Friday, December 31, 2010

December 31, 2010: Toronto - Dexter Marathon, Cooking Rabbit

New Year's Eve. Still jetlagged, but more ambitious. I buy a rabbit at the local butcher for the first time, and make it in the slow cooker for New Year's Eve dinner (good, but bony; not quite as savoury as hoped, but with another recipe I think it could be improved on).

We also start a Dexter Season 5 marathon, staying up past midnight, then heading to bed.

Thursday, December 30, 2010

Rainbows of Hawai'i

It should be no surprise that we saw many rainbows in Hawai'i, since that's what decorates the state license plate, but it still felt special every time. So here is my collection of rainbows of Hawai'i!

Manoa Falls, Oahu

Kalalau Lookout, Kaua'i

'Anini Beach, Kaua'i

The state license plate 

Wailua Falls, Kaua'i

Rainbow Overlook, Maui

December 30, 2010: Toronto - Jet Lag

Jet lag. We want to sleep and eat at all the wrong times, and struggle to get back onto a Toronto schedule.

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

December 29, 2010: Maui - Hana Highway, Waterfall Adventure, Garden of Eden, Coconut Water, Birds - Birds - Birds, Kite Boarding, Wildlife Refuge, Flying Home

Our last day in Maui. We didn't fly out until the end of the afternoon, so we decided to drive as much of the famous Hana Highway as we could fit in. We'd read that it's the most scenic drive in Hawai'i - turns out it was yet another narrow road of one-lane bridges and hairpin turns, which I was starting to tire of. But it was beautiful, and the lush green rainforest growth was a contrast to the rest of Maui. It was also much less developed, which we liked, as it reminded us of Kaua'i. And it was a dry, sunny day on the north shore, which is not the norm.

Our first stop was to see the Na'ili'ili-haele Falls. We had a guidebook that told us where to pull over and how to navigate the trail - good thing, as it would have been completely obscure otherwise. There is a series of four small waterfalls, accessed through a bamboo forest. We scrambled along the muddy red dirt trail (addendum: my pants, which got splashed from the knee down with mud, are still stained red after four laundry washings), I took a spill on a boulder while fording the river, and we passed waterfall #1 without realizing it - no water coming down. Waterfall #2 wasn't much farther - a beautiful small fall, but the pool it emptied into was very muddy - no temptation to go swimming there. We had instructions for how to get to waterfalls #3 and #4, but it would have involved scaling a sheer stone wall and swimming up the river for some distance - more adventure than we were looking for. When we got back to the car I changed pants.

We continued our drive, pulling in at  the Garden of Eden, an arboretum and botanical garden. The name is hokey, so we were a bit sceptical, but it was the best garden I visited in Hawai'i - a great variety of interesting plants (including an enormous hundred-year-old mango tree), beautiful views of Upper and Lower Puohokamoa Falls, and a lookout to the opening shot from Jurassic Park. We also had a close encounter with a colourful gecko, and Mark got to feed the ducks. After our leisurely walk around the grounds we decided that it was time to turn back to the airport.

Along the way Mark got my camera out and snapped photos of the Hana Highway from our slowly moving car. We pulled over at a roadside stand to get a coconut water (Mark hadn't yet had one). And when we came to a pullout with a man and several colourful parrots I just had to stop to find out what was going on. Turns out for $20 you could get your photo taken with the parrots draped about you in various poses - you have never seen me grinning so wildly as in these photos.

At Ho'okipa beach we parked to eat our sandwiches and watch the surfers tackling the waves. Nearby a musician was busking - one of the songs he played was "Over the Rainbow" - we seemed to hear our wedding song played everywhere throughout Hawai'i.

Back in Kahului, not far from the airport, we spent the last of the afternoon at Kanaha Beach watching kite surfers in action. What amazing athletes - the kites are huge and when the wind and waves work together I'm sure the kitesurfers were going as fast as a speedboat. At a nearby nature preserve we did a bit of birdwatching, and then it was time to return our rental car and get on the plane.

Our flight back was fairly uneventful. There was nothing open in our terminal during our transfer at Oahu (no shops, no restaurants), but since we were flying with Delta on our long haul to Detroit we knew we'd be getting real meals, so didn't worry about it. In Detroit we ran to make our connection to our Toronto flight, needn't have bothered - the flight was overbooked and overweight, so we had a wait while the airline tried to convince people to give up their spot. But with all the recent scare stories of people stuck in airports or on planes (yes, my friend Jenn was one of those!) due to snowstorm cancellations it was a slow sell.

We landed in Toronto and found that it wasn't the brutal shock we'd been dreading - hardly any snow and not too cold - in fact we'd probably been chillier watching the sun set on top of Haleakala. Good-bye Hawai'i - you were the perfect place for our beach wedding/family vacation/Mele Kalikimaka/honeymoon!

Waterfall #2 at Na'ili'ili-haele Falls

The famous rock from the opening of Jurassic Park (although I still haven't found a shot from the movie to support this)

Our friend gecko

The Garden of Eden had an amazing collection of bamboo species - this one is striped

Ask yourself - how long has this sign read "100 Year Old Mango Tree"? I doubt someone will repaint it next year with "101" so when will it get upgraded?

The '101'-year-old mango tree - there are so many other plants living on it that it looked like a Disney idealization of a tropical tree

How perfect that the peahen shook itself up just as I shot this photo!

Mark is swarmed by a hungry flock of ducks

 Upper Puohokamoa Falls

Such a true sign...

See the two tiny schoolbuses on the switchback? The Hana Highway has some steep slopes!

Me. Parrots. Best $20 ever.

Kitesurfer - check out his wake!

Kahana Pond bird preserve

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

December 28, 2010: Maui - Haleakala, Sliding Sands, Sunset at 10,023 Feet

I'd been hearing about sunrise at the top of Haleakala since arriving on Maui. Initially it sounded like a great idea - watch the sun rise from the top of a volcanic peak - a beautiful, serene experience. But the more I read, the more of a hassle it seemed - not only would we have to get up well before sunrise to make the drive up (about 1.5 hours), but we'd have to arrive considerably earlier to get a parking spot, or risk having to turn back down! I couldn't imagine having a beautiful, serene experience after getting up at 4:00 am to fight for parking.

So we opted for sunset instead. We slept in, and felt quite smug about it. Then we packed ourselves a lunch (the third and final helping of our fantastic pasta) and dinner (sandwiches) plus as much water as we had bottles.

At the base of the mountain the landscape was a mix of open ranchland and woodland, reminding me of northern California. Our GPS unit handled the route well, although occasionally got confused by the hairpin turns, convinced we'd overshot and started urgently "recalculating". Many cyclists passed us heading down from the peak - one-way cycling tours are popular, with cyclists dropped off by bus at the top early in the morning. Only a few hardcore cyclists were headed in the opposite direction, slogging their way up.

As we got higher the trees disappeared and the land looked increasingly dry, yet we still saw cattle ranching at surprisingly high elevations. Near the top, at about 8,800 feet, we stopped at Leleiwi Lookout - I was ready for a break from the switchbacks, and it was time for lunch. We both felt a little woozy getting out - the rapid ascent to a high elevation really did have an effect. The view from the lookout was fantastic - such a stark landscape of nothing but volcanic cinder, yet an amazing spectrum of colour within it - grays and browns shading to greens and reds.

We read at the visitor's center that Haleakala isn't really a volcanic eruption crater - it's an erosion crater filled partially with lava and gravel. The visitor's center and the start of the Sliding Sands trail are at the top edge, looking down into a huge bowl with a variable shape of smaller cones and canyons. NASA has trained astronauts here, because it resembles the landscape of the moon more than most other places on Earth.

One of the most surprising aspects of down into the bowl along Sliding Sands Trail was how quiet it was. Once we got into some shelter, away from the wind, the air was completely still. All the hikers were strung out at considerable distance from each other, and you didn't hear anyone's footsteps against the soft, crumbly footing. It was rather meditative - continually advancing down an almost imperceptibly changing landscape. But in the back of our minds we kept thinking about the return up the trail, which would be considerably more difficult because of the high elevation - we'd seen a number of miserable-looking people on the ascent. We decided that we would give ourselves three times as much time to go up as we spent going down.

Horse tours down the trail were popular, and we debated the effects on the landscape - the horse droppings must have changed the fertility of the soil, maybe even bringing in seeds, because the limited vegetation was clustered along the trail. We were excited to finally spot the silversword 'ahinahina plants, native to that area - no need for horse droppings to keep them alive.

The ascent was not as difficult as we'd feared - a bit of pulse pounding in our ears, a few more frequent pauses to catch our breath, but pretty manageable. In fact, we ascended too quickly - it only took us one and a half times as long as our descent, not three times, which left us with too much time at the summit before sunset. We climbed another small side trail and circled the summit more than once.

The summit was incredibly windy compared to being inside the bowl on the Sliding Sands trail. We'd brought all of our winter gear that we'd worn in from our flight out of Toronto - gloves, hats, fleeces, windbreakers - and it still wasn't enough. We ate our sandwiches inside the car to escape the cold, and watched a few sunset tour buses unload - all of their tourists were outfitted with matching puffy winter coats. Even with the tour buses there weren't many visitors - sunset doesn't attract the same numbers as sunrise, although we'd read that it can be just as fabulous.

Apparently the ideal conditions for sunrise or sunset are a clear sky overhead and clouds below to maximize the colours. Unfortunately our conditions were the opposite - overcast above and no clouds below. But the transformation from pale pink to blazing gold as the sun set was still dramatic - I would take a photograph, think I was done, and then a few minutes later realize that the sky had changed colour yet again.

The drive down was long and slow, in second gear the whole way. One of the upsides of heading down after dark was that all the cyclists were gone - the only obstacle I had to watch out for were the cows. Although they hadn't been anywhere near on our ascent, at night they were clustered right at the edges of the road, seemingly mesmerized by the traffic.

The view from Leleiwi Lookout

On top of the world, clouds at our feet, as we eat our lunch

The view down Sliding Sands trail

Mark inserts himself into my panoramic photo-taking

Signs of erosion 

A view from further down Sliding Sands

Horses coming back up the trail

The silversword 'ahinahina plant

The summit (see how the wind is blowing out our jackets?)

The observatory seemed like it was in the way of the best view, but looking at the photos now it provides a good focal point

Sunset over the distant volcanic peaks

The final moments of sunset

Monday, December 27, 2010

December 27, 2010: Maui - Lava Field, Black Sand Beach, Snorkeling, Chocolate Dipped Frozen Banana, Poutine in Disguise, Gekko in the House

Day 2 of Maui. I was determined to find us a better beach, with less tourist traffic and the chance to go snorkeling.

We drove back down to the south shore, stopping in at Auntie Snorkel to rent gear. We'd just missed the turn-off for Snorkel Bob's, and when I said to Mark that I was turning in at the next plaza for Auntie Snorkel, he thought I meant "anti-snorkel", and couldn't figure out why I was stopping at some place that was apparently the opposite of a snorkel rental place.

We continued down the shore past Makena Landing, as the road became an increasingly narrow track through rough ground. At first I thought we were traveling through fields of freshly ploughed dirt. Even though Mark theorized that it was a lava field I denied it, until the clumps got so big that I had to admit that no farmer would plough their field in such a crazy fashion. I'd always imagined a lava field would be all smoothly undulating waves of black rock, but this was entirely different. This was the area of the last lava flow on Maui, more than 200 years ago, yet the rocks look completely untouched by erosion or weathering - all sharp edges and bright red colour.

I was relieved to find parking at the end of the road, and we set out on a hike across the rocks to Keawanaku Beach. We'd worn hiking shoes and were very glad of it - the trail was made of the same sharp-edged lava rocks as the ground around it - the trailmakers had just swapped out the biggest rocks for smaller ones in an effort to make the walk a bit smoother. The trail was made in the early 1800s and must have been a huge effort without any machine power to help. We also read that the native Hawai'ians used to run over the trail barefoot, which was just painful to think about - the lava rocks actually made 'clinkly' glass-like sounds knocking against each other as we walked the trail.

After 45 minutes we reached the turn-off for the beach - 99% private (there was one other person there, fishing). The waves were too big to snorkel, but we floated about on the waves, and marvelled at the oddity of digging our feet into black sand. When we returned back to our car we realized we'd bypassed another great swimming area in La Perouse Bay, called the Aquarium. This is where we finally got to snorkel - the water was calm, although a bit cloudy. We didn't see the same quantity of fish as we did in Hanauma Bay, but those that were there seemed to be living a more natural life unchanged by the presence of tourists, swimming in schools and feeding on and hiding in the living coral formations. Our rented gear was fantastic - for the first time I felt like I could really breathe naturally, and started to appreciate the fascination of snorkeling.

On our way back we pulled over at a little snack stand that specialized in frozen bananas - they even had one of those wooden cut-outs where you could pose as a banana - why didn't I get us a photograph with that?! The bananas really hit the spot after all of our hiking and snorkeling exertions - cold, creamy, with a hit of peppermint mixed in with the chocolate.

With a bit of extra time on our hands we thought we'd check out the Maui Ocean Center aquarium at Ma'alea, which was not too far a drive away. However, by the time we got there it was half an hour to closing, so we just walked along the harbour. Hunger suddenly overcame me (aftereffects of the snorkeling I suspect) so we had a snack at an oceanside pub - poutine in disguise as nachos (it had fries rather than corn chips). It was the epitomy of over-the-top pub food, with pulled pork, sour cream, salsa, tomatoes, cheese and hot peppers piled on top, and it was exactly what I'd needed.

As the sun went down we headed for home, for a late, light dinner of leftover pasta from the night before (still delicious). When I went to close the bathroom window I dislodged a tiny gecko who'd been hiding in the frame. He was so small and fragile - what a relief that I hadn't accidentally crushed him.

Trees along the shoreline of La Perouse Bay

I love the contrast of black and white rocks on the beach

The lava field - you can see the path of the lava down the mountain in the distance

I took a photograph of my foot to show the scale of the lava rocks

The trail is still loose footing, but is improved by having the smaller rocks filling the spaces

It is almost impossible for plants to get a toehold in this hostile landscape...

...but as soon as some soil accumulates along the shore, the plants spring to life

Our destination - a virtually private (note the fisherman on the distant rocks) black sand beach

A sea cucumber - we sat and watched him almost imperceptibly navigate the waves and rocks, stretching and compressing into different shapes. I've read that sea cucumbers can loosen and tighten the collagen that forms their body wall - essentially liquefying themselves to move through tight spaces

Gnarled tree trunks and roots

A whale carved from a stump at Ma'alea harbour (where many of the whale watching tours launch from) - only now do I realize how bizarrely phallic this sculpture is

December 26, 2010: Maui - Pai'a Fish Market, Mana Foods, Beach Hopping, Best Pasta Dinner Ever

We slept in late our first morning in Maui, enjoying the freedom of not having any particular plan. After getting up I browsed through our guidebook for tips on lunch and groceries. I also mulled over where to leave my laptop and camera - we didn't have a room safe like we'd had in Kaua'i. I decided to hide them in the microwave, where they just fit.

We decided to head down to the nearby oceanside town of Pai'a. Reviews for The Paia Fish Market were favourable, and Mark was looking forward to a great fish taco. We got there a bit before noon which turned out to be fortunate - it wasn't long before the line was stretching out the door and there weren't any more places to sit. We squeezed over at our picnic-table-style seating to make room for an elderly couple - they've been many times to Maui over the years, and said they always made a point of going for lunch at the Fish Market.

After lunch we walked around a bit through some gift shops, and then stopped in at Mana Foods - from the storefront it looked like it might just be a small health food store, but it turned out to be an extensive grocery store with a great selection of local fruits and vegetables - the kind of place we'd been hoping to find all throughout our time in Hawai'i. At last we could feast on the island's bounty! We got local Maui onions (a sweet Vidalia-type onion), tomatoes, dinosaur kale, garlic, mushrooms, and I'm sure there's more I'm forgetting.

On our way out of town we stopped by the beach, although we weren't prepared with swimsuits, sunscreen or towels. The waves were very strong there, as is typical for the north shore, so we could see that we wouldn't do any swimming. After dropping our groceries off at home we decided to drive over to the south shore of Maui instead, which was supposed to better for swimming.

Maui is bigger than Kaua'i and more developed, although it varied from one part of the island to another. It reminded me a bit of California, particularly the rolling hills of the upland area where we were staying. The south shore also seemed quite California in a different respect - crowded beaches and non-stop stretches of upscale resorts. We didn't really like this aspect of it, but the landscape of the beaches was beautiful, and different from what we'd seen on the other islands, with rugged outcroppings of black volcanic rock. We spent a bit of time beach-hopping from Kama'ole Beach (very busy with tourists) to Makena Landing (not busy at all, and it looked like a favourite local hang-out).

For dinner we made pasta, with all of our fantastic local vegetables plus an unusual artichoke pesto and an amazing herb-encrusted salami. It may have just been the setting, or the fun of cooking for ourselves on our honeymoon, or the bottle of wine, but it seemed like the best pasta dinner ever.

Our rental place was just off Kokomo Road - the Beach Boys song 'Kokomo' keeps running through my head every time we turn onto it. Which is unfortunate - I am not a Beach Boys fan.

Pai'a store Alice in Hulaland

South shore beach

Sea urchin!

Volcanic peak in the distance

Trying to figure out how this sign had been altered, my first thought was "how did they change the 't' in 'steep' into an 'h'?" Silly me - 'r' to 'p' would be far easier. I do not have a future career as a sign vandalizer.

Sunset at Makena Landing

Saturday, December 25, 2010

December 25, 2010: Kaua'i - Wailua Falls, A Gift, Mele Kalikimaka Dinner, Maui

Our last day in Kaua'i. Mark and I didn't fly out to Maui until late afternoon, and our families didn't fly out to Vancouver until late evening, so we still had some time for sightseeing.

We checked out and headed over to Wailua Falls, which was just a short drive away. The view was from above, and the falls were impressive. The official government height of the falls is 80 feet, but in the Ultimate Kauai Guidebook the authors note that it looked considerably taller, so they decided to measure it and found that it is 173 feet - as tall as Niagara Falls (although far less water flows over)!

As we started to pull out of the parking lot we were stopped by a woman who was there weaving baskets for the tourists. I rolled down the window and she asked if we were newlyweds - Heather and Anthony had written "Just Married" in the dust on our bumper the day before. She gave us a basket with two fish kissing - it was really quite touching.

For lunch we went to Kilohana Plantation. This was the plantation that our families had visited on Dec 23, while Mark, Sara and I were hiking the Kalalau trail. John had noticed that they had a special Christmas lunch offer, with all local food from the plantation, and had made reservations. We had time before lunch to walk around and see the historic buildings, farm implements, and tour the jewellery store. Lunch was delicious - a traditional turkey dinner but a tropical aspect to the ingredients (if I remember right it was a cranberry and mango sauce). We wished each other a "Mele Kalikimaka" (the Hawai'ian translation for "Merry Christmas"); it had been a wonderful family vacation in addition to our wedding, and it was a really special experience to have all our families together over the holidays. Then Mark and I headed off to the airport, for our honeymoon in Maui.

Mark and I had to make two flights - one to Oahu, then another to Maui. Flying out of these small island airports was so easy in comparison to the international flights - lines were short, luggage was unloaded promptly. We got into Maui and found the shuttle to our car rental - the woman at the counter was almost a cliche of hard island living: too much sunshine, cigarettes and hair dye.

We were happy to have borrowed Heather and Anthony's GPS unit - finding our way out to the countryside in the dark where we were staying at a little family-run complex would have been difficult otherwise. Once again we had winding roads, hairpin turns and a one-lane bridge on our drive into the "uplands" - a ranching area of the island near the base of the East Maui volcano, Haleakala. We got out of the car to find incredibly bright stars in a dark night sky and the overpowering sound of crickets. Unlike our resort in Kaua'i, this was a small and simple place - really just somewhere to sleep and eat before heading out to explore the islands.

Wailua Falls

The large luau dining hall at Kilohana - with a live tree growing through its roof!

The tree - a huge mango

Poinsettias - not just a potted Christmas plant in Hawai'i

Old plantation equipment decorates the grounds - like this crate of underwear?

At quick glance it's a mutant two-headed donkey...

Cat rising from a lazy nap on an outbuilding porch
Not all the outbuildings are genuine - some have been built for film sets

Yet another wild rooster

Mele Kalikimaka!