Friday, June 19, 2009

Worth the Trip: Maui’s Road to Kahakuloa



The isle of Maui in the Hawaiian Island chain resembles a head with its hair done up in a bun. All the rental car agencies advise customers not to venture past Kapalua—a resort area on the bun’s northwest side, past famous Lahaina and Ka’anapali—warning of treacherous driving conditions. One would almost expect the maps these companies hand out to display a big black line just past Kapulua with the words “Beware: Here there be dragons!” or “Stop: End of the world!” their trepidatious rantings are that pronounced. I’m not going to tell you that the road to Kahakuloa compares to Route 66—although I understand that venerable U.S. highway is in a severe state of disrepair in parts—but it isn’t quite the road to Hell either. Any of the thoroughfares that connect the boroughs of New York City are in worse shape. Then again the chances of driving off a cliff whilst puttering around NYC are minimal, but there are positives and negatives to anything.

Route 30, which becomes county road 340, to Kahakuloa is most certainly paved; it’s surface smooth without a pothole or crack in sight. But it does twist with concave and convex switchbacks, steep climbs and deep drops, which precipitously skirt the coastline along cliffs sometimes hundreds of feet above sea level. And because the road is dug out along the cliff side, there is the danger of falling rocks—which often drivers have to dodge—and the route’s width can get tight for a single car to pass never mind two traveling in opposite directions. Still, if you are a steely-nerved driver who isn’t afraid of heights and has an excellent sense of where your front passenger-side headlight is, the trip is worth the effort.


(Ahh... Maui...)

First, there are the views, which are spectacular. If you do nothing else but soak in the seascape, you won’t regret the heart palpitations or gray hairs from the drive. Just remember, if you are the driver, to take your time and watch the road when in motion. Route 30/Road 340 is not busy and one can safely stop their vehicle to take a picture or two before proceeding. Plus, there are vista points—areas designed for drivers to pull over to enjoy the view. Besides, most of the other drivers will be tourists themselves and driving accordingly. If you notice a car racing up behind you, pull over at the first opportunity and let them by. They are most likely a local who is well past the stage of being enamored by the scenery and just want to get where they’re going. Either that or they’re New Yorkers whose idea of a relaxing drive is still crazier than that of the rest of the country.

As you make your way toward Kahakuloa, approximately half a mile past mile marker #38 you’ll see what appears to be a makeshift dirt parking area on your right. Find a spot, grab your valuables and head toward the sea. Do not lock the doors. You may notice broken glass from shattered car-door windows; the result of unfortunates who locked their doors before leaving their vehicles. No one’s going to steal the car. After all, Maui’s an island—where would the culprits go? But they will break in so as to pop the trunk and abscond with any valuables stored therein.

(The blowhole claims another victim... Bwah, hah, hah!)

Cresting the trail, you’ll see far below a flat rocky shelf just before the outcropping meets the ocean, probably with several other adventurers milling about. If the tide and surf are right, a tremendous geyser of water will periodically shoot from a natural blowhole in the shelf. Seeing as this is a product of Mother Nature and not a Disney World theme attraction (Blowholes of the Caribbean, anyone?), the blowhole is a fickle beast. Some days the action is awesome, other days not so much, and still on occasional it’s kaput. The trail down to the hole is steep and rocky. You won’t need rope and pitons to descend, just decent hiking shoes—I’ve done it in Rafters—but it can be a drag to discover it’s one of the blowhole’s off days once you get down there. So observe the temperamental wonder from the head of the declivity before you begin your descent. If she’s working, you’ll know it and then can proceed accordingly.

Next stop: the Olivine Pools. Pull into the gravel parking area just prior to mile marker #16 (Mile marker #16?! We just left #38 and the numbers were ascending… What gives?). Shortly after the blowhole, Route 30 becomes County Road 340 and the mile markers begin anew (That’s what gives.).

(That little blue puddle in the center of the rocky outcropping may not look like much from here, but...)

The Olivine Pools are named after the semi-precious gems encrusted in the lava rocks that surround the area. As with the blowhole, there is a steep and rocky descent to get to the pools; a far more treacherous one, so take your time and don’t be shy about bending down to use your hands when needed. Also, look ahead as you go. Sometimes a path that begins easily enough becomes impossible to navigate so you’ll have to backtrack. It helps to make your way in tandem with another. The hazardous trip is rewarded a thousandfold. The pools are chilling in their majesty. They sit in a rocky outcropping, the power of the ocean crashing against the rocks just out of reach. Set in hues of blue-green, the pools are breathtaking and deep enough to dive into from high atop the lava walls that skirt its edge. Wear well-built reef shoes, like Tevas or Rafters, because this is lava and subsequently sharp. There are shallow basins of water leading up to the main pools that are slick with algae and all manner of tiny aquatic creatures, so be careful and enjoy. You won’t want to leave.

(Hm... maybe I shouldn't've had those burritos for lunch.)

Fortunately the siren call of Lorraine Shave Ice beckons.

Nearing the quaint village of Kahakuloa, a towering hill of Brobdingnagian proportions comes into view. Kahakuloa Head is a 636-foot high hill that looks a gigantic Chia-Pet version of the heads on Easter Island. I often imagine it suddenly coming to life, bursting from the ocean to reveal a giant stone body beneath, a dormant alien from another galaxy that had been biding its time until the moment was right to reveal itself and take over the planet. Did I mention I spent a lot of time alone as a child? Anyway, Kahakuloa Head is an awesome natural sight, making the pink school bus on the side of the road all the more repulsive/fascinating. Contrary to the “Last Stop” sign the proprietors so inconsiderately placed by the vehicle, the Smoothie Bus, as it is called, is the unofficial gateway to the village of Kahakuloa, which lies nestled at the foot of the valley below. I’ve never gotten a smoothie at the bus, preferring to save my calories for Lorraine’s delectable delights.

(Kahakuloa Head looms over the author... waiting...)

There is a Maui travel guide, entitled Maui Revealed, that despite my disagreeing with some of its observations on restaurants and such, is exemplary. One such bone of contention is their naming Julia’s as having the “Best Banana Bread” on Maui. Julia’s is a small stand on the left of County Road 340 shortly past Lorraine’s. You cannot miss it. If you fail to notice the myriad parked cars around the stand, like snake-oil salesmen the proprietors obnoxiously hawk their wares at every vehicle that approaches. “Julia’s… Voted ‘Best Banana Bread on Maui!’…” Signs featuring cheap color printouts of the pertinent pages from Maui Revealed flank the stand. I don’t mind the signage, prominently displaying positive reviews outside one’s establishment is de rigeur in the food concession biz, whether a four-star French bistro showcasing its Michelin stars in its window or a falafel cart with a glowing review from CitySearch on its side. But the carny huckstering is tacky and anathema to the spirit of Aloha for which Hawaii is famous.

I’ve had Julia’s banana bread. Lorraine’s is better. I’m willing to bet the author of Maui Revealed didn’t even try Lorraine’s. Going by the sign alone—Lorraine Shave Ice—one would think she only offered shaved ice. Not only does Lorraine feature scrumptious shaved ice in a multitude of flavors—up to three per cone with optional vanilla ice cream on the bottom—but also she offers coconut and banana cream pie; frozen chocolate-dipped bananas and pineapple spears; jarred passion-fruit jam; shaved toasted coconut and beef jerky, all lovingly made by Lorraine from fruit picked from her own backyard, with the exception of the beef jerky which she makes from store-bought meat.

(Lorraine Shave Ice)

The pies are sublime; you’ll swear you hear angels singing as you savor them. The shaved toasted coconut is perfect as a snack, but it can be used in pancakes, yogurt, sprinkled on desserts or included when baking cookies. When asked how long the bagged shavings last, Lorraine answers, “That depends on whether you open the bags or not. Once you open them, they disappear.” I’ve kept bags of her coconut in the refrigerator for more than a year without there being any ill effects.

The location of Lorraine Shave Ice is also a plus. As mentioned, both the Smoothie Bus and Julia’s stand on the side of the road. The former does provide a spectacular view as it sits on a high vista point overlooking the ocean. Julia’s has all the ambiance of a bus stop. Lorraine runs her business from her home, nestled amongst the Hawaiian flora with a lovely view of the Pacific. And since visitors park on her property, there is no fear of causing traffic tie-ups or accidents. Visitors can spend a relaxing few hours enjoying Lorraine’s gastronomic goodies, savoring the ocean breeze and beauty of the island.

But even these prodigious predications stand in the shadow of this Maui original’s greatest feature: Lorraine herself. Lorraine opens her home and her heart to every guest. She is the living embodiment of the aloha spirit. Depending on business, she’ll gladly take you on a tour of the grounds. She’ll point out her pet alligator and elephant, introduce you to her “sensitive” plants and provide interesting facts on all the fruits she nurtures for her treats. Did you know that banana plants only produce one bunch of bananas, then die? That passion fruit plants have two cycles of fruit growth a year? Or that pineapples grow straight up from the ground on long stalks like artichokes? And sweet and friendly though Lorraine is, she is no pushover and has a whip-smart attitude that makes this New Yorker wonder if she hasn’t spent time in the Big Apple. When asked if she feels her banana bread bests Julia’s, she humbly replies—understanding the subjective nature of superlatives when it comes to taste buds—“I don’t know. Who am I to say? It’s not the best banana bread… It’s damn good, but the best…?”

(Can you guess which is the pineapple? Hint: the pineapple isn't wearing sunglasses.)

One wall of a room off the main area is covered with letters and pictures from fans from around the world. She points out various ones at random, telling the story of each missive’s author, like a beloved grandparent showing off photos and cards of her grandchildren.

(Lorraine... Maui's best!)

When traveling anywhere, it’s nice to explore that area’s unique qualities: the historical sights, natural wonders, local cuisine. But I prefer a more personal taste. Give me the warmth and charm of a local hangout. Lorraine’s is all that… plus pie!

And receives the full five spiders!

7 comments:

John III said...

Ah Hawaii. My wife and I were planning to go next January for her 40th birthday. But now she will be 8 months pregnant then. Well, there's always 41!

Vroom! said...

Congratulations!

I hope you have relatives to leave the little one with when you go. Hawaii is beautiful regardless, but a 1-year-old will limit the amount of activities you'll be able to do. I certainly wouldn't advise carrying a baby down to the blowhole or Olivine Pools... though I think Lorraine would be more than loving to your child.

Good corresponding with you as always, John III!

Vroom!

John III said...

Same here Vroom. I have plenty of time usually to get on blogs here at the bank. You put a lot of effort in yours and it's a great read. And when we go to Hawaii, the kids will definately stay in Iowa. We have a two year old girl right now too. Being the military history buff that I am, I can't wait to see the Arizona memorial. I would like to see the Utah memorial too on he other side of the island that many people don't know about. Oh! And gotta see Lorraines now too!

ufatbastehd said...

Hey

Very nice!
Andrea and I will get back to Hawaii some day and drive that road!

Kandice said...

Everything you said about Lorraine is spot-on. We went on our last day in Maui last month. It was definitely THE cultural highlight of the trip for me. I was trying to find a banana bread recipe when I stumbled over your blog. And then I decided that even if I did find a recipe to rival Lorraine's, her spirit and the atmosphere of her property cannot be duplicated. So I probably won't try to find a recipe, I will just have to try to make it back there someday.

Heather said...

YES. Best banana bread, yummy coconut chips, and shave ice as light and fluffy as Okanagan champagne powder! What a sweet lady too, and so funny! Worth the terrifying drive! Lorraine was just the loveliest person, bless her!

Ed Hart said...

My wife and I JUST did this same drive two weeks ago. Same stops, similar pictures...didn't make it to Lorraine's, but spent an hour at the Smoothie School Bus...loved this entire trip...this Saturday morning drive was spectacular!

Mahalo!

Ed Hart
Fullerton, CA