Before I left Dan Jackson told me, “Maui is the island of beaches” and he wasn’t kidding. Nice long beaches dot the coastline and provide plenty of the space for people to spread out. It also doesn’t hurt that many tourists stay within walking distance of their hotel. So its easy to find a relatively quiet spot to enjoy the warm blue waters.
Its been 12 years ago since I last snorkeled in Australia and I figured it was about time. So rented a kit for a few bucks and listened to the short pre-rehearsed safety briefing from the shop lady. She pointed out a few popular (ie ‘crowded’) spots and steered me away from Makena. I asked about the Ahini-Kinau Fish Preserve – a safe haven where they tend to gather.
“You’ve been to Maui before,” she said through her Hawaiian accent.
“No its my first time, why?” I asked.
“Well… you said you’re staying in Wailuku and goin out to Ahini… that’s mostly locals out that way.”
“Oh. Is that OK?”
“Oh ya,” she laughed, “no problem, its safe, just most tourists stay around Kihei and up Lahaina.”
So, buoyed with that those comments I set out toward Ahini, opting for the longer coastal route rather than the highway. It winds south through Kihei, and then through a series of resort developments including Wailea, before passing Makena and dead-ending into Ahini. It looks like a short distance on a map but average island speed is about 40kph on urban roads and 70kph on highways. Pretty relaxed. The smaller roads also twist and turn relentlessly, much moreso than even the tightest mountain roads we have in BC. So it takes a little time to get around, but they’ve got tons and tons of great reggae on the local radio that matches the driving pace perfectly.
Arriving at Ahini I was surprised and disappointed to see so many cars in the parking lot. “So much for being mostly locals” I thought as I packed up my gear but as I headed down the coastal trail the numbers dwindled quickly and soon enough I had the coastline mostly to myself. After 30 minutes or so I spotted some protected waters and dove in.
Snorkeling isn’t rocket science but I had forgotten that its not 100% intuitive either. Sticking your mouth underwater and then taking in a deep breath is something that your body does not want to do – you have to relax and control that reflex. So I just floated for a while, trying to get my breathing right, watching small schools of fish swim beneath me. Once I was comfortable I went into deeper waters and saw more colorful fish and a couple turtles as well. But I was starting to think that snorkeling wasn’t really all that’s its cracked up to be on Maui. Especially if you’ve seen the Great Barrier Reef. So I ditched the snorkel gear after a bit and just went for a swim up the coast.
Somehow that swim felt just right, 100% intuitive. Swim when you want to go somewhere, float in the waves when you want to enjoy the views, dive to the bottom when you want to play like a seal. Its stuff that locals take for granted but we really don’t have a benign Pacific like this in Canada. Ours is cold and dark and deep and its generally something we avoid at all costs. On Maui its inviting on a hot day, like cool bath water. Of course, good judgment is still necessary. That very day a snorkeler was taken out to sea by the currents and was never found.
After spending enough time in the water to prune up pretty good, I hiked a few kilometers (in flip flops on ultra rough volcanic rock) to the end of the preserve. To my surprise when I got to the end of the trail I found some locals chillin in their Nissan out there after a day of fishin. Very impressive for 2-wheel drive, certainly more than my Hyandai Accent would’ve done. And on my walk back it dawned on me why all the locals drive Hawaiian-style trucks (ie a massively lifted Toyota pick-up with relatively small tires that are absolutely as wide as possible, think of a Tim Hortons crueller times 50) – its specifically for flotation on sand. They look ridiculous but, hey, if it works… And why a Toyota and not a Ford? I guess they’d rather buy a truck from someone who bombed their harbor than from someone who stole their land.
On my way home I somehow missed Maui Tacos – too bad, I’d heard they make great fish tacos.