Lei of the Land

It was on even larger Haleakala Ranch where I would clatter over cattle guards the next day on a bike. My wife stayed at the beach resort this time, joking that biking down a volcano sounded like a good way to cash in my life insurance. It turned out to be quite tame. Said Kimo, the Haleakala Bike Co. driver who zigzagged me and 24 other adventurers up the mountain: “You can do this even if you’re old or out of shape.” (I don’t think he was talking about me.) “I took an 83-year-old man up here who hadn’t been on a bike since he was 13 and he was fine.”
 
Similar to itineraries offered by other bike-the-volcano companies, the tour started with a drive to the Haleakala National Park Visitor Center at 9,740 feet. Here, we peered into the massive crater before the drop-off at 6,500 feet. We were given a map, a wraparound helmet, and a bike with fat tires and disc brakes before coasting almost to the coast for 23 downhill miles. The cruise down the mountain was a cheap thrill as I carved the curves above the clouds, a flock of hang gliders, the green hills, and distant beaches far below.
 
Eventually the route reached an old rodeo arena, where a paniolo (cowboy) strode through the front gate in full chaps. Still farther down, I was serenaded by the tinkling of wind chimes that drape the front porch of a shop called Goodies in Makawao. Then, finally, I finished in poetically named Haiku. The sense of accomplishment wasn’t the same as if I’d pedaled up the volcano, but I’ll take it.
 
Driving to Hana (Because We Wanna)
The Road to Hana, with its 620 curves and 59 narrow bridges, has a reputation that scares off many Maui visitors. Yet the surface is good, there are no scary cliffs, and your rewards for negotiating the 36-mile-long asphalt snake are as bountiful as the vegetation at the Keanae Arboretum (one of two rainforest walks we took en route from roadside pullouts).
 
Paia is the last town and nearby Hookipa Beach is the last beach before the real curves commence on the Hana Highway. In Paia, a former sugar plantation town now sweetened by craft galleries and coffeehouses, we ordered banana-mango-pineapple smoothies at Café des Amis. We slurped them while watching scores of surfers, windsurfers, and kiteboarders sculpting the waves at Hookipa from a grassy bluff that juts seaward from the beach. This perspective gives you a close-up side view of the surfers, so the bluff is packed with fellow spectators and picnickers.
 
There’s either a waterfall, a trailhead, or a fruit stand around almost every hairpin on the Road to Hana — and all three at the Twin Falls Farm Stand, which sells punctured coconuts with straws for the short hike to the falls. The walk through a tropical-flower-perfumed rainforest led us to two 40-foot ribbons of water that tumble into a shallow pond. Fellow hikers in swimsuits took turns getting soaked under the natural shower. We did another short, magical hike a few miles up the road at the Keanae Arboretum, where a grove of towering gum trees sport slender trunks that are seemingly painted in watercolors.
 
We soon realized as we drew closer to Hana that the whole northeastern corner of Maui is like one big botanical garden, with flora that originated on every continent but Antarctica. Eighty annual inches of rainfall lets everything grow here, with so many banana, guava, passionfruit, breadfruit, and coconut palm trees growing wild that most of the fruit goes uneaten. The weather is just as copious, changing almost hourly from sunshine to puffy clouds to cloudbursts.
 
Among Hana’s four beaches, we decided our favorites were palm-fringed Hamoa and Wai’anapanapa State Park’s black sand beach, with its adjacent trails, caves, and a blowhole. These small, tranquil beaches bear no resemblance to West Maui’s resort beaches, just as Hana (population 1,200) is worlds apart with its century-old general store, no stoplights, and just one low-rise resort (the AAA Four Diamond Travaasa). In this small town, honor stands — fruit, flowers, and crafts are left unattended outside many homes and locals trust you will leave the right amount and take only what you paid for.
 
“We all trust each other,” said Doug Hill, a Hana resident since age 10, who follows the local custom of waving to everyone who walks or drives past during the bike tour he leads. “That drove my wife crazy when we visited LA,” he said with a laugh. “People thought there was something wrong with me.” If we’d stayed in Hana much longer, we might have seemed a little crazy ourselves — waving to strangers, foraging wild fruit for breakfast, and hula dancing at dusk. On second thought, maybe crazy isn’t so bad.
 
BOB COOPER, whose articles have appeared in Budget Travel and National Geographic Traveler, is a travel and outdoor sports writer who has previously written about Hawaii’s best-known endurance races, the Honolulu Marathon and Hawaii Ironman Triathlon.
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Haleakala National Park
Haleakala National Park
Road to Hana
Road to Hana
If You Go
Pick your perfect beach: It’s hard to top Kaanapali, which is flat, wide, three miles long, and filled with walkers and sunbathers. If you like a quieter scene, Makena, or “Big” Beach, offers great picnicking and swimming. Kapalua Bay Beach is ideal for novice snorkelers, Kamaole Beach is the best for bodysurfing and boogie boarding, and Hookipa Beach near Paia is perfect for watching surfers, windsurfers, and kiteboarders.
 
Eat like the locals: Instead of pricey tourist restaurants or fast-food chains, try eating like the locals. Popular, tasty, budget-friendly spots include Aloha Mixed Plate in Lahaina (traditional plates of Hawaiian comfort foods for less than $10), Leoda’s Kitchen and Pie Shop in Olowalu (seared ahi sandwiches and macademia-nut chocolate praline tarts), and Grandma’s Coffee House in Keokea (taro sandwiches and banana pineapple dream cake). Also, be adventurous and brake for huli huli (rotisserie) chicken stands and other food carts, which are especially abundant on the Road to Hana. These meals can be as memorable — at a fraction of the price — as at any resort restaurant.
 
Travel timing: The weather doesn’t change much at West Maui resorts, with highs in the 80s and lows in the 60s year-round, though it’s slightly cooler and much rainier on the drives to Hana and at the island’s higher elevations — especially in the winter. Winter is the best time to come if you want to see the humpbacks jumping. Spring and fall are when flight and hotel prices tend to be lower — and the beaches and restaurants less crowded.
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