toward Lahaina and watch for the signs to Maalaea Bay. Allow time for parking and walking to your boat.

The Island of Molokini isn’t large but it looks tiny from the shore because it’s far away. Dependng on the speed of your boat the trip over will take about 45 minutes plus or minus. From December through March you’ll probably see whales while you’re cruising. If you’re lucky you can see dolphins any time of year. Some dolphins may even ride the bow wave and spinner dolphins can put on quite a show.

As the boat arrives as Molokini one of the crew will dive overboard with a rope. He or she will disappear below the surface to attach the rope to an underwater bouy. An anchor at the stern keeps the boat in place while you enjoy the sights. Each snorkel boat has it’s own designated bouy. I think they all say they have the best location.

You will see lots of fish and beautiful coral at Molokini – maybe an eel or two. In whale season you can sometimes hear the whales singing when you’re under water. It’s probably the premier spot to snorkel in Maui.

Snorkeling at Turtle Town

After as much time as almost anyone could want in the water, your boat will leave Molokini. If your boat goes to “turtle town” it will head east to a point just north of Makena Landing on Maui.

At “turtle town” there are two parallel lava tubes jutting out from the shore which support coral and form underwater caves. The turtles like to rest in these caves where they feel safe from the few predators that can do damage to a full grown turtle. While they can hold their breath for long periods of time, eventually these turtles have to breath. In this picture that Kathy took a large male is coming up for air. If you’re on the surface you can hear them hiss as they exhale. They’ll generally take a half dozen breaths or more before decending for another rest. It isn’t necessary to go to Molokini to have a great time snorkeling on Maui but, if you go, you won’t regret it.

Surfer Memorial at La Perouse

Surfer Memorial at La Perouse

When the surf is running from the south, some of the serious surfers on Maui head to La Perouse. Unless you have a key to the gate for the private road, the closest you can get by car is the end of the road well past Big Beach. Some locals have a key. Others carry their boards along the trail described below.

To get to La Perouse, head south past Big Beach and into the Ahihi Kenau Reserve. A few hundred yards past Kanahena Cove (near the west end of the Reserve), the road narrows and the potholes proliferate. You’ll drive about a mile through a large lava field dating from 1790. Shortly after the lava stops you’ll see horse stables to your left and a monument just beyond. You can park here or drive the last hundred yards over an incredibly rough road and park by the ocean. It’s a beautiful spot and if you go no farther the trip is still worthwhile. If you’re very lucky, you may see dolphins resting in the shallows near the shore. Be sure to check out the cove around the bend to the right where you can see many beautiful fish from the shore. It’s private property so please respect the signs – but someone at La Perouse has a sweet spot on earth.

To see the Surfer Memorial you have to take a hike. Much of the trail is exposed and windy, so put on sunscreen, wear a hat with a chin strap and take some water. It’s about 3/4 mile to the memorial over uneven but more or less level terrain. It’s not a difficult hike.

The trail head is obvious – you’ll see it to the left as you face the water. The first part leads through the lava field where you’ll see a few cultural and historic sites (mainly the remains of enclosures made of lava). About two-thirds the way through the lava field is a fun blow hole – at least when the tide is high and the surf is up. (NOTE: blowholes can be dangerous. Keep a safe distance. A tourist was sucked into a bigger one on the north shore of Maui in 2011. His body was never found. A youngster could easily be sucked into this one – and maybe you.)

Not long after you leave the blowhole, the lava field is replaced by a small sandy beach. Beyond the beach the trail enters a welcome shady grove. Look for wild goats in this area. You can’t miss them – there are lots. The one in this picture seems to be chewing on a stick.

The Surfer Memorial is near the end of the grove – just off the trail toward the ocean. If the surf’s up, you may see surfers in the background. Quite a striking sight.  In fact, if you click on the picture at the top of this post and enlarge it, you’ll see a surfer paddling out to catch a wave.

In our picture of the memorial we show only one cross and broken board. When you get there, you’ll see two. It’s a great sport, but some of the surfers don’t come home.

Interested in other hikes on Maui? Check out our posts on Mount Haleakala hikes:  The Sliding Sands Trail and The Halemauu Trail. To read more about hiking La Perouse Bay, click here.

UPDATE June 5, 2012: on a recent hike of La Perouse trail we discovered that both broken surfboards were gone. There were pieces of one laying beside the memorial but the other was nowhere in sight.

South Maui Snorkeling – 3 Favorite Spots

You don’t have to take a snorkel boat to see great coral, fish, and green sea turtles – although a trip to Molokini can be spectacular.

The map to the right shows our three favorite spots in South Maui where you can snorkel from the shore: Ulua Beach, Makena Landing, and the Ahihi Kenau Reserve. The short access road to Ulua Beach is 2.7 miles south of Maui Vista. There is a conspicuous sign for Makena Landing 6.0 miles from our condo. The most accessable snorkel spot in the Ahihi Kenau Reserve is 9.1 miles away.

Each location has something different to offer.  For pictures and more detailed descriptions, see our posts for each of these three sites. Here are the general characteristics, advantages and disadvantages of each location.

Thumbs up for Snorkling!

Ulua Beach

Ulua Beach is a convenient and popular county park with paved parking, restrooms and outdoor showers. Parking can be a problem and the beach crowded – especially in the morning before the winds pick up. There are reasons why Ulua Beach is popular: it’s easy to get to, the beach is lovely, there is both sun and shade, all the amenities you need are there, and there’s good snorkeling. It’s an easy snorkel but the farther out you go the better it gets. Expect to see lots of nice coral and colorful (generally small) fish. A great place for beginners and more experienced snorkelers alike.

Makena Landing

Makana Landing has lots of turtles. It’s rare to spend an hour there and not see turtles. At the north end of the cove there is a small paved parking lot, restrooms, and outdoor showers. (There is also parking on the street.) The beaches are sandy but small. You’ll see nice coral if you swim far enough to the south. Look for turtles near the rocks on the north side of the cove or in the little bays to the south. You can also sometimes see turtles resting on the bottom – often part way under a rock or large coral.

Ahihi Kinau Reserve

The Ahihi Kineu Reserve includes an underwater preserve where fishing is prohibited. As a result, you can see some big fish there. The Reserve is about a 20 minute drive south of Maui Vista and the road becomes narrow and windy for the last couple of miles. Drive with care – there are lots of blind spots and it’s sometimes difficult for cars to pass in the opposite direction. There is no parking where you put in for snorkeling and no showers or restrooms within miles – although there is a construction-type toilet a few hundred yards past the cove where you’ll also find a parking lot. The beach is rocky and can be hard on your feet. The big draw is big fish. For the best views, keep to the left as you swim past the mouth of the cove.

South Maui Snorkeling – Ulua Beach

Snorkeling at Ulua Beach is convenient, easy, and fun. Less than seven minutes south of Maui Vista, Ulua/Makapu Beach is well marked on the Wailea/Makena road. If you see The Shops at Wailea, you’ve gone too far.

Ulua Beach is VERY popular. Parking has been expanded recently, but in high season you still may circle and wait for a parking space if you get there at the wrong time. (Early morning or around lunch time – when people are leaving – are good times.)

Ulua Beach has everything except high surf. There’s good parking, restrooms, outdoor shower, wonderful sandy beach, shade, sun, and good snorkeling. There is often a knowledgeable person from The Pacific Whale Foundation on the beach at the bottom of the walkway. He/she can answer almost any question you might ask about the beach, snorkeling, and what you see when you’re out in the water. Look for the cardtable and display. The Pacific Whale person usually has coral-friendly sunscreen you can use for free. (The oils in most sunscreens can damage the coral.)

It’s common to see LOTS of snorkelers at Ulua Beach. The reef and coral is by the rocks at the north end of the beach. It’s not hard to tell where to go – just follow everyone else. You can see the rocks jutting out into the water in the picture above. Snorkel near these rocks (but not too close). The farther out you go, the better it gets. Out a ways, the coral is very nice and there are a variety of colorful reef fish – mostly on the small side. If you’re lucky you may see a green sea turtle or a moray ell. The latter are not friendly. In the unlikely event you see one, consider yourself lucky but keep your distance.

Stay away from the rocks, watch the surf’, don’t touch the coral, and don’t step on the sea urchins! (We have a friend who did – not a pretty sight.)

If you’re a good swimmer and experienced snorkeler, try snorkeling from Ulua Beach to Mokapu Beach. Just go out toward the end of the reef and keep turning right. The only thing between Mokapu Beach and Ulua Beach is the narrow reef. Have a GREAT time!

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.