Aloha State: Setting the Clock to Island Time
There are certain places in this world that you know in your heart you must see. Foreign places we see or hear about once and are forever drawn to. Places impossible to ignore. The smallest corners of the farthest cities, the small winding streets and all the places that seem too out of reach, too expensive, or too scary to see and feel for yourself. Maybe you’ve felt. But what if you did go? What if you liked it so much you stayed? Where would your life be in a year from now? Five years from now?
For the last two years I’d been living on the beaches of southern Baja in a small surfing and fishing village called El Pescadero, Mexico. Life south of the border was incredible, cheap, and crazy at times, but that chapter had reached an end, and a new one had finally arrived. I was now stepping off the plane in my new home in Maui, Hawaii. I was absolutely terrified and at the same time filled with such an intensity of excitement I could barely sit still as the plane pulled up to the terminal.
“Stepping off the plane in my new home in Maui, Hawaii, I was absolutely terrified and at the same time filled with such excitement.”
As I walked across the runway and into the terminal that first day, I stopped to take it all in. I was 28 years old, with experiences and stories that could fill many lifetimes. I’d been in search of a place that really felt like home for some time now. But this time, like many times in the past, alone in an unfamiliar place yet again, I felt more comfortable and at home than I could remember. Something stirred inside me. That feeling—that you are exactly where you were meant to be—rushed through my body like a rush of adrenaline. I live for this feeling.
Some people are meant to wander, so I kept going the best way I knew how. Doing my best to blend in a bit, figure out the scene, the people, the ways of the island. If you’ve ever traveled for any length of time, you probably have learned the subtle art of people watching. I’ve become quite good at it over the years and spent many days simply watching the world go by. So that’s where this story all began…
The first thing I noticed as I stepped off the plane was the smell. The damp, sweet smell of the jungle that some recognize all too well. The rich aroma and weight of the humid air brought me to a halt after what seemed like a lifetime of movement. There I was, standing on an island in the middle of the Pacific ocean, everything I owned packed in suitcases all around me. I realized I actually had very little sense of what I was going to do, but somehow I knew Maui felt right. It had always just been one of those places for me.
And so the story goes: Moving to a new place. Observing the people, the way they talk, where they hang out. The way everyone kisses once on your right cheek the way they do in Mexico. At least I have that part down. But there is more—so much more. Hawaiian culture is layered, prideful, respected, and enduring. They have managed to thrive even on an island that sees the effects of globalization and global warming sooner and closer to home than most other places in the world. Maui, in particular, is a unique combination of geology, topography, and climate zones. Depending which side of the island you are on, you can find dark, rich red soil or sandy white beaches like the ones you might find in Greece. Whether you’re feeling adventurous and want to get a sweat on, wander Lahaina’s infamous Front Street, or are in the mood to chill, set your clock to island time, grab a coffee and check the surf – Maui has a little something for everyone.
WHAT TO DO
ROAD TO HANA
Many non- “tourist” adventurous folks get here and see all the hype about the Road to Hana and shrug off what seems to be a giant tourist trip. But don’t let the abundance of this overwhelm you. The road to Hana is an incredible drive like nothing you’ve seen before. You can spend an entire week in Hana and not do or see everything this place has to offer. Tidepools, jungle hikes, waterfalls, cliff jumping, cave diving. Thai food, coconut stands, and wild banana trees. Let the adventure create itself. Check out the Red Sand beach and spend a few hours at the beach. Timing is key also—if you leave early you can dodge traffic and have more time in the sun.
THE NORTH SHORE
I live on the North Shore and am obsessed with the sleepy little towns tucked into the edge of the jungle. If you’ve ever heard the term North Shore, most likely you were hearing about the infamous North Shore of Oahu. With massive, perfect waves and a heavy lineup, it is obvious why the name stuck—it is every surfer’s fantasy to surf Pipeline. But Maui has its own version of the North Shore, clad with a timeless surf vibe, palm trees, coffee shops, beaches, world class big wave surfing and some of the best windsurfing around. Grab a shave ice and hit one of the beaches in Pai’a Town, or grab coffee or poke bowl from the Kuau Store on the Road to Hana, and find some waves at Hookipa and surrounding surf breaks. If you’re traveling in the winter months you might get lucky and see the Jaws, the world famous wave, breaking. Seeing surfers drop into 35-50’ waves from the cliffside is surely a memory you won’t forget. Contact the Jaws Surf Company to book a tour.
SPEND TIME WITH THE WHALES
Starting in early December, all the Hawaiian-born North Pacific Humpback whales migrate 3,500 miles back from Alaska to the Maui Nui Basin, located between the islands of Maui, Lana’i, and Moloka’i. They spend the winter in the water waters off Maui giving birth and breeding. What was once the top whaling area in the world, responsible for the near decimation of the species, is now a highly protected sanctuary for these mammals and other marine life. If you’re feeling like burning off a few Mai Tais from the night before, rent a couple kayaks and paddle out from the West side of the island—Olulwalu, Lahaina, or Kaanapali—and you might see some action. If a boat is more your style, check with your hotel or simply walk around Lahaina town to find somewhere to book a whale watching tour or snorkel tour. (There are lots of live beautiful reefs, tropical fish, and sea turtles living in these areas, so please be conscious of your impact to these fragile species and be sure to buy all natural sunscreen! Like Sun Bum 🙂 )
EXPLORE THE OTHER ISLANDS
If you’ve already requested the time off work, flown across an entire ocean, you might as well see as much as you possibly can! Tickets to Kuaui, Oahu, and the Big Island are usually quite cheap and offer a fun way to add that extra adventure to your trip. Hop on a late night to Oahu’s North Shore and watch Pipeline break or go climb mountains and surf in Kuaui for the last few days of the trip. With last-minute flight deals and a bit of spontaneity, the possibilities are endless.
WHAT TO EAT + DRINK
Fresh fish – Ask what the freshest catch of the day is. Get that.
Mai Tai’s, Pina Coladas, Lilikoi Margaritas – Anything with fruit in it, basically. Chances are, its fresh, local, and tastes amazing.
Acai Bowls – Check out the North Shore’s local pro surfer Ian Walsh’s DIY acai bowl cafe, Paia Bowls, tucked away on the main street of Pai’a Town. My favorite hole-in-the-wall pick me up.
Poke – Fresh caught ahi tuna, warm rice, and a shoyu dressing. This is THE post surf meal that will refuel you and leave you feeling ready for the next island mission.
Plate Lunch – A Hawai’ian favorite. A plate lunch is a hefty mix of rice, locally made macaroni salad, and your choice of BBQ item, usually shoyu chicken, Maui-raised beef, or fried katsu of some sort. (And you get the slightest bit of street cred when you know what a plate lunch is.)
WHERE TO STAY
AIR BnB – There are all sorts of Ohana’s and small studios for rent for couples and friends, or bigger houses for families or large groups.
ALOHA SURF HOSTEL – This laid back surf hostel is located in the heart of the North Shore, just a 2-block walk from downtown Paia. If you’re looking to keep the costs to a minimum and surfing to a maximum, I would suggest going backpacker style in this cute little hideaway.
KIHEI/WAILEA – If you are traveling in the either summer or winter time, the beaches and smaller surf in Wailea and Kihei are perfect for families and beginner/novice surfers. With lots of nice beaches and fun bars and restaurants, it makes for easy-access to good times.
LAHAINA – With its wide array of art galleries, sports bars, surfing, beach cruisers, and sport fishing, Lahaina—located on the west side of the island—is a hub for activities and things to do. Rent a longboard and head to Oluwalu for some hang time, or wander under the Banyon tree in the central park. There is great food and activities for all interests here, but the tourism might get to you after a while, so plan accordingly.
(Photo: Josh Rottman)
So maybe now you know the kind. The kinds of places that steal a little piece of us forever and linger on the edges of our brightest daydreams. For some time I had longed for the dark green jungles of Maui’s North Shore, the turquoise waters and red earth that stays with you (and on you) forever. It is one of those places you know you will live someday. At least that’s how it felt for me. I could vividly imagine what my life would be like, how my skin would tan, my hair would lighten, and my smile would broaden. There is just something about the energy and beauty of the Hawai’ian Islands that hold on a little longer than most places.
So when the time came, and I stepped out onto the streets for the first time, knowing I wouldn’t be leaving anytime soon, it felt good. When my best friend came up and placed a le’i of orchids around my neck and kissed my cheek, I knew I was home. That feeling was right all along.