Monday, May 13, 2013

The Tour Guide

I have many thoughts and photos to share about Hawaii, days filled with picture post card scenes, sobering historical recollections, tropical trees, flowers and, of course, the Pacific Ocean. So I decided to start with the best story of the whole trip. It's about a dog, a tour guide and the Hana Highway.

At the beginning of our second week in Hawaii, Scott and I boarded a cruise ship for a seven-day sail to the other islands: Maui, Hawaii and Kauai. Our first stop was Maui, where we spent two full days. All the recommendations told us at the top of the list of "don't miss" was the 60 mile drive along the coast to the village of Hana. The cruise ship had several tour options available, but they were large groups with built-in "shopping and food" stops, all of which were unappealing to us. I read my Fodor's Guide, did some internet research about private tours and decided to take the gamble; we got off the ship with no idea how we were going to get to Hana. I started making phone calls and, while talking to one of the tour companies, I looked over at the taxi line and saw the driver of the next available car. Something went "ping" in my head. I quickly said, "Let me call you back," and grabbed Scott to go over and talk to the driver. His name was Matt and as luck would have it, he owned his own taxi and did tours on the side. He agreed to spend the day with us and take us to Hana for a flat fee.

Originally from Maine, Matt made the move to Maui a little over five years ago.  The years living in paradise haven't jaded him; he is still really enthusiastic about Maui and interested in everything he sees. His energy spilled over to us and we were game to visit all the places he suggested. I told him I was a writer and would like to hear as many stories as he wanted to tell. That prompted him to make a couple of stops that weren't on the "regular" tour, which turned out to be some of the best visits of the day. 

Our first scenic stop was Puokeipa Lookout, where I took shots of some surfers and stand-up boarders. 

One of Matt's friends posted a YouTube video of this beach loaded with green sea turtles. Check it out if you are interested. (Hint: it's a little long, but if you go to the last minute, you get the best views.)

We drove by the fence "where surf boards go to die,"

and the Garden of Eden Botanical Garden, a private property with trails and drives among lush tropical greenery and blooms. 

Scott, checking out the bamboo

Can you see all the bees?

Tree with carefully-cultivated lichen


The Garden of Eden also offered us views of shooting locations for the movie Jurassic Park.

Continuing on the Hana Road, we took a side road down a small peninsula to the village of Haiku, where villagers are trying to re-establish the agricultural techniques of their ancestors, including growing taro.

Near the shore at the village of Haiku

Taro growing

Taro growing
Next came maybe my most favorite part of the trip, because of the story Matt related to us. When he first arrived on the island, his buddy, who had encouraged him to move here and found him a job in construction, took him all around, showing him the best spots. Off the Hana Highway is a little track that takes you to the village of Nahiku, right on the coast. Along the way you come across a run down, nearly collapsed fruit shack on the side of the road. Pull over there and wait a few minutes for a dog to appear. Give the dog some food and he takes off, wanting you to follow. The dog leads you along a remote trail that twists and turns over and under the tree growth and suddenly opens up to a tropical oasis. There is a waterfall with little pools above and below for you to swim. You would never find this place on your own and the dog barks to you as he leads, encouraging you to hurry up. Matt and his friends had a wonderful day, a unique experience he has never forgotten because you can hear the wonder and excitement in his voice as he tells the story. Feed the dog some more and he takes you back to your car, then disappears to wait for his next customer. Matt told us the story when we started along the road and as we came to the spot, sure enough, there was the dog. Matt was so elated to see him, but we couldn't stop. Scott did manage to get a quick photo. Maybe it's all made up, but my bullshit detector is very finely tuned and I'm seldom wrong. And Matt showed such true excitement about seeing him, that I'm betting the Tour Guide Dog is a true story. My niece has already told me I must write an illustrated children's book about him. 

By now it was lunch time so, back on the Hana Highway, we stopped at the Nahiku Roadside Marketplace. There we had some amazing food, prepared in stands by local chefs. I watched our Chef Jen prepare shrimp pad Thai from scratch. She chopped the vegetables, stir-fried the shrimp and noodles in woks right in front of me. It was maybe the best Thai food I'd ever had. I would have loved to try everything on the menu. Scott and Matt got Kalua pig tacos, with black beans, cheese and shredded cabbage. They were really good, too. Better than anything at Chipotle. There were fruit and souvenir vendors there as well. Chickens roamed the grounds and Chef Jen's little girl played with coconut shells under our feet.  The whole stop was a delightful experience.

Kalua Pig tacos

Matt, enjoying his taco
Chef Jen preparing my shrimp pad thai

Chef Jen's little girl

The best pad thai I ever ate

Ocean views at Nahiku peninsula.

Matt and Scott trading stories

Arriving on the outskirts of Hana, Matt told us another great story. He knew that a girl from Maine, someone he'd gone to school with most of his life, had moved to Hana but he didn't know where. On one of his early trips, he stopped at Hana Farms, a roadside fruit stand which also sells freshly baked banana bread. To his surprise, he looked up and there was his friend, working in the stand. Small world, Maine to Maui. We made the same stop and bought delicious pineapple banana bread and macadamia nut banana bread along with some jars of banana butter and pineapple jelly to try when we got home.

Once in Hana we stopped at Waianapanapa State Park, site of Maui's truly blackest black sand beach. It's possible to swim there and explore the coastal caves, but we passed on that and opted for a walk along the beach, experiencing the different textures of the volcanic sand. 

The Hand, rising out of the sea

 There is a private cemetery in the middle of the park. I took photos of the sign there and would like to find out more about the place. 

Matt had taken his sister to the park when she came from Maine to visit. His sister's fiancee had recently died and she, in preparation for the trip, had read about the legend of the lover's flower. There was once a Princess Naupaka who fell in love with a man who was not royal, so of course, they were forbidden to marry. She had to rejoin her family in the mountains and her lover had to stay on the beaches with those of his class. Before they parted, she gave him a flower with petals only growing on half the stem. He planted the flower and now it grows only on the beaches or up in the mountains, mirroring the separation of the two lovers. We saw the bushes with their small, half flowers, growing along the volcanic shore.

Our final stop would be Haleakala National Park, where we saw the Oheo Gulch and the Seven Sacred Pools. Before getting there we passed the Maui home of Charles Lindberg, who is buried at a nearby church yard. Matt's finacee sells real estate on the island and one weekend they were part of a group invited to see the estate house of Jason Reitman, the director of the movie Juno. The house was for sell and the custom in Maui for these remote locations is to bring a group of people at a time to see them. As part of the open house they had a door prize of a free night at Charles Lindberg's house for two couples. Matt and his fiancee won and were able to spend the night there. He said it was amazing, with rooms filled with all Lindbergh's memorabilia -- the flight, his celebrity and the kidnapping and death of his son.

Water flows through Oheo Gulch, into the seven sacred pools and down to the sea.


 We decided to return along the back side of Maui instead of retracing our steps along the Hana Road. This part of the island is very different. It receives less rainfall, so the grass is brown and the vegetation scrubby. It reminded both Scott and I of the Chisos Mountains in west Texas. Almost uninhabited, we drove miles and miles without seeing buildings or people, just free-ranging cattle. 

Jacaranda Tree in bloom

We drove the Kaupo Road, the backside of Maui or "Upcountry." As we continued, we abruptly crossed back into the rainy portion of the island and the scenery changed radically as well. Oprah Winfree owns a lot of property in this area, accessible only by private roads. This is the area of Maui cowboys and cattle ranching. We saw the most gorgeous tree in bloom, completely purple blooms, the color of wisteria. Matt had never seen it in bloom before so he didn't know what it was, but they were all over this side of the island. I now know is was the Jacaranda Tree.

We arrived back at the ship at about 6:00pm after the greatest day-trip I can remember. Thank you so much, Matt Bryant, for this day, for sharing your stories, taking such good care of us and showing us the dog. It will always be a wonderful memory. Y'all go see Matt next time you're in Maui, 808-280-3485.

Thanks for stopping by today. More Hawaii adventures coming soon. 



  1. I love this post! So many tiny stories, each one complete, yet each only a seed that could grow into a much larger tale. And so many beautiful photos, too! Wow!

    1. Thanks, Linda. It was such a great day! I had a hard time condensing it to only one post and it took me all day yesterday to select & edit photos and write it. I was so tired that I didn't proofread very well. Went through it again today and made lots of corrections.

  2. Aloha,

    I enjoyed reading your post on Matt's tour he took you on. I'm his fiancé and I had no idea what kind of tours he did. Thank you for writing such a great post :0)

  3. Aloha,

    I enjoyed reading your post on Matt's tour he took you on. I'm his fiancé and I had no idea what kind of tours he did. Thank you for writing such a great post :0)