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The spirit of Maui
Experiencing the magic of Maui in the water
“Jump!” our group leader cheered.
I scooped up my harness, tested my shoes’ grip on the edge of the waterfall on the Hawaiian island of Maui, and then plunged over the edge into the pool. Rushing water pulled me through the pool and along to the next waterfall. I swam on my back, tugged by the river, toward the rest of the group, and looked up at the mountain, Haleakala. It was hard to believe how much we had done on the mountain in one day.
Just that morning, we had bicycled down from the foggy summit to the bikini-studded beach town of Pa’ia. Now, of course, we were rapelling down waterfalls and swimming down rivers. The air was heavy with the scents of plumeria and passion fruit. My skin toasted like a marshmallow in the sun. The salt from the ocean whispered to me like a song I heard as a child but can’t quite remember. This was Maui for me.
“Grab your bag, baby,” Tawny shouted over to me and we leapt out of the emerald pool at the foot of the waterfall. I clipped the rope to my harnesses to started rappelling down the next waterfall. We were making our way back down the mountain to the ocean where paddle boarding would start. We got to the ledge, leaned back, and started the descent.
Maui is active, it is alive. On previous visits I’ve seen Maui from the sky, paragliding over fields like a bird of prey. I’ve seen Maui from a balcony of the Grand Wailea, surveying the magic. I’ve seen Maui from the warmth of a goat farm, and experienced the island from a number of different hiking trails.
But I never knew Maui from the water until that most recent trip.
During that visit, after the waterfalls, I was on the top of a stand-up paddle board looking at the proud profile of the island. Our guide paddled up to me, “There are turtles under the water. Want to take a look?” Then she tossed me a snorkel mask and encouraged me to jump in.
I threw on the mask, set my paddle on the board and dove in. Sure enough, a massive sea turtle buzzed like a Zeppelin along the roots of Maui, arching up out of the blue. I kicked alongside him for a while as he swam in the currents. Returning to the surface I traced the line of Maui out of the water and up along the shore, through the trees, and up to the top of Haleakala.
Viewfinder Tip: If you want to see Maui from the water, try stand up paddle boarding on calm days and outrigger canoeing when the water is rougher.
On another morning, we went out in an outrigger canoe. Again, the sea called and we jumped in. This time our guide came up to the surface with a wild looking bundle of spikes. “It’s an anemone,” he announced proudly. Then he reassured us the creature was harmless. He handed me the bundle of red spindles and said, “If you dive under and listen, you can hear the whales a few miles away as they head south.”
It was true! I don’t know if I imagined it, but it seemed like I could feel the whale song, too. When I surfaced, I floated in the water for a while, looking back at land. There in the waves I could still see Haleakala, wrapped in rain clouds. I watched as the rain pooled together by the paragliding cliffs, came down in waterfalls, wrapped around through the towns along the mountain, and spun down into the ocean. Everything on Maui is connected by water.
What are your favorite ways to experience the water of Maui?
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Chris and Tawny have had articles and videos published on USA TODAY TRAVEL, BBC Travel, Matador Network, as well as appeared as guest stars on TLC Asia's Fun Taiwan television series. When not on the road, you can find Chris and Tawny nestled in their home in Tacoma, Washington fueling up on coffee and cat cuddles while planning their future adventures. You can follow their travels on their blog, Instagram, and YouTube