Outdoor Adventures in Maui: Ziplining

Maui undoubtedly has many opportunities to play in or near the water: Surfing, snorkeling, scuba, parasailing, jet skiing, kayaking, paddleboarding, just to name a few…But Maui also has a very diverse landscape. It would be remiss not to mention the exciting activities that the interior has to offer.

You can explore the island in so many different ways: driving around (check out the Road to Hana), hiking in the Iao Valley, or even taking a helicopter tour. One of my favorite adventures was ziplining in the mountains of West Maui.

We signed up for our ziplining tour with a company called Skyline Eco Adventures. Our tour guides were awesome and definitely contributed to our great experience. They were a hilarious duo, and both clearly love their job. After getting a safety briefing from them, were were outfitted with the proper equipment and started our way down the course.

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This was our first time ziplining, so I wasn’t sure how it would go. It was a bit scary at first, but I was relieved to find that it wasn’t too steep or too fast. And while it probably goes without saying, the views from up there were gorgeous!

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This particular course had eight zip lines, with a stop half-way through for some food and rest. We weren’t tired at this point, but it was a nice way to break up the trip. It was also a good opportunity for one of our guides to take a group photo (himself included!):

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Now ziplining isn’t completely without risks. One of the younger girls in our group did get stuck half way across one of the zip lines. Good thing she didn’t panic, and luckily our guides knew what to do. They first started shaking the line up and down to see if it would give enough leverage to bring her across to the other side, but eventually one of them had to physically go get her. She was fine, but I’m sure it was an anxious moment hanging from such heights for a few minutes!

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We had so much fun on this tour. It was full of laughs and thrills the whole time and is one of those experiences I won’t soon forget. Ziplining in Maui can be a great way to spend some time off the beach, learn more about the island, and make new friends.

Outdoor Adventures in Maui: Parasailing

Welcome to Part Two of my “Outdoor Adventures in Maui” guide! To see Part One: Snorkeling, Click Here.

As I mentioned in my first post on outdoor adventures, Alex and I find ourselves looking for active pursuits when we travel. Despite being on an island famous for its beautiful beaches, we got antsy at the thought of sitting on the beach and sunbathing all day. Parasailing is one of the many activities that we filled our time with:

Parasailing

This was our first time parasailing. I didn’t know what to expect, but was open to the opportunity and was curious to try it out. After making reservations online with a local company, we drove to Lahaina, where we boarded an inflatable boat docked right on the beach…it was very informal, and I thought we might have been in the wrong place initially. But we stepped on board the inflatable boat, which then takes you to the larger boat that you will parasail from. There were about 6-8 other people with us at the time and everyone had to wear a lifejacket. One couple at a time, the boat crew sent us off to soar behind the boat for about ten minutes or so. When our turn came, Alex and I were strapped into the harness on the back of the boat and then released. Slowly, we become airborne and were looking down below from extraordinary heights.

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Surprisingly, it was not a scary experience like I’d imagined. There was no wind up there, and it was incredibly peaceful and quiet. I don’t remember feeling much movement other than the gradual takeoff and landing, which was smooth. The views were also extraordinary, and well worth the experience.

Outdoor Adventures in Maui: Snorkeling

I’m one of the last people who wants to go on vacation and just sit on the beach. That’s why I was admittedly apprehensive when we decided to spend a week and a half in Maui. While I’d imagine many people would welcome that much time to sit and sunbathe, it sent me into a bit of a panic. I personally see vacation as a time for exploration and active pursuits that you just can’t do back home.

I was surprised to find how much Maui had to offer for people like me. While this list won’t be comprehensive, I’d like to share some of my experiences with you in the hopes that all beach destinations aren’t written off by active travelers.

Snorkeling

There are unlimited opportunities for water activities in Maui. You can go swimming, scuba diving, jet skiing, or surfing to your heart’s content. But I’m highlighting snorkeling because you can do it anywhere and the cost can vary from extraordinarily cheap (renting a snorkel on the beach) to very expensive (full day, inclusive tour).

We went snorkeling twice while in Maui. The first time, we opted for a 5 hour boat tour to Molokini Crater. The second time was at the beach near our hotel.

The boat tour: The boat leaves from the dock early in the morning and arrives to Molokini crater’s snorkeling area. The tour provides everyone with wet suits, snorkels, fins, etc. They also feed you afterwards, with a nice lunch and your choice of drinks. This is a fun group trip and an opportunity to sail away from the island. The views of Maui while coming back to shore are just stunning. As far as drawbacks, some people would prefer to snorkel on their own time. The time spent snorkeling may be too short for some, and too long for others. If you want to either take your time or just try out snorkeling independently, this may not be your best option. As far as sea life, we were able to see turtles, butterfly fish, trigger fish, sea urchins, tangs, and coral.

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On the beach: The cheaper option for snorkeling is to rent (or bring) a snorkeling set and walk down to the beach. We were staying at Kaanapali beach and chose to rent some snorkels down there. This is a much cheaper and faster option than the boat tour. While there was mostly sand below us rather than coral, we saw some of the same wildlife, including turtles and tangs. We also spotted additional fish species, including the unicornfish and the Hawaiian state fish, the humuhumunukunukuapua’a (pronounced “hoomoo-hoomoo-nookoo-nookoo-ah-poo-a-a”). The only major downside about snorkeling on the beach is that the number of people around can be a bit overwhelming and intrusive. I was bothered by the various people who kept harassing the sea turtles and trying to grab them, pet them, etc. Please be aware: TOUCHING SEA TURTLES IS ILLEGAL in Hawaii. I know it’s tempting, but it’s not worth disturbing them. It’s just as exciting to say that you swam with them.

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I have to say that the variety of fish species found near the beach was just as good as on the boat tour, so don’t feel like you are missing out if you can’t afford it. Mostly you are paying for the expertise of the crew, the experience of riding on the boat itself, and the buffet lunch provided to you.

Lastly, don’t forget your underwater camera. Disposable underwater cameras work well if you only need it for a day; otherwise, it may be worth renting a high quality digital underwater camera for the time that you need it. Many dive shops and stores around Maui offer cameras for rent.

Sunrise at Haleakala

One of my favorite moments in Maui was watching the sunrise from the summit of Mount Haleakala, Maui’s tallest volcano. It stands above the clouds at 10,023 feet above sea level. You can see it in its entirety on a fairly clear day, as pictured below:

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To view the sunrise from the top, you must drive in the dark for nearly two-hours along a thin road with hairpin turns. An experience in and of itself, to say the least. For those who are brave enough to do this, you need to get up well before sunrise. I believe we got up at 3 or 3:30 in the morning, coming from the other side of the island. I would also recommend getting there early, as they close the top once the parking lot is full. Don’t forget to fill up on food and gas before you leave, and pack warmly as it will be very cold at the top!

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Since it’s Hawaii, most people don’t think ahead to pack warm clothes. I found that many people wear pajamas or sweatpants and bring either towels or blankets to wrap around. This is a good idea, as you will most likely be waiting outside for the sunrise. We brought a blanket from our hotel and it worked out just fine. Another option to stay warm is to choose to wait in the car or watch the sunrise from the glass viewing room at the summit (which is still fairly cold, but not windy). I highly recommend bringing a flashlight or using your cell phone to provide some lighting while you are at the summit, as it is pitch black. I used a flash for the nighttime photos but this is deceiving. We couldn’t see anything in front of us that wasn’t directly illuminated by our phones. Be sure to step carefully as there are inclines and people to navigate around!

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Finally, we got to see what we’ve been for. Minutes before the sun appeared, the sky slowly began to illuminate. Our eyes adjusted and we began to realize the magnitude of what was around us. We found ourselves sitting atop the clouds with nothing around us but the mountain itself. Everyone was consumed by silence in these moments…it’s quite a surreal experience.

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After a few minutes, the sun finally emerged through the clouds. It instantly elicited gasps and awes from everyone around.

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Many have said that Haleakala looks like the moon, and I’d have to agree. But to me there’s also a very otherworldly vibe that Haleakala brings, making it a magical experience that should not be missed. For those of you who like adventure, consider taking a tour bus to the top and then riding back down on a bicycle. If you are so inclined and have the time, it seems like it would be a thrilling experience. People who have done it highly recommend it!

Hawaiian Luaus

Luaus are a “can’t miss” opportunity if you have the chance to go to Hawaii. They give you a fantastic introduction to Hawaiian food, music, and culture. Yes, they can be incredibly cheesy, but I guarantee you will have fun. Even the cynical and cantankerous Anthony Bourdain once admitted that he had a great time going to one.

So what does a luau consist of? Basically, great food and a great show. We attended one in Maui, but luaus are very similar no matter where you go. I went to one in Oahu nearly 10 years ago, and not much has changed since then. Since Hawaii thrives on tourism, I’ve found that most places are pretty consistent when it comes to delivering the “authentic” Hawaiian experience.

You will find that the food at a luau is typically served buffet style. Before serving the main dish of pork, everyone gathers around an underground pit, called an imu, where the pig has been cooking. It’s a very interesting presentation, and I’d imagine a bit disturbing to young children who might wonder why a pig is being shoveled out of the ground for consumption. Nonetheless, it’s those same children who stand at the front to watch.

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Aside from the pork, the buffet offers chicken, rice, sweet potatoes, and poi. Poi is the grey “pudding” that only Hawaiians seem to like. It’s made from the taro plant and, in my opinion, tastes like clay. Drinks are found in abundance: you can choose from various alcoholic and nonalcoholic beverages. I also can’t forget about the dessert, which was my favorite part of the buffet. We had guava cake, pineapple upside-down cake, and haupia, which is a soft jello-type dessert made from coconut milk. In case you are wondering, yes, I did treat myself a slice of each!

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As the sun sets and you are finishing your meal, the show begins. We get to watch as performers showcase a variety of traditional Polynesian dances, including hula, fire, and stick dances.

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Most luaus have an interactive portion during the night. At our luau, the host of the show asked about the Honeymooners, and invited the grooms to come up on stage and perform a dance for their new brides. Since we came here on our Honeymoon, my dear husband is featured 4th from the left in the picture below!

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After this “Honeymoon dance”, other people were welcome to come on stage and try their hand at hula dancing. As you can see, it was the funniest part of the show as the guys up on stage tried in vain to circle their hips properly.

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Overall, luaus are a great way to spend an evening in Hawaii. The food is copious (not to mention delicious) and the show itself is interesting, impressive, and at times hilarious!

Edo-Tokyo Museum

Before we left Tokyo to come back home, we decided to stop by the Edo-Tokyo Museum. It’s a pretty cool museum that mostly covers the Edo period from the 17th-19th centuries in Japan. I was surprised by how large the museum was, and also by the quality of the exhibits.

The metro stop for the museum also happens to be in the neighborhood where Sumo is popular:

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The museum itself is located in a fairly modern-looking building. There are signs to the museum from the metro stop at Ryogoku Station. It’s pretty close by. The entrance fee to the museum is 600 Yen, or about $6 USD, and you can also get an English audio guide for free (refundable deposit). I really liked this museum, not only because the museum has really cool exhibits, but because it also has interactive ones. They also have a ton of dioramas throughout the museum which give you a complete picture of the Edo Period.

DSC05801Edo-Tokyo Museum

IMG-20120311-01125Kabuki Theater Exhibition- It looks tiny, but is actually a life-size building

IMG-20120311-01130Sitting inside a royal litter- Be sure to take off your shoes!

IMG-20120311-01136Shogun Armor 

IMG-20120311-01144Wood-working Exhibit

IMG-20120311-01151Alex lifting pails of water

IMG-20120311-01163One of the many dioramas depicting the Edo Period in Tokyo

IMG-20120311-01167Inside a traditional Edo replica home

 IMG-20120311-01168Instrument of Surrender from WWII 

IMG-20120311-01174Sitting in a Tuk-Tuk

IMG-20120311-01175Inside a traditional Edo period kitchen

IMG-20120311-01179Exterior of a replica home

Although we didn’t go to many museums while in Tokyo, I would definitely recommend this one. It was a lot of fun, and I think that both children and adults would get a lot out of it!

Kyoto- Temples and Shrines (Part 2)

Part one of our Kyoto day tour consisted of Nijo Castle and the Golden Pavillion. For the second part of our tour, we visited the Heian Shrine and the Kiyomizu Temple.

Heian Shrine:

The Heian Shrine is a Shinto shrine in Kyoto. You can identify these shrines by their red-orange color. The Heian shrine was located in a very large complex.

DSC05684Main Entrance 

DSC05688Corner Building 

DSC05689The Heian Shrine

DSC05690Tiger Hand-washing Basin 

DSC05694Prayer Tree- Tie your prayers onto the tree 

Heian Shrine Garden:

As I said before, the Heian Shrine is located in a very large complex. Behind the shrine is a large, peaceful garden.

DSC05699Walking across the lake

 DSC05704Bridge over the lake 

DSC05706Bridge Entrance

DSC05708View of gardens from the bridge

Kiyomizu Temple:

The Kiyomizu Temple is a Buddhist temple on a hillside. It’s a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and is quite interesting. To get there, you have to walk up a pedestrian alley of shops. Once the shops end, you will see a three-tiered pagoda and can follow the stairs to the top.

DSC05731Pagoda in front of Kiyomizu Temple

 DSC05738View of Kiyomizu Temple 

DSC05743View of the temple from below 

DSC05748Purchased some green tea KitKats at one of the shops

Kyoto- Shrines and Temples (Part 1)

To give you a super-brief history lesson, Kyoto is the old imperial capital of Japan. If you came to Japan to see temples and shrines, you would do yourself a disservice by not coming to Kyoto. There are so many wonderful old buildings to see here, and most of the temples that you see in postcards were taken around this area, and not in Tokyo.

Kyoto is very different from Tokyo. The buildings are much older, and obviously it is a smaller town. Being in Kyoto makes you feel like you are walking through history. In fact, I was on a bus with a few pretentious Americans who complained that it felt “dingy” and “like a developing country”, when they obviously have never seen the true definition of either! While Kyoto is older, that also gives it some character. Don’t judge it. And don’t expect people to speak English here. It is a nice surprise if they do, but for the most part, English is not well-spoken in Kyoto. Even the hotel staff speaks limited English compared to Tokyo.

Alex and I went on a day tour in Kyoto, which took us around to the various temples and shrines in the area. While there are many to see, we had a brief two day stay in Kyoto and needed to see the “essentials”. So without further ado, here they are:

Nijo Castle

Nijo Castle was built in the 17th Century, by the Tokugawa Shoguns. The main building is famous for the nightingale floors, which were made to creak when walked on. They did this so that residents could be warned of any assassins who snuck into the building. DSC05631Nijo Castle DSC05632Gardens at Nijo Castle

Golden Pavillion

The Golden Pavillion is a Zen Buddhist Temple covered in gold leaf. It is a well-visited tourist spot, and definitely the busiest stop on our day tour. It can be viewed from several different angles, and also seen up-close. This picturesque temple is located in the midst of garden, making it a great spot for photos.

DSC05641Golden Pavillion

DSC05645Up-close view of gold leafing

DSC05650Amidst a sea of umbrellas

DSC05653Close-up of the Pavillion

My Favorite Tokyo Metro Stations (Part 2)

Part 1 of this post talks about two of my favorite stations: Shinjuku and Harajuku. This one discusses two of my other favorites: Shibuya and Akihabara.

Shibuya: Shibuya is known for it busy intersections and limitless shopping opportunities. We visited several malls, which are different from American ones. Rather than entering individual stores within a mall, the stores”” are just set up in one open space. I almost felt like I was in one giant department store. To get some peace and quiet in Shibuya, I loved going into the nearby Starbucks and watching the people cross the streets down below. In the evening, we rented a karaoke room for a few hours.

Of course, one can’t mention Shibuya without sharing the story of Hachiko, the dog. A bronze statue devoted to Hachiko stands outside Shibuya Station. In the 1920s, the dog used to wait at the station for his owner to return from work. One day, his owner passed away and never returned to the station. Hachiko kept waiting for him, and continued to show up to the station at the same time every day until his own death in 1935.

DSC04942Hachiko Statue

DSC04946Alex at Shibuya Crossing

DSC04950Inside One of the Malls

DSC05761More Crepes!

DSC05774View of Shibuya Crossing from Starbucks

DSC05782Karaoke Microphones and Menus

IMG-20120310-01121Light Projections on the Karaoke Room Walls

IMG-20120310-01122Alex Singing Karaoke 

Akihabara: The Electronics District. Great place to buy electronics and appliances. Also known for its many arcades and anime-themed stores.

DSC05307Akihabara Arcade

DSC05308Claw Machine Games

DSC05318Cosplay Restaurant “Maid”

DSC05324Me in the Akihabara District

DSC05325Stores and Arcades

I highly recommend taking some time to explore the metro stops on your own. You may find some great new neighborhoods, and never know what you will come across!

My Favorite Tokyo Metro Stations (Part 1)

Tokyo has a fantastic transit system. It’s orderly, fairly easy to navigate, and always runs on time. One of the best parts of our trip was exploring the city and stopping at random subway stops. Here are some of our favorites:

Shinjuku:  I really liked Shinjuku for a few reasons. First, our hotel was near this station, and I felt really comfortable and safe in the area. Second, Shinjuku is a great place for shopping. You can find so many stores and shopping centers right outside of the station. It’s also home to a nighttime red light district called Kabukicho. Most importantly, however, Shinjuku is a major station in Tokyo. If you want to get around the city, you will more than likely make transfers at Shinjuku and would be wise to get familiar with it!

DSC04834Shinjuku Station

DSC05333Kabukicho District near Shinjuku

DSC05337Kabukicho

DSC04835Shinjuku Shopping Outside the Station

Harajuku: Most Pop music fans are already familiar with this iconic neighborhood, referenced in Gwen Stefani’s “Harajuku Girls”. The neighborhood is famous for it’s kooky fashions. Walking around Harajuku, we did see some crazy styles, but also found some amazing crepe shops, clothing stores, and a Tamagotchi store. In nearby Yoyogi Park, the Meiji Shrine is a must-see.

DSC04839Harajuku Station

DSC04843Typical Clothing Shop in Harajuku

DSC04850Takeshita Dori (A Pedestrian Street)

DSC04856Tamagotchi

DSC04857Fortune Teller at Tamagotchi

DSC04890My Fortune- Can Anyone Translate?!

DSC04858Tamagotchi Donut Shop

DSC04867Alex at one of the Crepe Shops

DSC04921Sake Casks at the Meiji Shrine

DSC04927Traditional Wedding

DSC04932Meiji Shrine

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