A vacation adventure

by Bill Lundquist

Maui is really two islands connected by a central valley that was once under the sea, and will be again some day.

South Maui is crowned by the mighty volcano Haleakala, the House of the Sun, which last erupted 200 to 500 years ago.

West Maui is composed of the well-eroded valleys of the West Maui Mountain. People have recently tried to give it a fancy Polynesian name, or call it the House of the Moon, but it's really just the West Maui Mountain.

It has become a tourist tradition to watch the sun rise from the top of 10,023-foot Haleakala, then coast back down to sea level on a bicycle.

That requires getting up at 1 a.m. to be picked up by your tour company's van by 2 or 3 a.m., enduring a queasy two hour drive in the back of a van up endless 10 mph switchbacks, then sitting out in the dark in freezing temperatures until the sun comes up.

After the sunrise you, along with hundreds of bikes and dozens of cars, are off down the hill, taking those 10 mph curves at twice that speed.

According to our guidebook, andquot;Maui Revealed,andquot; more than 70,000 people a year do this. It results in at least one serious accident per week.

We instead got up late, drove up the volcano after lunch, when everyone else had come down, and watched the equally-impressive (if equally cold) sunset.

A word of caution, though: some people suffer from elevation sickness at 10,000 feet, and a few have even died from it. We were prepared, which enabled us to help a victim of it.

At the visitors' center 7,500 feet up, the height of Crater Lake, we saw a couple apparently sleeping in their car. We figured they were just resting after the sunrise.

We ran into them again at the 8,500 foot level, and the husband explained his wife was suffering from a bad headache and nausea, classic symptoms of elevation sickness.

He was trying to go up slowly so she could get used to the altitude in steps and they could watch the sunset together.

He really should have taken her back down (the only cure) as soon as her headache started.

Typical tourists, they had brought no water (there is none available above the visitors center), medicine or even warm clothing.

The bottle of water we gave the woman did wonders for her, and we provided her a choice of headache and stomach medications. We couldn't spare any of our warm clothes.

The woman soon felt much better, and they continued their climb. They later took our picture atop Haleakala, and we took theirs.

They thanked us for our Aloha spirit, but it turned out we were all from the Northwest. Helping others is just contagious in Hawaii.

While at the Leleiwi Overlook at the 8,500 foot level, the husband told us the conditions were right for a rare natural phenomenon called the Spectre of Brocken. This is another good reason to go in the afternoon.

When the crater is filled with clouds, and the sun is low over your shoulder, you can see your shadow projected on the clouds. What's more, your shadow is surrounded by a rainbow.

The ancient Hawaiians believed they were actually seeing their souls, and the rainbow was a blessing from heaven.

The husband told us he'd been up Haleakala nine times, and had seen the Spectre of Brocken only once before.

The information board at the overlook told us we would each be able to see only our own shadow.

That turned out to be the case, at least at first. We were thrilled when the sun came out briefly and projected our giant shadows thousands of feet down on the cloud tops.

As promised, I could see only my own shadow, surrounded by a rainbow, even though I was standing right next to my wife.

She said she could see only hers. When we moved our arms, we could each see only our own shadow move.

Satisfied that we had each been blessed by heaven, we began to hike back to the car. Suddenly, the sun came out again and we ran back to the overlook.

This time, I was amazed to see my wife's shadow next to mine. She said she was also seeing two shadows. The two were surrounded by a single rainbow.

Science says such a phenomenon is impossible, but we've always known that we were two individuals sharing a single soul, and now we could see that union was blessed by heaven.

The top of Haleakala was also pretty spectacular. It looks a lot like Crater Lake would if the water wasn't there.

Through the breaks in the clouds, we could see West Maui, Molokai, Lanai, Kahoolawe, and 80 and 100 miles away, respectively, the volcanos Mauna Kea and Mauna Loa on the Big Island.

On one side, Haleakala cast an enormous shadow on the sea. On the other, the setting sun turned the clouds gold, then crimson.

We shared the sight with only a couple of dozen other people. One, shivering uncontrollably in shorts and a T-shirt, said he had grown up on Maui.

He had left to take a high-paying job in Las Vegas, but had realized everything he wanted in life was on Maui. It was his first day back, and he had to see the sunset. We couldn't blame him.

The West Maui Mountain is not as tall as Haleakala, but is even more beautiful. It is the site of the famed Iao Needle.

The needle is in an eroded valley just outside Maui's main town of Kahului (Hawaii's version of Medford).

I saw the valley from the jet as we were coming in to Maui. It was a cloudy day, but the unearthly light coming from Iao Valley beckoned me there.

Between the valley's verdant and vertical green walls is the equally green spire of the Iao Needle. It is actually a long, narrow ridge, but visitors see only the front edge of it.

Though beautiful, the valley seemed sad. It was the site of the bloodiest battle in Hawaiian history in 1790 when King Kamehameha the Great trapped Maui's army in the dead-end valley and used western cannon to annihilate it.

The Iao Stream, which once flowed blood red from one man's thirst for conquest, now flows through an open air museum that features examples of architecture from all the various cultures that now live peacefully together on Maui.

You don't need to see a rainbow to know that Maui has been blessed by heaven.

Many have asked us how it all compares to Tahiti. Well, for sheer beauty, French Polynesia and its inhabitants win hands down.

When it comes to inner beauty, however, the Aloha spirit of the residents of Hawaii shows through in everything (except driving).

Our Tahiti vacation had much higher highs and lower lows. Maui had no downside. I can't imagine anyone not having a good time there, no matter whether they spent a lot or a little.