Hawaii Vacation: Making Our Last Day Count

Day 9: Last Day of Vacay

Leaving Maui wasn’t anything to cry about. That’s because we were leaving Maui for Oahu. I’ve decided that this is the best way to leave a tropical island without feeling sad and depressed. Simply hop to another island, and you’ll be just fine. If only that were the case for every sad thing in life. Pissed at work? Hop to an island. Husband make you mad? Hop to an island. Stuck in traffic? Hop to an island.

Well, this hop to Oahu marked the near end of our Hawaii vacation. We had one more full day before hopping back home, and Mikey and I decided to spend it on the North Shore, while Mom and Dad ran some errands of their own. It turned out to be one of the best days of our entire vacation, and the pics below will show you why.

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OMG Sea Turtles!

I had heard through some coworkers that there’s a certain beach on the North Shore that is famous for sea turtles swimming up on the shore. I didn’t know where it was exactly, and we never made a big effort to seek it out. We did, however, end up there without our knowing. The beach is called Laniakea Beach, and the reason why we stopped there was because we saw it was a good snorkel spot days earlier when we were at Chunn’s Reef for our surfing lesson.

We were right about the snorkeling. The charcoal-colored rocks off to the right side of the beach were home to dozens of tropical fish. Mikey and I swam in, around and above the rocks for a while, enjoying the exotic sea creatures below us before heading up to our towels to dry off in the sun.

Not long after we settled into the sand, we heard the tourist chatter start to pick up. A giant sea turtle was swimming close to the shore, near snorkelers and a surfer girl and her daughter.

Then, they started coming in droves. Well, not really droves, but two more washed ashore — pretty much one right after another.

It is illegal in Hawaii to touch sea turtles (or honu, in Hawaiian). There are a number of wildlife volunteers who work hard to protect the sea turtles. In fact, a few uniformed women were there at Laniakea to police the beach and educate tourists about the turtles.

We learned that many of the turtles are tagged for tracking purposes. The wildlife groups and volunteers can identify almost all of the turtles. They’re given names and aside from the tags, can be identified by the markings on their heads and shells. They wash up onto the shore periodically to rest, and boy, do they look tired when they slowly but surely inch their way up to the sand. In addition to resting though, they’re also sunning. The sun aids their digestive system. One of the ones we saw was a whopping 250 lbs. Another was a bit smaller. She had recently been injured, probably by a boat propeller. The wildlife volunteers told us they had helped rehabilitate her and that she was well on the road to recovery, but that she visits the shore more often. It’s likely her injury that keeps her coming frequently to rest.

Food Truck Love at Pupukea Grill

Once I’d taken what seemed like a few hundred pictures, we decided to pack up our belongings and head out to find some food. Luckily, the North Shore is littered with yummy food trucks along the side of the road. We stopped at Pupukea Grill for some ridiculously big and delicious nachos.

We sat down and found ourselves surrounded by autographed photos from surfers who have come far and wide to catch a wave at Oahu’s famed North Shore.

End the Day at Waimea Bay

And to close out our memorable day at the beach, we made a final stop at one of our family’s favorite beaches, Waimea Bay.

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To say it was hard to leave Waimea Bay would be an understatement. Mikey almost had to drag me out of the water. But reality settled in, knowing we had a good deal of laundry and packing to do before the long trip home the next day.

That night, Mikey and I spent a night out on the town with my cousin, Justin and his girlfriend. I had my first Dave & Buster’s experience in Ala Moana. Mikey showed off his basketball skills at the hoops station, and we went home with a couple of kitschy prizes as a souvenirs. A great way to spend our final night in Hawaii, especially considering I hadn’t seen my cousin in nearly two decades. That’s what happens when your family grows up military. Constant relocating to different parts of the world keeps you far from each other but somehow, always in the same boat.

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Leaving Hawaii and especially my grandma is always tough. As with every vacation, Mikey and I always ask ourselves, Can we see ourselves living here? Heck yeah, said anyone who has ever stepped foot in Hawaii. But for us, it seems to be a reality that is very much within reach. It helps that we already have family there. It helps that my side grew up on that laid-back island lifestyle. It also helps that I’ve been watching countless episodes of Hawaii Life on HGTV and know that we could absolutely afford property somewhere on those magnificent islands. One of these days, we may just make a permanent life in Hawaii happen.

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Hawaii Vacation: Whaler’s Village Museum

Excuses, excuses are all I have for why I’ve been away from blogging these past few months. I last left off toward the tail end of our Hawaii Vacation and have already ventured off on another vacation. It just further hits home the point that I’m behind and last in line for the Blogger of the Year Award.

In case you’re wondering, this recent vacation took us the Smoky Mountains and the Outer Banks of North Carolina. But of course, all the details of that trip are coming. Hopefully it won’t take me six months to document it.

For now, it’s back to Hawaii.

Day 8: Whaler’s Village Museum

After having our fill of noodles and malasadas at Star Noodle, we retired back at the Aina Nalu condo and were up relatively early the next morning. Our flight back to Oahu was departing later in the afternoon, so we spent a good deal of time packing our bags and sorting through all the food in the kitchen before checking out.

To kill time before our flight, we decided to stop into the Whaler’s Village in Kaanapali to visit the Whaler’s Village Museum. Having beach bummed around for much of our trip, it was time for a history lesson.

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The Whaler’s Village Museum is small and quaint, which would’ve been a pain had it been crowded. Fortunately, there was only a small handful of visitors, including us. It’s located in the Whaler’s Village outdoor shopping area, tucked away in a high corner of the mall. There were plenty of signs to point us in the right direction.

Before I get into the thick of things, I should warn anyone who might be sensitive to issues such as whaling. The museum presents a true depiction of whaling life at the height of the trade in the mid-1800s. Some of my photos and descriptions may be tough for some to stomach, but it’s a part of history — an unfortunate one, yes — but the education piece of it was completely worth it for me. So if you’re still along for the ride, here goes…

This model of brains below greeted us on our way in. It shows how massive a whale brain is compared to a dolphin, human and chimpanzee brain. Just goes to show how incredible these whale creatures are. I’d imagine they have a whole lot of complex brain power that us measly little humans have yet to understand.

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A humpback whale replica with that infamous line, “thar she blows”.

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Whaling was a harsh and gruesome practice. Whales were in high demand for their blubber (pictured below). Whale oil was extracted from these pieces in order to fuel kerosene lamps in people’s homes. Sad, but true.

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A number of different tools were used to capture the whales and then cut into them. The idea of so many men taking over an animal so colossal seems impossible, but they were successful. The whaling trade eventually saw its last leg as result of so many whalers over-fishing them. The whale population dropped by a vast amount, which is why we’re struggling to sustain their populations today.

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The Whaler’s Village Museum also detailed ship life for the melting pot of cultures and ethnicities that made whaling their trade. It was a harsh one, to say the least. Ships were full of sickness and disease and little to no access to medical care. Food infestations, sea sickness and “surgeries” at sea were common, if not constant.

But whalemen did find ways to enjoy themselves too. Beverages of an alcoholic nature were one way, but there was also the art of scrimshaw. Whalemen would carve pictures into whale teeth and bones and flood the carvings with ink, so that the designs would show through. The museum had an impressive collection. Here’s an example of a whale tooth and a rather creepy looking whaleman caught in the act.

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This picture below represents the diverse backgrounds of so many of the whalemen. They came from all parts of the world, all walks of life. One of the displays showed a record book of names and also stated where each whaleman was from. I recall seeing places like Norway, Amsterdam and Ireland. Hawaiians were also recruited to work as whalemen. According to the photo caption, they had a reputation for being the most knowledgeable about the whales and also the most cooperative. I’m sure glad someone could serve that role. These ships remind me of a frat party at sea that’s gone terribly wrong.

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I also found the journaling of the whalemen kind of fascinating (as any writer would). The 1st mate was tasked with keeping the log book. He used the symbols below to report the day’s happenings. “Chased but not harpooned” is obviously my favorite. It means the whale outsmarted the humans. Suckers.

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While the museum is filled with a number of photographs and interesting artifacts, the experience felt pretty morbid. The act of whaling itself is horrific, but as I said before, it was a part of history. Hopefully, it will be a reminder to never back pedal to that place we were before.

However, the positive spin on this whole experience was the free talk we got to watch by the Hawaiian Islands Humpback Whale National Marine Sanctuary (otherwise known as a mouthful). A representative from the sanctuary presented a quick slideshow on the humpback whales’ history and characteristics and why Hawaii is so connected to them. Every year, approximately 12,000 humpback whales migrate from Alaska to Hawaii to give birth, nurse their calves and mate. The whales have proven to be highly intelligent, curious and friendly animals that often swim right up to whale watching boats to get up close and personal with tourists. And now I want to go whale watching more than ever.

Once the talk was over, we finished the self-guided museum tour and then headed back into the heat and humidity to grab lunch at the Hula Grill.

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I always like to balance out our beach bum outings with something of real educational substance. So I’m glad we stopped into the Whaler’s Village Museum. With all of these documentaries, such as Blackfish and The Cove gaining popularity these days, this tour seems a bit more relevant today than it did when we actually visited the museum. It has similar parallels to the Wild Horse Tour we recently did on this recent vacation in North Carolina. More to come on that, and next up… the final episode to close out our Hawaii Vacation — Oahu’s North Shore and digging our toes in the sand with a few sea turtles.

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Hawaii Vacation: Dining at Star Noodle, Lahaina

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The last time I wrote, we had just experienced an amazing Kaanapali sunset. With my bathing suit still wet and sand still in our toes, we headed to dinner. Because in Hawaii, you can show up to a restaurant in flip flops and salt water in your hair. No problem.

When we decided to make Maui a destination on this Hawaii vacation, Mikey and I knew we wanted to visit Star Noodle in Lahaina. He and I are big fans of Top Chef, the reality TV cooking show on the Bravo network. A couple seasons ago, Chef Sheldon Simeon made it to the top three finalists. We rooted for him, knowing that he hailed from Hawaii, was Filipino and came off as a cool, laid-back, humble kind of guy. Typical island-guy persona.

Our dinner there did not disappoint. The menu showcased a number of house-made noodle dishes and Asian eats like kimchee, ramen and udon.

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We started with a couple share plates — a vietnamese crepe (pictured below) and miso salmon (not pictured).

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Although we didn’t order it, the Filipino “bacon and eggs” also caught my eye. Described as crispy pork, poached egg, tomato and onion, it sounded delicious. It’s one I’d order for sure if we ever go back.

I had the Lahaina Fried Soup with Fat Chow Funn, ground pork and bean sprouts.

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Mikey had the Hot and Sour with chili lime dashi, smoked proscuitto, shrimp, cilantro, thai basil, bean sprouts and fried garlic. And sadly, I can’t remember what Mom and Dad ordered because I was too busy chowing down on my own dish. I also downed two glasses of this honeydew yuzu juice. I ordered it non-alcoholic, but there is the option to booze it if you choose it.

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What we all remember and will never forget was the trio of desserts we ordered — specifically the malasadas (portuguese donuts).

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These malasadas were warm, soft, fluffy — not to mention covered in sugar and accompanied by a trio of dipping sauces, including butterscotch and chocolate. The only problem was that there were only three. And while Dad was caught up talking to a local next to us at our communal dining table, Mom, Mikey and I each snagged one for ourselves. We then proceeded to order another round, so that Dad could have his share, and we could indulge in a little more. The gelato and mango pudding were yummy too, but the malasadas really shined. I still dream of them till this day.

We left Star Noodle as happy campers. From there, it was back to the condo for some R&R. We were scheduled to pack up and check out of our condo the next morning and prep for the quick jaunt back to Oahu.

Maui treated us well. I just wish Star Noodle would open up a location in St. Louis. We could use a legit noodle house.

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Hawaii Vacation: Kaanapali Sunset

If you’ve kept up with my Hawaii vacation posts, you know that the purpose of dragging these posts out as long as they can go is not to give you vacation envy. It has seriously become a form of therapy in an effort to counteract this brutal winter that just won’t leave!

Something else I’ve found therapeutic — HGTV’s Hawaii Life. Have you seen it? It’s a TV series that documents the home-buying process in Hawaii for a wide range of families, lifestyles and budgets. Every episode is littered with breathtaking scenes from all over the Hawaiian isles. But more importantly, there are properties featured that Mikey and I could actually afford. Just something to keep in mind if we ever want to make that possibility a reality.

And so the recap continues…

Day 7 (continued)

Our day at Mount Haleakala was beautiful, but exhausting. All the changes in air pressure really do affect your body. And since Dad was the trooper who drove us around the whole day, we decided to stop back at our Aina Nalu condo to rest up for a bit.

Dad took a little snooze, while the rest of us planned out the evening agenda. We’d gone all day without our toes in the sand, so we made an executive decision to head to the beach.

Maui is known around the world for its magnificent beaches. Kaanapali Beach is one of them, and if you’re visiting Maui, you’re most likely to stay on this beach if you choose to lodge on Maui’s hotel row. As we drove north from Lahaina to Kaanapali, we found the trick was figuring out where to park. We eventually got suckered into paying for parking at the Whaler’s Village shopping center. From the parking lot, we walked through the outdoor mall to get to Kaanapali Beach — and what was soon to be the most gorgeous sunset I’d ever seen.

Mikey and I splashed in the waves for a few minutes until the setting sun behind us was just too pretty to ignore.

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Splashing ashore

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Ready for photo action!

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Beach was cleared out for the most part, giving us lots of space to lounge.

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Out mish mash of footprints

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Picture perfect photo opp

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He wears lobsters on his shorts. He’s the most interesting man on the beach.

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Sun gleams gold

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Is there anything more serene?

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Spotted: two love birds

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An orange-gold intensity

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Just a sliver of sun merely seconds before setting. How’s that for alliteration?

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I can almost feel the warmth.

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Highly saturated orange gives way to neon pink.

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Not your average pink and blue

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Boat sets sail on Kaanapali

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And of course, with social media, you’re never alone.

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Hawaii Vacation: Mount Haleakala

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Day 7: Mount Haleakala

Most people are quick to think that Hawaii is purely a paradise of sun and sand. And well, it is. But beyond the beach, high up in the mountain country of Maui, you can get a completely different perspective on the Land of Aloha. Mount Haleakala is Maui’s highest peak, where temperatures drop to anywhere between 40 and 60 degrees fahrenheit. It is also a massive shield volcano that formed more than 75 percent of the island of Maui. Visitors can drive up to the summit in Mount Haleakala National Park, which is exactly what we did on day 7 of our Hawaii vacation.

If you have any plans to visit Mount Haleakala during your tropical vacay, you ought to bring some pants and a fleece jacket. Although if you forget, you probably won’t stick out like a sore thumb. Mikey braved the cold in shorts and a t-shirt, and we saw a few other tourists rocking shorts and sandals in the midst of the subarctic temperatures. Who really thinks about fleece attire when you’re packing sunscreen and swimsuits, anyway? (Um, me and my always-prepared dad. Mom and Mikey not so much.)

From the moment I stepped out of our rental SUV at the first Haleakala visitor’s center, I knew something was up. I felt funny. And it wasn’t the chill in the air. It was altitude sickness. It shouldn’t have been a surprise. Nausea had quickly become standard operating procedure for me while in Hawaii. It happened first during our surfing lesson, a second time during the Road to Hana drive and a third at Mount Haleakala. Wonderful.

After quickly perusing the displays at the first visitor’s center, Dad recommended I sit down and take it easy. It helped, and minutes later, we hopped back into the car to stop at the second visitor’s center. There wasn’t much to see there, so we didn’t stay long. We did encounter some friends in the parking lot though.

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A chakur partridge in search of food

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Looking fierce with those fiery red eyes

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The only photo Dad managed to take of me while nauseated. Pictured here is a ribbon rock. It forms when lava shoots up into the air and freezes before landing, forming this solid curve.

Once in the car, the rain clouds came to greet us. And unlike tropical rain that comes and goes and actually counteracts the oppressive humidity, this rain was cold. We decided to wait out the rain before driving the home stretch of road to the summit. Luckily, we had plenty of snacks to keep us entertained.

The rain eventually ceased, and by the time we reached the summit, I was feeling much better. My body was adapting to the altitude, and I could finally enjoy some of the scenery — massive clouds in motion right before our eyes. Red rock emitting the only source of warmth from the hard earth below us. It felt like we were standing at the edge of the world.

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Taking the stairs was quite an undertaking at that high altitude.

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Big cotton balls in the background

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We were lucky to see blue skies when we first arrived. Darker skies settled in a few minutes after this.

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Mom and Dad at the summit

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It took this cyclist six hours to reach the top. Wow.

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Aloha from and elevation of 10,023 feet!

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Pondering the meaning of life

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Simply heavenly

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It was amazing how much heat this stretch of rock was emitting. I stood there for a long while trying to warm up.

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A twisting road leads back down to the second visitor’s center behind me.

One of my favorite Haleakala sights is the silversword, a plant endemic to Mount Haleakala. That means this is only place in the world where this plant grows. The blade-like stems at the bottom reminded me of succulents, and the flowers that extended north reminded me of purple coneflowers, but with much shorter petals. It was cool to stand face to face with something so rare, and we were lucky to have been there at the right time to see many of them in bloom.

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Close, but no cigar.

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I win with my tippy toes.

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By the time we piled back into the car, my altitude sickness had pretty much worn off, but unfortunately Mom was coming down with it. She dozed off, while Dad navigated the winding road back down to the warm island breezes that we came to Hawaii for.

While my Haleakala experience got off to a rocky start (no pun intended), I’m glad we did it. If I did it again, I’d like to go at sunrise and get some great pictures. In fact, that’s what many of the tourist sites recommend. But realistically, we knew our inability to a) get up before the crack of dawn, and b) get out the door in a timely fashion, so we didn’t even attempt an early rise that morning. If we had, it would have been a 2am wake-up call.

Many of the tourist sites also mention the option of riding a bike from the summit back down to the visitor’s center, but my adventurous side was wary of the all-to-real possibility of biking straight off a cliff. Would be a cool experience though — if I were a little more brave. Fact is, I’m usually willing to try new things, but lounging on the beach is, has and always will be my strong suit.

Next up: the most amazing sunset my eyes have seen…

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Hawaii Vacation: Road to Hana and Oheo Gulch

The last time I posted, we were bracing ourselves for a massive snowstorm. Said massive snowstorm came and went, but winter is still gracing us with presents every day. Wind, rain, freezing rain, sleet, ice, black ice, wintry mixes and the most-talked-about phrase of the season, the polar vortex. How many different words do you really need to describe downright cold? And so recapping our Hawaii trip continues to be my saving grace as the first month of the year closes out and February rolls in.

Day 6: Road to Hana

All the tourism sites tout the Road to Hana as a must-see, must-drive, must-do. So naturally, I put it on our to-do list. My dad wasn’t so sure though. Everything he had read and heard said the Road to Hana was an arduous trip, and a long one at that. He preferred to spend a full day seeing other Maui attractions, but my persuasive daughter powers persisted, and in the end, Mom and I convinced him to give the Road to Hana a go.

If you aren’t familiar, the Road to Hana is a 68-mile stretch of highway along Maui’s rugged eastern coastline that boasts a whopping 620 curves and 59 bridges. The drive is a total of two and a half hours without stopping, but the whole point is to make numerous stops. At various points throughout the drive, you can see waterfalls, hike through lush tropical forests, gawk at rainbow-colored eucalyptus trees, stop at a roadside fruit stand, view the ocean from a high-in-the-sky overlook, watch windsurfers dominate the waves and so much more. To do it all in a day is literally impossible.

In true Sarusal fashion, we got a late start in the morning. We eventually hit the road, headed toward the town of Paia, where we dined for lunch the day before. Minutes later, that’s where the Road to Hana officially began. I spent most of my time with my nose in a tablet, trying to figure out which stops would be best for us to check out. Not the best idea when you’re sitting in the back seat, rounding 620 turns every which way. Motion sickness quickly settled in.

The only cure was to actually make a couple stops, so I could actually get my bearings. We pulled over to the side of the road at one point, where some tourists were embarking on a trail. We only stayed a few minutes to get some fresh air and did the same near an arboretum not much farther on the drive.

Our first actual stop where we saw something worthwhile was the Keane Peninusula. Nothing but craggy stretches of volcanic rock, extending off into the distance beside a vast blue ocean. Mikey and I immediately came upon some black crabs that blended seamlessly into the rock. Good camouflage.

Less than a mile from this stopping point, there was another picture-worthy site of the Keane Peninsula where more cars were gathered to watch the waves pound into rocky terrain. We captured some of our best photos here. Words can’t describe how stunning it was. I could’ve stayed there all day.

Once Dad and I had our fill of photographs, we hit the road again and made another little stop at an overlook.

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road to hana overlook

Then, it was back at it again until we came upon Waikani Falls, also known as Three Bears Waterfall. Dad was getting very irritable with the other tourists at that point. Many of them were blatantly avoiding the “no parking” road signs, making it difficult for other cars to pass. We found a parking inlet around the bend from the falls and walked on the side of the road until Waikani Falls came into view.

We spent a good deal of time at Waikani Falls. Took lots of pictures and witnessed an angry local call the cops on all those tourists who were illegally parked until we eventually decided it was time to move on.

At that time, it was starting to get late in the day. We decided to forego the rest of the stops on the Road to Hana in order to make it to Oheo Gulch before close.

Oheo Gulch is a series of swimming pools, fed by waterfalls. It is part of the National Park Service, so expect to pay a $10 fee per car upon entering the park. You may also hear Oheo Gulch referred to as the Seven Sacred Pools. But there’s nothing sacred about them. Locals will tell you the name is just a marketing tactic. Props to the copywriter who came up with that one.

We didn’t spend much time at Oheo Gulch, but it was a great way to end the day. With all the twists and turns and braking and accelerating on the road, it was nice to be on solid ground. Mikey and I swam through some of the pools. (Careful climbing on all those rocks. They’re slippery suckers.) And as is always the case, Dad took pictures and Mom found a breezy area to catch some quick zzzz’s.

Although many tourism sites will tell you to avoid driving back at night, Dad thought it was a piece of cake. You get the benefit of less cars on the road. Dad ultimately admitted that Road to Hana wasn’t nearly as challenging as everyone says it is. The tourism sites probably have to say it is, so that off-islanders know to use extreme caution. But to someone like Dad who grew up on an tiny island, he didn’t think much of it. It was a lot like driving on Guam.

Dad got us safely back into Paia. We were all starved at that point and found a little Thai restaurant, called Bangkok Cuisine in Kahului to fill our grumbling tummies.

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Overall, I have to say that the Road to Hana wasn’t all it was cracked up to be. Yes, part of the reason for my poor experience is because I was nauseous the whole time. (Seems to be a theme for the trip as evidenced by my surfing post and the Haleakala post that’s in the works.) Or maybe it’s because we’ve done coastal drives before. In fact, that’s a common activity back on Guam. “Hey, let’s go drive around the island.” And driving around Guam is better because you can literally drive around the entire island in less than a day. Aside from the nausea though, I wasn’t overly wowed by what we saw on the Road to Hana, with the exception of the Keane Peninsula. Now maybe that’s because we didn’t make nearly enough stops as we would’ve liked, which brings me to my next point…

Would I ever drive the Road to Hana again? Maybe, but leaning toward the side of no. The only way I would do Hana again is to spread it out over a couple days. I’d need to stay overnight somewhere to break things up. To do it in a day is frankly, too rushed. And next time, I absolutely positively need to remember to bring the Dramamine.

Next up: visiting the summit of Mount Haleakala.

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Hawaii Vacation: Maui Bound

Here in St. Louis, we’re bracing ourselves for eight to 10 inches of snow before the weekend ends. So while the reality of what’s happening outside is soon to be cold and slushy, my mind is still thinking about sea, sun and sand as I continue this recap of our Hawaii vacation.

Day 5: Hello Maui

Day 5 of our Hawaii vacation started out in transit mode. We hopped on a plane and took the 30 minute flight from Oahu to Maui, also nicknamed The Valley Isle.

My mom and I have long wanted to visit Maui. After all these years of stopping into Hawaii on the way to or from Guam and visiting Lola (my parents go more often than I do), Mom and I had still never set foot on Maui. Dad, on the other hand, was born there. While Lola was waiting for my dad to enter the world, the Navy sent Papa to work on Guam. Although Lola wanted to follow, paperwork and her pregnancy kept her behind in Maui. She stayed with Papa’s sister in Kahului, in a house located a stone’s throw away from Maui Memorial Hospital. Once Dad was born, Lola was able to join Papa on Guam, where they made their living as an auto mechanic and elementary school teacher for years and years. While on Guam, Lola gave birth to three more sons to round out the clan of mischievous Sarusal boys.

We made it to Maui!

We made it to Maui!

So once we stepped off the plane in Maui, we waited for what seemed like a lifetime at the car rental facility before finding a place to chow down. We settled on the little village of Paia and dined at the Paia Fish Market.

Paia Fish Market

Paia is considered a starting point on the Road to Hana. Kind of like the last point of civilization before embarking on the scenic drive. Parking proved to be difficult in Paia, but once we found a spot and got out of the car to stretch our legs, Paia turned out to be a cute little town with a handful of restaurants and shops, including a gelato shop. (The juxtaposition of Italian gelato in a place as island country as Paia, Maui still cracks me up. It’s like serving Russian vodka on a cattle ranch.)

The Paia Fish Market was bustling. We practically had to charge one of the tables in order to claim seats. But the food was good, albeit pricey. Then again, what isn’t pricey in Hawaii?

The only downside to our time at Paia Fish Market was the sound of this blonde girl's voice all up in every inch of our conversations. Nothing screams TOURIST when you talk like a valley girl at a volume of infinity! (Sorry, this is a real pet peeve of mine. Can you tell?)

The only downside to our time at Paia Fish Market was the sound of this girl’s voice all up in every inch of our conversations. Nothing screams TOURIST when you talk like a valley girl at a volume of infinity! (Sorry, this is a real pet peeve of mine. Can you tell?)

Our first taste of local beer

Our first taste of local beer

We stopped into a couple shops as well, including Honolua Surf Co., where I picked up a couple t-shirts.

Honolua Surf Co Paia Maui

From there, Dad drove us into Kahului, where we passed Maui Memorial Hospital to see where he was born and the home of Papa’s sister, where Dad and Lola lived for a short time before they relocated to Guam. Unfortunately, I missed seeing the house in person. All that beer and fish put me into a food coma, so I was asleep when Dad took this picture of the house.

Maui Memorial Hospital

Maui Memorial Hospital

Maui house

Tracing Dad’s roots

Checking into our condo rental was next on our itinerary. The GPS routed us to Lahaina, where we pulled into the Aina Nalu hotel and condo complex.

I found Aina Nalu while searching for vacation rentals on HomeAway and VRBO. I noticed a series of rentals available within the same complex. All had nearly identical features and were priced affordably. We ended up booking Unit K109 at $180 a night. With two bedrooms, two full baths, a kitchen and a living room, that price is unheard of! The condo owners also provided beach chairs, a cooler, boogie boards and beach towels. Those sort of things are a huge help when you’re flying in without the luggage to accommodate those necessities.

Aina Nalu is not located on the beach, but it is within steps of Front Street, a hot spot and historic whaling village in Lahaina lined with shops, restaurants and entertainment venues. It was a beautiful night to walk the streets in search of a place to eat dinner. So we did.

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Off to Front Street we go.

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Debating on a swim shorts purchase at Rip Curl

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Along with souvenir and surf shops, Front Street has many art galleries with beautiful, vibrant artwork to match the gorgeous ocean scenery outside.

We settled on Koa’s Seaside Grill, where Mikey and I enjoyed some drinks, and we all ordered… steak. We certainly are a meat and potatoes family — or meat, potatoes and rice — to be more accurate.

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Checking out the menu at Koa’s

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Ready to wine and dine over the ocean

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Enjoying a lava flow. So apropos.

With our tummies full and ready for relaxation, we made the leisurely walk back to Aina Nalu and turned in for the evening. The next day was shaping up to be a busy one — driving the Road to Hana!

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The Homemade Gifts I Gave

The world wide web is a beautiful thing, my friends. It’s where I did about 60 percent of our Christmas shopping this year. Etsy, Rue La La, Amazon, West Elm… I loved coming home to new packages on our doorstep every couple days. But despite how easy and hassle-free online shopping can be, I’ve decided DIY gifting is my preferred way to go.

This year, my favorite gifts we gave were five mason jars filled with homemade potpourri and adorned with DIY glitter tags. We gave them to my four sisters-in-law and stepmother-in-law. Of course, the idea came from Pinterest via The Yummy Life blog. The Yummy Life does a great job of detailing all of the steps and variety of fragrances, so I won’t try to recreate her post. Definitely check it out if you decide to gift these yourself.

Of the five scents outlined on The Yummy Life, I chose three:

{Oranges, Cinnamon and Cloves}

orange cinnamon cloves

{Lemon, Rosemary and Vanilla}

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{Oranges, Ginger and Almond Extract}

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All you do is buy the ingredients, measure them out or chop them, put them in a jar, fill the jar with water and refrigerate until ready to give. Then, your lucky recipient can pour the contents of the jar into a pot, heat it on the stove and let the enticing aromas fill the house. When finished, cool the potpourri, return to jar and refrigerate until ready to use again.

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The ingredients: cinnamon sticks, almond extract, vanilla extract, cloves, allspice, fresh ginger and fresh rosemary

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Ingredients: oranges and lemons

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Stuffed in a jar and filled with water

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A close-up of the citrus and herbs

As for the jars and tags, I purchased the mason jars at Michael’s for under $2 a piece. I made the tags using gold ribbon and my handy dandy embossing tools — a stamp, embossing glue, embossing powder/glitter and an embosser (a staple for self-proclaimed scrapbooking enthusiasts like myself).

It was fun to spend a day doing something crafty. I even tested out the lemon, rosemary and vanilla mixture myself with the leftover ingredients I had. It smelled lovely.

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When all is said it done, these were an easy, inexpensive but thoughtful way to wish our family members a Merry Christmas. Now I’m tempted to try out some of the other scents on The Yummy Life that I didn’t attempt on this first round. And I’m also thinking about who else I can gift these to. Too bad the guys in our family aren’t much into potpourri.

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Our Merry Little Christmas

In our family, Christmas isn’t just one day. It’s more like four days. Four days of family gatherings. Four days of giving and receiving gifts. Four days of really, really, ridiculously good food. All done (for the most part) in pajamas, with a wrapping-paper obsessed dog, with a wee bit of your inner hoosier and with a pesky cold (yep, it’s bound to happen). And that’s how you get the 2013 edition of our Merry Little Christmas.

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Hawaii Vacation: Snorkeling Hanauma Bay

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Day 4: Hanauma Bay

Day 4 began as a lazy Saturday. Mom was itching to go to the swap meet to souvenir shop, while the rest of us were in the mood to do anything other than shop. Normally, I’d be all about putting my shopping hat on and storming Aloha Stadium with money to spend, but having experienced the swap meet before, I was in the mood to do something we’d never done before.

That’s when Auntie Lou saved the day and let Mikey and I borrow her car for the day. Dad ended up taking one for the team and accompanied mom to the swap meet, where she practically bought out the whole stadium. (Kidding, of course. But you should’ve seen how major their souvenir bag was on the flight home.)

With keys in hand and all our beach gear in the trunk, Mikey and I headed east to Hanauma Bay, a nature preserve and excellent snorkeling destination, located about 10 miles east of Waikiki.

By the time we got to Hanauma Bay, it was close to 3:00 — risky, considering that most people try to get there first thing in the morning. The parking lot fills up quickly, and once all the spots are taken, the staff closes off the parking lot completely. And it isn’t one of those situations where you can park on the side of the road and walk in. You’re pretty much out of luck if the closed sign is up. Fortunately, a staff member was removing the closed sign just as we were pulling in. We lucked out. In fact, our decision to go late in the day actually worked to our advantage. By 3:00, most people were clearing out for the day. That left more shady spots for us to set up shop — and more open water for us to explore.

Once we purchased our tickets ($7.50 per person), we stood in an outdoor waiting area before we were led into an air-conditioned theater. We watched a quick video (mandatory for all Hanauma Bay visitors) that detailed the history of the bay as well as the rules to abide by. The takeaway? Hanauma Bay is a fragile marine ecosystem. Respect the wildlife.

From there, Mikey and I made our way down the large sloping hill to the beach area to start our snorkeling adventure.

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Letting his sunscreen sink in underneath a shady tree

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Swimmers and snorkelers enjoying a day at the bay

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Blowing in the breeze

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Welcome to paradise

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Pigeon in paradise

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Happiest when my toes are in the sand

Hanauma Bay is home to 400 different species of fish. There were big ones, small ones, striped ones, spotted ones, bright ones, dark ones, you name it. To be specific, some of the species we saw were Triggerfish, Butterfly Fish and Tang. Makes me wish I had an underwater camera to share just how pretty they all were.

After a couple hours of snorkeling, the beach area started to quiet down. It really was the perfect time to be there.

We eventually decided to make our way home but were tasked with climbing the uphill slope to get back to the parking lot. To make it easy on myself, I made it a point to stop and take pictures along the way. On our way up, we spotted a huge school of fish, visible from our spot towards the top of the sloping walkway. We even spotted a couple sea turtles! So we camped out for probably 20-30 minutes just trying to get a good shot of our turtle friend.

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Giant school of fish

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Hello there, turtle.

The view of Hanauma Bay from above is probably the best way to gawk at it. It is one amazing piece of earth, and I’m glad we got to experience it on a beautiful day without the overwhelming crowds it’s known for. I’m sure one day we’ll be back for more of what we like to call the Hanaumana Phenomena. Someone oughta hashtag that.

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