Ahh Hawaii! The trip that was supposed to occur in April 2020 (covid), then October 2020 (Hawaii still closed for out of state travel), and then January 2021 (covid vaccine clinics started). After getting the vaccine clinic in a good spot, I was able to wiggle out a much needed mental and physical break – an entire week off after almost 70 days straight. I knew exactly the rough draft itinerary to resurrect and escape the rough winter.
Hawaii is a great covid safe destination due to all the travel requirements to enter the state and practically everything being outside due to the perfect weather. Read all about our planning and logistics here – remember that COVID travel requirements are constantly changing so please check frequently for any updates.
Travel day was fairly uneventful – in a good way. Having completed several flights in 2020, the COVID ritual has become routine. Our flight to SFO was easy. At SFO, United has a pre-check program with Hawaii so we were able to go to an area of the airport were United representatives inspected our travel documentation, health questionnaire, and covid test results. Successfully producing the requirements gave you a pre-cleared wrist band so that on arrival in Hawaii, you can skip the long lines. This ended up being a great service! I know several other airlines are participating in a similar program for travelers. The lines were really long for those that were not pre-cleared so this is definitely a big benefit to getting to your vacation faster.
It was a long travel day – starting at 3AM EST and landing in Maui at 2PM HST – but it was well worth it to get a slice of paradise. Hawaii feels like an international destination since it is so far from us and such a different climate. Upon exiting the airport, there is a trolley that transports passengers to the car rental section of the airport complex. It is not a long shuttle and there is a walking path (approximately ten minute walk).
There are three car rental types you frequently will witness in Hawaii – the convertible, the Jeep, and the Kia Soul. We both giggled that our car was the Kia Soul – those hamsters – but it ended up being a fun and functional car for the journey.
Needless to say we were starving after all that travel without a proper meal so I had book marked a popular stop down the street from the airport – Tin Roof. I put in our online order while we were driving out of the car rental parking lot so it would be ready for pickup after the ten minute drive. That was certainly a great advantage of the pandemic changes – having online ordering and pickup really opened up the day to other activities that having to sit down and eat or wait in a line for food. The menu was incredible but we had no trouble deciding on the Pork Belly bowl – roasted then deep fried DUROC pork belly, topped off with tomato onion lomi, patis vinaigrette, served with a 6 minute egg. And we added spam and “animal style” (if it was anything like the In-N-Out sauce I figured it’d be worth it).
We could not wait to eat it so we popped the top and started nom’ing in the Kia Soul – oh my goodness this was heaven. The pork belly was crispy and juicy, the sauce was delicious, the spam was flavorful, and the rice was just the right sticky consistency. Oh and that six minute egg – it was magic slicing into that sucker – perfect yokes and we were so happy to have ordered an extra so we each had an egg to enjoy. We were already looking forward to when we could get this again!
Our journey continued south to the Airbnb in Kihei. As we turned off of the main road and down through Kihei, the beach views were unbearably gorgeous – we could not wait to explore! The Airbnb was located in a small condo complex that had parking included, beach essentials, in room washer and dryer, and a pool. We also picked this one as it had a separate bedroom, full kitchen, and was not decorated in a loud “beach” or “Hawaii” way. Highly recommend this spot – it ended up being the perfect central location to explore the entire island which was the most important feature for us.
After we settled in, the exhaustion hit us hard. While I had a few more things we could have done with the day, we knew we also had a super early morning. Like the true party animals that we are, we were sleep by 5PM.
Wide awake at 1AM, the jet lag was really kicking. This is why everyone recommends to travel to the top of Haleakala for sunrise since you are most likely already wide awake for the early morning required to travel there for sunrise. Check sunrise times to know when you have to leave. From our Airbnb in Kihei, it was a one and a half hour drive to the summit. Sunrise was at 6:39AM and we wanted to make sure we got there with enough time so aimed to be there from 5:30AM which meant a 4AM departure from the Airbnb – not too bad. The sunrise here is extremely popular and COVID has only increased the difficulty in securing a reservation. Pay very close attention to how to secure your reservation when you are planning this part of the trip if seeing the sunrise is a high priority. Read all the details of our sunrise and Haleakala summit here!
We were pretty hungry and Kevin was eager for some morning coffee. Unfortunately, places I had marked to visit were still not open – it was still very early. I was able to find a coffee shop in the nearby town of Paia that ended up being a huge hit!
Paia Bay Coffee Bar was situated right in the downtown strip of Paia – which reminded us of a western set. This coffee shop was everything we adore about coffee shops. First off, it was a great feeling to even be in a coffee shop! We have not been able to sit and relax in our local coffee shop since the pandemic hit in March 2020 – this coffee shop was fully outdoors. It also reminded us of what we love about Italian coffee shops – they are coffee shops by day and bars at night – we need more of this and if Kevin and I can find a way, we would totally open one (darn NJ liquor licenses). There was also a small kitchen that had a generous menu offering. These guys make their owe croissants and banana bread every morning! And there was a small area that would be designated for musical guests to perform.
Kevin ordered a coffee and we both ordered breakfast. Kevin got a coffee and their avocado toast. Pesto is such a great idea for avocado toast! While I am typically not an egg person, I ordered the omelette special with mushrooms and spinach. This omelette was hitting the spot and I do not know what was in the slice of toast but it was so delicious. I so desperately wanted an acai bowl but I was so darn cold and wet still that I could not image eating something cold.
Pleasantly full, we decided to try and fit a hike into our day since it was still early in the day. I had two hikes that I wanted us to explore – the Lahaina Pali Trail and the Waihe’e Ridge Trail. These were on opposite sides of the island and since we already had enough weather for the day, we made our decision based on which had the best. Waihe’e Ridge Trail was raining so that meant Lahainia Pali Trail was the winner.
Read about the Lahainia Pali Trail here!
Up this direction was a do not miss stop of Leoda’s Kitchen and Pie Shop only a few minutes north of the Lahaina Pali Trail known for their pies. And these pies are intense in the best way possible. The display case made making a decision extremely difficult.
Ultimately, we ended up with two pies – the banana cream and the chocolate macadamia. The banana cream pie had a generous layer of whipped cream covering a base layer of banana cream. There was also a graham cracker like crust that was a nice crunch for all the creaminess. The chocolate macadamia was like having a rich chocolate pudding – goodness it was divine! Thank goodness we had a full size refrigerator to store these as they are very big and we were able to enjoy them for several nights! We also ordered a roast beef sandwich as all their food offerings looked good.
All I wanted to do the rest of the day was relax on the beach… so that is exactly what we set out to do! Before stopping at the Airbnb, we made one more food stop – Sugar Beach Bake Shop and Ululani’s Hawaiian Shaved Ice. While the Sugar Beach Bake Shop had coveted malasades (Portuguese donuts), they are only made in the morning. We were here because they make spam musubis – Kevin had been told by multiple coworkers and my brother that he had to try. This place had one of the better rated ones on the island and actually served their version spicy.
- Kevin’s review: A delicious junk food (in the best sense) kind of snack found across the islands. This one was at a bakery that had a special heated shelf where they sat and we were lucky to nab the last one. Stick rice and spam together was a really enjoyable combo.. The cooked spam reminded me most of pork roll, perfect salty fatty combo for the rice. Jalapeno was tame and added good fire to the taste.
Ululani’s Hawaiian Shave Ice repeatedly appeared as the best shave ice on the island. I’ll admit shave ice did not entice me – it was not chocolate and I am not a fan of water ice of which I thought to be the most equivalent comparison. Since it was our first time ordering shave ice, I had the staff guide us on how to properly order and build the shave ice order. We ordered a small (keiki), went with one of the popular combinations of “sunset beach” – passion fruit, guava, and mango, added the snow cap (typically condensed milk), and layered vanilla ice cream underneath.
I have to say, the consistency and texture was nothing like water ice! It was smooth and silky as it melted in your mouth. The flavors were so good – our favorite ended up being guava. And you must get the snow cap – it is essential! We were both so surprised how much we enjoyed this and could not wait to get another.
We stopped back at the Airbnb, changed and packed up the beach gear and headed off. There are a number of beaches in Kihei and I wanted one that would allow us to try out our new snorkel gear ahead of tomorrow’s Molokini excursion. It seems like the beaches further east give the best chances so we skipped a few (Kamole, Wailea, Ulua) and headed to Makena Beach. I originally had Maluaka beach but they charge a ten dollar parking fee that I did not feel justified unless we would be there all day.
Parking at the beaches in general can be tricky – especially on the weekends – but given it was later in the day, we were hoping to get lucky. We passed the area of Wailea and it was clear this was the fancy side of town – the houses, the resorts, the golf courses – yep this was where the money was on the island. If you want a resort vacation, you stay in Wailea. Anyway, we got to Makena Beach parking lot and were pleased to find a spot available! A short walk with our beach gear got us to a beautiful beach.
While it was too windy for an umbrella, the water was not as cold as I had predicted. Kevin took a round with the snorkel gear before I joined him. We really liked the set we got (see packing post!) and while we did not see much in the water, it was good practice to get used to the equipment and being in the ocean with waves.
Relaxing on the beach was the ultimate perfection of the day – the views were stunning and the sun was welcomed.
After several hours, we decided to plan our meal for the evening. I had starred Paia Fish Market which had a second location in Kihei so we placed an online order for Fish and Chips and Blackened Fresh Catch (Ahi). Before going home, we also swung by Maui Brewing Company for Kevin to grab a six pack. The Maui Brewing Company was bopping – there was no parking anywhere but these guys were clearly set up for covid – so much outdoor space. It looked like a great spot to hang out but since we had food we opted to skip dining here. May have changed our plans had we known what a great spot it was!
I have to say, the meals were meh from Paia Fish Market. Now it could have been that it sat for too long – it is a risk of take out versus dine in. But my fish and chips were pretty unpleasant. These look like fish sticks which is very, very different from labeling an item as fish and chips. Fish and chips is the battered and fried fish tenders – fish sticks are breaded pieces of fish. I was not pleased. Even the fries were pathetic. Some reviews had this place as overrated and based on our experience, I have to agree. I ate the left over roast beef sandwich for dinner. Kevin said his dish was good, not great, could have been better and had better at the price – it tasted dried out and not very fresh. We both ended with pie so really it was still a win.
Somehow after fitting all this into one day, we found ourselves flirting with sunset time. Across the street of the condo is a beach so we made our way over there ten minutes before sunset and enjoyed an absolutely beautiful sunset.
While nothing beats how early you need to get up for Haleakala, our day required a 6AM departure. We stopped at Akamai Coffee (thanks to the 6AM open time) and Kevin was set for the morning.
We traveled to the Kihei Boat Landing were we met with our excursion for the morning – Redline Rafting for whale watching.
Read about our experience here!
We really could not believe the morning we just had – completely surreal! Before the next adventure and to calm my stomach a bit, we needed some food. I had Beach Street marked down for acai bowls but honestly I needed something of substance – like a carb – to settle my lingering motion sickness. To my surprise, I ended up ordering a waffle with strawberries, bananas, and chocolate sauce on top. And it was the perfect thing, I felt so much better. Kevin ordered an everything bagel with cream cheese and tomato with cracked pepper on top – which he enjoyed very much.
Up next we had an express excursion to Molokini. In retrospect, back to back boat tours was definitely not a good idea for myself. But it did end with a surprise!
Read about our experience with Blue Water Rafting here!
I was in need for more carbs to settle my stomach (again) so despite my strong desire to have an acai bowl (again), we ended up at Piko Cafe. And let me tell you something, this place gets two thumbs way up from me. We ordered take out and had to wait about ten minutes for all the food to be ready and we enjoyed in on our lanai at the Airbnb.
I ordered an Ono Ono Shake – chocolate, peanut butter, and banana – which was soooooo good. It had the right balance of each element, none out powering the other. It really was perfect and I still think about it. I also ordered the Chicken Katsu lunch platter served with rice and macaroni salad. I had apprehensions about the katsu after yesterday’s fish and chips debacle but honestly, if you call something katsu and it comes out looking like something else I think I have the right to complain. But it was just right (thank god) and it was so delicious. It even came with a Japanese BBQ dipping sauce that was a great complement. I thoroughly enjoyed this meal. Kevin ordered a coffee and went with the Garlic Noodles topped with Glazed BBQ Chicken which was equally amazing. The garlic noodles were just amazing – I could have ate these all day everyday. If we lived here, I’d be at Piko Cafe all the time trying all the items.
With a good chunk of time left in the day, we decided to tackle the second hike I had marked – Waihe’e Ridge Trail. The weather conditions were predicted to be significantly better than yesterday so we headed to the north west side of the island. The landscape changed as we made the left away from the airport and began transforming into a rain forest- the complete opposite from the dry conditions of the Lahaina Pali Trail.
Read about this trail here!
Welp I think now it is safe to say we were reasonably exhausted. On our way back, we hoped to pick up our spirits by enjoying shave ice at Ululani’s. As we pulled up at 6:01PM, we were told that they closed and were taking care of the last customer. Whomp. Whomp. We were at least happy to have a washer and dryer in the space so we threw everything in the dryer before snacking on the last of the roast beef sandwich and pies from Leoda’s before passing out.
Another bright and early rise for our excursion that was launching out of Makena Landing. We stopped at Akamai again for Kevin’s coffee and drove to our meeting point for our kayak adventure with Hawaiian Paddle Sports!
Read about kayak whale watching trip here.
After an epic morning with Curtis and Hawaiian Paddle Tours, we took his lunch recommendation and hit up Tamura’s Fine Wine & Liquors for poke bowls. Yes, apparently the liquor store has some of the best poke bowls on the island. Since they are generally spicy, Kevin picked out the Ahi Ahi in the spicy sauces they offered – there were so many to choose from and he took the recommendation of the staff there – and thoroughly enjoyed his first poke bowl experience. Meanwhile, I was craving that Tin Roof magic again so I ordered online and we made the drive up for that Pork Belly bowl – ugh it was so darn good and I want it again as I write this!
Since we had to misfortune to striking out at Ululani yesterday, we stopped by to grab a shave ice this time split between guava and mango, snow cap on top, with a BEAN bottom that was really not good – Kevin wanted to try it and agreed that trying it was as fast as it would go.
And in case you happen to be on Maui on the first Monday of the month – they test the Tsunami siren then. We were eating our shave ice and the siren went off. No one seemed to be concerned but I wanted to look into it – turns out it was the month test.
Stuffed and phyiscally exhausted, we had thoughts of trying the Waihe’e Ridge Trail again but we just wanted to sit on the beach. We packed up the stuff and just went to the beach across from the condo. The moment we sat down the wind became unbearable. We had our share of windy days on Maui – our plane landing was vomit inducing because of it – but this was intense. The sand hurt has it propelled into our skin. We really wanted some beach time but this was silly. I could not believe we finally had sun and could not relax in it! Instead we tried laying out by the pool which ended up being a better option – despite the wind being a constant issue, making it hard to rest. After an hour or two, we made it back inside to clean up – it was time for our “fancy” meal of the trip and I could not wait to have some fine dining.
Read about our dining review and experience at Mama’s Fish House here – is it worth the hype?
Well needless to say, we were stuffed. We enjoyed the grounds on our way out of the restaurant and made our way back to the Airbnb.
We had an early morning ahead as we began our Road to Hana journey so we packed up all of our things before hurrying to bed.
The Road to Hana was finally here! There is quite a bit of planning that needs to take place before embarking on this journey – enough to fill an entire separate post. If you are interested in the details or are planning on doing the Road to Hana, I suggest taking a peak at this post – the Road Map to the Road to Hana.
Read about our Road to Hana journey here!
Back to civilization, we were ready for some food after the embarrassing showing last night. I could hardly believe I had let this much time go by without having an acai bowl – arguably one of my favorite foods. Thankfully, we stopped in Paia and settled here for a few hours. My first stop was Paia bowls. I ordered a large “Surf Bowl” – simply frozen organic acai as the base layer topped with organic granola, fresh bananas, coconut flakes, and Hawaiian honey. Kevin ordered a small “Blend Bowl” – acai, strawberries, blueberries, and banana blended together as the base layer topped with organic granola, fresh bananas, coconut flakes, and Hawaiian honey. We both added peanut butter and Kevin added cacao nibs as an extra treat!
Heaven. I was in heaven. Finally, an acai bowl in Hawaii. Ok so let us critically evaluate. I like to mix all the items together to equally distribute the toppings with each spoonful of acai. This acai was pretty darn frozen so it made mixing a bit difficult in the beginning. The acai itself was very good, not sweetened or sugary. The granola reminded me of the granola I use at home which was a fun plus. The honey was amazing – I am not sure what it is about Hawaiian honey but it appeared on all our bowls and I was not complaining about it. Kevin’s base was actually really good and I may have slightly preferred his because it was a fun berry blend. Overall, great bowls! Would have definitely stopped here more than once on the trip if we could have.
Since Kevin got a small bowl, acai bowls never keep him full, and he needed coffee, we swung down the street to Paia Bay Coffee Bar. Kevin ordered his coffee as well as the eggs breakfast with bacon, local spring mix & salsa – delightful!
And with that, we made our way to the airport for our final moments with Maui. We returned the car and was able to switch to an earlier flight because we made such good time on the Road of Hana return and the airport TSA – thanks Hawaiian airlines! Mahalo Maui!
We really enjoyed everything about Maui and can see ourselves returning easily. There is so much to do and not only did we not get to experience everything, the things we did experience – like the hikes and the volcano – require another visit so we can get the chance for better weather. Even though it is rainy season this time of year, we did get the advantage of seeing some epic humpback whales – not one, not twice, but three times. Thank you Maui, we will see you again soon.