Hawaii, Part 3, Maui

March 27, 2017 by Rokman61

Maui is the ‘next’ island in the Hawaiian chain, just to the northwest of Big Island.  Here is the ‘bird’ that brought us there, a Cessna 208 Caravan.  It flies slower and lower than the jets, and for that reason we thought it would provide a more interesting way to make the short flight.

As we approached the Island of Maui, we could see right away that there was some major development down there!  Note the mega-resorts and the endless chain of golf courses.

When I took the photo I was not aware that we were looking at the Wailea-Makena coastal strip, a major playground for the 1%-ers.  Just as tourism drives the economy of the Big Island, it is even more of a player on Maui.  More on that later.

Maui comprises two volcanoes, a big one and a very big one, joined by a broad flat lowland.  Our flight took us right over some vast expanses of agricultural fields on the lowlands.

For more than a hundred years, sugar production was the major driver of the economy of Hawaii, and these fields were used for producing the sugar cane.  Growth of tourism, labour costs, and contentious environmental issues gradually forced closure of the industry – the last shipment of sugar from Maui occurred in 2016.  Currently there is contentious ‘debate’ over what future use the land should be put to.

Another aerial view, showing some of the parked industrial equipment, awaiting re-assignment.

The rusty old processing plant was operating until less than a year ago.


Tourism

Maui is truly an island ‘paradise’, and that ‘secret’ has long been out.  Much of the prime coastal area is completely given over to the industry (as seen in second photo of this blog).  Here are a few things we noticed that revealed the extent of tourist presence.

  • Traffic!  At certain times and places, the main roads became stuffed with long lines of slow-moving vehicles.  On several occasions when I wanted to cross the road to take a photo, I gave up waiting for a break in the flow.
  • Congestion!  The historic old town of Lahaina has numerous funky buildings and a famous giant banyan tree.  We wanted to spend some time poking around there but were thwarted because there was absolutely no place to park when we visited.  The streets were crammed with pedestrians and vehicles cruising around hoping to pounce on a vacating parking spot.
  • One is constantly assaulted by advertisements on billboards, flyers, TV, etc. for activities of all sorts: tours, guided excursions, ‘attractions’, boat rides, sightseeing flights, sporting adventures – you name it.  If you have a budget to burn, it’s easy to do and there are plenty of options.
  • Convertible cherry-red Mustang cars and sporty, square-model Jeeps were everywhere – on the roads and lined up in the rental car lots.

 

Not all the facilities are reachable by common folk, some of the resorts being rather upscale, in the ‘if you have to ask you can’t afford’ class.  Whilst driving around we noticed a lot of stone or masonry walls, locked gates, and security personnel.  Fancy gates were common, almost like an art form.

The price of this gate of fine native(?) hardwood might cover the cost of a house-full of modest furniture.

I assume that many of these gated properties are not resorts but are private estates, and  some may be secondary residences for wealthy owners.  Whatever lies behind these gates probably does not resemble the world I live in.


One morning we chose to treat ourselves to breakfast overlooking the sea.

This resort has a four-star rating and is probably typical of a mid- to upper-level facility; fine accommodations, beautifully landscaped and maintained gardens, all set on a wonderful sandy beach.

A view of the gardens.

The people in the photo below are on a botanical tour of the grounds, led by the resident gardener.

So, what else do visitors do with their time at such a place?  This is one popular activity.

Here is another.

Some of the more adventuresome partake of what is arguably Hawaii’s most legendary sport.

Surfing would hardly qualify as a popular spectator sport.  When conditions are right, and the participants competent, there can be moments of thrilling excitement.  But for most of the time spent watching there is little to see other than distant figures bobbing in the surf, waiting for the right wave.  Here is a much more typical view of a surfer in action.


For our first full day in Maui the weather was not cooperative – rain squalls and very strong winds meant that an indoor activity was in order.  We chose to visit the Maui Ocean Centre, which features a superb coral reef aquarium that presents only local fauna, much of it endemic.

The colours, forms, and variety of both the fish  . . .

. . . and corals are stunning.

Photographing moving subjects under such low-light conditions met with limited success, so I will show just a very few of the many shots we took.

If you were not told there is a fish in this photo, would you have noticed it?

The octopus has to be one of the most bizarre creatures on Earth, and it moves like nothing else can.  In this photo, its head and eyes are visible at the top left, with various appendages spread around on the rocks.

A large tank at the facility has an underwater glass-walled tunnel, allowing visitors to stroll casually among the tuna, sharks, and rays.

I always wonder what were they thinking when they designed the Hammerhead Shark (lower right).


Botany

This strange Triangle Palm, a native of Madagascar, has an essentially two-dimensional growth habit.  Presumably that allows it to be fit into narrow spaces for landscaping.

Cycads are very primitive plants that have always caught my fascination.  We encountered several splendid examples.

This one is producing a giant cone in the centre of the crown.

One of, and perhaps the most, common and endeared flower in Hawaii is the Plumeria.  I recall that when I visited in 1997 I noticed that virtually every resident woman would wear a fresh blossom in her hair each day.  The flowers are carried on small trees which have thick, club-like branches.  In winter the trees are leafless, which is what we saw on our recent visit, with just a few blossoms clinging to the bare trees.


Holy Hana . . . what a road!

The village of Hana is on the easternmost tip of Maui, on the opposite end of the Island from where we were staying.  To get there one has to drive the ‘Highway to Hana’, which winds around 620 tight curves and over 46 one-lane bridges.  The last 50 miles takes 2.5 hours, averaging about 20mph.  Here are a few shots taken along the route.

Note that this is a 2-way-traffic major highway.  In some of the wider sections there is room for a centreline – but often there isn’t.

Not everyone makes it.  Actually, we were surprised to see abandoned vehicles on the roadsides on both Islands.  Back home they are quickly removed, but here some appear to have been left for weeks or more.

The northeast side of Maui faces the tradewinds, so there are long expanses of wild, rocky, surf-battered coast.

Many picturesque waterfalls tumble down the steep coastal slopes.  That is, I assume they are picturesque: the very few pull-outs provided for viewing were invariably fully occupied as we drove by.  This one was on the road a little way past Hana, beyond where many would have turned back.


 

Wildlife

As on all the Hawaiian Islands, most of the land-based fauna on Maui are not native.

The Cane Toad was one of those deliberate imports that was a bad idea. They were introduced for pest control in the sugar fields, but being poisonous to dogs and other carnivores they themselves have become the pest.

One day Norma mentioned she saw a Monarch Butterfly.  I thought surely she must be mistaken.  I should not have doubted her, as we have seen a few million of them in Mexico.  It turns out that there is a small population there which came in with imported milkweed plants.

Upon landing in Maui, one of the first birds I noticed was a common barnyard chicken poking around in the rental car lot.  I asked from whence it came, and was told that they are completely free and wild – feral chickens!  Travelling around the Island one might encounter any of: managed barnyard fowl, escapees, naturalized feral domestic chickens, and wild Red Jungle Fowl (ancestors of the domestic breeds, said to occur in some remote areas).  Here is an all-black homeless street hen with chicks in tow, foraging along a busy street.

This is closer to what a Red Jungle Fowl rooster would look like.

A number of chicken-like birds have been introduced for sport hunting.  We saw several of these Grey Francolin (which are all brown-coloured).  The francolins are an Asian counterpart to our grouse.

Cattle Egrets are fairly common, often with cows, but also on golf courses and along the edges of highways.  It’s always a treat to see them in a natural setting.

The Common Myna is exactly as its name advertises – they are everywhere.  In fact they are so abundant and conspicuous that some birders refer to them as ‘Trash Birds’.  I can’t decide if that is fair or not.

Very colourful Java Sparrows are common in urban settings.

This one is perched on the bare stubby twigs of a plumeria tree.

Here is a delightful little alien species, the Rosy-faced Lovebird.  This little parrot, about the size of a chunky budgie, is only found in small local colonies.

This young individual attending to feather maintenance, shows some of the lovely subtle colours typical of many parrots.

The little Zebra Dove may be as common as dirt, but still worth a close look.

There are two wetland areas on Maui, at either end of the ‘hyphen’ that joins the two volcanic mountains.  These ‘ponds’ provide habitat for wintering waterfowl and for several classy native waterbirds.  Our flight to the Island passed over the Kealia Pond which is a National Wildlife Refuge.

Black-crowned Night-Herons are so numerous that usually a few belie their name and are active most any time of day.

This one is looking to snatch a snack from the (not quite) crystal-clear fresh water of the pond.

It’s hard to imagine a bird that could top the Black-necked Stilt for sheer elegance.  Such a set of legs!


The wildlife that seems to be of most interest to many visitors is in the ocean.  Humpback Whales spend the winter months around the Islands, and the waters off the western shore of Maui are said to be some of the best places to view them.  As spectacular as these creatures are, I wouldn’t say that whale-watching from shore is all that rewarding – after all, they do spend most of their time under water.  What one usually observes are distant puffs from exhaling animals, and brief glimpses of a dorsal fin just breaking the surface.  If one is lucky, a flipper may show, and if even luckier a tail may appear.

On one beach stop we got really lucky, and were treated to a show like never expected.

The intense action continued for at least 10 minutes – enough that I was able to shoot some video – click HERE to watch.  Note the calf’s tail at about 3 seconds and again at 27 seconds.

 


As previously mentioned, Maui is essentially composed of two volcanoes.  The smaller and older one on the northwest has been long extinct, its cone cut by deeply eroded gullies.

Haleakala on the southeast is much larger, has a paved road to the top, is partly protected within Haleakala National Park, and is a major attraction for visitors.

High up on the mountain a settler named Hosmer tried to establish a commercial forest by planting timber trees imported from around the world.  Most species did not survive, but a few are still hanging in.  How odd it was to recognize this one – a Western Red-cedar, one of our commonest forest trees back home!

The Hosmer Grove is now a National Park campsite and well-known birding hotspot.  The Hawaiian avifauna is most unique in having an endemic family of forest song-birds – the Honeycreepers.  Most are now extinct or very rare and local.  The Hosmer Grove is one of the easiest places to find the more common species.  During our brief visit we did get to see the second-most iconic bird of Hawaii (after the Nene), the ‘I’iwi or Scarlet Honeycreeper.  In fact we saw quite a few of them, but they were too quick for me, and this is the best photo I managed to get.

My good buddy George just happened to visit Hosmer 34 days after us, and was more successful at capturing the other end of the birds, showing the impressive sickle-shaped bill.  The greenish-yellow one at right is a youngster.

 

Near the Grove there were many bushes of this berry-laden Pukiawe, an attractive native member of the heather family.


Haleakala is the third largest of the Hawaiian shield volcanos, with a summit elevation of 10,023 ft (3,055 m).  It is older than the two giants on the Big Island, and last erupted more than 400 years ago.

In this view you can a visitors’ centre and parking area part way up the mountain.  Perhaps you noticed the cherry-red Mustang heading down.

At the top there is a very large depression, often referred to as the ‘caldera’ (a depression formed by inward collapse of the volcano’s summit).  However this is actaully an erosional feature (formed by merging of the heads of two valleys cutting into the summit area).

Like Mauna Kea (Part 2), Haleakala has evolved past its shield-building stage and is now dotted with younger cones.  Their varied colours (due to oxidation of iron contained in the rocks) enhances the spectacular scenery.

The soft light of late afternoon makes for muted colours and gives the landscape a very pleasing look – perhaps reminiscent of watercolour paintings.

In the five preceding images you can see that much of the landscape is virtually barren of vegetation.  The terrain is described as an “aeolian desert cinder”, where the combination of high elevation, fierce winds, and lack of soil results in some super tough growing conditions.  Yet one particularly iconic plant thrives here – and virtually nowhere else.

The Haleakala Silversword or ‘ahinahina is a most impressive bit of vegetation, appearing to jump right out of the sterile rocky substrate.

Such an interesting and photo-friendly subject!

The silversword lives for decades, flowers once, then dies.  We did not see any in blossom, but bleached skeletons of the enormous flower heads persist long after blooming.  Here are two that have long since passed their ‘best-before’ date.


One of the popular ‘things-to-do’ on Maiu is to rise at around 3am and drive to the top to watch the sunrise.  The event has become so trendy that access is now limited and one  must book a reservation to get up the mountain.  We chose to pass on this opportunity, but we did enjoy one more fine sunset, this one viewed from the mountain.

Which marks the end of my ramblings about some of the things that I recall about our visit to Hawaii.  I hope you enjoyed adventuring with us.

Carlo

Meanwhile, on arriving back at Vancouver airport . . .

 

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