Maui has become a favorite of Hawaii’s “neighbor islands” over the years because of it’s wide open spaces and incredible array of things to do. It’s one of the reasons so many become repeat visitors to the “Valley Isle”. It’s also why Hawaiians use the words “Maui No Ka Oi” (meaning Maui is the best) to describe it’s many beautiful beaches and lush rainforests.
It may look like a total tourist trap, but Lahaina has so much history imbued in its rustic streets that it would be a shame not to at least take a leisurely stroll through this small town. There are plenty of restaurants and bars along Front Street if you feel like beating the heat (Lahaina means “merciless sun”) but there are also a few beaches if cooling off in the ocean is more your style. Lahaina’s Front street is really only a few city blocks long and the entire length of town can be walked in less than 20 minutes, but with so much to see it takes most a couple hours once you add a lunch stop along the way. There are numerous art galleries off the main street as well that are worth a visit; including fun glass blowing classes where you make your own souvenir.
Located in front of the Lahaina Courthouse Museum, at the south end of front street, is the famous Banyan Tree. The entire area was the capital of the young Kingdom of Hawai’i, founded by King Kamehameha I in 1810.
The banyan tree was planted by missionary families as a gift to Hawaii’s royalty. The Courthouse Museum has all the old photos and stories of this area and the massive changes brought by the discovery of these islands over 200 years ago.
Behind the courthouse is Lahaina Harbor. To the south are the stone break walls surrounding the harbor. Almost every day you can watch the surfers carving up the waves on the outer surf break. The inside waves are perfect for beginners and plenty of surf lesson companies can get you out on a board if you have time. It’s easy to spend a full afternoon cruising around Lahaina taking in the history of this ancient, yet modern Hawaiian town.
There are miles and miles of beaches on Maui, but Kihei, along Maui’s southern shoreline has the most beach parks in a concentrated and easy-to-get-to area of the island. Beginning at the quiet, long stretches of sand at the north end of town near Maalaea Bay, to the lively central beaches of Kamaole 1, 2 and 3, to the small crescent shaped coves of Wailea and out to the mile-long Big Beach, this side of the island is a beach wonderland! Several of Kihei’s incredible beaches are located right across from restaurants and bars making it easy to grab a cold one and a tasty bite to eat after a hot day in the sun and surf. Farther south, Wailea has some of the most beautiful beach coves on Maui with outstanding snorkeling and kayaking locations. There is plenty to do and see on this side and the nightlife includes plenty of live music and dancing venues!
The Road to Hana
Hana is a small town on Maui’s lush rainforests east side, but the town is the only destination. Itʻs the journey to it thatʻs exciting. Dense jungle overlooks, dozens of waterfalls, stunning coastal views, an enchanting black sand beach and amazing banana bread await you on the twisting, winding, road to Hana.
However, this drive is not for the faint of heart or unskilled driver as this relentlessly winding road has over 600 hairpin turns and over 50 one lane bridges along ocean cliffs dropping hundreds of feet to the ocean. Some nicknames include “highway to hell” and “divorce highway” due to the frustration levels with were to go and where to stop and for how long.
If these are issues for you, or if you are prone to car sickness, it is best to take a van tour as these professional drivers know all the best places to stop and how long to stay, so you get there and back in comfort. Plus, you get the huge bonus of learning about the history and culture of this magical, totally unique part of the Hawaiian Islands from a professional guide.
When Maui’s tourism economy started to develop, in the late 1950’s, the majority of visitors came to see the sunrise atop Haleakala volcano’s summit at 10,000 ft elevation. It is a stunningly beautiful event that 75% of all visitors to Maui want to see. So many people want to visit the park that the Park Service had to institute a reservation system for entrance to the park. Reservations must be made well in advance as they are SOLD OUT fast.
The crater is sacred to Hawaiians (as all of Hawaii’s mountains are). It is the realm of the gods and steeped in legends and mysteries. However, one ancient story is famous throughout the polynesian triangle of islands spanning some 5000 miles across the Pacific ocean.
From New Zealand to Tahiti to Hawaii, the demi-god Maui is known in Polynesian folklore for his mischievous feats of strength, creation and determination. The crater of Haleakala is where Maui snared the sun with a magic rope as it rose above the crater rim and beat it to submission in order to slow its traverse across the sky. He did this to help his mother, but ancient Hawaiians also believed it benefited all of mankind allowing them to grow and harvest the food needed to survive. There are many stories of Maui’s deeds which is why it’s also a good idea to consider a sunrise tour to Haleakala. Van tours can pick you up between the ungodly hours of 1-3am to arrive in time for the sunrise – so you don’t need to deal with the parks reservation system. It’s also much easier to let a professional drive this switchback road in the dark. It ascends from sea level to 10,000 ft in just 38 miles. So much easier and more relaxing than driving it yourself. Plus, plenty of coffee and delicious food is included!
Maui Winery – Upcountry
After enjoying the beautiful beaches, towns and rainforests of Maui you might want to consider exploring the cool and green rolling slopes of upcountry Maui. Kula Highway runs parallel to the ocean along the mid to upper slopes of Haleakala in the 2000 to 3000 ft elevation range. The views of the island are spectacular from up here and following the road you’ll come to the expansive open ranchlands surrounding Hawaii’s oldest winery at Ulupalakua Ranch.
The tasting room is called the King’s Cottage. The Kingdom of Hawaii’s last king, David Kalakaua, began his childhood in Lahaina before returning to Honolulu to attend the King’s Children’s School at the age of 4 years old. His reign began in 1873 and he presided over some of the largest cultural changes in the kingdoms 100+ year history. In that time he traveled around the world, the only King who has ever done so. As worldly a monarch as he was, he loved coming to Maui and staying with his friend and ex-whaling captain James Makee in this cottage. Back then it was called Rose Ranch, founded in 1845. The massive trees you see throughout the grounds today would have greeted Kalakaua 150 years ago.
The winery is known for its award winning pineapple wine which was developed in the mid 1970’s while waiting for the newly planted vineyard to mature. Today those vines are producing some outstanding wine varieties including excellent vintages of Syrah, Grenache, Malbec, Chenin Blanc, Viognier, Rose, Limited Release Red blends, several sparkling wines and an outstanding dessert wine! Their tasting room is loaded with other made-on-Maui goodies and to top it off, the Ranch Store across the street has a farm fresh deli and ice cream. It’s a wonderful place to experience in this serene part of Maui!