The Great Maui Sugar and Potato Chip Adventure (Trip Report)

Hawaiian, Mokulele, Trip Reports

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During my month-long stay in Hawai’i, I told my kids they could each have a special “dad adventure.” My daughter unsurprisingly chose to go and swim with dolphins since she is an animal lover. But my son wanted to go fly to another island. He didn’t really care where, but he just figured it would be fun to go somewhere.

In true airline dork fashion, I lined up photos of all the different planes he could take, and then I figured we would narrow down destinations by the airplanes he wanted to fly. Southwest was quickly out since he’s flown them plenty. In the end, he really liked the idea of flying a Mokulele Grand Caravan and a Hawaiian 717. That made our option clear – Kahului or bust.

The question was… what should we do there? I found a few options that were relatively close to the airport, so we could easily take a rideshare and not have to deal with rental cars. His choice? The Alexander & Baldwin Sugar Museum. I had driven by it many times on my way from the airport down to south Maui, but I had never been in. Even though sugar cane cultivation ended on the island in 2016 after nearly 150 years, the museum still stands across from the imposing, vacant mill.

That sounded like a great plan, but there was one more thing I had to do. My favorite potato chip in the world is Kitch’n Cook’d from the Maui Potato Chip Factory. The problem is, it’s really hard to find and is only sold in a few stores on Maui and at the factory near the airport. Since we were going to be there… oh we’d definitely have to stop and pick up some bags. It was time to book flights.

I’m not sure how long Mokulele has competed against Hawaiian in that market, but I was happy to see a 10am flight out that would get us in at 11. Booking was challenging since there was only one seat left at the lowest fare. I couldn’t do that online since my son would show up as an unaccompanied minor, and you can’t book those on the website. So I called and spoke to a friendly agent who was able to book us both on the same reservation at different fares. It was an average of $69 each.

After doing a little math, I figured the 1:43pm return on Hawaiian would be about right. Once again, there was only one seat available at the lowest fare, so I had to jump through hoops. Booking on separate reservations was easy, but they wouldn’t assign a seat for my son until I called them and linked the reservations. This cost us an average of $79 each. I was going to use Chase Ultimate Rewards points, but it was far more expensive using their system.

I was worried that former Hurricane Erick was going to snarl plans. He dumped rain on Maui the day before, but things looked good for our travels. I grabbed my carry on bag and brought it with me… completely empty. Then my wife gave us a ride down to the airport.

Terminal 3, as they call it, has been Mokulele’s home since they knocked down the old commuter terminal last year to pave the way for new gates for Hawaiian. Once I arrived, I couldn’t help but laugh. The “terminal” is basically a double-wide trailer missing a couple walls.

Inside there is a small check-in desk and a couple bathrooms. There is some seating on the inside under cover, but there’s also seating outside. We walked outside and watched the planes go by.

Our aircraft arrived from Moloka’i about half an hour before our flight. Fifteen minutes before departure, they called all 9 of us to the fence for boarding. There we were given our row assignments (we had row 3) and we were escorted on to the airfield to board.

August 3, 2019
Mokulele 710 Lv Honolulu 10a Arr Kahului 11a
Honolulu (HNL): Gate Yeah, there was literally a metal gate, Runway 4L, Depart 10m Early
Kahului (OGG): Gate Uh huh, another metal gate, Runway 5, Arrive 10m Early
N835MA, Cessna 208 Grand Caravan, Standard Mokulele colors, 9/9 Full
Seat 3B, Coach
Flight Time 45m

The airplane was hot, and there was a significant amount of glitter on our seats, something I would only expect to see on a Thursday night Burbank to Vegas flight. We sat down, got the short safety briefing, and then they fired up the engines giving us much-needed air conditioning. We moved out 10 minutes early.

For the couple days prior, the flight had taken a route between Moloka’i and Lana’i, so I told my son to sit on the left side for a better view. Little did I know we were in for a treat.

We taxied out to the short runway 4L and took off, bouncing toward altitude as we cruised over the water with a view of Waikiki and Diamond Head on the left. The windows are so big that you can get a good view looking either way.

We made our way to 7,000 feet — the required altitude for the crossing of the channel — before we settled in and cruised over toward Moloka’i. This time, we were routed to the north of the island, so I had the good views on my side. We first passed by Papohaku Beach and the mostly-abandoned old resort on the west end.

We were able to descend down to 2,500 feet once we had crossed the channel, and that gave us fantastic views up close. The cliffs started to gradually increase in size as we headed east.

We soon found ourselves over Kalaupapa, the old colony for people with Hansen’s Disease (leprosy) which I wrote about two years ago.

Lastly we passed rugged and remote eastern Moloka’i with its waterfalls.

After a quick pass over the water to Maui, we came in from the north and landed a few minutes early.

We hopped into a Lyft and made our way to the museum. It’s a great little spot to get a sense of both the process and what life was like working in the fields. I’d recommend it to anyone with an hour to kill.

Once we finished, we took another Lyft and went straight to the potato chip factory. The couple that runs it were just sitting there chatting as I came in with my empty bag. After stuffing the thing full, I also grabbed a tiny bag for our driver, and then we went back to the airport.

At the airport, the Precheck line was non-existent, but the regular line snaked around the airport. I highly recommend getting Precheck if you fly out of Kahului.

Upstairs, we stopped at Burger King for some lunch and then wandered the halls trying to kill some time. We succeeded.

Our aircraft arrived a little late. The boarding area was packed. Departure time came and they were still only pre-boarding. When they called group 3, the scrum slowly started to move.

August 3, 2019
Hawaiian 275 Lv Kahului 143p Arr Honolulu 224p
Kahului (OGG): Gate 11, Runway 2, Depart 8m Late
Honolulu (HNL): Gate A15, Runway 4R, Arrive 12m Late
N492HA, Boeing 717-2BL, Maile lei colors, ~99% Full
Seat 21B, Coach
Flight Time 28m

They ended up boarding people pretty quickly. Despite the late start, we pushed back only 8 minutes late which was a surprise. Then it was a short taxi to the end of the runway, and we were soon airborne.

It’s always gusty coming out of Kahului, but there were a couple on our climb that seemed to push us straight sideways by a few feet at a time. The airplane took it in stride as we soared upward and circled around West Maui.

Once above 10,000 feet, it smoothed out and we topped out at 14,000 feet. They came through with water or POG juice, so I was able to introduce my son to his first onboard POG experience. It always reminds me of traveling between the islands as a kid, so it was fun to pass that on.

There wasn’t much sight-seeing to be done at that altitude considering the clouds below, but it wasn’t long before we were descending anyway. They were landing on 4R so we headed out well over the water before lining up to come back in. Just like on the return from Lana’i, we descended really low — this time down to 2,000 feet — and stayed there for a couple minutes. Then we came in for a landing and taxied back.

My wife picked us up and we were heading back home just a few hours after we started.

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16 comments on “The Great Maui Sugar and Potato Chip Adventure (Trip Report)

  1. You really seem to love Hawaii. Seriously: why not move there? I have zero experience running a small business, but yours seems to be pretty geographically dispersed. Maybe you’ll get rock fever and want to move back in a few years. Maybe not. Anyhow, you only go around once.

    1. Grichard – Of course I’ve had that thought, but I don’t think I’d like it.
      To me, Hawai’i is an escape. It’s a place I used to look forward to visiting as a child, and that hasn’t changed over the years. But once the mundane everyday life becomes a part of my time in Hawai’i, it takes the magic away. For me, it’s better to keep it as a place where I can visit and leave the world behind.

  2. When I saw the picture of the “terminal” for Mokulele I did a double-take as it is identical to the one in Kona that me and my brother used to fly to Molokai in 2017. Are you sure you flew from HNL? I already rechecked my email reservation from then just to make sure we actually left from Kona.

    1. I think that’s becoming the new “standard” for Hawaii Dept of Transportation – Airports. There’s been a push via the legislature to form an Airports Authority for the state, but it doesn’t seem to get the attention of the governor. Until then, the airports are left to fend for themselves – one reason HNL is in the condition its in.

  3. Thanks for taking us along on your adventures, Brett. Very cool that you go to do that with your son. I have young sons (avgeeks in training) as well and I hope to be able to take them along on some of my adventures one day. I’d love to make a Dorkfest run sometime but haven’t been able to make it work out yet.

  4. Huh… Learn something new every day! I like in Hawaii and have been to Maui many times, but have never heard of that chip company! Next time I’m there, I’ll most certainly check it out. Oh, and the Sugar Museum used to display an old steam locomotive from Kahului Railroad. That is now on display at The Mill House restaurant not far from there. I believe the thing is still operational too, but it’s been some time since it was last fired up.

    1. Island Miler – Have you ever been to the Hawaiian Railway Society down in Ewa Beach?

      I learned about it from Hawaiian’s VP of Flight Ops Ken Rewick who volunteers there. We were going to take the ride on a Saturday to Ko’olina and get ice cream, but a truck ran into power lines and there were a dozen on the tracks so they canceled. Instead, we were given a look at the yard and at all the old locomotives and coaches they have there. It was a real trip.

      1. Yes! I used to ride regularly when I was a child, and my family used to hold membership. Last year I revisited for the first time in decades and decided to ride in Benjamin Dillingham’s private parlor car. It was a great experience for sure:

        That’s too bad about the power line incident, though. Hopefully, you’ll be able to check it out in the future. The Sugar Cane Train on Maui is supposed to re-open this year too, but that’s what they’ve been saying for the past couple of years and haven’t given any updates since last December.

        Grove Farm Museum on Kauai also offers free steam train rides every second Thursday of the month. These locomotives are real plantation steam engines and are the only operational examples in the state of Hawaii:

        Hawaii has a rich, diverse railroad history. If you want to see how things used to be back in the day, check out books like this one:

        1. Island – Ah yes, we climbed on that parlor car when we were there. So cool, and I’m not even a rail guy.

          I also did the hike to Ka’ena Point and just imagined the old sugar cane rail trips going around there. It’s sad that the infrastructure has all been dismantled. (And now they get to build a new one wasting a ton of money…)

          1. Haha, yes… The irony of it all, huh? And, the right-of-way still exists all the way from Kaena Point to Pearl Harbor’s West Loch. hell, I think they should restore the line all the way around Waialua because a train ride around that extremely scenic part of the island would be a fantastic tourist attraction.

            By the way, the pedestrian bridge next to the road bridge at Waimea Bay is an old Oahu Railway bridge.

            1. Island – That would be unreal to do the train all the way to Waialua, but then again, I loved the 2.5 mile hike over to Ka’ena Point, and a train would really take away from that. It’s so peaceful and scenic over there.

              I saw some photos of the bridge at Waimea Bay, I think at the Hawaiian Railway Society, maybe? Such a trip.

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