"I went to Maui to stay a week, and remained five," wrote Mark Twain when he visited the island in the mid-19th century. "I never spent so pleasant a month before or bade any place goodbye so regretfully. I have not once thought of business or care or human toil or trouble or sorrow or weariness and the memory of it will remain with me always."
Over a century and a half later, I could write the exact same of this blissful Hawaiian island. Anxieties melt away as you embrace the aloha way of life.
It was midday during a very windy September when I landed in Maui. Before I'd even collected my luggage, I was sporting a pink lei (flower garland). I mean, when a charming local with a contagious smile greets you with an "Aloha!" and a freshly made floral necklace it's hard to say no. Hawaiian hospitality is irresistible. Sometimes it's worth succumbing to the tourist clichés.
By the time I left Kahului Airport in my rental car - public transport is almost non-existent here - the blue sky had faded to grey and my first Maui rainbow was melting into the Pacific Ocean. These are some of my most memorable times on the island.
The Road to Hāna
Located on the northeastern shore of Maui, the busy Hāna Hwy (highway) is far from a hedonistic drive. The road winds over 52 miles and 59 bridges - many single lane - without a petrol station en route. Taking an estimated two-and-half hours without stops, one-way, this is a day-long excursion.
Thankfully, it makes up for this by being one of the most scenic drives in the US. Grab a fuelling in breakfast in the former sugarcane town of Pāʻia, not far from the airport - just don't give in to the temptation to linger idly with locals too long. Around nearly every bend you'll want to stop for one jaw-dropping photo opportunity after another. The lush green vegetation together with the bulging cliffs and waterfalls is overwhelming.
En route, between mile markers four and five, try a smoothie at Huelo Lookout organic fruit stand and later, between markers 18 and 25, keep your eyes open for stunning waterfalls. Take a break on the Wai'ānapanapa black sand beach before arriving in Hāna where you'll find the spectacular red sand Kaihalulu beach.
After the long drive back, you'll thank yourself for having booked ahead for dinner at Mama's Fish House, Pāʻia, for some of Hawaii's finest seafood.
It was at a luau, a Hawaiian party, that I wore a fresh lei for the second time this trip. Even today, I can still smell it. The memory takes me back to a banquet of food, music and traditional hula dances. I was at the Feast At Lele which, along with the Old Lahaina Luau, ranks most popular among locals. Make sure to book ahead.
Haleakalā National Park
Holidays and early mornings should rarely be used in the same sentence. Except that is, when a 3AM start is to catch the sun rise through the fog over the peak of the world's largest dormant volcano, Haleakalā. Its name, fittingly, means 'house of the sun'. The surrounding landscape, a patchwork of craters, is home to some 55 endangered species. If a crack-of-dawn get-up isn't your thing, watching the sunset here is equally awesome.
Adventuring upcountry to Makawao, you enter paniolo - Hawaiian cowboy - territory. The drive there navigates a narrow, empty road dividing vibrant green fields before entering a ranching town with a thriving arts scene. Head up the scenic hills and you'll reach the Ulupalakua Ranch Store and Grill - part of a 20,000-acre ranch - offering organic elk burgers.
The secret to life's happiness is found on the beach in Maui. Read, walk, swim, eat, repeat. Sunsets here feel like a show specially put together for you by nature; the sky is awash with all shade of red, orange, purple and blue. All the clichés you heard are true - particularly when you're watching from under the canopy of a palm tree, cocktail in hand.
Discover Big Beach in Makena State Park. Here the current is strong and surfers ride the wave as the sun creeps towards the horizon. And do keep your eyes out for sea turtles, something of an obsession in Hawaii.