I can pinpoint the exact moment I became utterly transfixed by volcanoes. It was in the 10th grade. I was sitting in Geology class and we had just finished up a week of learning about tectonic plates and earthquakes. Naturally, the syllabus progressed to volcanoes. My teacher played us a video on Youtube that showed neon red lava spewing out of mountains and flowing into the ocean, solidifying and creating the most amazing rock patterns. I was in awe at how the innards of the Earth could boil up and out in such a spectacular fashion.
Each Hawaiian island was formed by two volcanoes. On some of the islands, this chaotic start is hard to imagine, with lush greenery covering mountain peaks that were once reduced to ash. Thousands of years of heavy rainfall and erosion have made identifying the original volcanoes to be almost impossible.
The newer islands, however, paint a clear picture of how Mother Nature can literally create life. The Island of Hawaii (aka The Big Island) is still expanding today, and you can literally stand on earth that was created less than 20 years ago. Maui on the other hand, is distinguished by the large valley that connects the West Maui Mountains to the east side of the island, thus giving rise to its nickname, The Valley Isle. Over thousands of years, lava that flowed freely into the Pacific ocean hardened, layer upon layer, until it finally pierced through the ocean's surface, fusing what was once two separate islands into one.
This is prevalent when you fly from Honolulu into Maui's capital, Kahului. The scenic flight takes you past the mountains, and down through the flat surface of the valley, with the shadow of Haleakala, a monstrous dormant volcano that takes up an entire third of the island, looming over the right hand side of the plane at a cool 10,000ft (3,000m).
When I travel somewhere new, I like to do the least amount of research possible. Partly because I am in fact lazy, but also because I prefer getting tips off friends, locals, and sometimes even my barista (Thanks to Hannah from Starbucks on Kuhio for your recommendations). So when I boarded my flight to Maui - extremely hungover, might I add - I wasn't expecting the island to be quite so fascinating - or beautiful, for that matter.
What surprised me most was how dry the valley and west side of the island was compared to O'ahu. Fields of dry, sunburnt grass rustled in the wind as it gushed through the valley. I had the windows down in my rental car, enjoying the fresh salty air as I traced the flight path I just took back to the town of Lahaina on the west side. The West Maui Mountains towered above my little Nissan, covering the road in shade as the afternoon sun sunk down to the horizon line. They were covered in misty fog - in fact I don't think there was a day where I got to see the mountains without a shimmer of clouds covering the tallest of peaks. Dense forest crept up from the valley floor and into the crevices of the mountains and I spied a hint of rain through two ridges.
Lahaina roughly translates into merciless sun, and being one of the driest places on Maui, the name does not disappoint. It is where my friend, Kimmy, lives in a little converted garage studio, behind a large beach house. Minutes from the historic town that features pastel coloured wooden shop fronts, a small harbour, and scenic sunsets between the islands of Molokai and Lanai'i, we spent most nights drunkenly riding our bikes through the quiet streets to bars, breweries, and restaurants. We must have caused a raucous for the locals as we called out to some valet boys at a luau that Kimmy recognised.
During the day, we took my rental car out all over the island. To Kaanapali and Slaughterhouse Bay for sunset swims, and Monday Funday drinks on the hot sand. To Hana, a road that is famous for its dangerous curves (there's over 600 of them), 54 bridges, and spectacular beaches and rainforests. To the top of Haleakala (the tallest point on Earth I have been to thus far) for sunset and a casual hike at an altitude that had me gasping for air. And to the east, where we bathed at Big Beach and ate acai bowls until our backs were crispy from the sun and our bellies had swollen with fruit.