Maui Moments

It’s this time of year that I often get the call of Hawaii. It’s not a phone call or a text, but the Aloha spirit, reaching out, whispering of the warm ease and sweet fragrance, sea breezes and lapping waves.

No trip to Hawaii this winter, it’s not a safe or wise time to travel. I’ve put that call on hold. But when it’s time, I’ll be back to Maui, one of my favorite islands in America’s 50th state.

You can google Maui activities and come up with hundreds of ways to spend your time, below are a few of my favorites.

The second-largest of the Hawaiian Islands, Maui rose up from the sea in the form of two shield volcanoes. Today the island is two mountains: West Maui and Haleakala. They are old volcanoes and dormant.

My favorite thing about Maui in winter is the humpback whales. They’re everywhere.

From December through April, up to 10,000 humpbacks migrate to Maui from Alaska, to breed. The water is warm and shallow–good conditions for birthing and avoiding deep-water predators.

You can spot whales just about anywhere, evident by the exhalation breath spraying from their blowholes.

Whales have been migrating here for centuries. Lahaina, a city on the west coast of Maui, was a lively center for the global whaling industry in the 1800s.

These days whale-watching is the big attraction on Maui, and harpooning is out. An exciting way to spend the day is on a whale-watching boat, cruising the waters looking for whales, and waiting for that special moment when they breach.

Snorkeling is great fun, too. A good map of the island (published by University of Hawaii Press) will yield hundreds of suggestions for good snorkeling beaches, and is helpful for bypassing some of the more web-linked popular tourist spots.

This bay, below, is off the radar. We had to trek through some overgrowth to get to it, and the beach is not sand, it’s rocks. But under that water we found butterflyfish, parrotfish, goatfish, tangs, triggerfish, wrasse and more. Left center in this photo are three dots. Those are the only other snorkelers. That, to me, is paradise.

Sea turtles bob around, and, if you’re lucky, you might hear the singing of the humpbacks underwater. We did.

This spotted dove joined us on the beach.

Birds on the Hawaiian Islands are either native or introduced. Natives are the prize for birders, but rare; most are introduced, they arrived on the islands in numerous ways centuries ago.

It is interesting to see the array of introduced birds in the lowlands, but it is absolutely thrilling to go to the mountains and find some of the rare, native birds.

Introduced, non-native birds in the lowlands are bright and exotic. Hotel and resort grounds, residential backyards, and parking lots are festive with them.

Introduced lizards, like this green anole, thrive in ornamental landscapes.

But if you want to see what the Real Maui looks like, you have to leave behind the warm temperatures and sea frolics of the lowlands, and head up to the higher elevations.

We never go to Maui without at least one, preferably two, day-trips to Haleakala. From the west coast, where we usually stay, it takes 2-3 hours to reach the summit.

The farther you drive away from the tourist towns, the more Hawaiian culture you will find. Fruit stands brimming with papayas and guava and homemade banana bread, school kids getting off the bus, local life.

Then, as you ascend Haleakala, you come to overlooks with views over the whole island–land and sea. If you scan the sea with binoculars, you will see a whale spout or two in the distance.

About 75% of the island of Maui is Haleakala…that’s how big the mountain is. The tallest peak: 10,023 feet (3,055 m).

One of our favorite Haleakala places to go is Hosmer Grove. We have spent many rain-drenched hours searching for rare, prized native forest birds in this thicket, below, in Haleakala National Park.

Inside that mass of tangled trees we were rewarded with sightings of several native birds, two shown here. They have the curved bills to draw nectar from flowers.

At Haleakala’s summit are incredible overviews of this sacred mountain and its cinder cones.

Only a few plants, birds, and insects live on the summit with its harsh conditions and volcanic slopes.

Just a few virtual moments in some of your favorite places are a pleasant reminder that we have a marvelously diverse planet, and many more adventures await us.

Written by Jet Eliot.

Photos by Athena Alexander.

Map of Hawaii highlighting Maui.svg
Hawaiian Islands, Maui in red. Courtesy Wikipedia.

Two Hawaiian National Parks

Apapane, native Hawaiian bird, Big Island

Apapane, native Hawaiian bird, Big Island

Hawaii Volcanoes National Park and Haleakala National Park became parks on this day in 1916, signed in by President Wilson.

It was a great day when the land surrounding these volcano areas became protected.

The State of Hawaii is an archipelago of eight major islands, islets and atolls spanning approximately 1,500 miles (2,400 km) across the Pacific Ocean.  More about Hawaiian Islands here.

Lava beach, Honaunau Bay, Big Island

Lava beach, Honaunau Bay, Big Island

The 11th national park in the United States has an interesting history.

In 1790 Kilauea Volcano on Hawaii had a violent eruption that killed whole families.  Fifty years later it became a tourist attraction for western visitors, and a string of hotels began popping up on the volcano rim.

In 1907 the Territory of Hawaii (it was not yet a state) paid for 50 members of Congress to visit the island volcanoes.  Hoping to get national park status, leaders of the effort  hosted a dinner–cooked over lava steam vents.

Lava Tube, Big Island

Lava Tube, Big Island

In the next nine years there were bills drafted, congressional delegations, opposition, and a few failed attempts.  A leading force in the effort, Lorrin Thurston, secured endorsements from environmental enthusiasts including John Muir and former President Theodore Roosevelt.

The area eventually became a park on August 1, 1916; they called it Hawaii National Park.  The Park, being on two separate islands, was changed in 1960 to two parks in their present names.

Amakihi, native Hawaiian bird, Maui

Amakihi, native Hawaiian bird, Maui

Located on Hawaii (aka The Big Island), is Volcanoes National Park.  It has two active volcanoes:  Kilauea and Mauna Loa.

There are lava flows old and new, calderas, steaming vents, lava tubes, and lava tunnels throughout the island.

Much of the Big Island (my favorite) is a vast expanse of uninhabitable lava fields resembling a lifeless moonscape.  Lava has been spilling out over the island for centuries and continues to do so every year.

Eruptions here are so frequent that the National Park Service website offers frequent lava flow updates.  Volcano activity this week:  click here.

Haleakala Crater, Maui

Haleakala Crater, Maui

The other park is on the next biggest island in land area:  Maui.  Haleakala National Park features dormant Haleakala Volcano.  It last erupted between 1480 and 1600 AD.

Haleakala means “house of the sun” in Hawaiian.

Map of Maui, Haleakala NP highlighted in lime green. Courtesy Wikipedia.

This park has Haleakala Crater at the summit; and surrounding natural pools, waterfalls, and rainforest leading down to the coast.

The crater is huge (seven miles [11.25 km] across; 2,600 feet [790 m] deep) with a landscape of cinder cones rich in earth colors.

Here’s a Haleakala post I wrote:  here.



Both National Park websites here:  Hawaii Volcanoes NP and Haleakala NP.

Native Hawaii is all about volcanoes, rainforests, lava fields, and mountain tops.  With native plants, birds, wildlife, and volcanic features, there is much to celebrate in these national parks.

Hosmer Grove, Haleakala, Maui

Hosmer Grove, Haleakala, Maui. Where I saw my first I’iwi (bird).


Photo credit:  Athena Alexander unless otherwise specified

Map of Hawaiian Islands, courtesy

Hallowed Haleakala

Haleakala Crater, Maui, Hawaii

Haleakala Crater, Maui, Hawaii

It takes a spectacular mountain, and will power too, to get me off the sunny exotic beaches of Maui and up to the stark, remote, and cold summit of Mount Haleakala.  But I have found the beauty and sacredness of this mellow mountain call me up every time I visit this Hawaiian Island.


With an elevation of 10, 023 feet, this volcanic mountain (only three eruptions in the past 900 years) holds a beauty and elegance all its own.   Haleakala National Park consists of the crater and its environs, and many wilderness areas.  Haleakala Highway, the road that leads to the summit, is well-paved with many hairpin turns and switchbacks, and boasts flora, fauna, and astonishing views.  There is a popular tourist event involving a bike ride down from the summit at sunrise, so the road is often peppered with biking tourists.  It is best to allow a full day for going to Haleakala, including the long drive up and back; and I recommend bringing food, water, and clothes for all seasons.  At the summit there is a visitor center and spectacular views as pictured here.


Amakihi on Haleakala

Amakihi on Haleakala

I go to Haleakala to look for birds.  The native forests of all the Hawaiian Islands have had a troubled past.  The predominant ecological theme is native versus non-native of birds, mammals, and plants.  Small island ecology is different than large land masses, because of the land limitation.  Despite the dedicated efforts of Hawaii’s finest scientists and naturalists, there are many problems with preserving the native wildlife.  As a result, many native Hawaiian birds are either extinct or nearly extinct, and what remains can only be found in the mountains and forests at higher elevations.  This is why birders head for the mountains.


Everyone I know who goes to Maui has never been to the mountains.  There’s no snorkeling, diving, whale watching, boogie boarding, burgers, or umbrella cocktails up there.  That’s exactly why I go…for a special taste of native Hawaii.  Aloha!


Photo credit:  Athena Alexander




Rainbows and Blessings

Glacier Nat'l. Park, Montana

Glacier Nat’l. Park, Montana

I give you these rainbows for St. Patrick’s Day.  This first one is a double, and I know it radiates with good luck because an hour earlier I could have been dead.

We were driving on Going-to-the-Sun Road in Glacier National Park, Montana.  It was a road that was clinging to the side of 8,000+ foot peaks on one side, and very steep dropoffs on the other.  Because these glacial mountains were so high and vast, there were hairpin turns and switchbacks in every mile.  It was breathtaking and we drove along in awe.  Then for some reason the car in front of us was stopped, so we stopped.  It wasn’t a good place to stop, so we craned our necks, annoyed, trying to see what the delay was.

Then we saw.  The car in front of us had come to a halt because minutes earlier there had just been a huge landslide that now blocked both lanes of the road.  The mountainside had loosened and tumbled across the road and down into the canyon.  The air was still a cloud of particles and debris, and small pebbles rained down.  While the red Toyota in front of us sat, the two people safe but in disbelief, we backed up, turned around, and high-tailed out of there.

It was a 50 mile road that we had almost reached the end of (it took two hours), and now we had no choice but to turn around and go all the way back.  It was nearly dark and this road wasn’t going to be cleared or opened for at least a day, if not more.  As we drove we counted our lucky stars that we hadn’t been driving in that spot five minutes earlier when the mountain gave way.

Then a huge storm blew through the canyon.  It was a spectacular show of lightning accompanied by trembling thunder and a deluge of rain.  The drive back was incredibly treacherous, but we had the marvel of these rainbows, and the lightning show was glorious.

Maui, Hawaii

Maui, Hawaii

After we were safely back to our lodge we could celebrate our fortune in making it back in one piece.

These other two rainbows are from Maui.  If you’ve ever been to any of the Hawaiian Islands, you know that it rains a lot, in short tropical bursts.  And rainbows pop up often.

I believe we have to all be our own leprechauns.  Sometimes luck is with us.  We didn’t get swept off the side of the road and swallowed up in the canyon.  But sometimes we have to conjure our luck by counting our blessings, moving on to the next thing, and celebrating all the adventures we encounter along our path.

Maui, Hawaii

Maui, Hawaii