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Island life was beckoning, and a Maui hotel shone in the Top 20 in time to escape the mainland for a week and to attend a dear friend’s wedding ceremony.
Visitors are immediately treated to Maui’s temperate climate and mountains upon exiting the gate at Kahulai International airport, where the terminals are in open air. The beach resort town of Ka’anapali is about a 45-minute drive away, and easily navigable with only a few routes on the island -- the ocean waves crash on one side, and rocky terrain on the other.
The sprawling resort had several pools and restaurants, and a long stretch of beach that was never crowded. Stock up on snacks and water to bring down to the shore, and for more budget-friendly dining options, venture off the resort and try the Hawaiian mixed plate – served with two scoops of rice, macaroni salad and your choice of meat (try kalua pork, my personal fave).
The resort offered shuttle service into downtown Lahaina, the historic whaler town, now filled with shops, restaurants and galleries along the coast. But I highly recommend renting a car – not only for convenience, but for two adventurous drives on the island: the drive up to Mount Haleakala, and the acclaimed drive to Hana.
Each marvel deserves its own dedicated day, but we admittedly packed both into one long day. Pack snacks and plenty of water, even a little picnic lunch for the drive to Hana. Bring some cash for the fruit stands that pop up on the road selling mangoes, papayas and freshly baked banana bread. A local barista at the base of the volcano even recommended packing Heinekens – with any car trouble, locals are apt to help with a flash of the green bottle. There are many CD audio guides sold before the highway to Hana that are helpful in locating the spots for waterfalls, pools and scenic points.
Guides recommend a very early start on the road to reach the volcano’s summit in time for sunrise. Just at the base, stop for some coffee and muffins at Crater Coffee -- the only coffee available on the way up the mountain and to fuel your steep drive. Many leave just as the sun rises -- don’t. Stay a few minutes longer and the colors are unbelievable.
After shifting into low gear down the mountain, we started our trek to Hana: 52 miles, 59 bridges over deep ravines, and 620 curves cut into the coast. Drive slow and pull over often. Let down all the windows -- ginger and guava permeate the air, and you can better see the sights: bamboo forests, jagged cliffs and the foamy waves.
If there’s an optimal time in Maui, it’s early morning. It’s when the sun rises above the clouds hanging below Mount Haleakala’s summit, and the water is at its clearest and calmest to view the rainbow of fish and coral when snorkeling above the reefs at Molokini Island. But there was no better time or place than sunset on the Kapalua coast for my friend’s intimate wedding ceremony, where the horizon blazed in oranges and purples as glasses clinked in celebration.