Archive for the ‘South Pacific’ Category

Eat Pray…Whatever

September 12, 2010

So there is this ongoing cultural obsession with Elizabeth Gilbert’s book, “Eat Pray Love,” a memoir about a woman who leaves her loveless marriage to go travel the world and “find herself.”  She spends four months each in Italy, India and Indonesia and everything turns out perfect in the end when she falls in love and lives happily ever after.  I gave the book a fair try and since I love to read travel memoirs*, put up with her narcissistic narration, but could only (barely) tolerate her through the “Eat” part of the book. When I heard the movie was coming out, I gave up entirely and thought I’d just see the movie so I could also enjoy the scenery of 3 places I would really like to visit someday.

I am not a movie critic, but I’m not the only one who feels the same way about this book/movie/author, and it’s really a shame because it’s such an interesting premise.  I have always dreamed of dropping everything and traveling the world with no real plan, but it’s not in my DNA.  The “not planning” part.

I really wanted to like this movie.

For travel scenery, the movie certainly delivers – and offers up an opportunity for tour operators to capitalize.  Overall, if you’re looking for travel eye candy (cobblestoned Roman alleys, untouched Balinese coastline, Javier Bardem), then I recommend this film (just cover your ears and ignore the main character).  🙂

*Some of my favorite travel memoirs include “Whatever You Do, Don’t Run” by Peter Allison and “In a Sunburned Country” by Bill Bryson.

Kauai Revealed…or not

August 11, 2010

I like to think I’m an adventurous person (hey, I’ve been skydiving twice and even did this), but I am constantly reminded what a scaredy cat I really am.  So many things frighten the bejeezus out of me, such as bugs, some varieties of fish, and the thought of falling off a cliff to a rocky death.  Coincidentally, all of these things also make up a trip to Kauai.

Enter Kauai Revealed – one in a set of books written by locals for tourists-who-want-to-feel-like-locals and experience things only those who have spent years exploring the island would know about. The book has special chapters just for those super adventurous people who prefer to risk death over relaxing while on vacation. The most important lesson learned while using this book as a reference is realizing that a Hawaiian’s standard for “adventurous” is likely 10X riskier than yours, wherever you happen to live.  We discovered this while struggling to accomplish even the most basic outing: hiking.

Hiking = walking with a backpack whilst surrounded by trees, no?  Not in Kauai!  This island is home to some of the most extreme hiking trails in the world, including the legendary 22-mile round trip Kalalau Trail along the cliff’s edge of the Na Pali coast:

This is definitely not me.

That one was definitely out of our league, so one day while exploring the island we attempted to find something that was more suitable to our minimal hiking experience (we live in the urban jungle of NYC). The Kauai Revealed book talked about a nice trail that led to the famous Wailua Falls of Fantasy Island fame, but it was supposedly unmarked and therefore unknown to most tourists (and discouraged by officials).  All we had to do was count 100 meters backwards from the guardrail by the falls and there would be an unmarked but well-traveled opening.  After a bit of searching, we found the spot that would seem most obvious, mainly identified by – what else – an open air Jeep.

We assume the Jeep people have the same book we do, so we embark down the trail – and dooooown it goes.  We climb down to the riverbed, grasping onto tree roots and slipping on the clay-like soil. James finds a walking stick the size of a small tree, which saved my life about 4 times.  We finally reach the leafy bottom near the river and follow the water towards the falls.  Easy! Except then the trail kinda sorta disappears. So we try to figure out the most obvious way one would get to the falls (which we could literally hear!), but each route we tried ended in almost falling to our deaths.

While contemplating whether to forge ahead or turn back, we hear noises and realize it’s the people from the open air Jeep.  Lo and behold, an older man and an even older woman come hiking along from the opposite direction. We make polite conversation and ask about the remaining trail, and find out that there is one point that has only ropes to help you traverse a rock wall (hm, totally not mentioned in the Kauai Revealed book) and we also discover that this woman is 82 years old and hiked further than we were able to!  I had to ask her secret (aerobics!), and then we made one more attempt to make it to the falls so we weren’t shown up by an octogenarian (albeit a very likable one).

An 82-yr old woman did this??

Alas, we never made it to the bottom of the falls, but it was such an adventure regardless.  The best part was that the hike uphill from the riverbed was much easier than going down, so we survived!  Maybe next time, we’ll heed the signs from the beginning…

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:

Waiting....

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 brochure...so 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.

......SUN!?

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.

Hip Hip Kihei!

May 10, 2010

Maui draws a diverse group of tourists – newlyweds, families with small children, and lots of old folks on tour buses.  This is no surprise though, since the destination has something for everyone (tons of water activities, beautiful scenery, endless beaches, amazing resorts, whales).  Maui is the 2nd largest Hawaiian island at 727sq miles, but most people don’t realize just how expansive it really is – there are essentially no roads cutting through the 2 mountains on each end, so you’ll need to circumnavigate Mt. Haleakala if you’re exploring the entire northeast, and the West Maui mountains in you’re up near Ka’anapali on the west side.

That is why choosing your home base is so important!

When you start researching Maui you’ll notice that there are many wonderful places in which to plant your suitcase.  Wailea is a landscaped paradise for honeymooners, and Lahaina has the family amenities like safe turtle beaches and luau’s.  It’s likely you’ll want to do at least one boat activity, which will leave from Maalaea Harbor in the south, and you’ll want to drive the Road to Hana in the northeast.  Being that we knew we’d be all over the island exploring all of these areas, we chose a central location for our base – Kihei.

Choose your home base wisely, or you'll have a very long ride home from Hana...or Ka'anapali.

Kihei isn’t the sexiest of Maui towns – it has a lot of strip malls and traffic. But, it also has some of the best restaurants on the entire island (in fairness, so does Lahaina, but that town is on the west coast, a major haul from the Road to Hana).  Wailea is…well, just pretty and landscaped. It’s mainly comprised of resorts and golf courses, but you’ll know when you cross over from Kihei into Wailea (see: landscaping).  We researched hotels on TripAdvisor.com and private condos on VRBO.com (there are tons of timeshares in Kihei), and found a very reasonable one-bedroom in a low-rise complex with a pool (oh, and a lanai – a standard feature in Hawaii) right across from a beach.  It was also within walking distance to a dozen eateries, a few bars, convenience & grocery stores and a delectable ice cream parlor.   It was perfect for us when we didn’t want to drive to dinner (see: Fred’s Mexican next door to our condo) or just got sick of being in our rental car all day (see: Road to Hana).

If you’re spending more than just a few days on Maui – and you should – you might want to consider a central location like Kihei.

Some restaurant suggestions (even if you don’t stay in Kihei, you should go for a meal or two):

Kihei Cafe for breakfast – come early and come hungry.  Maui is an early-to-rise kind of place, FYI.

Pita Paradise for fresh fish and mediterranean dishes. Get the skewers with the fresh catch of the day.

Cafe O’Lei for the mahi mahi with papaya and mango salsa.

Cafe O'Lei serves up some "delishes fishes dishes"

Oh…and ABC Stores to stock up on chocolate-covered macadamia nuts and pineapple wine (actually, skip the pineapple wine – it’s gross).

Maui's finest Pineapple wine. I was suckered into this one. Sorry Maui...you gotta try harder. Grapes work well in wine. Try that.