A WEEK IN MAUI exhausted my supply of superlatives: spectacular, magnificent, stunning, incredible…not to mention oohhh and aaahhh. Maui is all that, as was confirmed again by a 20-mile drive (at 10-15mph) on Tuesday along the island’s northeastern tip — a drive often likened for scenic beauty to the more famous Road to Hana at Maui’s other end.
This northern road, below (Rt. 340; officially, Kahekili Highway, though no one seems to call it that), weaves along an ancient coastal footpath, providing awe-inspiring views of the ocean, verdant hills dotted with the occasional cattle ranch, and dramatic rock formations.
I had been wussy about this drive at first. It sounded treacherous. The breakfast conversation at our B&B in Wailuku was all about the road: how it was vertigo-inducing and only wide enough for a single car. Many maps indicate a dotted line, with the words “4-wheel-drive vehicles only,” which my rented Ford Focus was not.
Eventually I agreed to give it a go, with my daughter Zoë at the wheel (she’d driven it before). It was thrilling, and felt perfectly safe. There’s enough land between the edge of the road and the drop-off to the water that I didn’t ever feel we were about to go over a cliff. There are railings or fences along most of it, and it’s decently paved, if narrow (we did have to back up, carefully, in several places to give those coming in the opposite direction the right of way).
Part of the fun was stopping in the remote and enterprising town of Kahakuloa, above, deep in a valley, where local residents have set up colorful stands selling dried mango slices, fresh cut pineapple in Ziploc bags, and home-baked banana bread to sustain hungry travelers.
Having survived the drive, we explored a couple of the rugged, windswept beaches on the north shore of Maui, uncrowded except for a few snorkelers and surfers, then made our way back to Wailuku via the regular highway — roundabout but relatively quick. We had a delicious, inexpensive Vietnamese dinner in Wailuku at A Saigon Cafe.
The Old Wailuku Inn at Ulupono, above, home base for my last three nights in Maui, is a rambling 1920s house inside a leafy gated courtyard. The inn’s ten large rooms and public spaces, decorated with bamboo furniture and flower prints, have an Old Hawaii feel.
The inn is quiet and comfortable, and they think of everything: roll-up mats and towels for the beach, healthy snacks available at any hour of day or night, guidebooks to Maui’s history, flowers, fish, and birds in every room. Janice Fairbanks, who runs the inn with her husband Tom, whips up banana/macadamia nut pancakes, fresh fruit salads in scalloped-edge papaya cups, and other scrumptious breakfast treats every morning. Below, our Lokelani room.
The centrally located town of Wailuku had a bustling commercial center before the advent of nearby shopping malls. Now it has a sleepy little historic district with a 1928 Art Deco movie house, below, now used for community theater productions, as its centerpiece.
Wailuku’s main claim to tourist fame is the jungle-like Iao Valley, with its 1,200-foot-tall ‘needle’ of basalt, below.
This area was the scene of a bloody battle between Maui warriors and forces led by King Kamehameha, who sought to unify the Hawaiian islands (under his own rule, of course) in the 1790s. We found the state park at Iao Valley thronged with families trekking through rainforest glades, and exploring the bite-size native botanical garden, below.
Below, how bananas begin.
A visit to Wailuku’s 1833 Bailey House, below, now a museum of Hawaiian ethnographic and missionary history, with its lovely collection of local landscape paintings done in the late 19th century by Massachusetts-born missionary Edward Bailey, was a fine top-off to my Maui experience.
Of course, I couldn’t resist snapping a few examples of Wailuku’s older bungalow-style houses, below, on our way out of town.
All good vacations must end, sadly. This is my last Maui post; I wrote most of it on the plane en route to JFK and am now back in the land of the brownstones. But my head is still in Hawaii. If anyone has Hawaii tips, please share them in the comments. I know I’ll be back.