Maui Travel Guide
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21 Ultimate Experiences in Maui

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A Maui state of mind!

From atop sky-scraping Haleakala to the depths of Molokini Crater, Hawaii’s second largest isle bedazzles. Dubbed the Valley Isle, this is the place you come for glittering black sand beaches, monster waves for surfing, bohemian beach towns, migrating humpback whales, traditional luaus, and the must-do road to Hana. Not to mention, of course, some of Hawaii’s best nightlife. Here are 22 ultimate experiences in this bewitching, trade wind-blown, tropical realm.

1 OF 21

Bike Down a Volcano

You start with a reverent moment at Haleakala’s rim, nearly 10,000 feet in elevation, watching the day’s first rays beam across the mystical volcanic moonscape. Then all decorum is off as you saddle up and tear down the mountain slope, for a 23-mile bike journey on two-lane public roads (99 percent of which is downhill. Two dozen switchbacks later, after sly glances at cane and pineapple fields and several small towns, you finish up about near the beach, completely exhilarated from accomplishing the world’s longest downhill bike tour.

INSIDER TIPThe number of companies holding permits was severely limited in January 2018; Bike Maui is still a respected go-to. Be sure to reserve at least a month in advance and know the fee has dramatically increased as well.

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PHOTO: Chandanaroy | Dreamstime.com
2 OF 21

Take a Pineapple Tour

The quintessence of sun-blessed tropical flavor, pineapples exude Hawaiian happiness. It just so happens Maui boasts the only tour of a working pineapple plantation in the U.S. courtesy of Maui Pineapple Tours. You’ll join a worker on a stroll through the sunny fields of the Hali’imaile Pineapple Plantation and learn all about the especially sweet Maui Gold pineapples (and sample its various stages of maturity along the way). The best part? Everyone gets a free pineapple at the end!

INSIDER TIPMaui Pineapple Tours has recently partnered with Hali’maile Distilling Company, inviting guests after the plantation tour to visit the distillery and taste such island treats as Pau Maui Vodka, the world’s only pineapple vodka.

3 OF 21

Snorkel Molokini Crater

A veritable Nemo world of tropical fish thrives at Molokini Crater, a partially submerged caldera about 3 miles off of Maui’s southern coast that serves as a fortress against the waves. We’re talking some 250 different varieties of fish darting about, including Moorish idols, Threadfin Butterflies, Yellow Tangs, and White-spotted puffers, along with Moray eels and even sharks. Within season, you might even get lucky and spot a whale! And don’t forget to look at the coral – big, beautiful colorful bunches of it, waving gently in the sea current. Most tours depart from Maalaea and Lahaina Harbor; Lahaina Divers is a reputable outfitter. On the way back, they stop at Turtle Town, where you can swim with sea turtles.

If Molokini Crater seems a tad overwhelming, Shoreline Snorkel offers snorkeling tours in shallow water, with very calm instructors. You’ll still have the chance to spot Parrotfish, Butterflyfish, even turtles. Perfect for families!

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PHOTO: Cephotography | Dreamstime.com
4 OF 21

Make the Pilgrimage to the Iao Needle

You can’t leave Maui without visiting the Iao Needle in central Maui –the iconic, green-mantled natural spire rising 1,200 feet above a verdant valley. There are several paths, the most popular of which is the Iao Needle Lookout Trail; climb 133 steps to the top of the needle for fab views over tropical flora. Or learn about the luscious plants along the Ethnobotanical Loop. It’s hard to fathom that in this peaceful setting, the ferocious battle of Kepaniwai exploded in 1790, when Kamehameha I’s troops conquered the Maui army, thereby uniting the Hawaiian Islands.

INSIDER TIP Go early in the day before clouds obscure the views.

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PHOTO: Vacclav | Dreamstime.com
5 OF 21

Hike a Lunar Landscape

Maui in general is a hiker’s paradise, and one of the best hikes is the Sliding Sands Trail inside Haleakala’s crater (also called Keoneheehee), the world’s largest dormant volcano. It’s not the easiest hike around – you can expect high elevation and a lack of tree coverage beneath a searing sun–but for anyone up to a challenge alongside their magnificent views, this is it. The 11.2-mile out-and-back starts at the second Haleakala Visitor Center (near the summit). Along the way, you’re submerged in a stark, Mars-like landscape dotted with huge cinder cones, boulders, and silvery-green Silversword. It’s no wonder NASA-trained Apollo astronauts came here in the 1960s to prepare them for the Moon’s desolation. Everywhere you look, dramatic views sweep off into the distance, sometimes swept with clouds–it’s about as otherworldly as you can get.

INSIDER TIPBe prepared for cold and unpredictable weather. And be sure to bring sufficient water; the high altitude causes dehydration.

6 OF 21

Survive the Road to Hana

One of the world’s most famous drives, the precarious road to the tiny town of Hana follows more than 600 curves and crosses some 50 gulch-straddling bridges in just 52 coastline miles. Along the way, you’ll be privy to the stuff Hawaiian melodies are made of: clifftop lookouts, playful breezes, plunging waterfalls, fragrant yellow ginger blossoms, water-logged taro patches, and the ever-changing blues of the Pacific. It’s a road that forces you to slow down and take your time. You have no other choice. And that’s a good thing.

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PHOTO: Michael Gordon / Shutterstock
7 OF 21

Swim Under a Waterfall at Seven Sacred Pools

Sometimes nature creates a scene so stunning that it feels like a stage set. Seven Sacred Pools, known locally as Oheo Gulch, is one such place. A crystal-clear, basalt-lined stream gurgles through a serene valley, dropping here and there as sparkling water falls into natural plunge pools, one after the next ,until the stream finally falls into the sapphire sea along the rugged Kipahulu coastline. These pools are idyllic for swimming—and cliff jumping (which signs prohibit, by the way, though you wouldn’t know it given the number of people doing it).

Check first! The Seven Sacred Pools were recently closed due to safety concerns with rockslides. Check the NPS website for updates.

INSIDER TIPIt gets crowded here, so come early if you want some peace.

 

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PHOTO: Mauijon | Dreamstime.com
8 OF 21

Watch the Big-Wave Surfers

“Monster waves” is Maui’s middle name, and the world’s best surfers (and windsurfers) know it. To watch the big kahunas, head to the North Shore’s world-renowned Hookipa Beach in winter. The best perch is the Ho’okipa Lookout, a clifftop parking lot overlooking “Pavilions” (the beach’s surfing end). There, amped-up surfers undertake an “epic day brah!” as they charge, carve, and perform aerials.

Beginners, or “Barneys,” are in luck—Maui boasts more beginner surf breaks than any other Hawaiian island. The Cove at Kalama Beach Park in Kihei and Launiupoko Beach Park are good choices, and both offer surf schools.

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PHOTO: Copyright 2015, Dave Sansom
9 OF 21

Enjoy Some of the World’s Best Golfing

The perfect storm of golf occurs on Maui, where stunning weather, gorgeous views and amazing course layouts converge. You have a tough task ahead of you, choosing the best place to hit the irons—what a problem to have, right? For starters, favorites include the Plantation Course at Kapalua Golf (played by PGA Tour pros), the Dunes at Maui Lani Golf Course (a British links-style course), and the Royal Kaanapali Course at Kaanapali Golf Courses (designed by Robert Trent Jones Sr.).

INSIDER TIPAfternoon golfing just about anywhere on Maui involves wind.

 

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PHOTO: Erin Donalson / Shutterstock
10 OF 21

Dive the Cathedrals of Lanai

As you drop down into the dark watery chamber, a lacy, lava-rock ceiling gives the sense of stained-glass windows and a big boulder resembles an altar. You are in First Cathedral—a lava tube that comprises one of Maui’s primo diving spots (though technically it’s off Lanai). Nearby Second Cathedral has a 6-foot albino coral tree hanging from the ceiling, resembling a chandelier. Both boast a variety of multicolored fish, eels, even turtles, dolphins, and octopi. Obviously, scuba diving doesn’t get much better than this. Lahaina Divers is a reputable outfitter.

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PHOTO: Sang T. Tran / Shuterstock
11 OF 21

Take Some Beach Time

No doubt about it, one of Maui’s greatest appeals is its beaches. You really can’t go wrong anywhere you go ,But, if you need some direction, try one of the following: Keawakapu, which features critter-filled tide pools and golden sand; Hamoa Bay, which was voted one of the world’s best beaches; or Kapalua Bay, a popular choice among snorkelers. You’ll find soft sands, sunny skies, clacking palm leaves, and refreshing blue waters are all around you; it’s the quintessence of paradise.

12 OF 21

Find Your Aloha at a Hawaiian Luau

Luaus are a time for Hawaiians to come together to feast and tell stories and remember their past through music and dance. While some of the more touristy versions can be cheesy, Old Lahaina Luau gets high marks for authenticity. You’ll enjoy good food (including Kalua pig, cooked in a traditional underground oven), music, arts and crafts, and a spectacular sunset. But, most of all, you’ll partake in the age-old tradition of hula, accompanied by the sweet strains of the ukulele. You may even be invited to come up on stage and dance.

INSIDER TIPThis is a popular luau and it sells out. Be sure to reserve in advance of your trip.

 

13 OF 21

Take a Helicopter Tour

You can’t penetrate much of Maui’s breathtaking landscape; it’s too remote and rugged. That’s where the helicopter comes in, allowing you to zip into Haleakala’s Martian landscape, down Hawaii’s tallest waterfall and over the secluded Wailau Valley. You’ll see circular rainbows, mist-swirling rainforests and black and red sand beaches–all of nature’s glory from high above. Blue Hawaiian is a reputable company, with state-of-the-art equipment.

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PHOTO: Derek van Vliet/Flickr, [CC BY-SA 2.0]
14 OF 21

Listen to the Ukulele

It’s said that the ukulele, the diminutive little instrument with four plastic strings, is experiencing a revival. Indeed, once considered kitsch, ukulele festivals are popping up in unexpected places like Reno, Milwaukee, even Rockville, Maryland. But while you’re in Maui, go to the source–the ukulele has always been at the heart and soul of Hawaiian music. Many different restaurants and bars offer live music while you dine; try Kimo’s or Hula Grill Kaanapali. Better yet, attend the Maui Ukulele Festival in October (a free ukulele workshop is offered) or attend a show (Mohala Mai is a favorite).

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PHOTO: Joe West /Shutterstock
15 OF 21

Watch for Whales

Humpback whales hang out every winter in the Au’Au Channel off Maui. Meaning, boats leaving from Lahaina (once a booming whaling capital) can be in the midst of these gentle giants within 15 minutes, watching them cavort, spout, dive, showing off their flukes. Ultimate Whale Watch offers intimate tours with no more than 12 passengers. You can also stake out an onshore spot; Kaanapali Beach, just north of Lahaina, and the bluffs near the Ritz-Carlton, Kapalua, are divine perches, as is the stretch of Highway 30 between Maalaea and Lahaina. Whale-watching season runs roughly from November through May.

INSIDER TIPFor something really cool, swim or snorkel near a pod and you can hear their song, which can be heard up to 12 miles away.

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PHOTO: Grand Wailea
16 OF 21

Have Drinks at a Ritzy Hotel

Don your best pareo, stick a plumeria in your ear and saunter up to the bar at the laid-back Lobby Lounge at Four Seasons Resort Maui at Wailea. You’ll know you’ve found a piece of paradise when you feel the breeze through your hair and the sounds of the surf crashing nearby. Cocktails are handcrafted (try the signature Hana Haze Martini, with gin, coconut water, lavender syrup, lime juice and a splash of St. Germain Elderflower liqueur) and evening live music includes a sunset hula show.

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PHOTO: Donland/Shutterstock
17 OF 21

Walk on a Black Sand Beach

When molten lava meets the ocean’s waters, it shatters into tiny pieces of basalt—voilà, black sand! Waianapanapa State Park near Hana is such a beach, formed after one of Haleakala’s many eruptions. The thing about black sand, though, is that while it’s beautiful it’s sharp and heat-saturated. You may be better served to avoid sunbathing and explore the beach’s sea caves, rock arch and the remains of the Old King’s Highway—the first road to encircle Maui. Millions of tiny shrimp occasionally occupy the sea cave here, turning the waters blood red.

INSIDER TIPYou’ll find a black sand beach at Oneuli, in South Maui, as well.

18 OF 21

Explore A Bamboo Forest

The breeze gently rustles through the forest, the clacking of wooden chimes all around. You’re in the heart of an immense bamboo forest, where the tall, willowy stalks rhythmically sway to and fro. Close your eyes—it’s mystical and meditative, purely zen. But that’s not all that you find along the 4-mile round-trip Pipiwai Trail in Haleakala National Park, which many consider to be the island’s best hike. It’s a dramatic realm of plunging waterfalls and infinite pools, archaic ferns, and a singular, massive banyan tree.

Be sure to pay attention to warning signs. Dangers include rock falls and flash flooding.

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PHOTO: Hinatea Sportfishing
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Catch Your Dinner – Go Fishing!

Maui may not be known as Hawaii’s primo sportfishing spot—there’s no near-shore, deep-water trench to lure the big fish. But if you’re willing to cruise for 30-60 minutes, you’ll find unsuspecting places to successfully troll your line. Of course, the best thing to do is to leave it to the captain of one of the island’s many fishing charters. Try Start Me Up Sportfishing or Hinatea Sport Fishing, both out of Lahaina. With luck (and depending on the season), you’ll be targeting Striped Marlin, Pacific Blue Marlin, perhaps a shortbill spearfish or sailfish; and there’s always a good chance of Yellowfin and Bigeye tuna, as well as Mahi-mahi and Ono. All catches are typically divided among anglers and the boat.

INSIDER TIPThe boats that leave in the morning generally have better luck than the afternoon charters.

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Enjoy Small Town Charm

Paia, on Maui’s North Shore, reigned as a sugarcane town, until the cane went away. Discovered by hippies in the seventies, it continues to be a hip and happening place. The rustic plantation storefronts are filled with art galleries, one-of-a-kind boutiques, yoga studios, eateries, antique stores, and, of course, surf shops. (Paia also happens to be the hub of the North Shore’s famous surfing.) Be sure to stop by Paia Fish Market for a fish burger and fries, note the Paia Peace Stupia—blessed by the Dalai Lama in 2007—and buy a cool aloha shirt at Jaggers. Pro surfers like to hang out at Anthony’s Coffee Company.

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PHOTO: Mama's Fish House
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Eat at Mama’s Fish House

Many Maui restaurants serve delicious seafood, but the most iconic, authentic, and delicious Old Hawaii experience is found at this casual, open-window, beachside eatery in a North Shore coconut grove. Mama’s dates back to 1973, and it’s one of the island’s first restaurants to serve the fresh catch of the day. The fresh, local seafood is still the reason you make the trek (the menu notes the name of the fisherman who caught each dish, no doubt that very day). Though the eclectic decor is worth a nod as well, the former beach house is filled with oil paintings, freshly cut flowers, sugarcane machinery, and all manner of fun Polynesian tchotchkes.

INSIDER TIPThis is a very romantic spot for a sunset dinner (especially in the evening, with beachside tiki torches blazing away), though it will be less crowded for a midweek lunch.