Maui surprised me. Honestly, we planned our trip because it was convenient. I was attending a conference for work in Honolulu with a flight and week’s hotel paid for. Coming early and staying an additional week seemed to be a no brainer. I initially had buyers remorse as I realized Mr. A and I aren’t much for tropical vacations and we’re way too antsy for sitting on the beach. The more I researched however and planned, the more interesting Maui became.Sure we saw some gorgeous beach sunsets and spent time laying on the beach drink in hand, but we also snorkeled among hundreds of fish and coral, watched the sunrise from the top of Mt. Haleakala (and then biked down), survived the road to Hana, hiked through bamboo forests and waterfalls, and wondered in awe of the beautiful Iao Valley. Our ansty pants were seriously exhausted at the end of our five days in Maui.
And that just scratches the surface. The islands exude heritage and are rich with an interesting history and enough adventure for a lifetime. Plan to see it all.
Continue reading for all of our favorite activities.
What we DID:
*=Do as the Locals Do
Snorkeling and Beaching: Not wanting to dedicate an entire day to a snorkeling tour, we forgo-ed any of the catamaran off shore tours (ie the Molokai Crater). From the feedback we received and reviews we read, the snorkeling was equally as good just off beach. Literally, really any beach you go to, if you swim 30-50 yards from shore, the sand ledge will drop and you’ll have fish and coral galore. It was perfect for us to be able to go out for an hour, come back, lay on the beach and go back in and out as we pleased. You’ll want to start early as that is when there are the fewest other snorkelers around and your best bet for seeing turtles! A few spots where we had great luck were:
- Maluaka Beach (Kihei, Southern Maui): This beach is somewhat hidden by the Makena Beach and Golf Resort, although it is a completely public beach. The entrance can be a bit tricky. Head South on Makena Road and drive past the Makena Beach and Golf Resort on your Right and the Makena Golf and Tennis Center on your Left. The very next paved road, turn Right. Drive down to the end and parking is on the right. If you get to the Makena Beach State Park signs, you’ve gone too far. Once you get there, you’ll see lots of public parking spaces, an outdoor shower as well as changing facilities/bathrooms. You’ll want to bring towels and chairs and find a spot in the shade if possible. You can rent snorkel gear from a stand at the Makena Beach and Golf Resort even if you’re not staying there for around $12/hour! We saw tons of fish and bright coral.
- Black Rock Beach (Kaanapali, Western Maui): We also had pretty great luck here although the waves and current were much stronger. There are also rock jumpers here whom in my opinion disrupt any fish and turtle activity so count that in to your expectations, but we still saw plenty of pretty fish and coral! There is also a convenient rental spot right on the beach. This beach also gets extra points for being beautiful. On the very Northern tip of the famous Kaanapali beach, the stretch is incredible. Perfect sand, water, sights and sounds. Everything you’d expect from a Hawaii beach. Bring a book and some diy drinks- you’ll want to park it here for a while!
- Ho’okipa Beach Park (Paia, Northern Maui): Northern Maui is known for it’s surf and wind. READ: no snorkeling, but what it lacks for in snorkeling, it makes up for in scenery. Ho’okipa Beach is where all the windsurfers head. It has picnic grounds, lots of parking and windsurfers for days. These aren’t tourist windsurfers either. These are flip-masters, wave-jumpers, spinny-move windsurfers. I haven’t even gotten to the best part- make sure you come back near dusk to watch the sea turtles come to land to sleep for the night. Part of Ho’okipa beach is a turtle refuge and designated area for the turtles to rest and sun bathe.
Spend the Day Wandering around Lahaina: We got an early start from Kihei and spent the early morning on Kaanapali beach and snorkeling at Black Rock. After getting tossed around in the ocean, we decided we were ready for a change of scenery and headed to Lahaina. Lahaina is an historic whalers village and the early missionary movement was very prominent in this town. It’s fun just to wander around and read the historical landmarks and take in the beautifully restored homes, storefronts and roadways. Make sure you also visit the big banyan tree in the town square. Lahaina is also great for shopping, eateries and happy hours. Mentioned above, the Sugar Cane Rum House and Ono Gelato were two of my absolute favorites. Some of my favorite shops were the Vintage European Poster shop, Hawaii Ukulele & Gift Company, Cinnamon Girl, LUSH, and Sand People. After you have your afternoon fill of shopping and beach boardwalks, plan to attend a luau in Lahaina (see next tip).
Go to a Luau (Lahaina, Western Maui, but also everywhere): This was something we were 50/50 on doing. They firstly were absurdly expensive. Each and every single one of them that I researched was more than $100 per person. For a buffet (which most are), I wasn’t sure if it would be worth it. So I left it up to fate and we decided on site. We ultimately didn’t feel right going to Hawaii and NOT going to a luau. From my research it seemed the Old Lahaina Luau was the best, most authentic and worth your money so that was the first one I called. They were sold out for that night, but I called as soon as they opened to find they had cancellations resulting in some availability. I had read a few reviews stating that this was common so if they are sold out, I highly suggest calling to see what their actual schedule looks like.
Regarding the actual event, I loved it. They did it all. It was a Hawaiian experience package. Everything you think of when you think of Hawaii is rolled into one evening. You arrived to a drink in your hand and a lei around your neck, had time to walk around the pretty beach front grounds and get some pictures before they unveiled the pig. Get to the pit early to get a front row seat. They explain the history and how-to of roasting the pig in the ground as well as set the tone for an extremely well done show of traditions, history and feasting. Next up you find your spot at the traditional ground, pillow seating (table spots are also available) and make your way to the buffet line to try many local favorites. Kalua Pua’a, Maui Style Mahi-Mahi, Pulehu Steak, Chicken Long Rice, Veggies, Sweet Potatoes, Salads, Ahi Poke, Poi, Fruit and lots of desserts to try. After dinner, while the sun slowly sets, the show starts and instead of the assumed hula dancing with an interpretive story, they actually had a person story telling along with the dance. The story told the history of the islands and the people who live there, really all the way through to today’s culture. The costumes were incredibly beautiful and authentic and dancing beyond impressive.
Mt. Haleakala Sunrise: There are various ways to head up the mountain and see the sunrise, but we chose a bike tour with the Maui Sunriders. We got up and met at their bike shop at 3:00 in the morning (staying in Paia for this was key), got fitted for our bikes and helmets and boarded the van. On the 35 min. trip up the mountain, we received safety guidelines and the van driver doubled as a tour guide, giving fun facts about the area and spots to stop at on the way down. Once we arrived at the summit, we waited and waited and waited for about an hour and a half, watching the sky first full of stars and planets and then as it became lighter and lighter until all of a sudden gold spilled over the cloud line illuminating us all in sunshine. It was SO cool! One thing to note, wear so, so, so many layers as it’s cold, like 45 degree cold (Maui Sunriders does provide gloves and some windbreakers, but nothing of substance).
After taking pictures of and enjoying the sunrise, we again, loaded the van, heard more safety tips and headed about half way down Mt. Haleakala to start our bike ride. This is where they turn you loose for the remaining 34 miles. I will warn you, the last time I questioned my bike riding skills this much was when I was learning how to ride my bike at age 6 in the school parking lot… The roads are scary and average speeds are 30 mph on a bicycle. BUT you are equipped with some some serious gear and there is minimal traffic. And the ride is worth it.
Mt. Haleakala is unique in that all of the geological systems in North America occur on the this one mountain. Meaning, as you start your ride, at 10,000 ft., there is no vegetation and the air is thin and cold. It’s almost desert like. Making your way down, you pass through forests and tall eucalyptus trees, then lavender fields and pastures and finally returning to humidity and sugar cane. Right before you get back into Paia, plan to stop in a little town called Makawao with an adorable coffee shop, Sip Me, and T Komoda Store & Bakery, a donut shop with a line out the door. There are also three or four shops that looked worth looking around in, but unfortunately were not open when we passed through.
*Eat a Plate Lunch: The plate lunch originated in plantation cafeterias. It was exactly as the names implies – a plate of food for lunch. It includes a meat, two scoops of rice and macaroni salad, Everyone kind of has their own way about it, but for the most part, you know what you’re getting and you’re getting delicious. We only tried Da Kitchen in Kihei and loved their kaluha pork plate, but Aloha Mixed Plate in Lahaina also has fantastic reviews.
*Sunday Night Drum Circle: This event is not for the timid. In fact, I really wouldn’t bring anyone under the age of 18. But if you are in for a different sort of entertainment with lots of umm, local flavor, this will not disappoint.
You’ll want to park in or nearby the Big Beach parking lot. The lot fills up pretty quickly however and if you’re not there by 3 or 4, you’ll want to just park on the side of the street and walk the short distance. Bring a cooler with a beer or two, you’ll want it. Once you get onto Big Beach, follow the crowds of 20 something with cigarettes hanging from their mouths and the sound of drums coming from the other side of the cliffs on the very right side of the beach. You’ll have to climb up and over those cliffs (looks scary, but pretty easy- there is a trail and it’s short). From the top you’ll have views like this:
Once you get over the cliffs and onto little beach, you’ll have reached the event. Here’s where you’ll want to grab a spot on the outskirts and crack a beer like Mr. A and I did. If you’re more adventurous, hop into the party. You really will see it all- naked surfers (yes, this is a nude beach), beach games (yes, some nude beach goers even like to play very active beach games…), music, drum circles, hula hoopers, and even fire dances. Again, not an activity for the faint of heart, but it’s very carefree and lawless. People don’t what they want and really just don’t care.
*Outdoor Roller Skating: This is a local weekly event you can bring the whole family. Occurring three nights a week – Wednesdays, Fridays and Saturdays from 6:00 – 9:00, at the outdoor skating rink at Kalama Beach Park, plan on renting a pair of old school skates or rollerblades for $5.00. Where else can you skate next to the ocean as the sun sets in the background?
*Happy Hours: Happy hours are a big thing in Hawaii. And it’s great because Hawaii can get a little expensive. Not outrageously expensive, but like $16 average for a burger and $12 for a cocktail expensive. So Mr. A and I lived for the Happy Hours. Most start at 4:00, but some start at 3:00 and go until 5:00 or 6:00. Plan your schedule so dinner is in this timeframe, your wallet will appreciate it!
Iao Valley: If you only have a few days in Maui, I would highly recommend this monument above a lot of the other more time consuming activities. Set between tall, towering lush bluffs stands the Iao Needle above rushing streams, pools and gardens full of greenery. It has a short, paved hiking trail where at any point, you can look up, spin around and literally think you’re in Jurassic Park. Historically, this is the spot ancient tribes fought out one of the bloodiest battles in Maui’s history to unite the Islands.
Road to Hana: I’ll divulge further into this experience later, but if you’re renting car and have a full day to dedicate, this should be on your bucket list!
What is your favorite Maui activity? Make sure you comment below!