A friend of ours just came back from visiting Maui and that got me thinking about the trip we made out there, just about a year ago this week. It was my first ever visit to Hawaii and Kevin’s first since he was a child. He had wanted to go back with me for several years, but I had resisted, envisioning throngs of tourists and resort developments swallowing up every bit of coast line. It didn’t seem like the kind of place that we could have a very authentic travel experience.
But after seeing a good deal on tickets on Alaska Airlines, I decided to give it a shot. With a little research and a bit of a gamble on our accommodations on the lesser visited North Shore, we found a way to see the island without the tiresome crowds.
Stay in neighborhoods off the beaten path
We took a chance on our accommodations by deciding to stay in a sparsely populated, residential area in the jungle, but it turned out that staying at the Windward Garden B+B, was the best decision we could have made. Though there is no sandy beach nearby, as you hike down to the rocky ocean cliffs to watch the pounding surf at sunrise, you may feel you’re among the only people on the island.
The house, technically in the rural community of Haiku, is on a windy dirt road, with only a few neighbors. The home was amazing, lovingly constructed over more than a decade by the owners, Susan and Chris a couple that had moved here from New York more than 30 years before and had raised their kids on the property. They were so helpful and fun to talk to. Leading us down to a local swimming hole, Chris explained the natural history of the island, pointing out both native plants as well as the non-native invasive species choking them out everywhere you could see. (These things happen, he reminded us, as cheap flights from around the world make our planet smaller).
We stayed in the master suite, with private bath and private deck overlooking the home’s beautiful gardens and the forest below (since we were there, they have also made available a complete cottagewith full kitchen, bath and living area, for just $10 more than the master suite—a great deal!). Each day we had amazing breakfasts of tropical fruit (much of it grown in their garden and in the forests surrounding the house). With the windows open we could hear the exotic birds of the forest below, the howling wind, and the sound of the rain in the occasional short downpours that happen throughout the winter. I’ve never experienced a more peaceful place to fall asleep.
The house was in an ideal location for getting an early start to drive to Hana, to drive to Haleakala National Park, and not too far from beach destinations near Paia and on the South Shore. If you are dead set on doing lots of activities in the West Shore tourist resorts of Lahaina and Ka’anapali, you’ll find the commute tedious, but with the exception of one dinner excursion to Lahaina, we avoided the area altogether.
Dine and shop in Paia and Haiku
Paia is a bustling old plantation-town from the time of Maui’s thriving sugar cane industry. It’s rugged North Shore location attracts world-class windsurfers and big wave surfers alike.
Paia is the first stop along the Road to Hana for many visitors coming from the West Shore so mid-day it can get pretty busy. But in the morning and evenings the crowds thin out and the quirky downtown had everything you need to complete your stay on the island. There were a handful of great restaurants (we liked the corner fish shop, and the organic, wood-fired pizza place), several bars, a coffee/ice cream shop, a well-stocked organic grocery market, and shopping that includes antiques to surf gear.
The formerly bohemian vibe of the community has made way to some gentrification. One sign was the Lululemon store that had just opened down the street. I can’t afford to shop at this trendy brand’s boutiques very often (I do own one of their yoga mats, which I love), but at home I do occasionally go to the free yoga classes they do in-store with top-quality local instructors. I see that this particular site they offers free outdoor “Yoga for Surfers” classes at Launiupoko Beach Park, on Tuesdays from 8:30-9:30am…free beach yoga–this might be the best deal on the island!
The quiet village of Haiku was a world away from Paia’s eclectic offerings. This primarily residential community, a few miles up the hill from the main road, consisted of a tiny grocery store, two restaurants, and an art gallery. We went out there in the early evening (about 7pm) ate a great meal at the Hana Hou Café (tasty Kalua Pork, Kev said), which had a beautiful back patio with a local musician performing. There were a handful of other diners that night, clearly locals doing what they do every week on that night.
Remembering this inspired Kevin to write a haiku… about Haiku and the North Shore:
Wild and overgrown
In the volcano’s shadow
Lies sleepy Haiku
(Is this guy cheesy, or what!)