Archive for June, 2010

Binoculars – Check!

June 17, 2010

I wasn’t going to make the same mistake twice (you might remember the dire oversight I made on my trip to Botswana by forgetting binoculars on safari).  In the event of a majestic breach by one of the thousands of Maui humpback whales, I wasn’t going to miss it!

A quick primer on buying a pair of binoculars:

  • What the numbers mean when looking at binoculars: 8X32 essentially means 8X magnification and 32mm lens.
  • Don’t go crazy for magnification – the higher the number, the shakier the view will be.  For whale watching, stick to around 7-12X magnification.
  • The bigger the lens, the more light you will get, but they will also get bulkier the larger you go.
  • We found this Tasco 8X25 pair to be ideal for travel – durable, with a neck strap, and comfort lenses for easy viewing on a moving boat.

Spotting whales from the shore in Maui.

We booked a whale watching cruise through the Pacific Whale Foundation.  The price was super reasonable, and they had several knowledgeable experts explaining the behaviors and biology about humpbacks.  They even dropped a “hydrophone” into the water so we could listen to their whale songs.  Being that it was the very tail-end of the season, we weren’t expecting to see much of anything (however, they do guarantee sightings through May).  We spotted several different groups of whales – first evident by their exhalations (BLOWHOLE!) – typically a mother and her calf, since the calm waters of Maui are ideal for nursing.  Immediately after the blowhole sighting, you’ll see their “humped back” as they swim along, and then after a few exhalations they usually dive back down hundreds of feet under the water.  This is the point at which you’ll see their flukes, or tail. Sometimes they’ll play at the surface and wave a fin in the air, and on very special occasions a whale will excitedly breach above the water. Unfortunately, we weren’t lucky enough to see this from start to finish close up, but we saw some breaches from far away and caught the tail end of a few.  It must really be a sight to see right by the boat (if you’re as obsessed with whales as I am).

I sooo did not take this photo, but whoever did is a very lucky (and talented) person.

In traveling to Hawaii during whale season – October through May – there’s a good chance you’ll have a sighting just from shore, if not from a whale watch cruise.  You can park along the Maui bay and just wait for the action, like James here:


Even with the clear waters of Maui, it’s still difficult to see the entire creature and appreciate its enormity. I sometimes wish I had the means (and courage) to see a whale up close, but in the meantime I’ll get my fix from Youtube:

Open Air Jeeps Are Awesome….Except When They’re Not

June 4, 2010

When our friends found out we were going to Hawaii, they all said, “You HAVE to rent a Jeep!”  Indeed, Hawaii has a surplus of rugged Jeep Wranglers for your renting pleasure, but before you subscribe to the open-air Jeep fantasy, I need to let you in on the reality.

Do you like power windows?  Air conditioning?  Power locks? Shocks? Air conditioning?  How about not getting rained on? Do you like that?  Then, don’t rent a Jeep.

Now, I’m not a car snob – I don’t even own a car – but, when you’re renting a vehicle on vacation, those simple pleasures can make the difference between not even thinking about your mode of transportation (preferred) to locking 3 out of 4 doors when you have your dad’s borrowed GPS stuck to the dashboard (oops).

But let’s talk about rain, because that was the main reason our rented Jeep became the bane of our Maui existence.  When we planned the trip, we had visions of open-air Jeep-ing through the mountains and along the coastline.  Exhibit A:

From an actual car rental not as awesome as it looks.

But, we didn’t actually think about the unzipping/tucking/pulling/folding part of the Jeep. Do any city folk know how to make their Jeep a top-down dream in 1-2-3 steps? Not that I know of.  While driving along the climate-surprise Road to Hana, the best we could do was to unzip the sides flaps and as soon as we figured that out, some random clouds rolled in and the rain started.  So we pulled over and zipped everything back up.  Then the sun came out and it was 90 degrees in the Jeep within 5 minutes.  So we rolled the windows down and then up, based upon whether it was raining, sunny or windy. Despite our climate control issues, the scenery in Maui usually made us forget that we hated that Jeep:

Clouds...and rain.

Wait, now it's sunny! Roll the windows down!

Oh crap. Look at those clouds around the corner.


When we got to Kauai, we switched our rental car to something with all the options – A/C, power windows and locks, the works!  It felt like quite a treat after 5 days in a bumpy hotbox.  However, we noticed hundreds of other Jeeps driving around the island – most with their tops and sides all zipped up, likely fresh from a drive through the rain in the mountains.  Amateurs!

Just a tip – you’ll read in some guidebooks that you need 4X4 to navigate the Road to Hana or drive all the way around Maui – not true.  The road is bumpy, but most of it is paved and fairly well-traveled.