Great Drives: Maui, Hana and Haleakala

February 12, 2006

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Ana kapuana — it means “so the story goes.” You hear it chanted in native Hawaiian songs that infuse antiseptic AM waves with floral scents, and from the locals who slow down and wave to other drivers through rolled-down windows at the few roadside stops on the 52 miles from the airport to the eastern tip of nowhere. At the 90-minute mark, give or take, you figure out that the phrase also applies to the “hour or so” you were told it would take to get from the Maui airport to one of the many visions man has held of paradise.


The hour or so becomes nearly two and a half hours, during which the lilting music on our car’s radio begins to dissolve away any connection to the mainland or even the more populated center of Maui, about 300 sharp turns and dozens of one-lane bridges back. BlackBerries lose signal at roughly the same point where only the road ahead indicates any sort of civilization has dawned somewhere nearby. Waterfalls cascade on the veering road, and deluges and sharp-edged rays of sun fence atop the pavement while the ocean keeps languid score.


At some point — is it nap time already, or time for a carsick bag? — you arrive in Hana, where the Hawaiian blessing mahalo (“may you be in divine breath”) parts from the lips of everyone in the village and at the Hana-Maui resort, almost a mantra. It’s a local inflection, we soon learn — mahalo, as in manana, only less urgent.


Maui revealed


sold Barrett-Jackson

sold Barrett-Jackson

On the map, the island of Maui makes up some of the tail of islands that streak across the Pacific like a comet. Hawaii, the “big island,” is the head, trailed by Maui and Kahoolawe, Lanai, and Molokai and then Oahu to the north and northwest, with Kauai and empty Niihau tailing off toward distant Midway Island.


The island often ranks as visitors’ favorite Hawaiian island, topping metropolitan Oahu, the somewhat stark Big Island, even the garden island of Kauai. It thrives on honeymooners and on getaway vacationers and seems to have left behind or pushed underground its reputation as a producer of high-quality “Maui Wowee” cannabis — or so the story goes. Some vacations begin and end within the confines of one beach, one hotel and well, one activity, take your pick.


But there’s no need to settle on one sight in Maui. The second-largest island in the chain, 727-square-mile Maui is blessed with 120 miles of shoreline and more beach areas than the other Hawaiian islands. With only 120,000 residents, even the most popular beaches crowded up during tourists season would pale in density to Ipanema, St. Tropez or any place with less crystalline water and without the stunning, mountainous backdrop afforded by dead and dormant volcanoes. It’s easy to drive around the island and change scenery completely within an hour, from the depth of the valley near Kihei to the heights of the Haleakala crater.


Named for the Hawaiian demi-god who raised the island chain up from the ocean, Maui is defined by its twin peaks. West Maui Volcano is considered extinct, because it hasn’t erupted within recent history, while East Maui Volcano is called active, since it erupted just the other geologic day in 1790. The Kahului airport sits in the fertile valley between the dueling cones, and the nondescript surrounding area gives you all the more reason to make the easy 45-minute drive on Highway 378 up to Haleakala National Park, the best place to see almost all of Maui most days.

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