Know Before You Go: Maui

At forty-eight miles long and twenty-six miles wide, Maui is only about a third the size of Rhode Island, but its topography is so diverse that it seems to encompass multiple countries. The island is a popular destination for first-time visitors to Hawaii because it checks off so many boxes: dramatic landscapes and rugged terrain, golden-sand beaches and established resort areas with all the fixings: spa, golf, upscale malls and villa and town-house rentals. Perhaps most alluring , the island’s developed (some might say overdeveloped) area are counterbalanced by its stunning natural attractions, especially in the north and east.

Get the lay of the land.

Most visitors, especially first-time ones, will probably be based on the southwestern part of the coast, where the resort areas Wailea and Kihei beckon with golden beaches and calm waters, as well as a host of upscale malls, spas and spectacular golf courses. Farther north on the coast, the old fishing village of Lahaina offers historic architecture, art galleries and many villa rentals. Serious surfers favor Maui’s northern shore for its consistent wind and iconic big-wave beaches like Hookipa, easily accessible from the happening town of Paia.

The east side of the island is the wildest. The fifty-two-mile switchback-ridden Hana Highway is the only route to Hana, an old sugar town lying between a rain forest and the Pacific. The center of the island is dominated by Haleakala National Park, home to one of the world’s largest dormant volcanoes, and the charmingly named Upcountry region, which occupies a relatively cool microclimate (thanks to its elevation of up to 4,500 feet) that has made it Maui’s agricultural core, with numerous tiny farming and ranching communities.

Time your visit.

Maui hosts numerous events throughout the year, including several golf tournaments and an increasingly well-regarded film festival. But you probably want to plan your visit around natural, rather than cultural, happenings. Humpback whales, migrating from cold Alaskan waters, reach Maui in December and remain just off the western shore, breeding, calving and nursing their young through early May, providing great views for cetacean lovers, particularly from Makalaupuna Point. Whale-watching season overlaps with the island’s best surfing. Although the main competitions take place on the north shore of Oahu, Maui attract big-wave chasers between December and March, when the swells along the north shore can reach epic heights. The two most famous beaches are Hookipa and Peahi (known as Jaws).

Rise early.

Like many places frequented by active, outdoorsy types, Maui is a paradise for early risers. By 6 a.m., popular breakfast spots Kihei Caffe, located in the Kihei region, and Anthony Coffee Company, in Paia, are hopping, and a long line of cars is queueing to enter Haleakala National Park. On your first mornings, take advantage of not having yet adjusted to the new time zone to get out early for a beach walk or to watch the sun rise from the top of the 10,000-foot-high volcano (this requires some advance planning).

Bring the kids.

Yes, Maui is one of the world’s premier wedding and honeymoon destinations, but the island provides children of all ages with lots to see and do. Resorts like the Four Seasons offer myriad water sports, from snorkeling to surfing lessons, but families can also plan days full of fun activities, like horseback riding, zip-lining, jungle eco-tours and watching the daredevil stunts of the wind surfers at Hookipa. Kid-friendly food can be found all across the island, from frozen treats at Lahaina’s historic Ululani’s Hawaiian Shave Ice and tropical tarts at Leoda’s Kitchen and Pie Shop to burgers in a casual setting at Paia Fish Market.

Hit the beach.

Maui boasts more than thirty miles of sandy shoreline. The most famous beaches run along the southwestern coast from Kihei to Wailea, including the classic Oneloa, aptly nicknamed Big Beach, in Makena State Park. Kapalua, Napili and Kaanapali are very popular, but large and glorious enough to hold their own against crowds, and even against the encroaching development. Locals know many tricks for avoiding tourist mobs, like hiking to Kamaole I, a stunning strand in a secluded cove. They also frequent Baldwin Beach, which is located in the north, near surfer town Paia, and has a small cove that’s protected by a barrier reef. For photogenic drama, head west to Waianapanapa State Park’s black volcanic-sand beach, but beware the strong current if you go in the water. Even more secluded is Hamoa Beach, a perfect little crescent near Hana.

Get in the water.

Maui offers some of Hawaii’s best snorkeling, especially if you want to see magnificent green sea turtles. Guests at the Four Seasons can wade in at Wailea Point for prime tortoise viewing. Other good spots are Honokeana Cove, in Napili, and Maluaka, in Makena. For incredible diving, head to the Molokini Crater, the crescent-shaped rim of a volcano that lies three miles off Maui’s south shore.

Sample made-in-Maui specialties.

Blessed with a climate in which everything from pineapples to coffee beans flourish, Maui is a culinary paradise, where visitors can enjoy a smorgasbord of homemade goodies, from goats-milk truffles at Surfing Goat Dairy to home-brewed vodka. Among Indagare favorites are the exquisitely roasted beans at Grandma’s Coffee House, on the Kula Highway; the to-die-for shrimp tacos from Geste’s Taco Truck, in Kahului; the incredible frozen-treat flavors at Shaka Pop’s, in Kihei; and the homemade vegan ice cream at Coconut Glen’s, a wonderful stop on the road to Hana.

Take the Road to Hana and spend the night.

The world-famous Road to Hana, a fifty-two-mile stretch of Hawaii Routes 36 and 360 that connects Kahului with the sleepy town of Hāna on Maui’s eastern coast, embodies the Buddhist belief that the path is the goal. Newbies who rush to the journey’s end are direly disappointed—blink, and you miss Hana—and probably car sick after swerving around some 600 turns and braking for more than fifty bridges. To experience the unique beauty of this drive, take your time and make lots of stops. Some of the most scenic spots actually lie beyond Hana village: the Pools of Oheo, seven tiered, waterfall-fed swimming holes, the spectacular Waimoku waterfall and the four-mile Pipiwai Trail, which weaves through a bamboo grove. Note that once you reach Kipahulu, thirty-five-minutes past Hana, you have to turn back, since after this town, the roads are unpaved. The fact that you have to backtrack to return to the other side of the island is one of the reasons why in-the-know travelers break up the trip with a night in the rustic-cool Travaasa Hana hotel. It doesn’t offer high luxury, but like many places that attract day trippers, it has a beautifully remote setting that makes staying there a rare treat.

Go off the beaten path.

Maui’s Upcountry feels like another world. Misty and often significantly colder than the coast, with rolling hills that offer breathtaking views, the region is home to many of Maui’s farms, which take advantage of the fertile volcanic soil to grown everything from Maui onions and eucalyptus to coffee beans and orchids.

Kick off an Upcountry road trip in Makawao, an old hippie town and artist community and of glassblowers, printers and wood workers. Continue to Kula, and if it’s Saturday, visit Upcountry Farmer’s Market. Families with children will love the farm tour at Surfing Goat Dairy, while adults might prefer a tour and tasting at the Hawaii Sea Spirits Organic Farm and Distillery, which produces vodka from organic sugar cane blended with ocean mineral water. All day trips in this area should include a tour and farm-to-table lunch at O’o Farm, where guests enjoy incredible cuisine surrounded by sweeping views across the valley.

Published onNovember 13, 2015

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