Outdoor combo makes for a glorious day
My friend wanted to kayak. I wanted to hike. With less than a day of free time on Maui, we didn't think we could do both without feeling rushed.
If You Go ...
What: Maui Eco-Adventures' Hike/Kayak Combo
Meeting place: Pick-ups are made at most West Maui hotels
Time: 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. daily
Cost: $160 per person (minimum age is 10), including a Continental breakfast and lunch of deli sandwiches, veggie crudités, chips, cookies, juice and bottled water. Kamaaina receive a 25 percent discount. Tour requires a minimum of four and a maximum of 12 people.
Call: (808) 661-7720 on Maui, toll free (877) 661-7720 from the other islands
Web site: www.ecomaui.com
Notes: Wear comfortable clothes, a hat, swimsuit and hiking boots or sturdy, closed-toe shoes with good traction. Bring a jacket, sunscreen and waterproof camera.
Maui Eco-Adventures' Hike/Kayak Combo proved us wrong. The tour pairs a scenic 90-minute hike with an exhilarating 90-minute ocean adventure, the perfect answer for a landlubber traveling with a water enthusiast.
The company's owner, Jason Latas, and his former business partner came up with the hike/kayak concept six years ago.
"We liked the idea of blending two great activities in one day," Latas said. "Up until then, no one on Maui had operated a tour like that. We chose Nakalele Point for the hike because of its amazing coastal views. And what's better after a hot hike than to jump in the ocean?"
We began the day with breakfast at a quiet spot overlooking Lanai, Molokai, Kapalua Resort and pretty Honolua Bay, where six other early risers were bobbing on surfboards, patiently waiting for waves to ride.
Then it was on to Nakalele, a winding 20-minute drive away. This is Maui's northernmost point, a windswept expanse with sparse vegetation (because of the air and soil's high salt content, only the hardiest plants can survive here) and ebony carpets of aa (rough) and pahoehoe (smooth) lava ranging from 300,000 to 1 million years old.
COURTESY OF PAUL DYSON
The 90-minute hike offers amazing coastal views. Here, a couple pauses to look out at Molokai.
A portion of our three-mile hike followed the Kings' Trail, which the alii (royalty) used to reach seaside villages in ancient times. For most of the way, however, there was no marked path.
We followed our guide, Dave Stone, over rugged, uneven terrain from 140 feet in elevation down to sea level.
A few narrow sections (measuring little more than a foot wide in our estimation) were bordered by jagged cliffs on one side and sheer drops to the ocean on the other.
Wonders greeted us all along the way. There were sea turtles swimming in frothy whitecaps (at this time of year you'll likely see pods of humpback whales too), glittering fragments of olivine embedded in boulders, a centuries-old petroglyph depicting three generations of a Hawaiian family, and ohai shrubs that are so rare landowner Maui Land & Pineapple Co. has encircled them with yellow rope so hikers won't trample them.
COURTESY MAUI ECO-ADVENTURES
A guide instructs kayakers before hitting the ocean.
HERE AND THERE, patches of pau o Hiiaka decorated the rocky landscape. A member of the morning glory family, this twining vine is notable for its pale blue flowers, small rounded leaves and link to two Hawaiian goddesses.
As the story goes, Pele, the volcano goddess, went fishing one morning, leaving her baby sister, Hiiaka, on the beach to sleep. When Pele returned, she found the vine had covered the child like a blanket, protecting her from the blazing sun, hence its name, which means "skirt of Hiiaka."
Offshore to the east, 636-foot Kahakuloa Head provides a dramatic photographic subject. Kahekili, the great Maui chief, often displayed his courage and prowess by leaping into the ocean from the top of this islet. Long ago, warriors competed in this sport, called lele kawa, as part of their training.
Lava tubes are hidden on the Nakalele coastline; at Nakalele Blowhole, powerful wave action forces seawater through a large tube creating a fountain that can shoot more than 100 feet in the air.
The day we were there, Stone estimated it was nearly that high. We watched the awesome geyser spout several times; each performance was just as thrilling as the first.
"It's a terrific finale to the hike," Stone said. "A lot of our guests don't live near the ocean, and if they do they don't see incredible scenes like that. I love to watch their reactions at the blowhole. Sometimes I get so excited, I start whooping and hollering louder than they do!"
COURTESY OF PAUL DYSON
The rugged terrain includes a centuries-old petroglyph depicting three generations of a Hawaiian family.
FROM NAKALELE, it was on to lunch at picturesque D.T. Fleming Beach, then kayaking off the Kapalua coast. I had gone ocean kayaking just once before and, not being a strong swimmer, I was nervous.
During an information-packed briefing, our guide, Paul Anka from Kapalua Dive Company (which partners with Maui Eco-Adventures for this tour), introduced us to the features of our vessels, provided safety instructions and explained basic steering techniques. Our tandem "sit-on-top" kayaks, he assured us, were sturdy, stable and easy to maneuver.
We quickly discovered that to avoid capsizing and to get the most momentum, we had to work as a team. One paddle, two paddle. One paddle, two paddle. We tried hard to synchronize each movement and maintain a steady rhythm.
Our speed increased with our level of confidence. To me, every stroke was invigorating, carrying me farther and farther away from the stresses of everyday life.
Under blue skies and a caravan of white clouds, we glided a quarter mile from the coast, thoroughly enjoying the fresh air, the warmth of the sun and the sensuous dance of the ocean beneath our boat.
COURTESY MAUI ECO-ADVENTURES
A few curious turtles popped their heads out of the water and seabirds soared overhead, keeping close track of our course.
Suddenly, Anka motioned us to stop paddling. "Dolphins!" he exclaimed, pointing straight ahead. "Do you see them?"
At first, we couldn't; the glare from the bright midday sun was too strong. Then we saw their sleek pewter bodies skimming the surface of the sea. Dozens of dolphins were cavorting not more than 20 feet in front of us!
Entranced, we watched their antics, wishing our lives could be as carefree and uncomplicated as theirs. One bold fellow even swam within a few feet of our kayaks, inviting us, it seemed, to jump into the water and play. We were just a mile from our starting point at Kapalua Bay, but we felt we had entered a magical new world.
Then, as quickly as they had appeared, the dolphins were gone. We sat still in our kayaks for a few minutes longer, reliving that extraordinary occurrence.
And that's the appeal of the Hike/Kayak Combo.
"In addition to being fun, we hope our tours teach our guests something about Hawaii without being a formal 'lesson,' " said Latas. "We'd like them to have a great time while gaining a better understanding of our islands' unique culture, history and diverse biology. We hope they will take the love and respect that we have for the aina (land) and moana (ocean) with them so they can make their home a better place."
COURTESY OF DAVE STONE
Ohai plants like these are so rare that the landowner takes steps to prevent hikers from trampling them. At left, Nakalele Blowhole puts on a reliable show that impresses even Maui residents.
Cheryl Chee Tsutsumi is a Honolulu-based free-lance writer and Society of American Travel Writers award winner.