Monday, May 31, 2010

Hawaii Day 5 - Lahaina Whale-Watching (sorta) Tour

I had decided that for once, I wasn't going to overplan a Maui trip this time. On our last Hawaii trip (which was Maui/Kauai), I really felt like we didn't have enough time to just do nothing because I planned so many activities. For this trip, the only activity I planned was to do a Whale Watching tour because all our other trips have been in November, before whale season begins. Unfortunately, although whale season is early February through mid-May, our early May visit didn't garner any whale sightings. It really was the tail end of the season. We did get to see some unusual (for us) dolphins and we thoroughly enjoyed viewing the Maui coastline by boat. Although the Pacific Whale Foundation does offer "Just a Fluke" coupons good for another visit if you don't see a whale, we were satisfied with our experience even without a whale sighting.

The harbor town of Lahaina

The famous Lahaina Banyan Tree

The view of Ka'anapali from the ocean

Spotted dolphins

More spotted dolphins - the crew kept calling them "toothed whales."

After the Whale Cruise, we strolled through Lahaina for a bit, then had a quick lunch at the Hard Rock. The food was okay, but the view was fantastic, and the waitress gave us a free (huge) Sundae because she dumped a bowl of coleslaw on the ground in front of us (didn't get us messy at all). After lunch, we decided to drive up the coast to see more parts of the island that we haven't visited before. We turned off the highway at Kapalua and drove along the coast the rest of the way back down. It was nice to see the other resort areas, but we aren't any more interested in staying up in this area than before - it is just too fancy for our tastes!
The view from Hard Rock Lahaina
Kapalua Golf Course

The view from Kapalua
After we got back to the condo, we went for a stroll on the beach (again!) and then headed out to one of the best meals we had on our entire trip! Cuatro restaurant received pretty rave reviews on Yelp and Trip Advisor, but I probably never would have eaten there if I hadn't read all the reviews. The restaurant seats around 30-40 people (total!) and is located inside a strip mall where the main restaurant attraction is Sensei, which is a great sushi place that gets lines outside the door. Who knew that right around the corner was this little delight! I had read that the Spicy Tuna Nachos were killer, so I talked the husband into ordering even though we aren't usually appetizer people. These are now my favorite appetizer EVER. The basic description is a crispy wonton topped with the insides of a spicy tuna roll, topped with 3 different complementary sauces and served over a bed of local greens. I would simply describe it as fantastic. Our other dishes were amazing as well, and as I was looking at the menu, I actually mentioned that I didn't see much on there that didn't look like something that I would love. On top of all that, the staff was super friendly and several different staff members came over to chat, find out where we were from, how we liked our food, etc., but without being intrusive. If our stay on Maui had been a little longer, we would have come here several times. I am trying to spread the word about this place - I want to make sure they are still here when we come back next time!
The heaven on earth that is the Spicy Tuna Nachos!
Husband's fish - Mahi Mahi "Classic Style" - Mexican blackened fish with house vegetables, rice pilaf,cumin-oregano buerre blanc, and avocado pico de gallo. Declared: "Perfect"
My fish - Monchong "Mauiterranean Style" - grilled vegetables, garlic mashed potatoes, tomato-caper relish, basil buerre blanc, and balsamic syrup. Fantastic presentation, and the sauce was drinkable.

Hawaii Day 4 - Arrival in Maui!

Our interisland flight from Oahu to Maui went very smoothly and we arrived at about 11:30 in Kahului. We thought that would be perfect timing for picking up the rental car and then stopping for a bite to eat before heading over to the condo. Unfortunately, the experience at the Budget counter thwarted our plans, as it took nearly two hours to get picked up by the shuttle and make it through the ridiculously long line. I waited in the line while the husband watched our bags outside and took some pictures. I loved all the people throwing conniptions in line, like that was going to improve anything! By the time we headed out in our (identical to Oahu) Pontiac G6 Rental, we were pretty starving. I didn't take any pictures at Amigo's Mexican restaurant, but we highly recommend this place if you get to Maui at lunch time and need something tasty before heading out to your final lodging. It is on the main road (333 Dairy) that you have to take to get to any of the major hotel areas, so it is very convenient, and the food is fairly authentic and inexpensive (by Maui standards). About $30 for lunch, and that included a margarita for the husband. We drove on to Kihei to pick up the keys to the condo at Hale Pau Hana. Man, we love this place. I've been told I'm crazy for staying in Kihei all the time when there are fancier resort locations we could stay at, but I just LOVE Hale Pau Hana for it's convenience to Kamaole Beach. Kihei is a great little beach town, with great beaches on one side of the main road, and little strip malls on the other. It is still fairly centrally located on the island, so if we want to head over to Lahaina, up to Haleakala, or over to Central Maui, all are reachable pretty quickly. The last two Maui visits, we have stayed on 1st floor condos at Hale Pau Hana, and we love the convenience of walking out our condo back door straight onto the beach. We spent the rest of the afternoon walking the beach, calling his mom/my stepmom for Mother's Day, picking up some groceries, and heading to Cafe O'Lei for dinner, which was right across the street and relatively inexpensive for a nice dinner. The husband particularly enjoyed his blackend mahi mahi from here. I liked that the meals came with a very fresh salad, something we hadn't had since arriving on the island.

Picture courtesy of my bored husband in the Budget waiting area
We spent hours on these lawn chairs right outside our door. This is also where we made our Mother's Day calls. My mother-in-law said "Make those birds be quiet! I can't hear you!" when she was talking to the husband.
The HPH condos have pretty nice TVs and all rooms have internet access. We always bring our laptop to Hawaii so that we can get directions, phone numbers for reservations, etc. We usually aren't tempted to contact work, so it works for us to bring the laptop.
Beach view to the left of our condo
Beach and grounds view to the right of our condo - Smaller sized complex, right on the beach.
View of Molokini from our condo

Saturday, May 22, 2010

Hawaii Day 3 - Oahu's North Shore

The main reason why we chose to stay on Oahu for a part of this Hawaii trip was the chance to visit with the husband's college friend, J. Since husband attended a very small college in Michigan, he was able to make some really good friends that we have managed to stay in touch with over the years. J moved to Hawaii about a year ago, so pretty much the only chance we will get to visit with him will be when we are in Hawaii. Our 3rd day in Hawaii was spent with J and his parents, who also live on Oahu in the North Shore area. J showed us some interesting spots that we might not have explored on our own. We had lunch in Hale'iwa Town at Pizza Bob's, where I had a yummy Ahi Katsu sandwich (Panko Crusted Fried Ahi with Wasabi mayo, really unusual and good). Then we headed to his parents, where we explored their huge backyard with enormous fruit trees before heading out to dinner at Ginger House Restaurant in Mililani. J's parents explained that Mililani is the closest city they can go to for most of their shopping (other than grocery). It is about 45 minutes away, so they really live in a remote area. It struck me as funny, since so many people don't go to Oahu because "It's too busy, too many skyscrapers," etc. There may not be as many resorts outside of Waikiki, but when we go back to Oahu, we will either stay in a rental property or a B&B somewhere outside of Waikiki. Here are some pictures of our great day with J:

The end of the road - these shots were taken at the farthest point driveable by car - several filming locations for LOST are located along the North Shore (yay, Lost!). The ocean and earth interact in such unique ways on the islands, making cool rock formations!
Turtles at Turtle Beach (not to be confused with Turtle Bay Hilton!). I will never forget telling husband that we were going to Turtle Beach, then getting out of the car to hear him say "Woah, there's like, HUGE turtles here!" He didn't really understand the literal naming of the beach, I guess!
La'ie Point - We spent a lot of time in this area just watching the ocean, the fishermen, and admiring the rock formation created by a tsunami in 1946 (you can't really see much of it in these pics). La'ie is heavily populated by Mormons, who run the Polynesian Cultural Center nearby. This is important because if you visit on a Sunday, you might find a lot of closed businesses.
Pipeline Beach - This beach is pretty hidden from tourists, as you have to walk through a neighborhood and it is not visible from the roads. What a beautiful stretch of white sand beach! We didn't stay long, but on our next Oahu visit, I could picture bringing a lunch and spending the day here!
J's Parents backyard, including (from top) the house framed by their mango tree; a funny prickled fruit that J says doesn't taste all that good, but is fibrous and you suck on it to get the sour juice out; the biggest grapefruit tree I've ever seen (and I'm from CA!); and the biggest snail I've ever seen.
Our sincere thanks go out to J and his family for their hospitality. They were all so sweet to us and really showed us that Aloha spirit that makes Hawaii special. The people are what makes Hawaii great, beyond all the beautiful sites and amazing weather.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Hawaii, Oahu Day 2 - Pearl Harbor Exhibits

We woke up fairly early, had cereal at the hotel for breakfast, then headed out to the Pearl Harbor area for a nice long day of history. We knew that this would be one of the highlights of our trip, because we both really enjoy historical sites like this (we also really enjoy history museums, Alcatraz, etc.). We arrived at about 8:15 on a Friday morning and promptly picked up our (free) tickets for the 9:20 boat ride to the Arizona Memorial, the earliest available time. We spent an hour checking out some of the cool artifacts around the waiting area, including a vast collection of historic torpedos over the ages:

Japanese Manned Suicide Torpedo
The husband showing off his guns!
I had been to the Arizona once before, on a choir trip to Hawaii in High School, but the husband had never been. It is sobering to think that these servicemen went from relaxing on their ship during peacetime to entombed in a sunken ship due to a horrific act of war - all in a matter of 9 minutes. The memorial is beautifully done, run incredibly efficiently by our military. You don't spend all that much time on the memorial itself, but that isn't necessary. The memorial visit is a time to reflect and remember; all the displays and sites back at the dock are where you want to spend your time taking pictures and learning more details. Here are some pictures we did take at the memorial
Me in front of one of the turrets visible above water
Husband, with USS Missouri in background
The memorial wall

I love symbolic flag pictures - this is a good one.
Alright, now down to the really good stuff: Folks, you can't go to Oahu and do the Arizona Memorial and then leave. You MUST go to at least the other two main attractions at the Pearl Harbor Historical exhibit: The USS Bowfin Submarine and the USS Missouri Battleship. Yes, they cost money where the Arizona is free. However, these sites offer so much insight into the lives of soldiers/sailors during WWII that it is completely worth the time and money to devote your day to these sites. Do not miss out! The Bowfin will have you climbing up and down fairly steep staircases and through porthole style doors, so if you are claustrophobic or have some difficulty moving around in tight spaces, the Bowfin may not be for you. But otherwise, man is this a fun little tour. They give you a headset to guide you through each area (similar to Alcatraz) and explain each little room of the sub in detail while giving you an account of life on the sub during its very active war history. I found it just as fascinating now as I did when I went on this tour in High School (I was one of the few in our group who paid the extra for this, the Missouri wasn't even an option back then):
Torpedo readying room
Sub kitchen
Mess Room
Husband, on the sub, viewing an active duty sub being brought up on the other side of the base - one of the coolest things we saw on the entire trip. Pearl Harbor is an ACTIVE Naval Base, people!
After the Bowfin Tour, we ate some hot dogs (Yes, family members reading this, that IS very funny) before headed out to the bus stop to drive over to Ford Island and the USS Missouri dock. The first thing you realize upon stepping off the bus is that this is a really big boat. I know, this makes me sound like a simpleton, but it really takes your breath away, and this is "just" a battleship, not even a "floating city" Aircraft Carrier. I knew that the Missouri is where the paperwork was signed to end the fighting in the Pacific for WWII. I didn't realize that the ship had been recommissioned for a short time during Operation Desert Shield and was in service as recently as 1992. I have an interest in modern military life due to my work (advertising to reach the military), and so I was thrilled that I was able to get a sense of life on a ship that was used so recently. I'm a military dork, what can I say? One thing I noticed was that while we were on the lower levels of the ship, I got a little bit of a vertigo feeling even with the ship just very gently swaying. Without windows or a horizon, it was a little disorienting. I can't imagine what it would be like if you were prone to motion sickness, which I am not, usually. The best part of this tour was the guides who were positioned throughout the ship to answer questions. They were so informative and obviously passionate about their work. One little visitor from Australia (about 6 years old) tailed one of these guides so closely that he kept running into him if the guide turned around quickly. Kids about 6-10 years old would LOVE both the paid tours. This tour, more than the others, made me want to call my dad and ask him more questions about his time in the Navy. He served in Vietnam and was on a ship that was sheared in half by a collision with another during manuevers. After being on this ship, the realization of how terrifying that night must have been for him becomes even more real to me.
Approaching the Mighty Mo'
One of the dorm areas
The chiefs mugs
This is a big boat!
We could have spent much more time on the Missouri, but the husband was getting hungry for what he was calling "real lunch" and so, at about 3:00, we headed back to Waikiki. We split a California Pizza Kitchen pizza because by this point, we knew we were going to dinner with our friend Jeff and so didn't want to spoil that by eating somewhere we didn't know or getting too large a portion. Jeff took us to Colony inside the Hyatt, which was a very short walk from our hotel and his apartment. We had a great time catching up with a longtime friend of the husband's, and the food was quite good. I didn't get a picture of my Hot Rocks Ahi, which was sashimi grade ahi served with a scorching hot rock that you put your ahi on to sear it to your liking. Yum, I love Ahi! Here are some of our other flavors of that night:
Filet Mignon, medium rare
Trio of potatoes - Molokai Sweet, Okinawa Purple, and Idaho Russet

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Hawaii Trip Day #1 - Oahu arrival

Well, we couldn't stay away! It is no secret to my friends and family that I LOVE Hawaii. I was blessed to go there many times as a kid because my mom's family all lived there, and even though no one is left on the islands, I still feel like Hawaii is a part of my soul that I inherited from my mama. The husband likes it too, but I think he would imagine that we would go there much less often than we have. He says every five years would be about right, but we've been there 4 times in the last 6 and a half years! This latest trip was not for any particular celebration, but we had vouchers from Hawaiian airlines from our last trip (return flight was an 8 hour delayed fiasco), and we had to purchase tickets within one year for them to be valid. You can only go to Hawaii with Hawaiian Air tickets, so off we went!

We decided to split our time between Oahu and Maui. Oahu is the only island that the husband has not spent any time on, and we now have a good friend to visit. J, from the Husband's Kalamazoo College days, has been living on Oahu for the last year, working as a Doctor of Radiology for a hospital group based in Indiana. The time zones work out nicely for both parties (night shift is a much more day shift in Hawaii!).
We had to wake up at 3:00 am to catch the 4:00 am Airbus from Goleta to LAX. We don't often fly out of LAX, but it makes lots of sense for the flight to Hawaii. Airbus also makes sense so that we don't have to drive 2 hours while half asleep, or pay/deal with parking. Our flight landed in Honolulu on time at 11:30am, and we proceeded to the Budget Car Rental counter. I had booked through Costco at a great price, but unfortunately, the system messed up my order and produced one confirmation number for my two separate island rentals. My Oahu rental was lost, even though I had a printed confirmation sheet. Luckily, Budget was able to match the rate within about $3 of the original price, so off we went in our Pontiac G-6. Driving in Honolulu/Waikiki is a nightmare. The streets were not well planned, and getting into and out of Waikiki is really difficult considering it is the main tourist area. Luckily, I was prepared and planned our routes in advance. I also prepaid for parking at our hotel at half price ($10 instead of $20). We stayed at Aqua Bamboo, which is about 1 block away from Waikiki Beach. This was a great deal! It was a small suite with a kitchen, living area, and separate bedroom all for only $108 per night! The only complaint is that the bathroom is a little small, but that was fine for the 3 days we were in Oahu. Some people may have found the street noise a little loud, but we slept with the air conditioning on all night (we like our room cold), so the white noise blocked that out.


After check-in, we decided to walk along Waikiki Beach/Kalakaua to see if we could find a bite to eat and a tropical drink. We found both at Cheeseburger in Paradise, a small chain that is a little overpriced, but which offered a great view and some yummy maitais:
After our mini lunch, we headed back to the hotel for showers & naps. We were feeling really weird from being up so early and then having a 3 hour time change, not to mention the two maitais each we just slurped down. We slept for 4 HOURS! It really felt great, though, and we were able to head out for a late dinner. Since this was our 5th meal of this weird day, we kept it to appetizers & dessert. I declared my Ahi Poke eggrolls from Duke's to be "my perfect appetizer," (a title that would be undone just a few days later), and the Husband thought his shrimp cocktail was the perfect late-night tide-over. The Hula Pie was a testament to simplicity, with quality ice cream and rich chocolate sauce sprinkled with toasted macademia nuts over a cookie crust. Of course, we couldn't finish it, but it was tasty! While waiting for our table, we were able to walk a little on the beach, and I was just giddy with excitement over our return to this amazing place!