How to leave Maui (if you really have to)

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You’ve double-checked your flight time, mapped out the gas station closest to the airport, shaken the sand out of your touristy beach towels, and had that conversation about packing the sunscreen or leaving it behind. It’s the end of your Maui vacation, and you’re off to return the rental car before reluctantly dragging your keister onto the plane and jetting homeward.

Sure, you can buzz right to the airport, but what’s the rush? There’s a better way to leave Maui. A much better way.

Here’s a 6-step plan for the perfect Maui-style exit:

1. Start your day early in Hana

Yes, there’s an airport in Hana, but it’s more likely that you’re flying out of Kahului. Starting in Hana means you are almost as far away from the airport as you can be yet still on the island. Allow about two and a half hours if you don’t plan to stop, but let’s face it, you’re going to stop frequently to take pictures of the waterfalls and to let the locals pass. And to get snacks. Banana bread and that ice cream from Coconut Glen’s and…

Maui: Road to Hana ViewpointHana Highway viewpoint. You'll probably want to stop here. Photo by Pam Mandel.

2. Do some last-minute souvenir shopping in smaller towns

Paia is a good place to stop. Those little local businesses operate on island time and you might have to ‘talk story.’ Someone is going to ask you where you’re from and their cousin will be from there, too (this is NOT hyperbole). Then you’ll have to talk places and family, and how long it’s been since, and where did you live, and have you eaten at…

3. Face facts: You deserve a real ukulele

Go to a music shop, where time operates on a whole other level of slowness from island standard time. No one is intentionally trying to slow you down, but you’ll need to play each and every uke to find the right one. And while you’re doing that, you’re going got have to talk story some more. (See step 2.)

4. Hit the road hungry

This will ensure that you stop for a smoothie because, oh, it’s mango season, or that road side fruit stand has a bicycle-powered blender and you’ve always wanted to see how one works. Then you’ll think, oh, it’s a long flight, I’d better have a real meal. You’ll need poke, Hawaii’s homegrown sashimi salad, which is impossible to get enough of in one lifetime. This means you should stop by the farmers market. Or the supermarket, that works too. You might have to get more than one kind. And get some tortilla chips too, because they’re great with poke. You scheduled time for a picnic, right? The beach park is just a few miles that way.

 Coconut candy stand, Hana Highway. You might want to stop here too. Photo by Pam Mandel.

5. Go for one last swim in the ocean

Yes, it means you’ll board your flight sticky with salt water, but you can shower when you get home. Blow right past the airport to that nice little cove at Makena for one last look at the humuhumunukunukuapua‘a. It’s not every day you encounter a fish with that kind of name, so go say aloha, already.

6. Get one last view

You’ve delayed it as much as you can, there’s nothing left to do but head for the airport. Make sure you get a window seat. That way, when the plane banks away over the cane fields and condos and across the flank of Haleakala, you can look for rainbows. There are almost always rainbows over the island. As your flight turns east out across the wide blue pacific, lean your head against the window and take a last look at the Valley Isle.

Maui doesn’t let go of you easily, so give yourself plenty of time to leave. A week, maybe two, is ideal. Don’t rush it. You’re on vacation after all.

Pam Mandel is a freelance writer and photographer who lives in Seattle. She pines for the islands all winter long. She copes with winter on the mainland by shredding with Seattle’s loudest ukulele band, The Castaways. She blogs about travel, the ukulele, and other topics at  Nerd’s Eye View.