Wednesday, July 6, 2016

Hawaiian Honeymoon

Hawaii was on my radar as a potential cycling destination for about 3 years, sparked by photo of a Pro rider posing in front of a sign marking a 10,000 foot summit.

I love a good climb, and surprising as it might seem, the small island state seemed to tick that box.  I was also attracted to its proximity to New Zealand - a single 10 hour flight from Auckland to Honolulu - and due to its relative lack of seasons, the fact that I could slot a trip in when it suited life back at home.

Initially, I thought it would be cool to visit each island in the chain, and ride as high as the road network would allow on each.  That idea was soon canned, discovering that inter-island travel was going to be prohibitively expensive, with a surprising lack of ferries.

After bit of research on Strava and climbbybike.com, I discovered the 10,000 foot peak belonged to Haleakala (said Haa-le-akala, rather than Ha-lea-kala, if that makes any sense), on the island of Maui.

For a couple of years, a spreadsheet sat there with various notes and URLs to relevant web-pages, but finally an excuse to go came.

Sarah and I pulled the honeymoon card (OK within a year of a wedding, we told the kids), and when the next Air New Zealand sale popped up, we booked flights for mid-June, an excellent time to escape Wellington.  We planned to be away for nine nights, spending four on Maui, and then four on the "Big Island", Hawai'i, with the last near the airport at Honolulu in advance of the morning flight home.

The primary route up Haleakala starts at the seaside town of Pa'ia, and since this was also a gateway of sorts to what appeared to be the island's primary tourist attraction, "The Road to Hana", we booked accommodation there via airbnb.com, hoping to manage without a car during our stay.  There were good dining options (at either end of the day), a small but well-stocked supermarket, and a few stores to browse.  Another big plus, is that Pa'ia has a sweet bike store, West Maui Cycles.

Short of buying the Lonely Planet guide to Hawaii, we left New Zealand without a doing much additional homework, intending instead just to play it by ear.  In anticipation of an assault on Mauna Kea during the Big Island leg of the journey, I was travelling with my "compromise roadie", an aluminium-framed bike with clearance for 35mm tyres, while Sarah was packing her lovely carbon Cannondale.

The bikes travelled well.  We'd picked up a heavily-discounted chainreaction.com bike bag to complement my increasingly battered Evoc one.  And, thanks to a colleague, we saved a small fortune on checked-baggage charges by joining Hawaiian Airline's frequent flyer club (for free, saving $20USD on each bag, per leg). 

Little did we know, we'd inadvertently stumbled into a road cycling mecca.  The road network was the smoothest I've ever ridden, and I don't recall any exception.  It was warm, but not hot, and great scenery abounds.  The drivers were also remarkably considerate, something both Sarah and I noticed, and appreciated.

The rest of this post is really just an attempt to convince you that you need to go there, rather than the usual blow-by-blow.  I have every intention of going back, but next time for a few extra days.  It was that good.  

Ride 1:  'Iao Valley State Park

From Pa'ia, this was a 40km out-and-back ride.  From Pa'ia, there's a decent cyclepath that takes you around the airfield at Kahului, and almost straight onto Kaahumanu Avenue, which in turn took us straight to 'Iao Valley, and "Maui's favorite green landmark".  Highly recommended.  8/10

Even prior to my years mowing grass at Wellington airport, I've loved the sight of large planes

'Iao Valley was lush, and dramatic
The 'Iao Needle, vanishing into the cloud

Coconut/banana bread stall on the way down.  Not cheap, but tasty
Kite surfers just north of the airfield

Ride 2:  Haleakala summit and back

We didn't pick the best day to climb Haleakala, but we were both super keen to get stuck into it.  The strava segment, which claims this is the "World's Longest Paved Climb" starts pretty much at the traffic lights in Pa'ia, and 55.5km, and 2,960vm later, you find yourself at the summit.  You enter the Haleakala National Park, which costs you $10 on a bike, and they prefer you pay by credit card.  The pass lasts for three days.  The route is mostly obvious, but there's an important right-hand turn off Olinda Road onto Hanamu Road which would be easy to miss, through the red-haze.  This 115km round trip is a 10/10 ride, unless you don't have warm clothing for the top, and you freeze, like I did...

Baldwin Ave, on the outskirts of Pa'ia, the summit up in the cloud

Looking West, with 'Iao Valley mid-frame beyond Kahului

This chap almost certainly won't be there.  He appeared to be painting the mountain, but surely from memory, since most was hidden in the cloud

The turn onto Crater Road looming, and the start of my favourite section - a series of 22 switchbacks!

15/22?

One of the final switchbacks, and the first time the observatories at the summit were visible to us (far left of shot)

We saw many tour groups descending the mountain.  None looked happy.  Perhaps they'd been told waving was forbidden?  Smiling was also off the menu.  Some groups were on single speeds, which means they might as well have been on scooters after the first couple of pedal-strokes.

Sarah at the summit, hidden in the clouds (from below, at least)

The landscape is dramatic, and probably commands more attention than we gave it

This is David, from California.  I'll be ecstatic if I'm in his shape when I'm 71 years old!

You feel like you're on top of the world.  Unfortunately, we couldn't get much closer to the observatories than the intersection just up ahead.  There were a couple of dudes on MTBs about to set off down a bit of single track, so maybe there's something here for all?

This wall-mounted model at the Visitor's Centre was cool

I FROZE on the descent.  There was a cold, wet wind blowing, and this store just down the road from the Crater Rd intersection pictured above, was just what I needed.  The mocha hadn't yet warmed me up enough for me to notice my fat finger in front of the lens...

One of the claims to fame of Makawao, is the annual rodeo, held here at Oskie Rice Arena.  YEE-HAH!!!


Ride 3: The Road to Hana

The Lonely Planet makes a big fuss about this "drive".  It's number 3 in the state's Top 20 activities (Haleakala is #6).  Well, however good it might be as a drive, riding it is even better.  From Pa'ia, it was a 150km there-and-back trip, including a deviation up to Makawao, which avoided a bit of highway.  According to the book (I didn't even try to keep count), there are 54 one-lane bridges on the road, and between them and the sinuous nature of the route, the traffic speeds are pretty low.  We were only passed on uphill sections, and even then, we saw surprisingly little traffic.  There were a few stalls along the way, and a couple of toilet stops.  At Hana, we visited Hasegawa General Store (est 1910), and had lunch at Bruddah Hutt's BBQ - Sarah had a huge plate of shrimp pasta, and I tried kalua pork, which is a local pulled-pork on rice delicacy.  The only side-trip we did was a short walk to Twin Falls, which was very early on in the piece.  10/10, no doubt about it.

One of the Twin Falls.  Pro tip:  stand on the rocks, not the in-betweens.  Otherwise, muddy shoes can be "cleaned" in a handy wash-basin...
Coconut stop

One of many "jaw-droppingly dramatic" views en route

I always like ignoring signs

Waterfall 17/48

Smooth roads, sun, little traffic.  What's not to love?!
Hasegawa's.  A fine source of chocolate milk and sports drink


The jetty at Hana

Not quite the jetty at Hana

Exquisite view 136/212

I do declare, signs like this warm the cockles of my heart

Food.  Not quite where we wanted it.  The fish'n'chips are meant to be good, though they're pricey.  You can even buy "Mongolian Beef" at one place, though it "didn't look like an actual Mongolian beef dish, according to my Mongolian companion, who should know

We spent an hour or so mooching around Hana (on our bikes still).  We may just have been lucky, but the traffic to Hana had died right down for our return trip

Gorgeous

We turned left at the point where Highway 360 becomes Highway 36, onto Kaupakalua Drive.  This is not recommended if you're pooped, or if you're unable to ride out of earshot of your pooped companion.  You do get lovely views of Haleakala at the expense of a 300vm climb up to Makawao.  You also get a rip-snorting descent down Baldwin St (which some folk on singlespeeds pay an arm and a leg for), but do watch out for the cars that slam on their brakes out of the blue...  (He didn't want to take that side-road after all...)

Ride 4:  West Maui

In some ways, this ride was my favourite.  The first half of the ride was much like the Road to Hana, but without the rainforest and annoying waterfalls which commanded regular stops.  Traffic was also lighter, perhaps due to the standard rental car maps hinting that the road condition isn't great.  (Ignore them, it's fantastic.)   After a time, you get nice views over a rugged coastline, before reaching resort-Central, tacky, but interesting nonetheless.  I enjoyed lunch in Lahaina, and would happily have spent more time there checking out the stores.  We passed innumerable sandy beaches, and the snorkling mecca of Hanalai Bay (#7 on the top 20), and it would be well worth allocating some time for a swim.   The ride had a sting in its tail though, with a long leg into the prevailing "Trade-wind" which really got me in trouble, despite my fine wind shadow.  From Pa'ia, it was just shy of 130km.  The chaps at West Maui Cycles were divided on whether clockwise or anti-clockwise is the best way to go, but unanimous that a stop at Lorraine's at Kahakuloa.  Julia's makes it into Lonely Planet, but she charges for water, and her banana bread is not as delicious.  Lorraine was lovely, right from the "Cyclists Welcome" sign at the start of her driveway.  9/10

Looking back at Haleakala, wishing somewhat that we'd been heading up there in these conditions

Steep valleys plunging down to the coast

The road is very narrow in places.  And, there's a bloody nasty switchback somewhere in there which drops steeply, and tightens up...

Next stop, Alaska

Kahakuloa




Nakalele Blowhole, which is well worth the 2-minute walk (not so sure about getting right down there though)
Hanalei Bay

At Kapalua, we jumped off the now major highway, and used a coastal route most of the way to Lahaina.  Poor Sarah, having grown up in a land-locked country, was increasingly unimpressed about the lack of beach time in this trip... 

Keep your eye peeled for sea-turtles.  It may help offset some of the annoyance about not getting to swim...  The little buggers don't often poke their heads up, but when they do...
The West-Maui Mountains




There are worse places to have to fix a puncture than the foreshore of Lahaina
Cool Cat Cafe in Lahaina has won the Best Burger in Maui award for the last 12 YEARS IN A ROW!!!!  Hungry cyclists may make do with lesser quality, but why would you?!?!?  Find it

When you're about to swing left around a point, windmills on the ridge may not be your favourite sight...


This second puncture of the day, and the third (and last) of the trip, was pretty unwelcome, but fixing it made a nice change to grovelling into a headwind

For the most part, the rain we experienced was light, and given the temperature, not really worth putting a coat on for.  Every so often, it absolutely pissed down - this, about 5 minutes after we got home
We flew with Hawaiian Airlines, and didn't investigate alternatives.  They moved the bikes around without problems.  The day we left would have been another good one to ride Haleakala

* * *

In doing the four rides above, we covered just shy of 450km, and actually covered much of the island's road network.  

Roads we rode
The road through Kihei and Wailea down to Cape Kina'u looks like it might make an OK ride, though maybe more for people watching than out-and-out scenery.  A lap of East Maui screams out to be done too, though it would be good to get the local low-down on how bad the unsealed sections of the Pi'ilani Highway are before getting too carried away.  Finally, I'm sure the climb up to Polipoli Spring State Recreation Area would be awesome, if the Haleakala switchbacks were anything to go by...

I wonder if the girls would like to go to surf school now...?!