It's been said many times. Maui no ka 'oi. Maui is the best. Any resident of Maui—in fact, many people in Hawaii—will tell you this. But don't just take an islander's word for it. Ask the tony readership of Conde Nast Traveler, whose Reader's Choice Poll named Maui the Best Island in the World twelve out of the last thirteen years, and the Best Pacific Island for sixteen straight years. Truly, Maui's charm is universal.
And when you consider what Maui has to offer travelers, is it any wonder? Quintessential Maui experiences include seeing the sunrise from the summit of Haleakala, sunning on the beaches in Kaanapali and Kihei, driving the Road to Hana through lush rainforest, and watching humpback whales during the winter in the waters off Maui. What more could anyone ask for?
Maui has a population of about 150,000 people, about the same as the Big Island but in a fraction of the area. Shaped like a figure eight (or a lopsided dumbbell), Haleakala takes up the lion's share of the east side of the island, while the West Maui Mountains, the remnant of an extinct volcano, is on the west. The area between the two volcanoes gives the island its nickname: The Valley Isle.
Areas and Cities
Haleakala and the West Maui Mountains meet here in the middle, and this is also the main population center of Maui, with twin towns surrounded by acres of sugar cane and pineapple fields.
The two towns of the Central Valley have two distinct personalities to them. In Kahului, it's all about commerce, trade, and transportation. This is strip mall and big-box store heaven (or hell, depending on your point of view). The island's two largest malls are located here, as are the island's principal deep-water port and main airport. It's modern and dynamic, but without the skyscrapers of downtown Honolulu.
Head several miles west to the slightly smaller town of Wailuku, and you step back about 50 to 100 years, back to the days when daily life revolved around Main Street. In Wailuku, this is still the case; buildings here maintain the look and feel of the early 1900s. The site of county government, Wailuku is also home to several buildings listed on both state and national historic registers. It is the gateway to the Iao Needle, but has few other tourist attractions. Two golf courses are located in nearby Hyashi Village.
To the east, just past the start of the Hana Highway, is Paia. The pastel storefronts house some good restaurants while it's beaches are world renowned for both windsurfing and surfing.
West Maui is the main tourist center of the island and includes the old whaling port of Lahaina with many gift shops and restaurants, Kaanapali beach which plays host to the majority of luxury resorts on the westside, Honokowai, Kahana and Napili which are a mix of vacation condos, vacation homes, residental and modestly priced resorts and finally Kapalua with its world renowned golf courses.
The lesser known communities of Olowalu, Honokohau and Kahakaloa offer the visitor an opportunity to see how the locals live. Olowalu is the first community you come to after coming off the Pali. There is a little store and Chez Paul, a French restaurant that is quite well known. Honokohau and Kahakaloa are located past Kapalua and do not offer tourist services but are both lovely and authentic local communities.
South Maui is one of the fastest growing areas on Maui, with high tech industries and a tourist center on the southwest coast.
Kihei is a recent upstart on the south coast. Beyond the omnipresent beaches and resorts, Kihei is home to Maui's small but growing high-tech industries, including a supercomputing center.
Wailea and Makena are master-planned resort areas located just south of Kihei.
Sparsely populated East Maui centers around the village of Hana and the winding road that leads to it.
Isolated Hana is located on Maui's eastern tip surrounded by dense rainforests. The Highway to Hana is a tourist attraction in its own right, as it winds for hours through green valleys, past waterfalls, and over one-lane bridges.
Located in the foothills of Haleakala, the area known as Upcountry is a ranching area, and its cooler temperatures also lend itself to specialized agriculture.
Kula is also home to large ranches, and is home to the only winery on Maui, Tedeschi Vineyards.
Kahului Airport (IATA: OGG) is the main airport for the island of Maui, and the second largest commercial airport in the state. It is a secondary hub for Hawaiian and Aloha Airlines, which provides interisland service to Kahului from the other major airports in the state. Several major U.S. airlines also provide non-stop service to Maui from the West Coast and beyond.
To get to Lahaina and Kaanapali, where most major hotels are located, exit the airport and follow route 380 to its junction with route 30, and turn left on route 30 toward Lahaina. For Kihei and Wailea, follow the above instructions and turn left on route 31 about a mile from the route 380 junction.
When departing from Kahului Airport for the U.S. Mainland, all baggage must be inspected by Hawaii State Department of Agriculture inspectors at the airport. Be advised that fresh fruits (with the exception of pineapples and treated papayas) are prohibited from leaving the islands to prevent the spread of fruit flies.
While Maui has a basic public transportation system, many places are not accessible by bus, and most visitors rent a car. Fortunately, renting a car in Hawaii is much cheaper than anywhere else in the United States. Larger groups should schedule and arrange their Maui charter bus a few weeks before their intended arrival. You can view more resources on Maui transportation including maps of OGG Kahului airport, destination drives to attractions and activities as well as discounted Maui car rentals information here.
Lahaina Kanaapali Railroad
Also called the Sugar Cane Train, the Lahaina Kanaapali Railroad is both an attraction and a means to travel between the Kannapali resort area and Lahaina Town. The official Lahaina Kanaapali Railroad web site offers more information as well as discounted tickets.
Humpback whales breed off the coast of Maui from about December to March. Whalewatching cruises make frequent trips, though more often the whales are easily visible from shore.
Haleakala National Park offers alpine wilderness and stunning views of Maui and beyond (from the summit you can see five of the eight main islands, more than are visible from anywhere else in Hawaii).
Wainapanapa State Park has black sand beach, sea arch, sea caves, a small blowhole to see.
Snorkeling and Scuba Diving
Many tour boats run out to the spectacular volcanic atoll Molokini a few miles offshore, known for terrific visibility. There are also plenty of beaches, especially in the west and northwest, where you can simply wade in and get to excellent snorkeling spots just offshore. Black Rock (at the north end of Kaanapali Beach) is one such place. There are several local shops where you can rent snorkel gear by the day or week. Remember that the sea turtles are protected by both state and federal laws. It is illegal to harass turtles and turtle nests. This includes touching and chasing the sea turtles.
[Editorial note: Most of the bikes seen on these trips are not true "mountain bikes" these are actually usually more like old fashioned cruser bikes. Note also that as of January 2008, the commercial tour operators are banned from bike tours in the national park (due to a 65yr old woman stearing herself across the double yellow like & killing herself by hitting an oncoming van. This is only the 3rd death in over 20 years of these bike tours. The operators are still operating, and may provide van tours of the national park area to allow one to see the upper 3500 ft of elevation that is in the national park. There should be a decision in early March 2008 as to the future of the ban on commercial bike tours. NOTE: Individuals may still ride in the park. ]
EDIT This was taken from http://www.bikemaui.com/alert.html "On October 10th, 2007 Marilyn H. Parris, Superintendent of Haleakala National Park called for an emergency "60 day Safety Stan down" of all commercial downhill bike tours in the park! The superintendent's announcement had everything to do with recent serious accidents and fatalities by those companies that offer so called "guided" experience. Five of those seven downhill bike companies can no longer enter the "National Park"! Maui Downhill, Maui Mountain Riders, Maui Mountain Cruisers, Bike It Maui, and Cruiser Phil's are the companies that can not go to the summit to enjoy Sunrise, or view the crater. Those companies are no longer allowed in the national park, and are limited to biking outside the park.
Haleakala Bike Company has not been affected by this "Stand Down". We continue to offer the same tours that we have for last fifteen years. When we started in 1992, we saw the guided tours as "Unsafe", and consequently we allowed our clients to bike down Haleakala "At their own pace". Stay in your own "comfort zone". Be aware of what is going around you. That is what will make you safe, not because somebody tells you they make it safe; when in fact they put you at risk. People encouraged to go faster then they should will have disasterus results."
Many different companies lead mountain bike trips down Mt. Haleakala. If you can ride a bicycle, you can do this. It's a 26 mile trip, but you only have to pedal for about a quarter mile. Generally, there are trips that start with watching the sun rise at the top of Haleakala, then trips that start later in the morning. Be aware that for the sunrise trips, you'll probably end up leaving your hotel at 2AM, or even earlier if you're staying in the Lahaina or Kapalua area. It takes some time to drive to the top of the mountain, get everyone equipped, etc. Your tour group will probably lend you some type of jacket and gloves, but plan on being cold while you're waiting for nature's show -- the overnight temperature will probably be in the 40s or 30s. Many find the 10,000-foot summit's view of the pre-dawn colors and ensuing sunrise breathtaking enough to justify the early start and the cold. Others beg to differ, advising visitors to get a good night's sleep and take the later trip. For those excited about the sunrise, a fair warning: cloud density at the mountaintop can be hard to predict, so you may not see as far as you might like.
Most Rental companies will also rent you a bike, a bike rack, and some gear so you can ride Haleakala at your own pace (assuming you have someone willing to drive you to the top). This is a great option if you're a speed demon but not without certain dangers. Riding down Skyline, the trail head of which is located beyond a cattle grate just below the summit of Haleakala (but above the visitor center) off a side road that leads to the observatory, is an exhilarating scream down a fire road covered with lava chips, shifting sand, and unforgiving hard-packed dirt, very technical and very fast. A fall will definitely remove some skin, at the very least. Single track trails exist as well: one is Mamane, the trail head of which can be found about half-way down Skyline on your right. Do not ride a bike below the Waipoli access road. Doing so will be a violation of park rules (posted signs are fairly hard to miss) and will also be no fun at all as the trails are simply too small and difficult and you will just have to climb back up to the access road to leave the park anyway. And it will very likely be cold and you will very likely be soaked (think: cloud-forest), so don't do it. Once you hit Waipoli simply ride out of the park with Haleakala on your right and the ocean below on your left. Getting stuck on Haleakala after dark can be very hazardous as it often freezes. Riding down the paved road like the packaged tourists do is much safer and easier, of course, but maybe not quite so much fun.
Also, it's hunting season year-round on Haleakala, so try not to let yourself be confused with a wild boar.
Hikers are drawn to Haleakala National Park. One good route starts from the visitor center near the top to dormant volcanic cinder cones; the trail head is 8/10 mile past mile marker 7 on highway 340. There's also a fantastic hike in Makamakaole Valley on the north west coast called "13 Crossings" which traverses a stream 13 times. On the way, you'll see a bamboo forest and after 1 hour a series of waterfalls that can be navigated by way of a harrowing unmaintained climbing rope that will take you up over 75 feet to a true adventure hike. Other notable hiking considerations should include: Makawao Forest Preserve, Honolua Ridge Arboretum, Swinging Birdges (Waihee Valley), Waihee Ridge trail, etc.
There are several providers located at the airport. These are not cheap, but they are the best overall view possible and worthwhile. Souvenir videos are provided for an extra nominal fee.
Road to Hana
Take the road trip on Hwy 36 (Hana Hwy) stopping on the road to see waterfalls, lush greenery and beaches. These are not visible from the road, but most are a relatively short hike off the road. A private aroboretum and botanical garden (with an entrance fee) called "Garden of Eden" around the 10-mile marker has peacocks, bamboo gardens and view of Puohokamoa Falls. The round-trip will be difficult to complete in one day, so stay over in Hana to break it into two days. Wainapanapa State Park, 2 miles east of Hana, has cabins to offer. There are other private nicer places to stay, also in and around Hana.
As one would expect from a tourist mecca like Maui, there are several areas to find good shopping. Also as one would expect, the prices can be quite inflated. ABC Stores can be found all over Maui and the other Hawaian Islands and offer souvenirs and beach junk (such as sunscreen and straw mats) at potentially lower prices than tourist traps. In Lahaina, a good place to "walk the shops", find Old Lahaina Book Emporium. Kaanapali has Whaler's Village Shops and Restaurants, home to lots of stores and restaurants, including plenty of high-end merchandise such as Coach and Tiffany. PAIA is a small artist and aging hippie colony with a reasonable and varied mix of shops and galleries worth your time, as well as restaurants. It is located just past Mama's Fishhouse Restaurant.
Many bars up and down the strip of Kihei that provide for a fun nightlife. Be prepared to head to bed early (11 or 12) Not too many places are doing much after that.
To get from Maui to the other Hawaiian Islands usually involves a short plane flight. If you want to go to Honolulu you will find frequent non-stop service. Most other destinations offer a couple of non-stop flights a day or a stop in, you got it, Honolulu.
Ferries run 5 times a day between Lahaina and the island of Lanai. Each way takes approximately 45 minutes, and costs $25 per person per direction. During high winds the boat ride can be particularly rough, so bring something for seasickness if you don't do well on boats. Cruise ships are also an interesting option.
When leaving Maui for the U.S. Mainland, all baggage must be inspected by U.S. Department of Agriculture inspectors at the airport. Be advised that fresh fruits (with the exception of pineapples and treated papayas) are prohibited from leaving the islands to prevent the spread of fruit flies. Consult the U.S. Department of Agriculture for more details. Bags are inspected by X-ray. At Kahului Airport, be prepared to submit to three checkpoints on the way to your Mainland flight: having your checked bags X-rayed for agricultural items in the ticket lobby, the TSA security checkpoint, and inspection of your carry-on baggage for agricultural items on the way to your gate.