Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Hawaii Part II: Haleakala or bust

Continuing the story of our adventures on Maui...

Day 4: Today, we decided to take a break from beaches to check out Mount Haleakala, the massive shield volcano that makes up the eastern three-quarters of Maui. Many people head up to Haleakala (or "house of the sun" in Hawaiian) to catch the sunrise. However, this would have required us to get out of bed and hit the road by 3:30am, so that was out of the question. Instead, we decided to take a leisurely drive up to the summit, stopping at a few places along the way. Our first stop was Makawao, one of Hawaii's last remaining cowboy towns, where we checked out some boutique shops and art galleries, including a glass-blowing shop where you can watch the artisans ply their craft. After walking around this small town, we were getting a bit peckish, so we decided to head off to lunch at the nearby Hali'imaile General Store. Operated by award-winning chef Beverly Gannon, the General Store is well-known for its innovative Hawaiian cuisine. On that count, it did not disappoint. We started our lunch with Bev's Famous Crab Pizza, which was quite delicious. We then split two plates; one was a macadamia nut encrusted mahi-mahi filet with curried mashed potatoes and the other dish was a Kalua pork enchilada pie. Both dishes were quite interesting and very tasty. However, we were a little disappointed with the subpar service that we received, though admittedly we did hit them during their lunch rush. However, what really irritated me was that my Diet coke with two refills cost me nine dollars. That's nine dollars for a three glasses of fountain soda, three glasses that were mostly full of ice to start with! In my opinion, that's a ridiculous markup, which our server conveniently neglected to mention to us. I don't think it's unreasonable to charge for refills, but c'mon, this was silly. This time, we calculated our tip on the bill less the cost of the soda.

After lunch, we decided to check out the Ali'i Lavender Garden on our way toward Haleakala. This garden, located on the uplands on the way toward the volcano, features 45 different types of lavender. If you are a fan of lavender, this is the place to visit. At the gift shop, you can buy all things lavender, ranging from soaps and candles to food items, such as lavender chocolate brownies and lavender pepper seasoning. By the time we left, I must admit that I was a bit lavendered out. Our next stop: Haleakala.

The road to Haleakala is winding and full of switchbacks, though fortunately it is wide with hard shoulders and guardrails, so it is a long but reasonable drive. The twenty or so miles from the main highway to the summit takes about an hour, but your patience will be rewarded. Once we poked through the cloud deck on our way up to the summit, we were treated to some spectacular views:

We hung out at the summit for a while and even ran into another couple from the Bay Area who was staying at the same B&B where we were staying - small world. We lingered at the top for a while, taking many photos of the rugged landscape surrounded by pillowy clouds. We had thought about watching the sunset from the summit, but not willing to wait two hours, we started to head back to the valley. The drive down Haleakala takes as long as the drive up, so by the time we got back to the main highway and found a gas station to fuel up our gas-starved car, the sun was making its way down toward the horizon. We found a nice little park with a view of the ocean, but the evening clouds prevented us from seeing the sun actually set, though the sky was tinted with beautiful shades of red.

By this time, we were also starving. As we headed back, we decided to stop off for dinner at A Saigon Cafe, a little non-descript Vietnamese restaurant in Wailuku. It is so non-descript that our directions to the place told us to drive around a sleepy little neighborhood until we saw a glowing neon "Open" sign. Both of us were a touch under the weather and were looking forward to a warm bowl of pho, a traditional Vietnamese noodle soup. My sweetie chose the Mi Won Ton (Won Ton Egg Noodle Soup) while I went with the Pho Tai Bo Vien (Rare steak and meatballs). The soup and the summer rolls that we split were very filling and definitely hit the spot. After dinner, we started on our way back to the B&B, ready for a good night of slumber after a long day.