Have you ever had that moment during a long plane flight, when it dawns on you that you are packed in with a hundred other people, suspended in a metal container, 30,000 feet in the air? It’s an exhilarating, sometimes terrifying, always surreal realization. But the moment usually passes quickly, and is gone as soon as the beverage cart arrives or the next movie begins.
But maybe it’s moments like these that not only make that hours-long flight more interesting, but give you a deeper appreciation of your destination, before you even arrive. And not in the “kiss-the-ground,” happy-to-be-alive kind of way, mind you. I’m talking about using your flight to Maui as a catalyst to understanding Maui. To cultivate a sense of wonder about this place long before setting foot on it. At least a little. From 30K feet.
As Above, So Below
The shortest distance between any airport and the island of Maui is 2,336 miles (San Francisco). At a cruising speed of 500 mph, you are gobbling up space at 8.33 miles every minute. But what are you passing over? Well, ocean, of course. Lots of it. I can’t help but wonder what it was like for those ancient Polynesians, guided only by the wind and the stars, in the middle of such an endless expanse, averaging not 8 miles per minute, but 6 miles per hour! The courage and faith and toughness it must have taken.
I also wonder, listening to the smattering of applause as our pilot announces our arrival after 4 ½ hours, how those seafarers reacted as Mauna Loa first peeked over the horizon. After months at sea, hungry and exhausted, did they also cheer? Did they weep or chant a prayer of thanks? Or were they collectively silent, dumbstruck and in awe?
As Below, So Above
So yes, jetliners move quickly over the vast ocean, and ancient sailing canoes, much slower. But there is something else moving, deep below the water’s surface: the migration of the earth itself. And while those first Hawaiians moved at a jogger’s pace, the sea floor is moving at a glacial one; about as fast as your fingernail grows (7 cm per year). And yet, this imperceptible crawl is the sole reason your dream destination exists at all.
The simplified explanation is this: the sea floor upon which the Hawaiian Islands rests is moving, inch by agonizing inch, in a northwestern direction. And in the middle of this giant slab of the earth’s crust (called the Pacific Plate), is a puka (hole). Here, magma rises from the earth’s core, first forming an underwater volcano, before eventually poking through the ocean surface as lava, birthing an island. But as that Pacific Plate continues to move, it inexorably takes that new island with it, making way for a brand new one to form in its place.
At cruising altitude, I imagine far below me a conveyor belt at a gigantic chocolate factory, spitting out Hershey’s Kisses one by one, but over eons rather than seconds. Birthing Kaua’i, five million years ago, and then moving on. Then O’ahu, and moving on. Then Maui Nui… and only 700,000 years past, Hawai‘i Island.
Maui began its life over that hotspot about 3.7 million years after Kaua’i was first formed. It has since moved along that conveyor belt, and is nearly (but not completely) clear of that bubbling puka. The Big Island of Hawaii still owns that spotlight, as evidenced by its near-constant volcanic display. But it too will one day move on, making room for yet another, as it’s slowly pulled back into the sea.
Enjoy Your Flight to Maui
This may all be difficult to imagine or appreciate, high in the atmosphere, traveling at 500 mph. But it’s worth your time, even for just the few moments between your in-flight meal and trip to the lavatory. You are, after all, headed to perhaps the greatest example we have of a living, evolving planet. The earth is so old, and also quite young. It moves and breathes and hosts change measured in millennia.
The ancient Hawaiians understood and appreciated this more than anyone, maybe because their journey here was so agonizingly slow and fraught with difficulty. Maybe because their discovery, at long last, quite literally saved their lives. Whatever it was, it’s this very understanding that shaped the language, art, music, dance… the very culture that you are about to land into. Once the plane wheels rolls to a stop on the tarmac, we hope you take the time to explore, learn about, and remember what makes our islands so special.