The Pacific Ocean looked as pitch black as the night sky as I peered out the window of the Boeing 767.
I had been to the Hawaiian Islands before — Honolulu when I was 10 — so I suspected that Maui would be a standard relaxing vacation: Sandy beaches, warm water, leis and luaus.
By the end of the week, however, I had explored the summit of a volcano only 4,000 feet shorter than Mount Whitney.
Just as a few specks of light appeared on the horizon, the captain said we would be landing soon.
Maui is the second largest Hawaiian Island and is barely more populous than Fullerton.
I always imagined it to be more laid back than bustling Oahu, and it was.
I found myself doing plenty of lounging, napping, snacking, sipping and, when I had time, nothing.
When doing nothing became too much of a good thing, I visited an aquarium that boasted an ensemble of Hawaiian sea life, went back to the beach and saw the exact same animals again through my snorkel gear, and went back to lounging, snacking and nothing.
The resort areas are pristine and lined with world-class shops, restaurants and entertainment.
The locals amuse and amaze tourists by hosting luaus complete with traditional Hawaiian cuisine and ceremonial song and dance.
A Hawaiian vacation — business as usual. A few things did surprise me, though.
Maui and the rest of the Hawaiian Islands are widely believed to be constantly drenched in tropical rainfall, but they actually aren’t as tropical as one would think.
The islands lie on the same longitude as geographic locales like the Sahara Desert, Saudi Arabia and other parts of the world that rainfall is supposed to bypass.
Moisture usually hits the north and east sides of the high points of Maui, leaving the opposite sides dry and familiar to a Southern Californian.
The water temperature surprised me, too.
I longed to get back into crystal clear, 80-degree waters a-la-Caribbean.
I’m estimating that the water was only about five degrees warmer than Huntington Beach (mid ‘60s), or at least it felt that way.
It was nice to be able to see my own two feet below the surface.
Cooler than expected temperatures did nothing to keep me out of the water, though.
Maui is as relaxing as they say it is, but the island also harbors a multitude of activities for adrenaline junkies, danger addicts and peril enthusiasts alike.
Hardcore surfers flock to the island’s wedges, rock climbers brave the moist cliffs and experienced hikers traverse the desolate bowl of Haleakala Crater.
By car, climbing 10,000-foot Haleakala took about an hour and a half.
There were moments of suspense as my family and I drove up switchbacks blinded by the cloudline.
Eventually, we wound up on the surface of Mars. The reddish volcanic soil was dotted with rugged lava formations.
The air was cool, dry and noticeably thinner, especially since we had been at sea level only two hours prior to ascending.
As someone who likes to drive, a tidbit about Maui is that half the cars on the road seem to be rental cars driven by tourists, so the island has become a melting pot of bad driving habits from around the world.
The gist is that going anywhere near the speed limit is apparently unheard of for many other motorists, so if you’re a California driver like I am, you may find yourself strangling your steering wheel.
I thought I had Maui figured out before I went, and for the most part, I did, but that didn’t make it any less relaxing or enjoyable.
From the summit of Haleakala, I could see the Big Island over miles of ocean.
And back at sea level, a Mai Tai was calling my name.