Maui in Slow Motion – Hawaiʻi, COVID-19 and Exploring without the Crowds

Nobody wants to hear someone who lives in Maui complain about anything, ever. We really only whine about the crowds, but tourism is the economy and we accept that. Then the virus comes and there are no crowds.

Since the pandemic was forcing all of us to rearrange our lives, I figured it was a good time to turn things completely upside down for a while. Instead of the usual go-go-go pace of life, this was a chance to convert to slow-slow-slow. With little work to do and most visitors leaving the island, it would be a rare occasion to stop and smell the Plumeria every day.

Quarantine meant for a few months I’d be taking small trips on two feet instead of four wheels. I typically take two trips a month to the Mainland and drive 50,000 plus miles a year, so it was strange being home and motoring a mere 343 miles over the past three months. But oh the places my slippahs took me as I meandered about Maui while finding new foods, creatures, beaches and trails and observing so much that gets missed in the daily hustle of our lives.

Vacant Shores

Atop the rocky cliffs along the Kapalua Coastal Trail with the island of Molokai in the backdrop.
Atop the rocky cliffs along the Kapalua Coastal Trail with the island of Molokai in the backdrop. Photo credit: John DeLeva.
Sunset at a secret beach near Kahana.
Sunset at a secret beach near Kahana. Photo credit: John DeLeva.
Late afternoon double rainbow at Ironwoods Beach.
Late afternoon double rainbow at Ironwoods Beach. Photo credit: John DeLeva.

Nobody wants to hear someone who lives in Maui complain about anything, ever. We really only whine about the crowds, but tourism is the economy and we accept that. Then the virus comes and there are no crowds. And it’s sunny and 80 degrees every day, COVID-19 case counts are low, and although bars and restaurants close, beaches stay open. We were damn lucky to be here.

On beaches normally full of sunbathers and body surfers it would often be just me and a few turtles, or just me and a pod of dolphins or, one time, it was just me and a rarely seen endangered Hawaiian monk seal. Strange, surreal, almost like I was the only person left.

On occasion, I’d chat with a throw net fisherman – socially distanced, of course – and patiently watch him squat, stalk his pray, then toss the mesh net as close to a perfect circle as possible. Like fly fishing, it looked easy, but there were a lot of variables to success and rarely did he grasp the prized uhu, or any fish for that matter. It was a sport of patience, but then, neither of us had any place to be too soon.

They were King and Queen

My wife’s grandparents moved from Malaysia to Maui to work at a sugar cane mill in Lahaina in 1927. Sugar cane and pineapple were king and queen of the money crops, but both eventually became victim to high land costs and cheap foreign labor. The demise led to more than 100,000 acres of fallow fields when the last mill closed in 2016, but a revolution in boutique crops may be starting.

Everything grows well here and niche crops from cacao to sunflower are making an appearance. We’ve been paying particular attention because quarantine meant more meals than ever at home and we wanted to experiment and learn. We used every available inch of our very small second-floor apartment lanai to grow basil, oregano, rosemary and tomatoes then partnered with neighbors that had small yards to grow papayas, eggplant, leafy greens and more herbs.

Fruits and berries explode with color in Maui's rain forests.
Fruits and berries explode with color in Maui’s rain forests. Photo credit: John DeLeva.
Native Hawaiian Raspberry.
‘Akala, native Hawaiian Raspberry. Photo credit: John DeLeva.

With restaurants doing only take-out and operating at less than half capacity that left a lot of produce wholesalers hoping consumers would buy what their regular clients didn’t need. Every week we ordered a pick-up box of fruits and veggies as colorful as the rainbows – screaming yellow loquats, blood oranges, red clay beets and a bevy of edible flowers and cruciferous vegetables to cover the green to violet spectrum of the bow. Twenty plus products for forty bucks!

Coastal, Rainforest and Community Trails

Imagine having your favorite beach trail virtually all to yourself. West Maui’s Kapalua Coastal Trail is a composite of board walks, sandy shores, sidewalks and big rocks that runs beside tide pools, coves and surfing paradises with spectacular views of the island of Moloka‘i the whole way. Through April I would see more humpback whales than humans every day and even after the leviathans went north for summer, I could bank on more peace than people when I just felt like finding a rock to watch the surf and absorb the sun. Some days I wouldn’t see a soul for hours.

Banyan tree fun inside the Manalei Arboretum
Banyan tree fun inside the Manalei Arboretum. Photo credit: John DeLeva.

We all love the beach for all the S’s – swimming, snorkeling, scuba diving, surfing, stand-up paddle boarding, sunbathing – but sometimes the rainforest calls. Here fifty shades of ocean blues are replaced by a hundred tonations of forest greens while the rhythm of the waves are supplanted by the chorus of the birds. Whether on West Maui or the flanks of Haleakalā National Park, it felt almost post-apocalyptic these past few months as mile after mile I heard no voices and saw no humans other than those who joined me for the hike. One thing I learned on these rainforest hikes: the more fruit you know, the better you are to leave energy bars behind and let nature’s sweet treats fuel your hikes: guava, Lilikoi, mountain apple, mango and a variety of berries beckon.

I recently read an obituary about a 74-year old COVID-19 victim in New York who walked every block of every borough, nearly 6,000 miles. It inspired me to do more community hiking, to walk through neighborhoods all around me and see new homes, people and parks. I enjoyed looking for and finding fantastic yard art, dozens of historical markers, even an obscure archeological site. I met people who wouldn’t make eye contact in the grocery store or restaurants, but were friendly as heck when I passed by them on their turf. On the porch of a multi-million dollar home I saw a guy in a hammock who, until that moment, I had only seen loafing on public beaches. I found these positive interactions easily countered all the negative world news.

My heart breaks for so many affected by the pandemic, but I do hope others have been able to find silver linings like we have on Maui. I never though I’d say this, but I’ve really enjoyed going slow versus the old go-go-go.


What has your experience been during COVID-19? Share how you’ve been exploring your own backyard.