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Wednesday, May 17, 2006

Hawaii - Islands of Adventure

Maui, also called the Valley Isle, is just a small dot in the vast Pacific Ocean, but it has the potential to offer visitors unforgettable experiences: floating weightless through rainbows of tropical fish, standing atop a 10,000-foot volcano watching the sunrise color the sky, listening to the raindrops in a bamboo forest.

Whether you want to experience the "real" Hawaii, go on a heart-pounding adventure, or simply relax on the beach, this place should be the vacation of your dreams.

It can be bewildering to plan your trip to Hawaii with so many options vying for your attention; to make your task easier, this section highlights what I consider the very best that Maui has to offer.

Branch out while you're in Maui; do something you wouldn't normally do -- after all, you're on vacation. Below is a list of adventures I highly recommend. Some are a bit pricey, but these splurges are worth every penny.

Scuba Diving: You're in love with snorkeling and the chance to view the underwater world, but it's just not enough -- you want to get closer and see even more. Take an introductory scuba dive; after a brief lesson on how to use the diving equipment, you'll plunge into the deep to swim with the tropical fish and go eyeball to eyeball with other marine critters.

Skimming over the Ocean in a Kayak: Glide silently over the water, hearing only the sound of your paddle dipping beneath the surface. This is the way the early Hawaiians traveled along the coastline. You'll be eye level and up close and personal with the ocean and the coastline, exploring areas you can't get to any other way. Venture out on your own or go with an experienced guide -- either way, you won't be sorry.

Exploring a Lava Tube: Most people come to Maui to get outdoors and soak up some Hawaiian sunshine, but don't miss the opportunity to see firsthand how volcanic islands were formed. With Maui Cave Adventures (tel. 808/248-7308), you can hike into the subterranean passages of a huge, extinct lava tube with 40-foot ceilings -- an offbeat adventure and a geology lesson you won't soon forget.

Seeing the Stars from Inside a Volcanic Crater: Driving up to see the sunrise is a trip you'll never forget, but to really experience Haleakala, plan to hike in and spend the night. To get a feel for why the ancient Hawaiians considered this one of the most sacred places on the island, you simply have to wander into the heart of the dormant volcano, where you'll find some 27 miles of hiking trails, two camping sites, and three cabins.

Hiking to a Waterfall: There are waterfalls, and there are waterfalls; the magnificent 400-foot Waimoku Falls, in Oheo Gulch outside of Hana, are worth the long drive and the uphill hike you have to take to get there. The falls are surrounded by lush green ferns and wild orchids, and you can even stop to take a dip in the pool at the top of Makahiku Falls on the way.

Flying over the Remote West Maui Mountains: Your helicopter streaks low over razor-thin cliffs, then flutters past sparkling waterfalls and down into the canyons and valleys of the inaccessible West Maui Mountains. There's so much beauty to absorb that it all goes by in a rush. You'll never want to stop flying over this spectacular, surreal landscape -- and it's the only way to see the dazzling beauty of the prehistoric area of Maui.

Taking a Drive on the Wild Side: Mother Nature's wild side, that is -- on the Kahekili Highway on Maui's northeast coast. This back-to-nature experience will take you past ancient Hawaiian heiau (temples); along steep ravines; and by rolling pastures, tumbling waterfalls, exploding blowholes, crashing surf, and jagged lava coastlines. You'll wander through the tiny Hawaiian village of Kahakuloa and around the "head" of Maui to the Marine Life Conservation Area of Honolua-Mokuleia and on to the resort of Kapalua. You'll remember this adventure for years.

Riding a Mule to Kalaupapa: Even if you have only 1 day to spend on Molokai, spend it on a mule. The Molokai Mule Ride (tel. 800/567-7550) trek from "topside" Molokai to the Kalaupapa National Historic Park (Father Damien's world-famous leper colony) is a once-in-a-lifetime adventure. The cliffs are taller than 300-story skyscrapers, and the narrow 3-mile trail includes 26 dizzying switchbacks, but Buzzy Sproat has never lost one of his trustworthy mules (or any riders) on the difficult trail. The mules make the trek daily, rain or shine.


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