W elcome to Maui – one of the world’s favorite tropical islands. The so-called Valley island, with its fabulous scenery, has lots to offer. It is the second-largest of the Hawaiian Islands and is renowned for its beauty, its atmosphere, its history, and its never-ending supply of pristine beaches, waterfalls, landmarks, snorkeling, gardens and many more. It sure is a wonderful place for a vacation, and there probably are not many places on earth where you can swim or surf on a postcard-perfect beach in the morning, explore a volcanic landscape in the afternoon and relax in tropical forests and gardens in the evening. This probably is why Maui residents have a saying: Maui no ka oi – Maui is the best. And after experiencing this island ourselves, we have to agree.
How to get there?
Choose a flight to Kahului Airport. Many airlines offer non-stop flights direct to Maui. You can also fly into Honolulu International Airport on Oahu before heading to Maui on a short, 30-minute flight.
Sometimes traveling unprepared definitely pays off. Just like when we arrived in Maui and decided to drive up to the winding roads toMaui’s highest peak in Haleakala National Park. Not only were we rewarded with amazing views across the whole island, but also were we blown away by the stunning volcanic landscape on the top. We did not even know it was there. Of course we also took the famous road to Hana. While we did not like the drive itself too much, we enjoyed to explore the Waianapanapa State Park, its black sand beach, the volcanic coastline, its blowholes and we even found a small lava tube which we could walk through. Two other beautiful spots we discovered are Koki Beach and Hamoa Beach, about 5 km south of Hana. Those beaches are definitely worth a visit.
How long to stay?
Hawaii definitely is not a budget-friendly destination. This is why we decided to limit our time in this paradise, especially on Maui. We spent 5 nights on the Valley Isle and really enjoyed it. We had enough time to explore the island and were also left with lots of time to enjoy ourselves, the nature and the beaches. But as it probably took quite some effort to get to the island in the first place, and just in case you are not traveling on a budget, we would recommend to go four a full week or even more.
Where to stay?
You will find resorts and hotels of every size and budget in Kapalua, Kaanapali, Lahaina, Kihei, Makena and Wailea on the sunny western coast as well as one resort in Hana in East Maui. As we found the prices for accommodation pretty high, we decided to book an Airbnb in Pukalani. It still was pricy, but we think it was a good deal, as the location was quite central and we got everywhere in no time.
Road to Hana Enjoy a long and winding two-lane journey with more than 600 curves and 56 one-lane bridges, surrounded by lush tropical surroundings and stunning ocean views. When we took the road to Hana, we thought it would be smart to leave at sunrise, to escape the buses and crowds, but in the end we found most of the attractions and small food stands along the road closed as we were too early. So think about having a nice breakfast somewhere in Paia, the gateway to the 42-mile road to Hana, and then head off to take the road to Hana. Paia is also a good place to buy some stuff for a nice roadtrip lunch or to visit afterwards for some good shopping or dining. And if you need something to cool off after a long drive to Hana, we recommend the shaved ice at Tobi’s Shave Ice North Shore or some good ice cream at Paia Gelato. Tobi’s also offers a good choice of local dishes. Try some Poke or a good plate lunch!
Instead of driving all the way back after we reached Hana, we decided to go for the full loop – it is doable, and definitely worth the ride, but if you are not a confident driver, you should not take this road. In fact it most probably violates your rental contract anyway. The road is fine until the famous ‘Oheo Gulch (do not miss this place, and if you already bought a Haleakala National Park ticket, bring it – it also gives you access to the gulch), but between Kipahulu and Nuu Bay the road gets quite bad. It is a single-lane most of the time and it has some pretty scary run down parts. We will never forget that one section where we had a steep cliff on the right and the wild ocean on the left side. With no guardrail at all. Always keep in mind that it is about the journey, not just the destination, so driving carfully and with patience is all that counts.
Haleakala National Park This national park stretches across Maui’s southern and eastern coastline and is home to Maui’s highest peak at 3.055 m above sea level. Hawaiians named this dormant volcano “House of the Sun”, because legend has it that the demigod Maui lassoed the sun from its journey across the sky as he stood on the volcano’s summit, slowing its descent to make the day last even longer. We did not really know what to expect when we decided to drive up to the summit (yes, you can drive all the way up to the summit!) – at first we were blown away by the stunning views and then we were surprised by the fascinating volcanic environment on the top. You can do several hikes up there, so make sure to consider to enjoy and explore this wonderful national park a little more. Click here for more information about the national park and here for more information about its hikes. You have to buy a ticket to enter the national park, it is valid for three days from the day of purchase. Haleakala Sunrise Many visitors and locals wake up early to drive up to the Haleakala Visitor Center, the best spot to watch the sunrise. On a clear morning, seeing the sunrise from the summit of Haleakala is an unforgettable experience. You need a valid ticket to enter the National Park and a reservation to enter for sunrise. Reservations can be made on this website. Make sure to place your reservation way before your stay, sometime they can be booked out two months in advance. If you want to see the sunrise rather spontaneously, check the website about 48 hours in advance. Someone told us that some tickets are held back, so locals can enjoy the sunrise from time to time too. Upcountry Maui On the cool, lower slopes of Haleakala, the towns of Makawao, Pukulani, Kula and Ulupalakua are marvelous places where rural Maui lives in the old local style. Attractions include art galleries, botanical gardens and organic farms. Iao Valley Towering emerald peaks guard the lush valley floor of Iao Valley State Park. Located in Central Maui just west of Wailuku, this peaceful park is home to one of Maui’s most recognizable landmarks, the Iao Needle. This iconic green-mantled rock outcropping overlooks Iao stream and is an ideal attraction for easy hiking and sightseeing. There is a well-marked, paved pedestrian path leading from the parking lot to view Iao Needle and the ridge-top lookout provides incredible views of the valley. The needle is sometimes covered in clouds, so an early start is your best bet for a good view. Families can also take a rainforest walk or explore interactive exhibits at the Hawaii Nature Center, which is also located within Iao Valley. Unfortunately, heavy rains during a tropical storm have closed down the road into Iao Valley, home of Kepaniwai Park and the famous Iao Needle. Construction is under way, so check for local updates to see when the road will open again. It was still closed during our visit in April 2017. Central Maui Just in case you do not want to miss some highlights of central Maui, make sure to have a look at these:
Maui Swap Meet Every Saturday, a wonderful collection of vendors set up at 310 W. Kaahumanu Ave., adjacent to Keopuolani Park in Kahului, to offer everything from fresh Maui fruits and vegetables to beautiful flowers and fashionable clothes. It is also a fun spot to grab a plate lunch and shave ice.
Kahului Kahului is Maui’s modern cross-roads, home to its main airport, light industrial areas and sleep shopping centers, where world-class boutiques and fine-art stores blend with sports-activity rentals and antique shops. This is the place to buy fun souvenirs or an art treasure for back home.
Wailuku The historic town of Wailuku is a beautiful old gem that many visitors often never explore. It also is the Valley Isle’s governmental center and it has several historic and scenic sites of interest. Folks who know the ins and outs of the area will tell you that Wailuku is filled with hidden surprises. Its Old Western false-front buildings sit nesteled below the lush Iao Valley and the city features gourmet bakeries, boutiques and fun little spots to enjoy tasty eats or good coffee.
Maalaea Boat Harbor Maalaea is a central town you may pass several times on your journeys between west and south Maui. For years, Maalaea’s main attraction was its boat harbor, offering day cruises and fishing adventures. Today, its condominiums, ocean center and shopping village add to the attractions.
West Maui So what is going on in the west of Maui? Here are some places you should not miss:
Kaanapali Created in the 1960s, Kaanapali is an exemplary master-planned resort, in our opinion the best thing about this place is the beach it has been centered around. The milelong Kaanapali Beach sure is one of the world’s finest. Besides the beach you will also find luxury hotels and golf, but also the Whalers village and museum, a place where you can shop and learn about the history of the area.
Napili Bay This little bay, located between the resorts of Kahana and Kapalua, is a favorite spots to swim, snorkel or just lie on the beach. You might even get a good view of Molokai across the channel, which is super nice during sunset.
Fleming Beach Park Surfers spend winter months chasing the waves at nearby Honolua Bay, but beachgoers prefer Fleming Beach Park, where a long sandy beach is staffed with professional lifeguards on duty during the day.
Historic Lahaina The old whaling port of Lahaina offers the perfect mix of historic treasures, great shopping, lots of water activities and fine dining. Lahaina’s historic look was preserved by focusing resort development north of the historic town, with some of the finest vacation destinations in the world, including Kaanapali.
By the way, it also makes a pretty good road trip to drive along the west coast of Maui. The bit between Waihee and Kahakuloa can get a bit narrow and tricky, but it is super beautiful and well worth a careful drive. We drove anti-clockwise and think it was perfect.
South Maui The best of southern Maui? You might want to check one of these spots:
Cove Park It is not likely you will run into Laird Hamilton or John John Florence at this popular surfing spot, but it is likely that you will have some memorable fun learning to surf or perfecting your toes on the nose on the gentle small waves that roll into the cove.
Makena Beach Residents and visitors alike enjoy Wailea, though you are more likely to find the bulk of resident beach-goers at makena, distinguished by a long strand of beach (Oneloa) and a smaller, secluded beach (Oneuli), where bathing suits are often optional.
Turtle Town at Maluaka Beach Families of honu – Hawaii’s famous green sea turtles – have chosen nearby Maluaka as their favorite cove to hang out, earning it the nickname “Turtle Town”. Snorkelers with the inside scoop come from all over the world to share the clear waters with these beautiful creatures.
Kihei Wharf There is an endless choice of beaches from Kihei to Makena, but the distinction of the wharf is that it is a popular shoreline fishing spot and home to the Kihei Canoe Club, often seen practicing here for seasonal canoe races, one of Hawaii’s most popular sports.
East Maui East Maui is home to some of Maui’s most favorite attractions. Here you will find the Road to Hana, the “Seven Pools” of the Oheo Gulch, Hana Town and the Haleakala National Park. On top you will get:
Keanae Peninsula A favorite stopping point along the road to Hana, the peninsula offers and opportunity to stretch your legs and enjoy the beauty of the rugged coastline, as well as the picturesque church that serves this tiny rural community.
Kaumahina State Wayside Park In addition to the Keanae Peninsula, this state park is a welcome rest stop (with bathrooms), a lush green forest where you can breathe in the fresh air and marvel at nature’s creations.
Parks and Trails There are a couple of nice parks and trails available on Maui: Iao Valley, Makena State Park, Waihee Ridge Trail, Kapalua Coastal Trail, Waihou Spring Trail and the Kaupo Gap Trail. You can find more information about Maui’s hiking trails here. Recommended Beaches Just in case you cannot decide which beach you should visit, here are some favorites worth checking out: Honokahua (reef, snorkeling), Kaanapali (restrooms, showers, picnic area, sandy bottom, snorkeling), Olowalu (picnic area, reef, snorkeling), Kihei (restrooms, showers, picnic area, sandy bottom, snorkeling, lifeguard), Wailea (restrooms, showers, picnic area, sandy bottom, reef, snorkeling, lifeguard), Makena (Makena’s Big Beach is our favorite, go all the way to the third entrance and enjoy – sandy bottom), Hookipa (made it to #2 on our list – restrooms, showers, picnic area, reef, close to Paia) and Keanae (reef).