What comes to mind when you think of Maui? Chances are that visions of white sand beaches and swaying palm trees dance through your head, unsurprisingly given that Maui has some of the best beaches in the world. As part-time Maui residents, we can assure you that these beaches live up to their reputations. Loving Maui as much as we do, we want to be sure your trip also includes the following highlights.
Haleakala, a 10,000 plus foot volcano on the eastern side of Maui, is an absolute must-see at sunrise or sunset.
Our family prefers sunset so that we can also star gaze; the sheer volume of stars visible is truly amazing. The drive to the peak is beautiful with outstanding vistas and dramatic changes in landscape and vegetation. Temperatures also change significantly- while you may have been sunbathing on the beach in the morning, you will want to bring warm clothes for this trip as temperatures drop to around freezing at night at the peak. One can drive to the summit making it very accessible to most everyone, although those with respiratory conditions should keep the altitude in mind. While restrooms and drinking water are available, there are no food services or gas available in the park. There are many hiking trails along the ascent as well as into the crater itself. Watch out for cattle while driving and keep your eyes peeled for hang gliders who often, weather permitting, use some of the turnouts along the ascent as launch points. Tours offer “bike down the mountain” packages where they drive you up, provide the bikes and helmets, allowing you then to whiz down. Be sure to look for the silversword plant which are only found at Haleakala. These beautiful plants live between 3 and 90 years, flower once and then die.
Road to Hana
The Hana Highway connects Kahului, where the airport is, to the town of Hana in east Maui.
This 68 mile long stretch of highway takes you through luscious rainforests with dramatic vistas and waterfalls at almost every turn. And there are a lot of turns. The Road to Hana is famous for its windiness – there are 620 curves and 59 bridges, many of which are one lane. Driving this route is not for the timid driver nor for those with weak stomachs. Should you make this drive, we suggest packing a picnic lunch. There are numerous places along the way where you will want to stop, explore, and take pictures. Additionally, we have heard from locals and tourists alike to avoid the restaurants in Hana. There is also an alternate route to Hana which is discussed below.
While flowers and flowering trees abound, there are several tropical gardens in Maui that are well worth the trip. Our favorite is the Garden of Eden which is along The Road to Hana. Even if you don’t make the entire Road to Hana drive, going to these gardens provides a good taste of the Road to Hana experience while also being a fantastic destination. Unique flowers and rare trees are to be found along the trails including our personal favorite – the rainforest eucalyptus tree.
Also of note in these gardens is an overlook of the famous Kopuka Rock, featured in the helicopter descent scene in the movie Jurassic Park.
There are no food or beverage services available here. Pack a picnic lunch and enjoy the scenery but beware of the peacocks – they can be aggressive while begging for food.
Lahaina is an historic oceanside town on the western side of Maui with beautiful views of the ocean, the island of Lanaii and the West Maui Mountains. It also has one of the largest banyan trees in the world.
There are loads of great restaurants, shops, and, if you are looking for nightlife on Maui, this is the spot. Expect lots of other people to be enjoying this town too and keep an eye out for the cruise ships – when one is in port there are thousands more tourists. Our rule of thumb is to avoid Lahaina when a cruise ship is in town or a big activity such as a marathon is going on. The drive to Lahaina is on a busy two lane road with no alternatives and no where to go if you get stuck in traffic. While there is free on the street parking, it is limited and hard to get. Expect to pay for parking but there are lots of parking lots available. For those who like outlet malls, one recently opened just behind the main portion of town known as Front Street.
Along with the shops, there are local artisans who demonstrate and sell their wares along Front Street. Our favorites are the wood carvers – often it’s a family tradition with techniques having been passed down for generations.
This activity is obviously dependent on your visit being during “whale season” which runs from late September til mid May with peak activity in February and March. There are numerous tour companies that run whale watches from Lahaina and others that also run out of other towns such as Ma’alaea and Kihei. Pay attention to the size of the boat and how many people will be on the tour with you. Some of the larger boats hold a large number of people and when whales are sighted, people all rush to the side of the boat with the best views and one can get stuck without much to see. Tours can last several hours – most companies provide water and some provide food and assorted beverages. For longer length tours it is nice to have shade available and bathrooms accessible. Our favorite tour company is the Pacific Whale Foundation as it is a non-profit organization founded in 1980 to save whales from extinction. PacWhale, as it is also known, operates a number of different size boats out of both Lahaina andMa’alaea. All tours are staffed by Certified Marine Naturalists who narrate and answer questions during the tour.
Maui Ocean Center
Should you get a rainy day or need a break from the sun, the Maui Ocean Center in Ma’alaea is a wonderful aquarium. It is open every day of the year from 9-5 and in July and August it remains open til 6. The aquarium is home to hundreds of marine life including fish, turtles, and seals while providing tons of information and exhibits on many more creatures including humpbacks. There are touch pools and an amazing tunnel where the fish and sharks swim up close and over your head!
There is a nice gift shop and small stands to buy beverages and snacks. Buy your entry tickets online and receive a complimentary upgrade from a daily ticket to a week long pass.
Nakalele Point & Blowhole
On the west side of Maui, north of Kapalua, is Nakalele Point, the northernmost portion of Maui. While this point is as scenic as most of Maui, the real star here is the blowhole. Waves produce water spouts from the blowhole that can rise as high as 100 feet. While stormier days produce more dramatic geysers, even on relatively calm days, there is still lots of activity.
To reach Nakalele Point, take Highway 30 north from Kapalua. Signage for the blowhole is not great, but look for mile marker #38 and the dirt pullout; other cars are undoubtedly parked there. The blowhole is visible from just a short walk from the parking area, but one may also hike down to it. The roundtrip distance of the hike is about a mile and a quarter. While it is not a strenuous hike, the terrain is rather rough and should be done wearing hiking boots or sturdy shoes. Loose rocks make slipping a real hazard. Safety signs warn of the hazards of getting too close to the blowhole and, indeed, people have died from being sucked in. There is no need however to risk any such danger as the blowhole is clearly visible from many safe vantage points.
While some folks just come for a short visit, others bring folding chairs and relax for longer periods. There are no facilities here and if you plan to visit for a while, bring water.
Hiking the Pipiwai Trail is a great opportunity to see a number of waterfalls including a 200 foot one known as Makahiku Falls and a 400 foot one known as Waimoku Falls. The glory of this trail is that not only do you get to see these falls, but you also get to experience a spectacular bamboo forest. When we hiked this trail, we knew to expect to see bamboo, but to be immersed in a bamboo forest is an experience not to be missed. The hike to the bamboo forest is about a mile; if you proceed on to the Waimoku Falls, you will have hiked for about 2 miles.
This trail is in Haleakala National Park located just past mile marker 42 on the Piilani Highway. Park at the visitor center and be prepared to pay an entrance fee or show your park pass. There are restrooms and picnic tables available. The trailhead is located just across the highway. One may reach this area by driving the Road to Hana and continuing, or taking the alternate, or back road as its known. To drive the back way, take the Haleakala Highway from Kahalui to Kula. Bear right at the fork in the road in Kula near Grandma’s Coffee House. The Haleakala Highway eventually becomes the Piilani Highway. While much of it is paved, there is a five mile stretch of road that is graded dirt that at times may be very rough or washed out from rainfall. The views along this drive are beautiful and the landscape changes dramatically from lush to arid and back again.
Take a trip to Hookipa Beach Park, known as the windsurfing capital of the world. This beautiful beach isn’t a good spot to go swimming but it is a wonderful location to watch surfers, kiteboarders and windsurfers strut their stuff.
This beach is located just minutes down the Hana Highway from Paia at mile marker #9. There are restrooms and picnic areas available but we recommend watching from up higher on the overlooks so that viewing is optimal. If you have folding chairs, bring them and enjoy the live tv.
We know that this is a long list of must see activities and many want to spend time just relaxing on the beach and by the pool. If you don’t get to all of these spots, keep them in mind for next time. Look for rainbows while on Maui – local legends say that seeing one means you will be lucky enough to return to this magical island.