Maui in May

In May 2021, we spent a week on Maui. Compared to our usual trips, this was a more relaxing vacation. We snorkeled, took short walks and hikes, watched birds, and enjoyed reading. During our trip, we spent four nights in Nāpili and four nights in Kihei.

 I was scheduled to have a conference on Oahu in May 2020, and Kyle and I had planned to spend four days relaxing on Maui after. The pandemic cancelled that conference and our Maui trip, but left us with a rental credit to use. So, once we knew our vaccination dates, we started planning a trip to Maui.

When we visited Maui in March 2015, we explored many different parts of the island: Lahaina in the west, Hana in the northeast, Kihei in the southeast, and Kula and Haleakalā’s summit. We decided to make this trip more relaxing, staying on two different parts of the island. For those, we prioritized easy beach access, convenience to good food, and price. These criteria led us to book four nights in Nāpili–where we had originally planned to stay in 2020–and four nights in Kihei. We also made surprisingly few and surprisingly non-specific plans compared to how we usually plan our vacations.

During this trip, we stayed at:

  • Honokeana Cove (Vrbo), Napili. Cute set of condos arranged around a cove with many sea turtles and lots of fish. A great location for exploring the northwest part of the island, and the snorkeling from your door is fantastic.
  • Maui Banyan (Vrbo), Kihei. Good location for getting to various sights and restaurants near Kihei, also with convenient snorkeling across the street at the beach — just not quite as fantastic or convenient at Honokeana Cove.

Nāpili

Arrival at Kaanapali (OGG)

We arrived around 7:30pm after a flight from Los Angeles. Since our last trip, the airport had added a new rental car center and trolley. The distance from the terminal to the rental car center is pretty short, though, so if you don’t have that many bags, you can just walk.

We had reserved our car from Dollar, through Priceline, well in advance, for about $370 for the week. This turned out to be lucky, as much of the US was experiencing a rental car shortage by May 2021, with stories of people paying $700+ per day or renting U-Hauls instead. Check-in was efficient and the representative told us to pick any car from a lane.

Once in the garage, though, the rental car shortage effects started to show. The lane only had four cars, two of which were spoken for and the rest of which were not in our car class. We waited 15 minutes or so and staff brought a few more cars around, some in our class. Most were dated and looked like they had been driven through some sort of obstacle course. We settled on a Chevy Cruze that looked good on the inside, spent anther 10 minutes marking off the considerable external damage, and headed out.

Before even fully leaving the airport, though, we realized that the infotainment system didn’t work. Normally, we check this, but we’d been so distracted by the external damage, and rushing after waiting, that we forgot. After a few orbits in which Kyle tried to debug the system, we returned to the rental car center and asked for an exchange.

Soon, we were back in the lane, again awaiting cars. After another 15 minutes, no cars in our class appeared. but a relatively new Kia Rio showed up and looked like it would meet our needs. We gave it an even more thorough inspection and headed out again — more than an hour after we first got in the rental car line.

Fortunately, traffic was lighter than we’d ever experienced on Maui, and so we made good time on our way to Nāpili. We checked in at our condo, Honokeana Cove (Vrbo search), and headed right to sleep.

Nāpili Day 1 – snorkeling at Honokeana Cove and Dragon’s Teeth

In the morning, I woke up early for a work call. After that wrapped up, we had coffee and walked to Snorkel Bob’s Nāpili (TripAdvisor). Their many locations make rentals and drop-offs weekly, and in our experience, they have been pretty gracious with somewhat late returns if we’re getting in that last snorkel before leaving. 10 minutes later, we were out the door with snorkel sets for the week for $100. If we had booked ahead, we probably could have done a bit better on pricing, but this seemed like a pretty good price.

Rain showers started coming through, and so decided to go to Nāpili Market – just a few minutes up the road – to get breakfast and snack items for our stay.

By the time we returned to the condo, the rain had mostly passed. From our lanai, we could see several turtles in the cove, and so we decided it was time to snorkel. We wandered out to the cove and to in the water. There, we were rewarded with views of fish, urchins, and, most of all, more than a dozen sea turtles. We mostly saw green sea turtles, and Kyle also saw a Hawksbill from a distance.

After our snorkel, we rinsed off and read for a bit. For our late afternoon, we decided to get takeout, eat by the coast, and go for a short walk.

We got dinner from Joey’s Kitchen (TripAdvisor). After we picked up the food, we drove up to Kapalua, where we parked to eat. We enjoyed their Brussel sprouts with lemon parmesan dressing , braised short ribs with ginger, and their Kauai garlic shrimp. All of it was fantastic, albeit a bit messy to eat as take out.

After eating, we walked down the short trail to Dragon’s Teeth, or Makaluapuna Point (TripAdvisor). Here, an old lava flow has been shaped by the wind and water into a ridge of “teeth.” In addition to the geology, we enjoyed poking around at the tide pools. Before we left, we caught a lovely sunset.

Day 2 – Kayaking at Olowalu, Nā-kālele Blowhole and Point, dinner in Lahaina

We woke up early for a kayak and snorkeling tour on Maui’s West Shore. There are several operators offering similar tours at similar prices, and we decided on Kelii’s Kayak Tours (TripAdvisor) based on a combination of price, availability, small groups, and good reviews. 

The drive took us about 30 minutes to reach the check-in point at Olowalu Beach Reserve. There, we had a quick overview of kayaks and the plan for the day and got on the water. It was just us and two others. As we paddled out, our guide described features of the landscape. At our first snorkel spot, we saw many beautiful fish, but just a couple of turtles. We then moved on to the next spot, where we saw a couple more turtles and a different variety of fish and corrals. While swimming, we passed between warm and cool spots, with the cool water from freshwater springs.

Overall, this was a good tour and I’d recommend it. We’d been a bit spoiled by the number of turtles at Honokeana Cove, so the turtles were not the highlight for us on this trip–we were much more interested in the range of fish and corals, plus getting a view of West Maui from further out on the water.

After the kayak tour, we had planned to visit Leoda’s–a favorite stop on our previous trip to Maui–for lunch, but then realized neither of us has brought cash. So, we returned to the condo and had another short, wonderful snorkel with the turtles.

Once cleaned up, we read for a bit on the lanai. Then, we set out for Nā-kālele Point, with its blowhole and trails among unique rock formations that resulted from years of erosion. The blowhole was one of the most impressive we’ve seen, and we watched it several times from a safe distance. I think we both enjoyed exploring the rock formations even more, though. Each turn brought a somewhat different set of shapes, textures, and colors.

After, we drove down to Lahaina for sunset. After sunset, we picked up dinner from Paia Fish Market (TripAdvisor). We shared a shrimp cocktail; I had sautéed red snapper for my dinner, and Kyle had blackened mahi mahi. The food was delicious, and the portions–especially of the mains–were generous.

Day 3 – Kapalua Coastal Trail

We started our third day with a long snorkel at Honokeana Cove. Seeing the turtles from a condo’s lanai made it just too good to pass up.

After our snorkel, we decided to try the well-known breakfast spot, The Gazebo (TripAdvisor). Though it was near their closing time, they were happy to take our call-in order, which was ready by the time we walked over to pick it up. We brought the food back to the condo and ate on the lanai. We shared pineapple spears and their two best known dishes: combo pancakes (banana, pineapple, white chocolate macadamia chips, and coconut syrup) and fried rice. The portions were huge, and left us in a bit of a food coma.

After breakfast, we lazily read for a while. In late afternoon, we set out for the Kapalua Coastal Trail for sunset. This made for a nice walk. On our return, we heard what sounded like a baby crying in the sand. We investigated, and found that wedge-tailed shearwaters (ʻUaʻu kani, seabirds in the petrel family) were making the sounds from their burrows. As we listened, others flew in from the ocean, returning home for the night. The sight was a combination of impressive and awkward, and the sounds–even though we now knew their source–remained unsettling but also humorous.

Once it got dark, our attention turned to dinner. We decided on takeout from Sea House (TripAdvisor), sharing the beet salad and Kauai shrimp. The food was very good, but the portions seemed small for the price.

Day 4 – Pie, Olowalu petroglyphs, Keālia Pond National Wildlife Refuge and on to Kihei

In the morning, we woke up early to try for sunrise permits for two days later at Haleakalā. Though initially unsuccessful, we were able to get a permit when people’s carts released unpurchased permits at 7:15am.

We then had one last snorkel with the turtles in the cove. After, we cleaned up, checked out of the condo, and headed to Leoda’s for lunch.

At Leoda’s (TripAdvisor), we found that they did accept Apple Pay and other contactless payments now. We kicked ourself for the missed opportunity the previous day and ordered. Kyle got the reuben, I got the seared ahi sandwich, and we shared banana cream and chocolate macadamia nut pies. We took the food up to Olowalu petroglyphs, where we ate in the car before getting out to look at the petroglyphs. The food was as good as I remembered.

After lunch, we had some time before we could check into our next condo, so we decided to stop at Kealia Pond National Wildlife Refuge. We enjoyed watching the birds, though they did not seem as numerous or varied as when we had visited in March.

Kihei

From the wildlife refuge, we drove on to Kihei, where we stopped to explore the tide pools at Kamaole II/III. After, we got delicious shave ice from Beach Street (TripAdvisor).

We then checked into our next condo, a rental at Maui Banyan in Kihei (Vrbo search). Our room had a partial view of the ocean back toward Kamaole II beach.

Once settled, we decided to get a takeout dinner from Coconut’s Shrimp (TripAdvisor). We took the food back to Kamaole II, where we had noticed some shearwater nests during our earlier exploration of tide pools. Sunset was lovely, and many shearwaters returned at dusk, awkwardly setting into their borrows and beginning their strange noises.

Day 5 – Kihei

Always eager to try another bakery, we walked to Maui Bread (TripAdvisor) in the morning to pick up breakfast. Their offerings included an appealing combination of Hawaiian ingredients and classic German items. We took our food back to Kamaole II beach to eat, sharing a cinnamon roll and almond croissant, both very good. We also had picked up a pineapple loaf and a Hawaiian loaf (carrot, raisin, pineapple?), intended them to be our snacks for the next few days. I don’t think our pineapple loaf survived the morning.

After breakfast, we picked up our snorkel gear and returned to the beach for a relaxing day of reading and snorkeling.

We got a late lunch from Eskimo Candy (TripAdvisor), where we shared an ahi poke bowl and their Captain’s Platter of fried scallops, coconut shrimp, oysters, fish, calamari, coleslaw, fries. This was a tasty range of seafood, though the meal left us even more inclined to relax for the rest of the day.

Because of the large and late lunch, we decided we didn’t really need dinner. Instead, we went for a sunset walk, heading east along Kamaole to a spot that appeared to have even more shearwater burrows. As dusk approached, dozens began returning from their days at sea. These birds are so majestic in the air, but so awkward once they land, shuffling into their burrows. And then, the noises.

Day 6 – Haleakalā

We were happy we had been able to secure Haleakalā sunrise permits two days earlier. When we planned the trip, reservations were released at a week out. When we went to book them before, we learned that the schedule had changed to release most starting 60 days in advance: because we had missed notice of the change, we had missed them. Remaining permits are released at two days in advance at 7am, but because of our kayak reservations, we had limited opportunities to try for them.

Because of the uncertainty of getting permits, we did not book a night in Kula, close to the park entrance, unlike our previous trip. While I favor permits to limit use to sustainable levels in parks, I also wonder if the switch to the reservation system has hurt some of the small accommodations in Kula. Hopefully releasing some at 60 days, rather than seven, helps those businesses.

While the drive from Kula to the summit had been short, the drive from Kihei to the summit was closer to 90 minutes. That meant we had to leave by 4am to have some margin for error for a 5:52am sunrise. We made it with plenty of time to spare and enjoyed the lovely sunrise as clouds drifted in through the gaps in the mountains.

We then ate our remaining Hawaiian loaf for breakfast and set out for a hike into Haleakalā’s eroded summit. As we descended, clouds continued to build. Once the fog became thick enough to block most views, we decided to turn around. Along the way, we saw chukars systematically devouring yellow flowers. Though they are introduced birds, they seem to have taken well to life in the lava landscape.

We drove down the mountain. Back below the clouds, we stopped at Hosmer Grove for the short loop trail through the forest. When planning the trip, I had seen this was a potentially good spot for seeing birds. We were soon rewarded with great views of red ‘Apapane and ‘I’iwi, as well as a Pueo, Hawaii’s only native owl.

From there, we decided to make a return visit to the Geste Shrimp food truck (TripAdvisor), another fond memory from our previous trip. In the years since our previous visit, the food truck had moved to a food truck lot with other trucks. While still tasty and generously-portioned, the shrimp were not as good, and seemed to have been hastily–and somewhat–sloppily cleaned, which was overall disappointing. 

Back in Kihei, we went for another walk along the beach and ended up at Three’s (TripAdvisor) for happy hour. We selected them based on their Mai Tai reviews. The drinks plus some happy hour food made for a good early dinner.

Day 7 – Lava Fields and La Perouse Bay

Continuing our tour of baked goods, we went to Cinnamon Roll Place (TripAdvisor) for breakfast. The branding made us skeptical, but the reviews and long line out front convinced us it was worth a try. We were glad we did: their huge cinnamon rolls are great and perfectly gooey.

After breakfast, we went for a snorkel across from the condo, at Kamaole II/III. A repeat visit to Beach Street for shave ice made for a light lunch.

We then set out for the lava fields and La Perouse Bay, south of Kihei, for a hike. Our route took us along the bay to Maui’s youngest lava flows. We then followed the 16th-century King’s Highway inland, before turning back to the coast for Hanomanioa Light. We alternately could have continued along to Kanaio Beach, for a longer hike. From the light, we followed the coast back to the bay and our car. This area also had many unique rock formations, including blowholes or trumpets and some sea arches.

For dinner, we ordered takeout from Cuatro (TripAdvisor), sharing their steak appetizer and classic fish (ahi) main. The food was excellent, and made for a perfectly sized light dinner for us. I’d love to go back and have a full meal here on a future visit.

Day 8 – Heading home

We began our last day with another snorkel. After, we cleaned up, checked out, and returned our gear to the closest Snorkel Bob’s.

This left us with our usual conundrum for heading home from Hawaii. Our flight was not until the evening, but we did not want to get too sweaty or too salty before the redeye. So, we decided to have a relaxing day of food and parks.

We started with reading for a while at Akamai Coffee (TripAdvisor), before heading to South Maui Fish Company (TripAdvisor) for lunch. We got their poke, which was good, but reviews had raised our expectations to probably unrealistic levels. I’d like to try their fish tacos on a future visit; they smelled fantastic as we ate our poke. Next, we headed to Ulani’s Shave Ice (TripAdvisor). Many guides describe Ulani’s as the place to get shave ice on Maui. Unsurprisingly, there was a line, but it moved quickly. The shave ice was, indeed, very good. I’d see Ulani’s as more of a splurge in time and money, with Beach Street being a great everyday option.

After leaving Kihei, we drove to Launiupoko Beach Park, where we alternated between strolling along the water to watch turtles and crabs and reading in the shade. As sunset approached, we drove to Papawai Lookout to watch. Though there were no whales, sunset was still stunning. Once the sun had set, it was time to return the rental car and fly home.

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