Wednesday, 5 December 2012

Cruising Hawaii - Maui

Continuing our grand journey around the Hawaiian isles with Norwegian Cruise Line and Virgin Holidays, aboard the Pride of America…

Destination Hawaii – Maui, Pt 1

It’s pretty obvious why you cruise with Norwegian in these parts – it’s the pure, undiluted Hawaiian experience. No-one else can provide the big-ship style around only Hawaii, and the true island effect kicks in straight away.

After leaving Honolulu at 8pm, we are in the port of Kahului, Maui, by 7am the next day. Even better, we have an overnight stop here, so there is plenty of time to soak up the island’s vibe.

Our plan here is twofold – take in a typical local excursion (as provided by the folks of Roberts Hawaii tours) and then hire a car to see as much as possible under our own steam.

Today’s order of business, heading out at 8.30, is the Iao Valley & Plantation Tour, taking us up into the western part of the island and seeing some of the local vegetation and scenery – including the Iao’s Needle outcrop in the steepest part of the valley – before heading further along the flanks of the volcanic outcrops hereabouts for the Maui Tropical Plantation visit, which includes a 40-minute narrated tram tour around the extensive property.

The 4-hour tour was excellently narrated and led by our young driver Mike and we got some wonderful insight into the vegetation and geology of the area.

After a quick lunch in the ship’s Cadillac Diner (an excellent free alternative to the main dining room and the Aloha Café buffet choice), which offers a tasty array of sandwiches, salads, soups and other diner fare, it was time to call up the (highly efficient) Dollar car rental shuttle and collect our pre-booked car at Kahului Airport (booking in advance is essential, as it can be VERY busy for car rentals on the island).

After a quick drive around Kahului (not the most picturesque of spots, it has to be said, as it is more functional town than resort), we headed south to Wailea and the swanky part of Maui, home to the likes of the Four Seasons, Fairmont, Marriott and other high-end hotels.

The beaches here are first class, and the Shops of Wailea make an upscale retail choice. The coastal drive is impressive and, further along, Kihei provides a more touristy (translation: more budget-priced) option for hotels, shopping and dining, with rather more interesting outlets than the big-name brands like Gucci, Prada and Swarovski back in Wailea. The sea-walk here is another pleasant amenity, while the Lava Java coffee shop serves a truly heavenly coffee smoothie!

Our other target for the day was dinner at Mulligan’s on the Blue, a smart Irish-themed restaurant adjacent to the big golf course here.

As well as some excellent food, the big attraction on Sundays is the live music of the Celtic Tigers, led by local singer-songwriter Murray Thorne (who just happens to be a cousin of mine from the Canadian branch of the family!).

Murray is an immensely talented guitarist and singer in his own right (check out his award-winning album, Tin Can Telephone online), but the Tigers are his Irish folk/rock group who have become an institution hereabouts.

Although I’d never seen them play live, it was immediately clear why they are so popular, as their mix of folk and rock comes across as energetic, crafty, melodic and immensely captivating, with the four-piece (guitar, drums, fiddle/mandolin and bass) providing a full evening’s entertainment in best Irish fashion, from traditional ballads to U2.

We stayed late into the evening listening and chatting with Murray and his band, and left only reluctantly, as we hoped to get to both the big Haleakala volcano and the former royal town of Lahaina next day…

Up Next - Close Encounter With A Volcano.