Monday, January 5, 2015

Hawaiian Islands Travel Series: Lahaina, Maui

Day 1: Northwest Maui: Lahaina

*Disclaimer: This article is presented as fiction, not fact. Names have been changed for the sake of privacy.

Lahaina sunset
 THE FIRST PLACE we stopped in Maui was a Krispy Kreme. We didn’t have a choice, really. The “hot doughnuts” sign was on. I am happy to report that the Krispy Kreme in Maui’s main airport city, Kahului, is as good as anywhere else.

Our car rental was from Enterprise. I have consistently been impressed by Enterprise service in the Hawaiian Islands. They are a bit more expensive than Thrifty or Budget, but I have never had any problems with them. They are fast, convenient, and reliable. You get your car and go, with none of that awkward “would you like to upgrade your car? Are you sure? Suuuuure?" sales pitch. Enterprise also has discounts if you have a Costco or AAA membership, and they may offer kamaʻaina deals.

We still hadn’t hit the beach yet. Instead, we drove to the Costco in Kahului and stocked up on food supplies. In case you haven’t heard, Maui is e-x-p-e-n-s-i-v-e. If you aren’t eating out every night like a baller, than look up department stores around the north central Kahului area and stock up there. I would also recommend filling up gas at this Costco before dropping your rental car back off for the best price.

Driving around Maui is easy. There are plenty of signs, and once you get out of Kahului, there’s only fields and highway. I should make an amendment here and say that finding your way in Maui is easy; other things, like driving difficulty, varies if you’re going to take the Hana Highway to the east.

However, we weren’t going east yet. We were spending our first two nights in Lahaina on the west Maui coast, about a 30 minute drive from the airport. We cruised along Highway 30, enjoying the coastline and stopping to buy avocados and pineapple at roadside fruit stands. On this trip we really went nuts for avocados. They're so nice and creamy.

Ruins of an old military fort in Lahaina

Lahaina has a reputation for being the touristy destination on Maui. Yes, it is touristy. It is also full of history, because before Honolulu, it used to be the capital of the Hawaiian kingdom. After that it was a main whaling hub. As such, there are still many historic buildings wedged between young hip businesses on the famous Front Street along the ocean. Behind Front Street is a residential area, and overlooking all of Lahaina are great mountains.

Historic home
Of course we were staying in the heart of Front Street. Ha! No, way too expensive. Instead, we decided to try, which lists vacation rentals. I was skeptical at first. Make sure to verify that the person posting a vacation rental actually is the owner and NEVER pay by wire transfer. Protect yourself, people, and do your homework on a listing. That being said, our first experience using was a great one. We found a vacation rental in the neighborhood right behind Lahaina’s Front Street: VRBO Listing #319782.

Private jungle patio
Now, I wasn’t too sure about this place because it had all 4-5 star reviews (If you can’t tell, I’m a suspicious sort—surely something must be wrong with the place!). However, “Anna” earned all of those great reviews for a reason. Our studio was tucked right behind the main house in a magnificent garden, and we had our own private patio to cook on and enjoy Maui morning breakfasts outside. Anna came from a French background and was an absolute pleasure to talk to. She made us feel completely at home and offered us a cooler, snorkeling gear, and surfboards to borrow for free. Also, she doesn’t charge a cleaning fee as opposed to most vacation rentals. Overall, our vacation rental was charming, affordable, and had a great location. It was only a 5-10 minute walk to Front Street and the beach; I did not want to leave. If you’re looking for something less pricey than a hotel but more private and cozy than a hostel, then try out a vacation rental.

I still haven’t described the beach: sand as white as flour and an ocean of teal deepening to sapphire toward Lanaʻi across the channel. After taking a dip, we strolled around the start of Front Street. It travels along the waterfront, past the Water Sports harbor, past the Giant Banyan tree(s) park (It looks like eight different trees but they are all intertwined), past restaurants and souvenir shops, to end at a giant strip mall. We were here over Labor Day Weekend, so there were big blow-out sales at Coach, Tommy Hilfiger, and Gucci if that’s your thing.

Water Adventure Sports harbor
During midday, the southern end of Front Street was completely empty. We were super hungry, and we found a small organic smoothie shop called Bamboo Fresh tucked away in the middle of the square. We honestly didn’t know what we were in for: the wraps and smoothies were the freshest, most mouth-watering things I’d ever tasted in my life. Their prices were extremely affordable, considering all of the ingredients were locally grown. The owner was behind the counter that day. After personally making our meals, she chatted with us about her goal to keep Bamboo Fresh this way and make the business grow—although it wouldn’t be easy. The property rental cost to own a business in Lahaina grows steeper every year, and businesses have to work together to keep each other afloat—because the landowning association certainly isn’t sympathetic. I really hope this hidden gem stays in business, because their food tastes so light, flavorful, and rejuvenating. It made me a bit sad, to be honest, that we don’t eat like this every day. Expect a small wait while your food is prepared, but you can taste the love.

You have to look really carefully to find this place.
“In one corner, we have processed food! In the other, we have Rosemary Blue Sage with Maui-fed beef, the Ahi Garden Wrap, or a Tofu n’ Spice! Bamboo Fresh: hale of fresh coconut, bananas, starfruit, ginger, pineapple, garlic, baskets of kale, frothy organic smoothies—!” Okay, I’ll shut up and give you the link to pictures: Bamboo Fresh Yelp Reviews.

One mistake we made was to stick with a familiar restaurant instead of trying something new. On our last night in Lahaina, we ate at Hard Rock Café, which was all fine and delicious, but after checking with some locals at Maui Built, we realized we should have checked out Cool Cat Café near the giant Banyan Tree park. They have been voted best burger on Maui for 11 years!

The Banyan Tree square
Always be aware that Maui shops will open late and close early. Make sure you figure out when a place will be open instead of assuming it will be. Overall, I would definitely recommend spending two nights or so in Lahaina. The nightlife was lively, and it makes a good, memorable launch spot to explore northwest Maui, or down south—where great snorkeling awaited us.

Lahaina at night
Read more in the Hawaiian Travel Series:
(0) Intro: Welcome to Maui

Upcoming: Day 2: Southern Maui: Kihei and Makena

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