Monday, November 24, 2008

Aloha!

Since we've been in Australia, we've managed to plan one annual reunion with a sizable chunk of Brian's family each year. The first year they came to us and we traveled to Melbourne and Sydney and spent a week in Queensland on the Great Barrier Reef. The second year, we went to Fiji and cruised around the islands on the Tui Tai eco-cruise. And last week was the third annual McMillin Tropical Holiday to Maui, Hawaii. The cool thing about this year's reunion was that it included ALL the McMillin kids including Brian's brother Keith and family who hadn't been able to join us for the previous trips. Let the adventure begin!

Brian and I arrived in Maui the day before the rest of the family. We lived on Maui when we first met (about seven years ago now!) and so we thought we'd take the opportunity to do an overnight hike that would be out of everyone else's comfort zone. To be honest, I was a bit afraid it might be out of my comfort zone! After three flights and about eleven hours in the air, we hopped off the plane, hired a car, grabbed some food and drove for an hour to the top of the east Maui mountains, to Haleakala National Park. We loaded up our bags and set off on the Sliding Sands trail for our destination, Paliku Cabin some ten miles away. Here I am at the very beginning of our walk. If you look to the dark gray mountains in the distance on the right hand side of the photo, you'll see our destination!


The landscape along the way was nothing short of spectacular. And diverse - we went from red sandy slopes to rocky moonscapes, to black lava fields to lush vegetation.


The photo belows shows us nearing those gray mountains in the distance. See how the vegetation has changed? That's because the cloud cover is much thicker as we near the Kaupo Gap and so there's much more available moisture.


We knew we were pushing ourselves to squeeze this hike into the daylight we had and we ended up doing the last mile or two in the moonlight! Fortunately, it was nearly a full moon which cast a silvery glow on everything and made for a pretty unique experience. We only had to pull out our flashlights for the last half hour or so as it got really dark - and began to drizzle! We were happy to reach our destination, the Paliku cabin, but weren't able to stay in the cabin as they have to be reserved three months in advance. So we did the best we could to scout a tent site in the dark, put up the tent in some serious wind, and then changed into our warm and dry thermals, ate a quick dinner and fell asleep.

In the morning, as we stuck our heads out of the tent, we were greeted with an amazing view! Here's a glimpse of the backdrop to our tent.


After breakfast we were greeted by the resident Nene geese. Only 600 or so of these birds exist in the wild and they are the most endangered waterfowl in North America. So we were more than happy to have them poking around outside our tent...


Donning all the clothes we had (it got close to freezing up there overnight), we packed up our gear (damp after unwittingly putting the tent in a slight depression) and had a nice rainbow pointing the way back to the trail.


One thing you have to love about Maui - rainbows everywhere! This one was for our eyes only.


The trail back followed the opposite edge of the crater and once again the landscape awed us with its diversity. Here the track leads to cinder cones in an array of reds and browns and oranges.


The walk back was tiring as it was, but to get out of the crater we had to hike up for three miles (a 1400 foot elevation change)! This photo looks out at the lava flows below and shows the switchbacks we'd just traversed!


We both agreed this was one of the more difficult hikes we'd done, though well worth it. Reaching the end of the track, we gleefully planted ourselves at the hiker's pick-up point to await a lift to the top of the mountain where our rental car was parked at the visitor center. And we waited. And then we waited some more. Not that there weren't cars going by. Oh no, there were plenty of cars, but do you think any would stop for a couple of tired and thirsty hikers? Hitchhiking is common practice on Maui but nobody told the tourists on their up to see the summit of Haleakala! It took an hour and a half to get a lift from a nice couple from Michigan and by then we were hard pressed to get to the airport on time to meet the family arriving at 6pm! So much for a shower and a nice meal. We drove to the airport and arrived ten minutes before Heather and Keith and families arrived! Carl and Jan came in shortly after and we all went to IHOP for a late dinner before driving to the other side of the island to our accommodation in Kahana. We rented a three bedroom condo on the beach as our home away from home and Aunt Leah stayed in her studio timeshare down the road.

The first full day with the family was spent lounging around and catching up and talking about what to do with the week. For us, it was great to be back in Maui, not only because we have such nice memories there, but because we got to show the family around to our favorite spots. Below, a green sea turtle spotted while snorkeling at Slaughterhouse Beach.


Next day, we went to Iao Valley and got this great photo of the whole clan.


Sweeping views of the west Maui mountains:


Off the beaten track....


After our trek to the Iao Valley, we visited the Maui Ocean Center where we got to see all sorts of sea creatures up close and personal (and usually behind glass). Here's a great photo of a sea turtle surfacing for air.


After the aquarium visit, we went to a luau in Lahaina, The Feast at Lele. Both the food and the dancing were terrific and we stuffed ourselves with dishes from around the Pacific (and plenty of pina coladas)! Below, Brian and I at the luau.


Next day we visited the Maui Tropical Plantation for a look at growing everything from guava to macadamia nuts to coffee. And the next day the family took a snorkel cruise to Molokini and Turtle Town.
The week flew by as I expected it would, but what a lovely time. Not only is it always good to see family, but this time was extra special as it involved meeting two new family members - our nephews Gavin (15 months) and Cael (five months)! And for once, saying goodbye was not as difficult as we'll be seeing everyone again soon when we FINALLY visit the US!

PS. I did well to restrict this blog post to just fifteen photos! There are lots more amazing photos at my Picasa site which I highly recommend visiting. See http://picasaweb.google.com.au/JenniferMcMillin/Hawaii08# for the Hawaii album.

PSS. We got a new camera recently and it can go underwater so there are some really cool videos (both above and below the water) to be seen at my YouTube site which I highly recommend visiting :) See http://au.youtube.com/profile?user=jennifermcmillin&view=videos for my videos, the first five of which are from Maui and include a sea turtle, a manta ray, a hammerhead shark, jellyfish, a luau dancer and my super cute niece snorkeling.
Aloha!