Maui is a hugely diverse island, with giant volcanoes at its center surrounded by fertile agricultural fields, tapering off to beaches, nature reserves and, of course, the ever present resorts at its shoreline. Time moves slower on Maui, much slower than on Oahu, which is home to Honolulu, a big bustling city (and the only other place in Hawaii I’ve visited).
Everyone kept telling me that I had to visit Hana, the small town synonymous with the east coast region of Maui. The road to Hana is legendary among travelers and seems to be spoken about with a kind of hushed reverence. I had to find out about it for myself, so one day my brother-in-law and fellow traveling companion, David, and I set off for adventure in our rented SUV.
Although Hana was only 80 miles or so from our Ka’anapali base, it took us nearly 3 ½ hours to make the drive. Along the way, we encountered cliff-hugging roads of extraordinary beauty, mountainside groves of thickly planted bamboo, cliffs that dropped off more than five hundred feet to secluded beaches, waterfalls that fed pools and streams that were the source of water for more waterfalls below. It was magical and awesome to behold so much beauty, so much green contrasted with the constantly changing blue and green hues of the ocean.
Every few minutes we’d come across a one-lane bridge, for which we’d have to stop and make sure no one was coming from the opposite side, before proceeding. We encountered nearly sixty of these on the trip and in the middle of almost every one we’d find the perfect picture-taking opportunity, but alas, there was no place to pull over. Eventually we found one or two places on the road just before we got to a bridge that seemed safe for a few minutes of snapshooting. I had hauled my 4x5 large format camera on the plane along with a tripod and all the attendant gear, but there wasn’t even enough room to fit a tripod by the roadside until we got to Hana.
When we finally arrived, we were tired, hungry and excited. Hana seemed to be much smaller than we imagined, with a few small local buildings, a gas station, a general store and a walk-up-and-order fast food restaurant. On the main road, we saw a crudely hand-lettered sign that read Pranee’s Thai Food. We followed the arrows through several local streets, all very rural and posted with signs that read, ‘If you don’t live here, you shouldn’t be here’. We finally found Pranee. She was a Thai woman cooking food in a wok on a propane burner, along with her young American helper. The whole operation was run from two tents; one was her kitchen and the other, a place for customers to sit and enjoy their meal. The atmosphere was Hawaiian-friendly and it smelled terrific; an incredible local find and some of the best Thai food I’ve ever eaten.
As we headed out after lunch, with no plans or itinerary, we followed our instincts (actually, we followed David’s instincts because he has a nose for finding out-of-the-way places, dirt roads and other potentially exciting/dangerous situations!) and ended up in a state park at the end of a long entry road. There, spread out before us, was an amazing sight. A black sand beach and cliffs perched high above a wildly violent ocean. A huge blowhole sprayed saltwater high in the air every few minutes. Large black rock outcroppings rose from the water below in shapes that were otherworldly, formed from molten lava probably more than a million years ago.
As I set up my camera on the cliff, upwind from the blowhole, I was able to expose a few sheets of film, though it was very windy. I had to make sure that the folding bellows of the camera didn’t turn it into a kite, taking my whole setup and dashing it onto the rocks below, a caveat I’ve read about many times from other photographers. The wind blew and altered course, at the same time as a giant blowhole snort 200 feet behind me, and before I knew it, a huge fount of saltwater drenched the camera and me. Fortunately my back was turned to it, as was the camera, so the lens didn’t get the full brunt of the watery hit, nevertheless I took out a soft microfibre towel, the secret tool in every photographer’s kit, and dried everything as well as I could.
Later that night, safely back in Ka’anapali, it took some time to clean the saltwater brine from the tripod, camera and lens, but I was happy that we had taken the long trek and was hopeful that I had made some good images and memories of our long day.