We watched the ship come to anchor as we sat for breakfast, the sun was just peeping over a stark mountain range framed with streaky clouds, tinged with a vivid orange above the small port of Lahaina. An omen that promised fine weather and a good day for an activity at a height I thought. We were to cycle down Haleakala, or the East Maui Volcano a massive shield volcano that forms more than 75% of the Hawaiian Island of Maui.
Our small group of nine intrepid cyclists left the ship on one of the morning tenders and made the 12-minute crossing to the small port of Lahaina, once the former Hawaiian capital and present population of just under 17 000. The sea was calm, and the sun was rising and the breeze warm.
We met our guide for the day on the harbour front and boarded the small mini-bus that was to take us to the company office forty-five minutes away. Peering through the window as we skirted the coast we passed vista after vista of typical of Hawaiin postcards and holiday brochures. Leaving the shoreline behind we began our ascent through abandoned sugar cane fields and past properties owned by the rich and famous. George Harrison, David Bowie, Marilyn Monroe, and Oprah Winfrey to mention just a small fraction our guide imparted to his interested patrons for the day.
Arriving at the office we completed the necessary activity waiver forms, then collected water and biscuits for the journey to the volcano. A trailer containing the bikes was hitched to the mini-bus and we again boarded and set off to our ‘jump-off’ point. It was another winding forty-five minutes up toward the rim of this dormant volcano, on the way we got to know our guide and driver and chatted with our fellow cyclists.
Pulling into a small lay-by we were given our helmets and bikes, then listened to our guide explaining what we could and couldn’t do. The bikes were specially made and set up for the descent down the tarmacked road. They were heavy, had no gears and the brakes were adjusted to slow you down and not bind on sharply. We were to keep 10m from the person in front and our guide would signal to us as we descended using hand signals and the mini-bus and trailer would follow behind to slow any traffic, though we were told that we would be travelling at speeds that cars would not go. We were to ride the first five miles as a test to see if anyone couldn’t descend safely.
We set off and very quickly picked up speed on the twisting drop from the summit. After around a couple of miles we were waved into a lay-by where our guide sent one of our party to travel the rest of the route in the mini-bus. I think she was relieved, we were reaching speeds in excess of 30 mph and it was hairpin after hairpin bend. It was exciting, exhilarating, and dangerous, downhill traffic may have been prevented from catching us up, but summit-bound vehicles were not, we kept to our side of the central yellow line!
Stopping in another lay-by the tree line we chose to do the same route again (it was so good). Stowing the bikes in the trailer, we boarded the bus again and returned to our ‘jump off’ point. There was another group about to descend as we arrived, but they were on ordinary mountain bikes. We would easily catch them our guide informed us, even though we still had to kit up and remount, he was right, within a mile or so we flew past them as if they were in slow motion.
The second descent was even better, much faster, more leaning into bends, and tonnes of adrenalin. Reaching the tree line again the bikes were once again stored away and we boarded the bus to drive a little way down the road for a half-hour stop in a small township for snacks. Sue and I took the opportunity to wander around and visit a few shops.
Moving on a little further down the volcano we mounted our bikes for the last time. Sue chose to stay on the bus and keep the other women company. Our guide told us that he was confident that we were capable and that we could descend as fast as we wanted and also overtake, he challenged us to try and beat him back to base. It was a fifteen-mile downhill section, just as full of bends but not as quite as steep as on high. Typing this smugly, I caught him with three miles to go and slipped streamed him until the last mile where I passed on a tight bend and was the first back to base. He said nothing on arrival, just grimaced.
The traffic back to Lahaina was very heavy and took around an hour. On arrival, we were disappointed to see the queue for the return tender to the ship snaked nearly 100 metres. The ship’s crew was well organised, they regularly walked down the line of passengers sweltering in the sun, handing out icy towels and umbrellas, nearing the pier there was a much-welcomed cold drinks station.
Back on the Crown Princess Sue and I enjoyed pizza and ice creams and watched the whales blow and breach just a hundred metres from the ship. We are anchored in a part of the Pacific Ocean where at this time of year, 10 000 whales travel down from Alaskan waters to give birth and procreate. They stay here for around three months in the warm waters with their babies as they are not born with protective blubber. The adults do not feed again until they return north.
Because the evening show in the theatre was early with a 9 pm start we chose again to eat in the buffet restaurant to avoid being at the mercy of the excruciatingly slow service in the Da Vinci. One advantage was that we could chose the size of the selected portions, which on second thoughts is not such a good thing, as tonights meal proved when seconds magically appeared on the plate. Afterwards we were entertained by a stand-up comic whose humour was mostly beyond those not from the Americas, but he had his moments and it was worth the effort of piling on a few more ounces in the buffet.
We now begin a run of sea days before docking in Mexico.
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