Travelling to Maui, Hawaii

Matt O'Grady goes in search of a long-lost friend ?off Maui’s west coast.

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Matt O’Grady goes in search of a long-lost friend 
off Maui’s west coast.

For the past 25 years, I’ve held onto a shameful secret, one that only my immediate family knows about. It’s the sort of decision you make in haste in your youth and then go on to regret for the rest of your life. The fact is, parenthood is hard: the feeding, the housing, the tender love and care. It’s a huge commitment, and some of us quickly discover we’re not cut out for the job. And so it was that, on a cold, sunny fall day in October 1986, I took Pokey to an isolated farm in Gormley, Ontario, and tearfully released him into a deep blue lake. 

Pokey was a turtle, and while my mother convinced me at the time that Pokey would live on happily in his newfound home, with other turtles to play with, I wasn’t convinced. Even at the age of 11, I was a hardened cynic. A “release into the wild” seemed to me more like consignment to a watery grave. But that didn’t stop me from wondering, every once in a while, what might have happened to Pokey and what he might look like after all these years.

He would be much bigger, I’m sure. Maybe even this big, I think to myself as I snorkel off the coast of Kaanapali Beach in West Maui in mid-November. By my side, about six metres away, is a would-be Pokey: same colour, same markings but about 1.5 metres long, or 15 times the size Pokey was when I abandoned him. He moves with the same grace and sense of purpose as Pokey did, and every so often he turns his head knowingly in my direction before resuming his paddle through the warm bay waters.

Granted, it’s 7,400-plus kilometres from Gormley to Kaanapali, but these green sea turtles – what the Hawaiians call honu – can swim. Many travel over 2,500 kilometres just to reach their spawning grounds, I’m told by Jeff, our snorkelling tour guide from Trilogy Excursions. And long-distance swims aren’t the biggest challenge they face: everything from poaching to pollution to real estate development (where nesting beaches are eliminated or destroyed) has left the green sea turtle on the endangered list.

Today the turtle is a protected species, as it is in many parts of the world, but it wasn’t always so. Up until passage of the U.S. Endangered Species Act in 1973, the turtle was widely poached by Hawaiians, their shells used to make jewelry, their tanned skin turned into handbags and their meat and eggs used for food. Where once there were millions of green sea turtles worldwide, today the number of nesting females is thought to number only 200,000. In Hawaii, a mere 100 to 350 females nest in the islands’ coastal waters each year. Because it takes sea turtles so long to reach sexual maturity, it is only now – almost 40 years after passage of the endangered species act – that population numbers are starting to inch back.

The honu has a prominent place in many Hawaiian legends. Some say the turtles were the first to guide the Polynesians to the Hawaiian Islands, a belief reinforced by numerous petroglyphs that have since been found depicting the turtles as navigators or messengers. There’s another long-standing legend about a big green sea turtle, Kailua, who could turn itself into the form of a girl and who, in human form, would look after the children playing on local beaches. I think about that story as Pokey disappears into the caves of the coral reef below, and with him the lingering guilt of an 11-year-old boy.



Although it’s warm year-round in Maui, your best bet for a rain-free vacation (never a sure thing) is April through October.


Best Bed 

Smack dab in the middle of Kaanapali Beach, the Westin Resort features a stunning property and, at Tropica, a top-notch restaurant.


Best Meal 

Take a drive down the coast to Wailea to experience the ultra suave Duo restaurant at the Four Seasons Resort Maui.

Can’t Miss

A snorkel tour. Two of the best include the Trilogy charter that departs from Kaanapali Beach and the Kai Kanani charter that departs from Makena Beach.,