Carol Pucci, The Seattle Times, January 22, 2012
Sample the cream puffs at a historic Japanese bakery.
Test your driving skills on a one-lane stretch of mountain road that weaves along coastal cliffs.
Buy a pineapple at a roadside stand. Watch the owner slice it with his machete. Then eat it as the juice drips down your chin.
If you're a first-timer on Maui, the guidebooks can help with the official checklist: sunrise at the Haleakala volcano. Snorkeling at Black Rock. Paddle-boarding off the coast in Lahaina.
Been there. Done that, or just looking for something new? Pry yourself out of the lounge chair and put together your own mini-adventure. Here are three ideas for exploring off-the-beaten path.
Maui is Hawaii's second-largest island, but away from the resorts and shopping malls, it's mostly a collection of small communities.
Take a morning or afternoon to soak up a bit of laid-back island life. Here are a couple of options, either of which can be used to break up a trip to or from Hana or Haleakala:
--Paia, close to the Kahului airport on Maui's north shore, and on the road to Hana. Once dominated by a sugar planation, Paia attracts a relaxed crowd of windsurfers from nearby Hookipa beach.
Stroll the two main streets lined with flat-roofed wooden buildings painted in faded pastels. Shop for shoes and bags made from hemp at the Hemp House, 16 Baldwin Ave., or bracelets made from island pine at the Maui Hands Gallery, 84 Hana Highway.
Chances are you'll meet a local artist behind the register at the Maui Crafts Guild store. Twenty craftsmen, jewelers and painters sell their work in a canary yellow building at 69 Hana Highway.
--Makawao, a former cowboy town in Maui's rural Upcountry, where Japanese and Portuguese immigrants settled in the late 1800s.
Follow your nose to Komoda Store & Bakery, 3674 Baldwin Ave., owned by the Komoda family for almost a century.
Third and fourth-generation family members start after midnight making doughnuts filled with guava and sweet red bean for customers who begin showing up at 7 a.m. Lining the top of the pastry case and selling for $1.50 each are cream puffs, the house specialty.
Kiyoko Komoda, 90, whose husband's father left a plantation job to open the bakery, was folding boxes in the back of the store the morning my husband, Tom, and I dropped in. Her sister-in-law, Leatrice, 80, greeted us from behind the counter.
Order a sack of doughnuts to go, then take a stroll through the gardens at the Hui No'eau Visual Arts Center on the estate of former sugar baron Harry Baldwin and his artist wife Ethel.
Lining Baldwin Avenue are art galleries and boutiques. Shop for ethnic jewelry at Little Tibet inside an old gas station, then grab a stool at the bar under the chili-pepper lights at Polli's Mexican Restaurant, and cool off with a margarita.
Take a scenic drive
Everyone knows about the drive to Hana on the road that twists through tropical forests along the bottom of Haleakala.
Less well-known, shorter and scenic in a different way is the 30-mile drive over the top of the West Maui mountains (Highways 30 and 340), starting just past Kapalua in West Maui and ending in Wailuku.
Andrew Doughty, author of the guidebook, "Maui Revealed," describes this drive as "Hana Highway without the traffic."
Hana is an all-day excursion, but this drive took us three hours, including stops for short hikes and snacks, and the return trip back to Lahaina in West Maui from Wailuku.
Driving west to east, as Doughty suggests, turned what some describe as a white-knuckled experience into a relaxing scenic drive.
Driving clockwise, there were few, if any, blind spots on a short stretch of one-lane road, and we were able to travel along the inside lane (the road is paved and two lanes in most places) rather than along the edges of steep cliffs.
At the "Little Grass Shack," a pineapple stand on a secluded bay just outside Honokohau Village, we met Maui native Darryl Aiwohi.
Honokohau's population, once at around 5,000, has dwindled to just a few families, who like Aiwhoi, shunned real-estate developers and held onto the land where their ancestors made a living growing pineapples. He and his wife pick 15 a day which they cut up, and sell for $2 per slice.
A few miles north is Nakalele Point where a steep path of red clay and lava rock leads to the Nakalele Blowhole. At high tide, with a strong surf, water spurts up from the hole like a fountain going on and off without warning. Navigate this area with caution, and keep your distance from the hole. A California man died when he was knocked by a large wave into the blow hole in July.
Driving gets more challenging just outside the village of Kahakuloa. Here, the road narrows to one lane for about three miles, with no guard rails. The scenery is stunning, with green mountains on one side and coastal views on the other, but keep your eyes on the road.
Perched on a cliff above Kahakuloa is the Kaukini Gallery where 120 island artists sell pottery made with beach glass and whimsical sculptures crafted from discarded divers' tanks.
Four miles from Kahakuloa, near mile marker 10 is Turnbull Studios and Sculpture Garden. Visitors are free to wander around the grounds and studio where Bruce Turnbull, his nephew, Steve; and Steve's wife, Christine, work and sell works by local artists.
If a helicopter tour or zip-line adventure isn't in the budget, no worries. Spend a day enjoying some of the simple treats locals treasure.
Park the car and ride an air-conditioned bus, without hassling with traffic or parking.
Eat a plate lunch.
Try shave ice more than once.
One of our most carefree days involved all three.
Maui County Transit runs hourly service ($1 per trip or $2 for an all-day pass) on 12 routes around the island, connecting popular beach areas, shopping malls and restaurants.
Travel time was about an hour from the bus stop at our condo in Napili in West Maui to Front Street in Lahaina. That's longer than it takes to drive, but in a car, chances are we wouldn't have found the Aloha Mixed Plate behind the Lahaina Cannery Mall.
Spotting what looked like an idyllic scene from the bus window, we jumped off, snagged a beach-side table, and for $8.95 shared the Hawaiian plate -- Kalua pig, cabbage, salmon, poi -- while admiring the yachts moored in the harbor.
One of the island's biggest little luxuries is shave ice. Japanese plantation workers came up with the treat by hacking blocks of ice with machetes, then dousing the shards with fruit juice.
Pickled mango, green tea and red velvet are among the 50 flavors Ululani and David Yamashiro sell at Ululani's, with two Front Street locations.
The couple started their business at the farmers market in Vancouver, Wash. Now they have three locations in Maui, and offer flavors such as pickled mango and tiger's blood, a cherry and coconut combo.
At David's urging, I tried three in one afternoon. Brain freeze aside, it was pure fun.
Their secret: poking holes in the ice so the syrup can seep in. "Good shave ice," says David, "should be the consistency of powdered snow."
Carol Pucci: [email protected]