Above photo: Maria Russo meditates on the volcanic rocks at Dragon's Teeth.
Story by Maria Russo; photos by Anthony Russo
Maria and Anthony publish The Culture-ist, an online magazine that covers conscious travel, social good and holistic wellness.
Hawaii’s natural beauty is the perfect setting to slow down.
English author Joanne Harris once said, “For me, the magic of Hawaii comes from the stillness, the sea, the stars.”
Indeed, it was these mystical elements that left me enchanted during a recent visit to Maui. The ancient Hawaiians believed that everything in nature is sacred and treated it as so. Today, the islands continue to hold the energy of these first inhabitants who learned to survive on its turbulent shores by honoring nature’s abundant gifts.
I planned to journey through Maui with the same reverence and mindfulness Hawaii’s ancient ancestors held for the land and to experience the enormous power that lies in stillness and appreciation.
Travel often provides the luxury to slow down, breathe a bit more deeply and enjoy life as it unfolds in a supple, unforced manner. I was about to indulge in this sweet pleasure in one of the most beautiful places on planet Earth.
On the first morning of our journey, my husband and I set out to walk along the base of the West Maui Forest Reserve in the Lahaina area. It was about 45 minutes past sunrise, the time of day when honey-amber rays of “golden hour” light cast gentle shadows on the tall blonde grasses. As we strolled along the paved path to the reserve, the soft rustle of acacia trees and quiet songs of birds slowed the rhythm of my heart. My husband strayed a bit to indulge in his passion for photography, and I began practicing some gentle yoga poses.
I felt blissfully alone among miles of meadows and undulating hills. The flaxen landscape glowed in the early morning light, and instead of closing my eyes as I normally would to concentrate on each pose, I stared at the golden mountains before me. I placed my hands on a cool boulder that rested in front of me and leaned on it for support as I attempted some balancing poses. Serene energy radiated from the landscape, recharging in me what had been depleted by a stressful life back on the mainland.
Later that day, after spending several hours relaxing on Baby Beach, we headed to the Jodo Mission, a Japanese Buddhist temple installed in honor of the 100th anniversary of the migration of Japanese immigrants to the island. Visitors are welcome to respectfully explore the grounds of the temple where a 12-foot bronze Buddha statue rests.
The fragrant scent of golden shower trees filled the sacred space, and a willowy beauty at the center of the grounds caught my attention. I sat on its thick, smooth branches for several minutes in meditation. Time here was a welcome respite amidst the searing heat of the afternoon. The temple was the perfect place to take a moment of gratitude for this island paradise before heading to Ka’anapali beach to witness its glorious sunsets.
The next several days we spent time by the sea at May’s Beach, Mokuleia Bay and the cliffs of Honolua Bay located at the tip of Maui’s northwest coastline. These beaches were quieter and not tourist-laden like many of the beaches occupied by the frenzy of high-rise hotels. Being that it was the end of summer, you could swim and surf — depending on the current that day — in clear warm waters filled with fish. Both Mokuleia Bay and Honolua Bay are part of a marine life conservation district, so like any part of the natural world, it is important to be respectful and treat the land and sea with care.
On our last day in Maui, my husband and I decided to slip in one last adventure — and oh was it worth it. Driving north from Lahaina on Highway 30 and southeast on 340 toward Wailuku, we reached the Waihee Ridge Trail. Located on the east side of the West Maui Forest Reserve, the stunning 2.5-mile hike was lush with seemingly endless shades of green foliage and views of the West Maui Mountains.
After a steep climb up the paved entrance, past grazing cows and a gate to keep the bovines at bay, we walked silently through the forest, pausing every few minutes to take in the scent of eucalyptus trees. Bending, arching and stretching high above us, the trees squeezed out the light. As we moved mindfully up the ridge, almost a mile in, the trees yielded to shrubs and tall grasses that slowly unveiled an expansive view of the verdant West Maui Mountains and the Eden-like, rippling valley below. We stood frozen in awe at the sight of the mountains and its undulating green valley adorned with white waterfalls.
One breath slipped through my lips, then another and a third, but my body made no other movement except the rising and falling of my chest. We sat in stillness for almost 10 minutes drinking in the perfect vista and taking a moment of gratitude for the gift of experiencing this raw, untouched landscape before heading back down the ridge.
That evening, I sat on the craggy cliffs of Makaluapuna Point — otherwise known as Dragon’s Teeth due to the long rows of pointy rocks that resemble the mouth of a dragon — to reflect on my short journey in Maui. I ran my fingers along the sharp, gray rocks, feeling the subdued remnants from Maui’s last lava flow. On the way here, I walked past a sacred Hawaiian burial ground dating back to A.D. 610, and as the sun began to sink behind the horizon, I felt an eerie stillness come over the cliff that seemed to emanate from the ancient cemetery.
I glanced at a family fishing together in the distance as a soft, brilliant glow enveloped the earth. I could sense at that moment the love Hawaiians still have for their precious land, their island paradise. It was easy to find stillness here among the mighty sea and endless stars, the great cliffs and expansive meadows, the quiet rocks and the cool sand. Replete with energy from this enchanted sliver of one of Earth’s most remote archipelagos, I was ready to continue my journey through life with a mindful head and a grateful heart.