Friday, January 27, 2012

Trip Report: Hawaii

I just got back from a family trip to Hawaii (see photos).

I've always thought of Hawaii as the kind of place to visit after I'm too old and decrepit to do tough cycling, sailing, or hiking. In some ways I was right: having a kid is a lot like being old and decrepit, since you have to cater to its needs and can't do massively tough things. On the other hand, we had 6 adults to 1 kid, which meant that he didn't always have us outnumbered.

Family trips aren't as exciting as bike tours or other trips, so I'll abandon my usual day by day posts format and just summarize it all in one long blog post. PicasaWeb recently took away my ability to embed photos inside my blog, so unfortunately, that means I can't embed photos. Thank you for screwing me again, Google+!

Day 1: Arrived in Maui and settled in our beach apartment.
Day 2: Hana Drive. This was a really pretty drive, but the unfortunate part is that tropical islands grow back their trees really quickly, so a lot of the views are obstructed. There's a shortage of even hikes to get to good vantage points, and one of them quickly caused us to get bitten by mosquitoes. Kevin claims that Hana Drive isn't kid friendly. Well, we lucked out and have a pretty good kid who put up with being in a car for long periods of time. Bring food and water though, as places are expensive and the food not very good. The day was honestly a bit too rainy for us to enjoy the 7 sacred pools as a place to swim. Personally, if I had to do this again, I would drive the loop counter-clockwise rather than doing it clockwise. And yes, doing so would violate your rental contract, but seriously? The road is probably better than many streets in San Francisco, despite being unpaved. Recommended.
Day 3: Snorkeling. We tried 3 different snorkel sites, the best one being near the big resort in Kaanapali/Lahaina. One unfortunate thing about being a veteran traveler is that stuff that blows away other people leave you comparing with other experiences. Compared to my lifetime of admittedly very good snorkeling, Hawaii rates a 5 out of 10. The water is murky compared to the Caribbean, and the wildlife is great, but the water is also cool. Nevertheless, even mediocre snorkeling is nice compared to driving.
Day 4: Diving to Moralaki. It was originally going to be a two tank trip to Moralaki and then Turtle Town, but the incoming swells meant that we did both dives at Moralaki. I went with Maui Dive Shop, which is a competent and friendly operation, but ultimately, they could only salvage that much from the conditions, which was murky and relatively low visibility (30-40'). Recommended only if the conditions are clear. My family went to the Coral Gardens instead for snorkeling on a snorkeling-specific boat, and had a great time but didn't take any pictures worth posting.
Day 5: My dad and I took surfing lessons. Surfing is surprisingly fun, but lasts all of 10s each time on the board, so the work to fun ratio is incredibly high. After 2 hours I was exhausted. Then XiaoQin picked us up and we visited a few beaches, including Big Beach for the morning. In the afternoon, we went snorkeling near the Sheraton, which was the best so far, with green sea turtles.
Day 6: Flew to Kauai, and went to our beach house there.
Day 7: I had a scheduled dive trip, but it got canceled because of swells, cancelled all trips. So we rented snorkel gear and drove north to the North coast, which was supposed to get the swells instead, but was very calm (but still murky water). At Anini Beach, XiaoQin spotted a sea turtle and chased it and even got to touch his shell. (I think the turtle allowed her to do so) We then visited the famous lighthouse. On the way home, we spotted a sign for "Ahi", and I pulled over the side of the road to find a man selling Ahi Tuna out of a pickup truck. XiaoQin picked out an 8 pound fish, paid $20 for it, and we had amazingly fresh sashimi for the next two days. Life is full of little opportunities like this, which you have to spot and take action on. We kept looking for the guy the next few times we drove by the spot (he's apparently famous on the island) but never saw him again.
Day 8: Rain day. Didn't get to do much.
Day 9: We tried to go up the Waimea canyon, but got there only to find the fog so thick that nothing could be seen. Went back to Poipu and did some beach surfing. XiaoQin's dad found that one of the neighbors had a coconut tree with ripe coconuts that nobody was picking. So we picked a couple and ate them and found them to be good. Over the next few days, we'd grab 20+ coconuts off that tree.

We visited spouting horn and took a few pictures of the blowhole. It's very exciting if you've never seen one before, but also very touristy. A look around the garden across the street was also fine.
Day 10: We drove over to Haena at the end of the road to swim in the bay there. The snorkeling here was better than in Anini, about 6 out of 10. It was cool and we saw multiple turtles and had fun. The parking situation was hell, since it was the only nice part of the island today. On the way back we got some nice pictures over some farms. We also booked Napali Coast tours. Since the tour wouldn't take the baby, we split the group in to 6, and each group would take turns.
Day 11: We went up the Weimea Canyon and this time finally got to see stuff. It's a wild and beautiful tropical Canyon, worth a look, but is also one of the rainiest places on the planet, which means the trails are muddy as heck. A fog rolled in as we tried to walk it, so we had to call it a day as it was just not much fun. Nevertheless, worth a drive to visit, just start early in the day. Recommended.
Day 12: Napali Coast Tour. I should have brought my DSLR on this trip, as it was gorgeous. Wild rugged mountains, and you can see why the Napali coast trek is rugged. There's no less than 5-6 valleys in a short span of a few miles, no way to build roads without expensive tunneling, and just pretty. On the other hand, tropical hiking is not my idea of fun, and I could find no charter company willing to drop me off at the far end of the trail so it would only be a one way 11 mile hike, so I bagged it. The diving/snorkeling was pretty crappy, 3 out of 10. Heavy swells, and 10-20' visibility at best. But in these conditions, diving is better than snorkeling because once you're under water: no swells. And I did get to see several turtles sleeping. Recommended.
Day 13: My dad and I took surfing lessons again, to learn that the guy over at Maui taught us wrong so we had to unlearn our previous learnings and learn to do it right. What a pain. My dad got exhausted from all the swimming, coconut tree climbing, and snorkeling that he did, so after an hour and a half we bagged it.

XiaoQin and I went over to the east coast and checked out two beach cruisers and rode them on the bike path. The bike path is pretty, and there's only one bike shop worth renting from Kauai Cycle. Their beach cruisers sucked less than any other beach cruisers I'd ever tried, and so are well worth the premium. They also rent road bikes, mtbs, etc.
Day 14: I went with Seasports Divers and did my first Nitrox dives with them. Everybody else was doing Nitrox, so I did it so I wouldn't abandon early. One highlight was when Sabin the dive master looked at me and said, "You don't have enough insulation. 2 wetsuits for you!" I'm the fattest I've ever been in my life, so I took her words with a grain of salt, but sure enough, I felt a little chilly in the water, so it's a good thing I wore 2 suits. My first breath of Nitrox (32% O2) felt like a drink of coffee: you wake up right away. It feels really good. I'll consider getting Nitrox certification one of these daays. These last two dives were the best of the trip, at least a 7 out of 10 if not 8 out of 10. The water was relatively clear (since we dove away from the runoff), and we got to do a drift dive as our first dive. We saw sharks, turtles, octopus (my first!), and many endemic creatures. The rental gear was also first rate. I highly recommend going with Seasports divers if you find yourself in Kauai. They deserve all the kudos and while they're more expensive than everyone else, I think they're well worth the money, and I'm not the kind of person to use those words lightly.
Day 15: We packed, moved out of the house, and had a local Hawaiian place (Lua Lua), and then went to the airport and flew home.

Conclusions: Hawaii is OK. However, if you're a typical American with very little vacation, you typically have two choices if you want to go somewhere warm over winter: the Caribbean, or Hawaii. There's no question in my mind that the Caribbean, especially the Virgin Islands, wins. The water's clearer, warmer, and it's a lot less humid in the Caribbean. Now, the choices of activities vary very widely between the two places. Sailing is horrible in Hawaii: the distances between islands are great, and there's no real charter business to speak of. Surfing, on the other hand, is better on Hawaii than anywhere else in the world. The BVIs are pretty crappy for cycling, whereas Maui has the famous volcano. The reality, though, is that any cycling in the tropics pales to what you can get in California or in the Alps, so I can't imagine blowing good money on a cycling vacation in Hawaii. In retrospect, I was right to put off Hawaii in favor of other places (the BVI, St Vincent and the Grenadines, and even Cancun have way better diving). Even more impressively, all those places are cheaper than Hawaii! I very much doubt that I will return to Hawaii. For me, it's just not worth the time and money. Obviously, I couldn't have said this with authority without having visited Hawaii, so I don't regret this visit. I am, however, planning a trip to the BVIs in short order.
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