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Hike, Bike, Kayaking, Horseriding

Road Less Traveled

I usually like to plan my vacations by selecting individual destinations and activities in order to avoid the limitations of a group tour. However, when I read about the Roads Less Traveled’s "Hawaii Sampler" trip, I was eager to sign on. One of the most appealing aspects of the itinerary is that I would never have been able to visit these remote places on my own and to participate in the myriad activities without spending a great deal of time and energy to get ready and a large sum of money to cover the costs. Our guide, Dave Nash, led us on hiking, biking, kayaking and horseback riding expeditions through the magnificent islands of Maui and Kauai. During the course of a week, we explored wild flower-covered mountain meadows, sweet smelling eucalyptus groves, majestic canyons, dramatic volcanoes, tropical rainforests and pristine beaches. Along the way, I made new friends, learned about the natural and social history of the islands and discovered that paradise is as much a state of mind as a geographic location.


The trip begins Saturday morning near the Maui airport. A group of articulate, athletic professionals mostly in our 30s and 40s, we are immediately at ease with each other. Dave’s 10 years of experience leading trips and his intimate knowledge of the islands make him well equipped as an outdoorsman and a scientist to answer all the questions we throw his way.

We take our places in the van and drive on the winding precipitous and breathtaking Hana Highway that circles Maui’s northern shore. The natural riches of Maui reveal themselves in a full rainbow soaring over the sugar cane fields. The rough cobalt swells of the Pacific below hit the brown cliffs and emerald bamboo forests rise high above us.

We stop at the Waikamoi Ridge Trail for a mile-long hike. At the top is a vista of bamboo-carpeted valleys. After descending, we drive on to Waianapanapa State Park where we wander into sea caves and walk on the black sand beach.

Following an elegant lunch, Dave leads us on a three-mile hike along the "King’s Highway," which winds past blowholes angrily spouting sea water and tide pools collecting in the jagged volcanic rock. Michelle, an astute observer, notes that the black volcanic rock speckled with white lichen looks like nonpareil chocolates. Dave begins his first of many cultural history lessons as we pass a large Heau, a holy site built by ancient Hawaiians and overlooking the ocean.

By dusk I’m eager to settle into our lodging, the Hana Kai Maui Resort in Hana, where we will spend two nights. From the private deck of my large condo, I enjoy a glorious sunset while sipping a glass of Chardonnay. Dinner is in town at the five-star Hana Maui Inn’s restaurant where we dine on a lavish buffet of grilled island fish, fresh vegetables and tropical fruits. After watching a hula show, we ramble through the library, piano bar and garden. Fire torches illuminate the lily pads floating in a Japanese-style pond. The enchanting evening of wine, food and music ends and I fall asleep to the hypnotic sound of waves crashing on the shore.

Swimming at Seven Falls, Haleakala National Park, Maui (credit: Emily Fancher)
Swimming at Seven Falls, Haleakala National Park, Maui (credit: Emily Fancher)


The next morning finds us eating brunch at the ranch down the road. We saddle up for a horseback ride. I mount a docile reddish horse named Kippy to begin the ascent up 2,500 feet on the Waimoku Falls Trail in Haleakala National Park. John, our guide for the day, trots along beside me and hands over a wild guava. It is strong and bitter, but I enjoy sampling the fruit from the delectably beautiful landscape.

We stop at an overlook to observe the glorious falls nestled in Kipahula Valley. Throughout the four-hour ride in the tropical rainforest, we and the horses brave several showers. With all the rain, it’s no wonder that the bamboo in this valley grows at seven to 10 inches per day. At the end of our equestrian adventure, we are able to soothe our weary bodies in the cool water of Seven Falls in Haleakala National Park, just down the road from the stables. The braver souls in our troop jump from the cliffs and swim in the ice cold water. Accompanied by the sounds of the wind and rain whipping around us, the evening meal is a relaxing affair on the condo’s covered patio. As usual, I sleep the deep, sound sleep of someone who has spent a long, challenging day in the outdoors.


At dawn, we pack up and head to town for a breakfast of breaded ahi and eggs. Retracing our route back along the Hana Highway, we head toward Haleakala, where we will hike into the crater on the Hálemaumau Trail. As we begin our descent down the steep switchbacks of the world’s largest volcanic crater at 10,023 feet, Dave tells us to keep an eye out for the endangered nene bird. Crater is a misnomer; it’s actually an eroded volcanic cone. The landscape resembles nothing we’ve seen so far, its dramatic peaks and ridges angle down into dry, desert-like tundra. Formed from igneous rock, the brown and black slopes are covered with shrubs. As we move above the clouds that hover at around 7,000 feet, the terrain looks like another planet. Dave encourages us to pause often to take in the views. We hike for two miles, stop for lunch and then start back up the trail. I readily find my hiking pace and huff it uphill, my thighs burning a bit, but it feels good to sweat.

From the park, it’s a short drive to the airport where we catch a speedy and pleasant Aloha Airlines flight to Kauai, "The Garden Isle." By sundown we’ve arrived at the charming Waimea Plantation Cottages where we will stay for two nights. The 1920s-style three-bedroom bungalows have wooden floors, green wicker chairs, ceiling fans and a roomy verandah. The cabins are surrounded by coconut palms dizzily reaching 40 feet to the sky.

At dinner on the patio of the Waimea Brew Pub, the group talks and laughs, and eats and drinks merrily in the fresh night air. Before retiring, a few of us indulge in a short session of stargazing at the bright, densely lit sky.


After stopping at a lookout to snap photos of Waimea Canyon–"the Grand Canyon of the Pacific," which sports a 1000-foot waterfall–we continue on to the Halemaumau Trail in the Koke’e Mountains. The wondrous red canyons are dotted with green foliage and the sea behind them is a pure deep blue. We find a rare star fungus, which is white with red tentacles giving it the look of an alien life form. The leisurely hike and lunch break provides us with more than enough vistas to fill a roll of film. We spend the afternoon back at the cottages, where we can choose to read by the pool, nap in the hammock or walk on the beach. Dinner at the Green Garden provides endless choices of tasty grilled fish, such as mahimahi or red sea bass.


The roosters’ crows awaken me at dawn, but I don’t fight the wake up call since we must get an early start on our much-anticipated kayaking day. Unfortunately, the outfitters inform us that the sea is too rough for kayaking. Therefore, we will paddle on the river instead. First, however, our guides, Dan and Guava, take us biking around town, past the botanical gardens and coffee plantations to prime spots for whale and sea turtle sightings. Then we hop in our tandem kayaks at Kipu Kai to begin the four-mile trip upriver. The paddling is strenuous, but Guava and Dan entertain us with legends about the island and its fascinating natural and social history. Craggy mountains rise above us on one side of the river. On the other side, the banks are studded with bamboo trees, hala bushes and orange spiky flowers called Chinese firecrackers.

We stow our kayaks by the side of the river and hike up through the forest, ford a small stream and come upon a swimming hole where most of the group jumps from a rope swing. In the 1920s, the land on which we are hiking was a wild coffee field. Guava shows us how to find a coffee bean inside the sweet coffee berries. In late afternoon, one of the outfitters transports us back in a motorized canoe. On the drive to our new condos we pass mountains shrouded in pale pink mist and beaches wild with surf. The setting sun is a dazzling vermilion and gold. We arrive at the Hanalei Resort situated on the ocean’s edge. Dinner that night at Smith’s brings another gourmet Hawaiian meal.


The day kicks off at 9 a.m. with a short drive to the Kalalau Trail head where we begin a tough two-mile hike. We are tackling the spectacular, world-famous Na Pali Coast, which ends at a stone beach. The scenery is the most impressive of the trip. Green cliffs jut into the rich blue of the wild ocean. Half of the group continues along the trail to the Hanakoa Waterfall, but a few of the others and I decide that we are ready for beach time, including reading, snorkeling among brightly striped fish swimming in the coral reef and walking along this stunning coast.

Back at the resort for our last sunset together, the group convenes on a porch to sip cocktails before heading to the Dolphin for yet another fine meal.


I rise early to enjoy a solo walk on the beach as the sun goes up and then join the group for the last day. We’re off to the Bike Doktors, our outfitters for the day’s excursion. They gear us up for mountain biking in Anahola Park. We cycle an invigorating 16 miles of the Powerline Trail, which has lots of ups and downs. The morning ride follows the shore where we spot a beached whale. We lunch near the sugar cane fields and then pedal back on a different route. By the end of the afternoon, I have shed my tentative riding style and feel confident in my ability to kick the hills. Our final hours together are spent at Wailua Falls, where we have a closing ceremony. Dave gives everyone a customized award thanking us for our participation.

As the van pulls away to return us to the airport, I get a last glimpse of the Wailua Falls. The water drops 100 feet off a verdant green cliff, reminding me of the unparalleled rush from the natural world that I’ve experienced during the last seven days. It’s an exhilarating feeling that is not easily forgotten. Heading back to my busy urban life filled with stress, I carry a little Hawaiian sunshine inside.

Hawaiian Sampler: This trip is rated moderately easy to moderate and the brochure suggests a training program in which I did not engage. I was, nevertheless, comfortable with the level of physical activity. Your cardiovascular condition, however, must be good. The trip costs $1895. Airfare and alcoholic beverages are extra. Roads Less Traveled offers similar trips in the United States, Canada and South America.

Roads Less Traveled, 2840 Wilderness Place, #F, Boulder, CO 80301. Tel. 800-488-8483, 303-413-0938, e-mail: fun@roadslesstraveled.com Call for a free brochure or consult www.RoadsLessTraveled.com.

Seven-day RLT trips to Hawaii begin Jan. 28, Feb. 5, Feb. 13, Feb. 20, and Feb. 28, 2000.


Because the trip started early in the morning and finished in the afternoon, I stayed on Maui for one night before and one night after "the sampler."

Upon arrival at Grand Wailea Resort & Spa, a beautiful woman put a fragrant lei of fresh orchids around my neck and drew me into an atrium shimmering with torches and tiny lights, which illumined beautiful pools. The hotel, with six major design themes–flowers, water, trees, sound, light and art– is exquisite. The sounds of waterfalls and birds, the smells of lush greenery and flowers and the sights of sculpture and paintings by masters like Botero, Leger and Picasso fit seamlessly into the natural landscape.

From my spacious well-appointed room I could see the ocean and the majestic Haleakala volcano. The marble bath could easily accommodate four people. While the hotel arranges many excursions from helicopter rides to parasailing, you need never leave the compound for excitement. Water sports enthusiasts can scuba dive, snorkel, kayak, windsurf and sail in the ocean. The Activity Pools, a waterpark, include waterfalls, pools, slides, caves, Jacuzzis and the only water elevator in the world. Also available are weight training, aerobics, racquetball, a game room, tennis courts and three 18-hole golf courses.

A day of treatment at the Spa Grande was the highlight of my visit. In addition to an aromatherapy massage, I indulged in the wonders of its exclusive Terme Wailea Hydrotherapy Circuit. The Roman Tub is in a naturally lit rotunda of pale, soothing colors. The Cascading Waterfall Shower has strong, warm jets of water to massage the neck and upper back. The five soaking baths consist of Moor Mud, Limu/ Seaweed, Aromatherapy, Tropical Enzyme and Mineral. It was hard to tear myself away from these luscious and rejuvenating baths, but I managed to walk next door to the Japanese tubs where I enjoyed the steaming hot water. The Terme Circuit is the highlight of the Spa Grande experience, but Ayurveda and Siddha treatments from India and a variety of massage, facial, and body treatments, which are exclusive to the spa, are also available.

The food at Grand Wailea is exceptional with many options from simple to elegant. The Huma Huma, a Polynesian seafood house, exudes romanticism. The reflection of water shimmered on the ceiling. Cast bronze sculptures of women scattered in the moats create a truly magical dining experience. The Kincha Japanese restaurant with a tempura bar, sushi bar and tatami rooms is also spectacular.

The Grand Wailea Resort & Spa, 3850 Wailea Alanui Drive, Wailea, Maui, Hawaii 96753. Tel.800-888-6100, 808-875-1234. Rates start at $510 in high season. www.grandwailea.com

At the conclusion of the trip, I stayed at the Four Seasons Resort, which is adjacent to the Grand Wailea, and offers subtle beauty and tranquility on a less dramatic, quieter scale. Flowers adorn this property of understated luxury. The sun-filled rooms, decorated with calming pastels, feature large marble baths. The beautifully landscaped grounds provide a clear path straight down to the ocean. Waterfalls, pools and fountains remind you that water is the most seductive part of this experience.

The restaurants at the hotel mix local specialties and international flavors. "The Ultimate Romantic Dinner," a customized exclusive meal for two is served by your own waiter. As a backdrop you are treated to oceanfront views and the island’s incomparable sunset. The Four Seasons has tennis courts, a putting green, croquet lawns, a library and a fitness facility and spa. You can take part in daily scuba clinics, water sports and exercise classes.

It’s no surprise that the Four Seasons has been the winner of many awards, notably "Conde Nast Traveler’s" Readers Choice Awards and "Travel & Leisure’s" World’s Best Awards. The gracious style and architectural harmony of the hotel make for a stay of complete relaxation.

Four Seasons Resort Maui at Wailea, 3900 Wailea Alanui, Wailea, Maui, Hawaii 96753. Tel. 800-332-3442, 808-874-8000. Rates begin at $305. www.fourseasons.com/maui/index.html


Aloha Airlines has frequent flights from Honolulu to Maui and Kauai and also has other inter-island flights. 800-367-5250. www.alohaairlines.com

– Emily Fancher

Fall 1999