Who says going back to school has to be boring? Forget chalkboards—we’re talking surfboards, snorkels, and sunshine. Go to the head of the class on your next island escape with these 10 Maui must-learns. (Plus where to go for after-school snacks and luxe naps!) Not to worry, these vacay prereq’s are all easy A’s:
Swimming with Turtles 101: Hawaiian green sea turtles abound in Maui’s Turtle Town on Maluaka Beach in Makena, where underwater volcanic formations offer a cozy seahouse for these honu. Grab a snorkel, outrigger canoe, and guide from nearby Makena Beach & Golf Resort and watch the gentle giants in action, ambling through ocean currents and holding their breath for more than four hours on the sandy bottom. More serious students can brush up on their turtle trivia at the Maui Ocean Center.
Ukulele Appreciation: The buoyant strum of a ukulele is, of course, the signature score of Hawaii. There are few better ways to capture the soul of Maui than by learning a ditty on your very own tiny guitar. Forgo tinny toy versions in souvenir shops; instead, shop like a local at Bounty Music, which offers ukulele classes as well as the best selection of authentic ukes (from $35 to $3,000) on the island.
Applied Ziplining: Who needs physics when you can defy gravity, ziplining over Maui’s lush mountains and streams for some of the best views in the South Sea Isles? Skyline Eco-Adventures in Lahaina provides a thrilling aerial tour, a yummy lunch, plus a comedy routine from guides that’ll leave you in stitches (the good kind).
Organic Farming and You: Get a hands-on horticulture lesson at O’o Farm, high in the misting forest region of Kula. Its 8.5 acres of organically grown (and extremely tasty) crops supply two local restaurants; its outdoor kitchen and hands-on harvesting tour supply visitors with a gourmet lunch and lessons in deliciously healthy eating and biodynamic sustainability. (Extra credit: bring a warm rain jacket—Waipoli (the misting forest) can be chilly and damp.)
Hula 101: Your hips won’t lie after a hula lesson at Whalers Village in Lahaina, which also offers daily classes in lei making and coconut husking. Then be awed by the hula pros in action at the Old Lahaina Lu’au, considered the most impressive classic luau on that side of the island.
Driver’s Ed on The Road to Hana: Get licensed to gawk on the famous 52 miles of 620 turns and 59 bridges of the Road to Hana, which wanders through stunningly verdant tropical rainforest. For personal tutoring, grab a narrated CD guide for your car (often available for loan from your hotel concierge or at gas stations in Paia) to lead you through the road’s magnificent hikes, flowers, and waterfalls. Take a study break at the mystical bamboo forest—a tucked away spot that’s often missed—after a hefty hairpin turn just before mile marker seven.
Grill Economics: Quick lesson in Hawaiian econ: everything’s a bit more expensive on an island! Fixing your own supper is a great alternative for families or couples watching their spend. Get a complimentary cooking lesson when you stay at the Kaanapali Alli, which offers grills, spice rubs, and official grill masters standing by to guide you to your B.B.Q. degree.
Mixology: Picking and Sipping: Uproot your own herbs before drink hour with a garden tour and Herb’n Cocktail Tasting at the Molokini Bar Lounge, also home to one of Makena’s best Sunday brunches.
Phys Ed: Biking, Paragliding, Tennis: Keep your bod in beach-worthy shape with physical challenges, like a downhill sunrise bike from the towering Haleakala crater (pictured) (Bike Maui offers packages), an afternoon of friendly tennis (many of Maui’s clubs rank high in 2012’s top 100 tennis resorts in the world) and a daredevilish paraglide over the mountains of Maui (Proflyght Paragliding will send you soaring).
Learn to Speak Hawaiian: You already know that a little aloha goes a long way. Mastering a few other key phrases, like wahine (women), kane (men), mahalo (thank you), ‘ono (delicious), and a hui hou (until we meet again—much preferable to "goodbye") is one of the best ways to dive in to your vacation studies.
Boarding School: Enjoy one of the best beaches on the south side of the island at Makena Beach & Golf Resort, slightly further away (but with lower rates) than the nearby Four Seasons and Fairmont.
In Lahaina, land your own condo with a full kitchen overlooking beautiful pools, hot tubs, clay tennis courts and ocean views at the Kaanapali Alii.
After-School Snacks: For a luxurious sunset dinner, make an oceanside reservation at Sarento’s On the Beach, with views of the islands Molokini and Lanai. You can also lunch with locals on Hawaiian-focused fare at Da Kitchen in Kahului or grab fish tacos and brews at Beach Bums, near the Maui Ocean Center in Ma’alaea. And no Maui education would be complete without a stop for stunning views and delicious seafood at "Maui’s favorite restaurant," the famed Mama’s Fish House.
Extra Credit for Shopping: Hit the quaint (and often celeb-studded) surfer town of Pa’ia, where you can score beachy baubles and tees from Alice In Hulaland or frothy frocks from Mahina. Snag vintage-style Hawaiian postcards and tchotchkes from the Paia Pharmacy, whose knickknacks are better bargains than nearby souvenir shops.
All photos courtesy of the Hawaiian Visitors and Convention Bureau