Peering into the
improbable, wind-scoured crater of Maui’s Mount Haleakala was the clinching
moment for us. This was the grand, otherworldly Hawaii we had hoped to
discover, and it was delivering the anticipated scenic wonders in impressive
style. Stretched out before our slightly disbelieving eyes was the
seven-mile-wide chasm that marks the top of the dormant volcano, dotted
erratically with cinder cones and wide, barren lavascapes. It could have been
the surface of Mars.
was day three of our one-week cruise aboard Norwegian Cruise Line’s Pride of America,
a seemingly deluxe way to indulge in the spirit of aloha, visiting each of
Hawaii’s four main islands in search of a rich, up-close encounter with its
unique Pacific flora, fauna, geology and culture. The reality, however, is that
the Pride of America – the only vessel permitted to sail purely among the
islands – is the budget version of Hawaii touring. And it still comes with no
small measure of style.
that flying among the four islands would cost at least $500 per person, and a
decent hotel would add around $200 a night. Hawaii is not a cheap place to dine
either, so you could easily spend another $75 a day on meals, totalling about
$1,800 per person for a week of travel, accommodation and food.
seven-day cruise on the Pride of America, on the other hand, was advertised
from $1,449 per person, which included accommodation in a standard outside
stateroom, all meals and the benefit of effortless transportation from island
to island. We enjoyed two days on each of Maui, the Big Island and Kauai,
returned comfortably to the original port of Honolulu on Oahu, and had plenty
of entertainment, comfort and high-quality service along the way.
start with, nearly all the sailing was done while we slept, giving us maximum
time ashore to explore the likes of the 10,023ft Haleakala, a one-time monster
of a volcano but now a stunning, sterile ruin. It sports the kind of iridescent
bronzes and other metallics you usually only see on Japanese Raku pottery,
giving it the look of a mad ceramic artist’s studio (if the artist was a giant
and given to fits of random, open-air creativity on a colossal scale).
of the four ports of call – Kahului on Maui, Kona and Hilo on the Big Island
and Nawiliwili on Kauai – provided easy access to the main sights and
attractions nearby. And this being the only ship on the route, none of the
ports were swamped with thousands of other cruise passengers arriving for the
day, which is often the case in the Caribbean, Mediterranean and Alaska.
vessel carried a total of 2,000 fortunate souls, all of whom had the option of
walking ashore, taking a ship-organised excursion, jumping in the nearest taxi
or hiring a car for the day, which proved most advantageous on Maui and Kauai
where the overnight stay encouraged us to be more adventurous. Indeed, being
individually mobile was a major advantage for our self-guided tour of
Haleakala, where we stopped at multiple points as the whim (and view) took us,
and took the long drive through Waimea
Canyon – the Grand Canyon of the Pacific – where we were able to avoid the
tour buses that occasionally filled up the scenic overlooks.
we did cruise during the day, on one resplendent afternoon prior to returning
to Honolulu, we were afforded views of the majestic, ravine-studded Na
Pali coastline of Kauai, which drops precipitously from around 4,000ft to
the ocean. Here, humpback whales frolic for much of the winter months and four
species of dolphin can be seen year-round.
voyage quickly became a collection of towering highlights, from the Big
Island’s lofty peaks of 13,798 ft-high Mauna Kea and its “noisy
neighbour”, the smoking crater of Kilauea,
currently the most active volcano on the planet, to the rich rainforests of
Maui and Kauai and the breathtaking extent of Waimea Canyon, where an
astonishing 300-plus inches of annual rainfall has sculpted a worthy rival to
Arizona’s epic crevasse.
our first day on Maui, we took a ship-organised excursion to the steepling
gorge of Iao
Valley State Park, where misty wisps of cloud leant a volcanic air to the
long-extinct peaks. We also toured the nearby Tropical Plantation, a lush
garden that houses a rich variety of tropical
plants, where we learned the proper method of opening a
secret is a swift blow to the top of the nut, as it can be oriented as if it
were a monkey's head).
the Big Island’s two ports of call, we were able to visit Volcanoes National Park, walking
through its eerie Thurston
Lava Tube (where an ages-old lava stream has left
a near-100-yard underground tunnel); and then sample the wares of the Royal
Kona Coffee Plantation – from lava to java in one small journey – where
their 100% Kona variety is a snip at $30 a pound.
our second day on Kauai, we visited the bird-watcher’s paradise of Kilauea Point National Wildlife Refuge,
where squadrons of great frigatebirds, wedge-tailed shearwaters and red-footed
boobies soared in the thermals over the rugged cliffs.
on Oahu, we paid our respects at Pearl
Harbor Memorial and the National
Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific and travelled
back in time to the amazing Kualoa Ranch,
where their variety of all-terrain tours, including on horseback and all-terrain vehicles,
demonstrated why this was the eye-catching location for such films and TV shows
as Jurassic Park, Godzilla, Windtalkers and Lost.
– its islands thrusting in such unlikely fashion from the depths of the
Pacific Ocean like a series of green jewels – has a rare ability to beguile and
enchant. Every island had its own character and superlatives, but each was
linked by unfailing friendliness, the gentle lilt of the Hawaiian ukulele, a
tropical climate that generally steadied between 80F and 88F, and a
never-ending series of achingly beautiful sunsets.
the week we were in another mindset, completely de-stressed, unhurried, and
totally tuned in to the laid-back aloha vibe that insists on harmony. It is not
so much a word as a graceful way of life.