Earlier this year, my husband started planning a surprise 30th birthday trip for me. He shared with me that we’d be going to Hawaii, but the particulars (specific Island, resort, activities, etc.) were kept secret. Not until we were at LAX, and I was handed my boarding pass, did I find out that our tropical destination was Maui. I could not think of a better place, nor a better person with which, to spend my 30th birthday. Here’s a summary of the awesomeness:
We landed, and turned on our cell phones. I got a text from one of my sisters that said “call me as soon as you get this.” Naturally, I freaked out a little. I called my sister and learned that my Oma (means “grandmother” in German) was in an emergency surgery to have 3 feet of her intestines removed. While major surgery is a threat for anyone, Oma’s age (85), and her propensity for high blood pressure, elevated the risk. I was afraid to get our rental car and leave the airport. I didn’t know if I needed to hop back on a plane to CA. My Mom and Sis reassured me that it was fine to continue our vacation, so we did. Oma came out of surgery successfully and all signs pointed to a healthy recovery.
We hopped in the rental car and stopped at the Island’s only Costco to get booze and beer for the week. Then we stopped at a grocery store and got some basic food, and drove to our hotel, the Marriott Beach Club Kaanapali. We unpacked and ate dinner at a restaurant on the beach at our hotel (Longboard’s). We already felt the stress melting away (whomever invented vacation knew what they were doing).
We got up, went to the gym (our hotel gym had partial views of the ocean!) and got in some cardio. Then, we grabbed Starbucks (there was one right on the beach at our hotel!!!), explored the hotel a little bit and then ran some “errands.” We rented our snorkel gear (that we used for the week) and did some shopping. Then we had lunch at this place called “Aloha Mixed Plate” right on the beach where we had a traditional Hawaiian plate lunch. For those unfamiliar, the Hawaiian plate lunch concept is typically a meat or a fish (mostly teriyaki style), with white sticky rice and macaroni salad. It’s really good, albeit carb-heavy. We spent the afternoon at the one of the pools at the hotel (there were 3 total – all of which had beautiful landscaping with lava rocks, grottos, waterfalls and water slides – they weren’t messing around!) and had dinner back in our hotel room (we had a mini kitchen, en suite).
We got an early start to beat the rush for the drive known as the “Road to Hana.” Hana is a city on the North-East side of the island and the only paved road to get there is an incredibly curvy / windy road that is two lanes and goes down to one lane sometimes too (mostly on bridges – you have to yield to oncoming traffic and/or honk your horn around the turn to warn other cars of one’s presence. Scary shit!). The sides of the road are either waterfalls, jungle or really steep embankments. The road is only about 70 miles long, but takes about 3 hours each way, because of the low speeds required for the tight turns. My husband did the driving and later calculated the round-trip journey: 144 miles of driving, 1,240 turns and 92 one-lane bridges. Wow.
After we drove through Hana, we came to Halekala National Park, where we hiked on the Pipiwai Trail to Waiamoku Falls, a 400-foot waterfall. The hike was about 4 miles (out-and-back; uphill to the falls, downhill on the way back) and was absolutely stunning: guava trees, ferns and all kinds of other green foliage line the trail that follows the Pipiwai Stream. About 1 mile into the trail are the 185-foot Makahiku falls, which was just an appetizer of what was to come. After the first falls, the trail turns into a bamboo forest. The bamboo would clap together as the wind blew and it sounded like the percussion in a tropical band! The thing that was also so memorable was the fact that these 80-100 foot bamboo trees were so densely packed that although it was 12:30pm and bright outside, it was so dark and “creepy,” as one other hiker / passerby called it. Toward the end of the bamboo forest, we were met with a torrential downpour – a tropical rain left us soaking wet and me giddy with joy! I was literally jumping in all of the puddles. As cheesy as it sounds, I was overcome with such happiness and couldn’t stop smiling at my husband. It was an experience in which I felt like I was really “living.” Hiking in the rain in a bamboo forest was a moment I’ll never forget, and was easily my favorite part of the whole trip.
We were soaked further when we had to cross the creek in two different spots (that was now gushing with water – up to our knees – because of the instant downpour). After trying not to get swept away by the current, by holding on to big lava rock boulders, we finally got to the other side and looked up: there we saw the Waiamoku Falls. It was breath-taking!
The rain stopped on the hike back down the hill to the visitor’s information area, but the trail was really muddy. Both of us almost lost a shoe because the suction of the mud was so strong – it was funny. From the visitor’s area, there’s a different 0.5 mile hike to the “Seven Sacred Pools” that we did as well. On days when the current isn’t so strong, the pools are open for swimming. Since they were closed when we were there, we just snapped some photos.
After the hike we were HUNGRY! A few miles in on the return trip, we stopped at a food truck called “Braddah Hut” (I think “Braddah” is pigeon-speak (local slang) for “brother”) where we had the best Hawaiian plate lunch we’ve ever had. The teriyaki chicken was to die for. The best part is that it was a permanent food truck with some run-down folding tables and chairs, covered by a nice tent / awning to protect diners from the frequent rain. It’s just this little trailer on the side of the road that was a glorious find by my husband on Yelp!
On the road back from Hana, we pulled off on a scenic lookout spot and snapped some great photos of a double-rainbow bursting with color over the ocean. We also stopped at the Pa’iloa Black Sand Beach at Wai’anapanapa State Wayside Park. Never before had I seen a black sand beach! There were lava tunnels and neat rock formations – it was awesome! When we got back to civilization, we were too tired to think about going out to dinner or cooking, and we knew we’d be passing the Island’s only Costco again. So we opted for the trusted $10 Costco pizza to go and a bottle of red wine. After dinner, we hit up the jacuzzi to soothe the achy joints and muscles. It was a perfect way to spend the last day of my 20s!
We slept in a little bit and headed to this restaurant called “The Gazebo” which is a big gazebo right on the beach (how apropos, right?). The place is known for their pancakes and is really popular, but is small (only about 12 tables). So much so that the line was about 25 people long when we got there. I thought we’d be able to put our name in and walk around, but instead, people just wait in line. Let me just tell you – the 45-minute wait was SOO worth it. I had the best pancakes I’ve ever had: they were banana macadamia nut with coconut syrup. My mouth is watering even now as I describe them!
After breakfast, we went snorkeling at Honalua Bay marine preserve where we saw trumpet fish, yellow tangs, angel fish (which are really called “moorish idols”) and all kinds of other coral and sea life. Next, we went back to our hotel pool for the afternoon (I did a lot of reading on my Kindle while laying by the pool – so relaxing!). In the early evening, I got a massage in a private cabana on the beach!! It was a surprise birthday present from my Mom and it was such a treat. I highly recommend such a spoiling at least once in your life. After the massage, I got showered, put on a dress and was whisked off to a fancy restaurant, Lahaina Grill, for a late-night dinner. It was such a great day! I think it was my best birthday ever!!
Thursday was a very mellow day, which was great. We slept in, and then spent the whole day by the pool. We even ate lunch at the pool bar. For dinner, we grilled up some steaks and I think we watched some Animal Planet afterward.
We had breakfast at The Sea House, right on the beach at Napili Bay, where we snorkeled afterward. I had banana macadamia nut pancakes again! They were not as good as the other ones, but still were pretty tasty. While we ate, we watched this guy try to get out of the waves and back on the shore. He was in only up to his knees / ankles, depending on the tide at any particular moment. He’d get up, wobble a bit, and then fall back down. It happened over and over. I was laughing so hard – I couldn’t help it – I just got the giggles watching him (okay, now I’m laughing again just typing it!!). I thought he was kind of playing around – like he was using slapstick humor to make his wife (presumably) laugh. My husband had his doubts though – he kept saying, “stop laughing. I don’t think he’s joking.” We were several hundred yards away in the restaurant, with lots of people much closer to him, so I thought he’d ask for help if he needed it (or that someone would offer it). Well, eventually, his wife and another man did go to help him get out. He walked with a bad limp back to his towel and laid down. Afterward, we walked by to go snorkel, and I realized he was older than I thought, and had a walking cane next to him on the sand. I felt like such a total piece of crap. My husband has been giving me a hard time since, saying that I like to laugh and make fun of “crippled people” (to which I obviously replied that it’s not nice to call anyone “crippled.”). Good grief! So, to you man, that I was laughing at – I’m really very sorry. I hope you’re okay.
After all of that, the snorkeling at Napili Bay was decent, but the water was a bit rougher than we liked (karma?), so we left and drove to the next snorkel spot. The sea life was exquisite at Black Rock, and the water was more calm. We saw so many colors of fish and coral that it was like we were swimming in an aquarium. Although both snorkel locations are known for sea turtles, we unfortunately didn’t see any on this trip.
We were so full from breakfast that we skipped lunch altogether and headed to a tour of the Maui Brewing Company brewing facility. It was soo awesome! We’ve done brewery tours before where beers are bottled, but never where they are canned. As you can imagine, the machines and processes are much different. Tasting the beer after the tour was fun, but my favorite part, surprise, surprise, was the food at the Maui BrewPub - the nachos hit the spot! Although, I cannot go without mentioning that the flavors of the coconut in the Coconut Porter and the pineapple in the Mana Wheat were so fresh and completely different than they taste here on the “mainland.” My favorite of the Maui Brew Co.’s beer is the Bikini Blonde. It’s perfect vacationing beer – light and crisp with just enough of an ABV to be worthy of drinking (5.1%).
Although my husband was the only driver officially listed on the rental car, I offered to take the keys so he could “thrive” in his element. There were many good beers, even some that were collaborations with other breweries, that I wanted him to enjoy. Then, we went home and spent the rest of the night doing laundry and playing cards (since it had been a whole two days since I turned 30, responsibility for doing things like laundry had begun to set in).
We hit the gym and burned calories to make way for Teddie’s Bigger Burgers for lunch. We spent some time at the pool, returned our snorkel sets and settled in to watch USC get their butts kicked by Standford. Instead of sulking on the couch after the loss, we opted to walk on the beach path to watch the sunset (gorgeous!!). We had our last dinner at Longboard’s (hotel restaurant). Then we packed up our suitcases and hit the sack.
Check-out was at 10am, so we were up and at ‘em. We dropped off the rental car, said “goodbye” to the island and got back home around 11:30pm, where we were greeted by our two lovie-dovie kitties!! (Confession: I expected to see TMZ at the LAX baggage claim, and was disappointed when I did not.)
As all vacations do, this trip went by too quickly. However, I am so grateful that we got to go and that I have such an amazing partner-in-crime who would plan a trip like this.