Rob Parsons

Through a Malahini's Eyes

A newcomer's first impressions of Maui

by Rob Parsons

North and Patty Moore

January 17, 2008

Each year, Maui welcomes an ever-increasing number of visitors to its shores. In 2006, more than 2.4 million tourists-nearly 50,000 each week-vacationed here. Of those, roughly two-thirds have previously traveled to Maui, while slightly more than a third are visiting for the first time.

Intrigued by the idea of how a first-time visitor's impressions of Maui might differ from that of a return visitor, I talked story with 18-year-old North Moore and his mom, Patty. Residents of Bellaire, Michigan, they were staying in Lahaina on a two-week repast from the January cold in the upper Midwest.

North is a high-energy, outgoing teenager who recently resigned his full-time position as staff writer for the Antrim County News to attend Northwestern Michigan Community College in Traverse City. Previously, he was editor of his senior yearbook at Bellaire High School, then interned with the newspaper. "I love sports writing, but also do 'A' Section stuff," North says.

On his long-awaited first trip to Maui, he brought his new camera, a Nikon D-40. "The incredible beauty everywhere you look has an "X" factor," North says. "It's hard to put it into words how beautiful it is. I'm really drawn to the views of the mountains. With their ravines, valleys and green slopes, they look so untouched and inviting. I was out by Mile Marker 14 [near Olowalu] taking sunset pictures. I looked up at the mountains and the lighting was so great that it would have been perfect except for the power lines in the pictures.

"In a way, it seems as though Maui is being forced to conform to what people on the Mainland think it should be like," he continued. "There's a little too much hustle and bustle. I really like Lahaina in the morning, when it's not busy-it has it's own little charm. The rest of the time it's like a lot of people competing for your money."

North's mom Patty lived on Maui briefly in 1981, and was an avid windsurfer at the beginning of a trend that would make Maui a Mecca for worldwide enthusiasts of that sport. She now runs a successful massage practice in Bellaire, which itself is a summer tourist destination.

Bellaire, Michigan, a town of around 1,500, is the home of Michael Moore, who held the world premier for his latest documentary film Sicko there. Julie Kavner, actress and the voice of Marge Simpson, also lives there.

Tucked in cherry and apple orchard country, and dotted with inland lakes, it's an attractive locale for summer visitors. One of those visitors years ago was musician Jimmy Buffett, who wrote "Cheeseburger in Paradise" about the Bluebird Café, where Patty once waitressed, in neighboring Leland, Michigan.

In Lahaina, Patty and North ate breakfast at the restaurant with the same name as Buffett's song. "I've never waited so long for two poached eggs," Patty said. "And the waitress tried to sell us cocktails-with breakfast!"

After saving her money and planning for years to bring her son to Maui, Patty began looking for accommodations several months ago.

"We wanted to stay somewhere on the North Shore," she said. "We looked at Spreckelsville, Paia and Haiku. We wanted to cook at home and not have to go out for every meal. A lot of the places we contacted said they'd have to close down on January first. That was disappointing. It costs a lot of money to come here. If where you stay looks like every place else-you know, like Florida-you probably won't want to come back. It's a huge effort to drive all the way from Lahaina, through Kahului, and then hit the bumper-to-bumper traffic coming into Paia."

"I was really surprised how built up it is here," North said. "When you go through Kahului in bumper-to-bumper traffic, you almost forget you're in Hawai'i. Then, when we hit that midday traffic going into Paia, I kinda thought, 'This island isn't big enough for this many people.' But it's beautiful nonetheless."

Patty was really surprised at how much the island had changed since 1981.

"I remember when Paia was very cool, very quiet, just windsurfers and artists and locals," she said. "Now it seems it's gotten awfully crowded. I was sorry to see Charley's closed, too [after a Christmas morning fire gutted the restaurant]."

Patty and North also ran into a traffic jam while trying to park at Ho'okipa Beach Park, and again walking down to the pavilions. "It was a little disappointing," they said.

On a day when northwest swells reached the island, they ventured to the upper Westside to watch surfers at Honolua Bay. Equipped with a telephoto lens, North photographed local surfers as well as a school of spinner dolphins. Then they continued around the narrow road through Kahakuloa Village.

"That's Hawai`i for me," Patty said. "Even though I was worried by the one-lane road, I was relieved to see so much natural-not developed, still untouched. There's got to be a way to do growth with sensitivity, softly, instead of with such big impacts. The impact is just too much.

"I remember when I first came here 26 years ago," she continued. "Even then, I couldn't believe there was a McDonald's. In Bellaire, we all signed petitions when McDonald's wanted to open a franchise in town. I have such compassion for what's been taken away from the Hawaiian people. I totally understand why we newcomers weren't liked very much. I thought, 'How sad that Hawaiian culture was being exploited and out-priced by all the development.'"

"Don't you think people would want to come here more if it were more Hawaiian?" North asked. "More local style and less built up?"

On a Saturday, they ventured into Kahului to attend the Swap Meet.

"I liked it," North said. "It was all pretty much friendly local people selling their stuff. No pressure."

Afterwards, they ate lunch at the Kahului Ale House, which was filled with football fans watching the Packers-Seahawks game. North, whose father is from Wisconsin, is a big-time Green Bay fan.

"That was so much fun," he said. "There was so much energy, hootin' and hollerin'. The game held during a snowstorm was totally classic. I dug that the place was full, but they sat us down in a booth with some other dude. He was really cool. I think he had more fun, and we did, too."

North bought a basketball with him and has been shooting hoops daily at the Front Street court in Lahaina. Still on the agenda is a round of golf, scuba trip (North was certified at age 12) and drive to Hana.

"I'm so excited to go to Hana," North said. "That's like all I've been thinking about. Hopefully we can see the crater, too."

They snorkeled a few times, including once in front of the Maui Prince Hotel at Makena. Patty said she was surprised to see a big construction site there.

"All I remembered about Makena was a big, beautiful beach as far as you could see-no development around," she said. "Now, it's like they are trying to manufacture a paradise there. You feel claustrophobic with high-rise things all around you. Maui is so great, as long as this island doesn't cater to only people who like to stay at big resorts or time shares."

Even with their qualms about commercial development compromising Maui's natural beauty, the island-allure still cast a spell on North and Patty Moore. Like many before them, they envisioned what it might take to actually move here. This fascination has fueled a double-digit growth rate over each of the past four decades, tripling Maui's overall population over that time.

"I can see why I would want to live here," North said. "I think I could grow to love it and really get plugged into the community. Plus, the ocean-I just love it so much, ever since I was four years old and went to the Florida Keys. I can see how just being near the Pacific Ocean could make the daily routine seem trivial, because it's so beautiful. I just feel so fortunate to be here. I'm really grateful my mom made this trip possible. It's so special to see a place as great as Maui."