The driver of the bus was another native Hawaiian, very chatty, but said the same thing about five times over so didn't actually convey much information. I think it's just how he does his tour spiel, and for 3a that's just fine, too, as many people nodded off; we didn't feel bad about missing a great lecture in doing so. I stay awake for most of the drive up to Haleakala, but with some napping. There's not a lot to see outside -- it's still dark, after all. All along the way I'm thankful that we didn't drive ourselves: we'd have been too tired (in fact we probably would have just not gone) and also been unsure where exactly we should go to see the best sunrise. Tour operators exist for a reason.
We get up to the crater well in advance of sunrise: we're there at 5:15a and sunrise is timed at 6:05a. As promised the environment is really cold: the air is cold and its breezy. Melinda and I each have a hat, gloves, shirt, outer layer, and jacket, and we're both still cold. We notice that some other people nearby have the added layer of a robe from their hotel. Not sure that they're designed for being warm in this sort of temperature but I was a little envious of the idea. Some other people were there in shorts and a jacket only; I don't understand those people.
A real treat being up this high and in this dark environment was seeing the night sky. The broad stretch of the Milky Way was clear, as was Neptune (very bright) and several stars usually hard to see. Google Sky Map helped me identify a few features in the sky so I felt all smart and such. As dawn approached the stars dimmed noticeably. In fact the stars waned probably 20 minutes before any hint of the rising sun appeared in the east.
There's two places to see the sun rise from: the visitor center and the summit, the summit being about 100' higher than the visitor center and connected by a short trail. The visitor center, though, is heated so it's a nice option for the non-polar viewer. Melinda and I staked out a viewing position along the railing in front of a rock, picking our place while lots of room was available. By sunrise we were pretty crowded in and the guy next to me kept pushing a little ways toward me; my guidebook mentioned that claiming space was important. In truth it wasn't hard to see the sunrise, even if you were a little further back from everyone else. About on cue the sun rose. It was pretty, and made nice colors, but I think I'm more of a sunset person than a sunrise person: I like the hues of sunsets more, not to mention being awake then. On the other hand it's hard to beat how clear and crisp the morning looks and feels at 6:30a at 10,000' (Haleakala crater is that high). After witnessing the earth's slow rotation we rode the tour bus a short distance to the summit and walked around another vantage point from which we could see the entire Haleakala region, and see some silversword plants blooming. Crazy plants, they live only on Haleakala, no where else. We also tried to see nenes but apparently it's been a bad seasons for them -- the park service woman said they'd lost many goslings this year, and that the nenes had all moved to the maintenance yard(!) in order to find water. So, no nenes for us this trip. Next time.
I slept for most of the bus trip back to the resort, except that we had to change buses near the end. The driver of the last leg is a local but didn't look native. He talked with another passenger about local politics and such, which was kind of neat. I guess all the last along the Wailea resorts, opposite the road, is owned by one person, who doesn't want to sell and will use it for pasture land.
We're back at the resort by 9a or something, which is just the right time for getting a fresh go on the day, except that we're terribly tired. So instead we crawl back in to bed, and end up sleeping until around noon. It feels wonderful.
Okay, so the obvious recreational activity we haven't done yet is snorkeling, so we decide to give that a try. I've brought my snorkel and prescription face mask with me, and the resort will loan out gear for guests to use. Melinda dons contacts and we head to the resort's beach. It's sunnier than yesterday morning, and the sand of the beach is pretty hot. It's funny, though: the resort will, in fact, wet down the sand along the entrance way to the beach, in order to cool it off for its guests. Crazy.
Melinda's not snorkeled before but I've done it a few times. We get our gear set up: masks, snorkels, and fins. Oh, fins, how I hate thee. Wearing them it's nigh impossible to walk. The swell along the beach is about what it was yesterday, but I don't appreciate how cumbersome the fins are until I try walking through this swell. I never actually fall over but I don't know how I managed to not. The fins get themselves buried pretty easily, as a result of the water from the waves returning to the sea. I figure we need to get past the point of the waves breaking in order to find smoother water, which ends up being true and helping a lot. Only trouble is now we're trying to get masks and snorkels set up while being up to our chests in swell. We do manage to get things situated, and float and snorkel a little, but it's just not working for us. My mask begins to leak a little and I never find a way to get a good seal around my snorkel -- I seem to brink in saltwater while I'm snorkeling. Melinda does a little better job and gets farther out from the shore but doesn't snorkel much, just swims. I signal that I'm heading back in and Melinda follows me. We decide we'll try again another time, in a class or tour group or something, and in calmer waters. Melinda did score seeing a few fishes; I only saw a sea anemone. I'm only too glad to take the fins off, though -- a little bit of sand got in my fin and rubbed my toe enough to be raw. Ugh. Same thing happened the last time I went snorkeling. Maybe I should try without fins sometime.
While turning in our gear we notice some nice art glass for sale at the snorkeling shop. It's from an artist on the island and the concierge tracks down for us where their studio is at. It's open but they're not making anything for a few weeks so no tours. Oh well, something to look for for next time.
Every time we drove across the island we'd passed a sign that said Sugar Museum. This afternoon we decided to set out to finally stop there. So after rinsing the ocean off ourselves we headed out again, for the Alexander & Baldwin Sugar Museum. Seems that Mr. Alexander and and Mr. Baldwin have been growing sugar cane on Maui since the mid-19th century, and the company descended from that one still operates much of the sugar cane plantations on the island today. The museum is small, located in the old house of the superintendent of the sugar mill, but was worth learning how sugar is grown, milled, and some of the history of Hawaii. Before Hawaii joined the US in any way the contracts for workers to harvest the sugar cane were basically indentured servitude. One contract they had on display I found interesting for it being written in both English and Hawaiian. I think of Hawaiian as just being vocabulary, it's easy to forget it's a full language. The tour ended in a gift shop and included some free samples of their wares -- sugar! So we took home two tiny packets of sugar (as well as some raw sugar cane).
Back in California one of our regular restaurants is L&L Hawaiian BBQ, which is just fast food but from Hawaii, near as I can tell. We wanted to try "local" Hawaiian food so we found Da Kitchen as recommended by my guidebook and the Web. Their cuisine matched what we've seen at L&L (in fact we found an L&L elsewhere on the island) but it was *so much better* than what we get in California. The kalua pork was the real winner: a huge serving of moist, tender, sweet pig. We also got battered-and-fried mahi mahi (I think?) that was also super tasty but just too much for us. Again, guilt over not clearing my plate, but happiness for the great flavors.
On the way to the sugar museum I'd almost forgotten: we stopped at another important location: Starbucks. Melinda and I aren't as big of Starbucks patrons as my parents (few people are) but we enjoy a visit now and again. In Hawaii the unique twist on Starbucks is the coconut syrup flavoring, so I get a coconut mocha frappuccino and Melinda gets a vanilla frap with coconut syrup and something else. The drinks are tasty, definitely coconutty (including shaved coconut), and even the cookie we buy there is especially good. This trip has been a dining success.
We head back to the resort and stop once more in Kihei, this time at Hilo Hattie for some souvenir shopping. (We'd also stopped at Costco at Kahului for the same purpose, and buy lots of macadamia nut related things.) Importantly, we even buy some clothes -- a matching shirt for me and dress for Melinda, the kind that can only be worn in Hawaii and on cruise ships. They're adorable.
Back at the resort we carry out our intention from the other night: we head back to Spago and this time for dessert only. We're seated at the bar, rather than the dining room, and there's noticeably more people here at the restaurant and in general at the resort than were here two days earlier. Weekends, definitely the high traffic time. But the bar seating is fine: we watch other guests, watch the bar tender, and we enjoy our dessert. Melinda ordered what is best described as a light pancake over a hot strawberry compote and I ordered a hot-and-cold chocolate dish: a chocolate beignet and a chilled mousse over crispy chocolate wafer. (I know where's better names for most of this but I don't recall them.) Well worth coming back for dessert, to be sure.
We walk around the resort just a little more then back to the room to pack. We have more things to take home than we took here, including two large tubs of macadamia-related treats, but Melinda finds room for them all in the bags. An advantage of the first class upgrade on the flight home is getting to check baggage without a fee. So we let the seams out of both our bags and pack them fully. We leave just a few articles out to wear the next day and head to bed.