Tuesday, January 14, 2014

January 13th – Having a Whale of a Time in Lahaina

The pretty town of Lahaina in Maui started off its life as a centre of the whaling industry in the mid-1800s, so I guess that it was appropriate that we both went on tours that enabled us to appreciate the amazing array of sealife off the shores of Maui.

Actually, the whales that were hunted during Lahaina's whaling boom, weren't the humpback whales that frequent its shores from December to April; but, it's ironic that this town which made its fortune from killing whales 150 years ago, now profits from tours that appreciate this magnificent mammal.

Tracy's whale-watching tour was a cetacean-lover's delight – giving her incredibly up-close encounters with the whales, who breached just a few metres from her boat, and passed under the boat and popped their heads up inquisitively, right next to them. Sometimes, it was difficult to work out who was viewing who.

My tour wasn't actually a whale-watching trip, but on the way to our snorkelling patch, we encountered about 5 different groups of whales, who spouted noisily next to our catamaran, and regularly gave us the money-shot of their tails enigmatically flipping out of the water before they took a dive into the deep. At one point, the crew of our boat put a microphone into the water, and to listen to the haunting songs of the whales was a magical experience – even when we were snorkelling, it was possible to hear some of the whale songs resonating through the water.

To be honest, I think we'd all have been happy just with these close encounters of a whale kind, even if we hadn't done the snorkelling part of the trip; however, the snorkelling over the coral garden was a great experience too. There weren't huge amounts of fish (we'll have to wait for the Great Barrier Reef for that), but once your eye got accustomed to the light, there were more than enough colourful fish to keep us entertained.

The highlight was some very close encounters with turtles – at one point, we came across five of these grumpy-looking creatures all gathered together on the sea floor. It was a wonderful experience to swim in such close proximity with these odd-looking creatures as they glided through the waters, almost as if they were flying. On a day where the sun shone, the seas were smooth, and the sealife was happy to play ball, it was difficult to imagine this trip going any better.

After the trip, we explored the laid-back town of Lahaina – it's certainly a pretty touristy place, lined with souvenir shops, and bars and restaurants, but there's also a historic charm to the place, as befits a place that was the capital of the Kingdom of Hawaii in the early 19th century, and then became the unofficial whaling capital of the world. These days, there's an unashamedly touristy edge to Lahaina, but you can't help enjoy touring its quaint streets and soaking up the relaxed holiday atmosphere.

One of the key evening activities in Lahaina is to go for a sundowner in one of its many waterfront bars, as you watch the sun set over the island of Lanai in the distance. We were lucky to get a table at the water's edge, while the sun went down, a guitar duo played, and the drinks went down freely.

It was an evening that summed up Maui's tourist offering nicely – a well-organised set of entertainment laid on for the visitor, in an environment where the natural beauty of the island overshadows everything.

An exhilarating morning, an interesting afternoon, and a chilled-out evening – who could ask for more?