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Visit Maui, Hawaii - Travel Tips and Tourism Guide

By Dave Paris on May 10, 2015

Big Beach, Maui

Known as the “Valley Isle,” Maui is dotted with quaint towns, artist communities and local favorites that have been around for generations. Head to Wailuku for pastries from a “mom and pop” bakery, or head to Lahaina for a taste of Maui’s famed farm to table cuisine. From shimmering beaches and sacred Iao Valley to migrating humpback whales and sunset on Haleakala, it’s not surprising Maui was voted the “Best Island” by the readers of Conde Nast Traveler for 19 years.

The thought of lying on sun soaked beaches regularly named “the best” by travel magazines is enough to make any of your friends jealous. But once you arrive on Maui, you’ll see there’s so much more for them to envy.

Most flights arrive at Maui’s main airport, Kahului Airport (OGG). Many airlines fly direct to Maui while others include Maui as a stopover. You’ll find resorts and hotels of every size and budget in Kapalua, Kaanapali, Lahaina, Kihei, Makena and Wailea on the sunny western coast as well as one resort in Hana in East Maui. It’s about a 45-minute drive from Kahului Airport to Lahaina.

Once you’ve settled in you’ll want to explore Maui’s sweeping canvas of attractions. The western, or leeward side, is the drier side of the island and features Maui’s world-famous beaches including the beautiful Kaanapali Beach, home to a nightly sunset cliff diving ceremony. West Maui is also home to historic Lahaina, where you can find great shopping, dining and entertainment.

The eastern, or windward side, of the island is the wetter side of the island, home to the lush Iao Valley and the scenic road to Hana. The cool, elevated slopes of Haleakala are where you can find the farms and gardens of Upcountry Maui and the soaring summit of Haleakala National Park. There is so much to see and do on Maui it’s best to plan ahead. Just don’t forget to send your friends a postcard.

Top Maui Attractions

 

Haleakala National Park
Stretching across Maui’s southern and eastern coastline, Haleakala National Park is home to Maui's highest peak. Rising 10,023 feet above sea level, Haleakala's graceful slopes can be seen from just about any point on the island. Haleakala means "house of the sun" in Hawaiian, and legend has it that the demigod Maui lassoed the sun from its journey across the sky as he stood on the volcano’s summit, slowing its descent to make the day last even longer.

The park is comprised of over 30,000 acres of public land, has three separate visitors centers and covers a range of natural environments. You can travel atop the highest peaks of Haleakala, hiking above the clouds and horseback riding across otherworldly deserts. As the park stretches out to the coast towards sea level you can even visit lush tropical areas full of waterfalls and streams.

Many visitors and locals wake up early to drive up to the Haleakala Visitor Center (9,740 feet), the best spot to watch the sunrise. On a clear morning, seeing the sunrise from the summit of Haleakala is an unforgettable experience. Even those who’ve witnessed the event many times say they’ve never seen the same sunrise twice. Perhaps just as spectacular are Haleakala's sunsets and the bright, starry skies revealed at night.

The long, winding road to the summit of Haleakala takes some time to drive up, but is well worth the effort. There are numerous hiking trails that offer solitude and scenic vistas, while guided hikes provide an expert's guidance and insight. You’ll discover more endangered species here than any other park in the National Park Service. You may even spot a Nene (Hawaiian goose) or a blooming ahinahina plant (silversword) on your visit. Visitors can also camp here, with two separate campgrounds and cabins available.

For more information, visit the Park Headquarters Visitor Center at 7,000 feet above sea level. The Haleakala Visitor Center is at 9,740 feet atop its summit. At sea level, the Kipahulu Visitor Center is past Hana on the southeastern coast and is near the beautiful Pools of Oheo. See why Haleakala National Park is one of Maui's most popular visitor attractions.

Hana

Along Maui's rugged eastern coastline is the peaceful town of Hana, considered one of the last unspoiled Hawaiian frontiers. The legendary road to Hana is only 52 miles from Kahului, however the drive can take anywhere from two to four hours to complete since it's fraught with narrow one-lane bridges, hairpin turns and incredible island views.

The Hana Highway (HI-360) has 620 curves and 59 bridges. The road leads you through flourishing rainforests, flowing waterfalls, plunging pools and dramatic seascapes. There are plenty of opportunities to stop and enjoy the lovely views, so get an early start and take your time on your drive.

Historic St. Sophia’s Church marks your arrival into Hana, where the pastures roll right up to the main street. The historic Travaasa Hana is a luxurious retreat in this village rooted in Hawaiian tradition. Browse the Hasegawa General Store and Hana Ranch Store for unique souvenirs. Swim and sunbathe at Hana Beach Park or Hamoa Beach, cited by author James Michener as the most beautiful beach in the Pacific. Snorkel at Waianapanapa State Park, a beautiful black sand beach. Or visit Hale Piilani, the state’s largest heiau (Hawaiian temple), in Kanahu Gardens, one of five National Tropical Botanical Gardens in Hawaii.

Beyond Hana, venture 10 miles south to the outskirts of Haleakala National Park in Kipahulu. There you’ll find the popular Pools of Oheo, where waterfalls spill into tiered pools leading to the sea. View these tranquil natural pools or hike up the Pipiwai Trail to the 400-foot Waimoku Falls.

Iao Valley State Park

Towering emerald peaks guard the lush valley floor of Iao Valley State Park. Located in Central Maui just west of Wailuku, this peaceful 4,000-acre, 10-mile long park is home to one of Maui's most recognizable landmarks, the 1,200-foot Iao Needle. This iconic green-mantled rock outcropping overlooks Iao stream and is an ideal attraction for easy hiking and sightseeing.

Aside from its natural tropical beautiful, sacred Iao Valley has great historical significance. It was here in 1790 at the Battle of Kepaniwai that King Kamehameha I clashed with Maui's army in his quest to unite the islands. Even with Iao Needle serving as a lookout point, Kamehameha defeated Maui's forces in a ferocious battle that ultimately changed the course of Hawaiian history.

There is a well-marked, paved pedestrian path leading from the parking lot to view Iao Needle and the ridge-top lookout provides incredible views of the valley. The needle is sometimes covered in clouds, so an early start is your best bet for a good view. Families can also take a rainforest walk or explore interactive exhibits at the Hawaii Nature Center, which is also located within Iao Valley. Restroom facilities are available.

Kaanapali Beach

With three miles of white sand and crystal clear water, it’s no wonder why Kaanapali Beach was once named America’s Best Beach. Fronting Kaanapali’s hotels and resorts, this former retreat for the royalty of Maui is now a popular getaway for the world.

Kaanapali was Hawaii’s first planned resort and has become a model for resorts around the globe. Five hotels and six condominium villages face this renowned beach. Also fronting Kaanapali is the open air Whalers Village, a world-class shopping complex that has a variety of exceptional shops and restaurants, a renowned whaling museum and free Hawaiian entertainment. Kaanapali also has two championship golf courses, the Royal Kaanapali and the Kaanapali Kai, where you may even see a breaching whale as you try to line up a shot.

One of Kaanapali Beach’s most famous attractions is the daily cliff diving ceremony off of the beach’s northernmost cliffs known as Puu Kekaa, or Black Rock. Held every evening at sunset, a cliff diver lights the torches along the cliff, diving off of Black Rock in a reenactment of a feat by Maui’s revered King Kahekili. This memorable ceremony is just one more reason why Kaanapali Beach ranks as one of Maui’s signature beaches.

Lahaina

Once known as Lele, which means “relentless sun” in Hawaiian, Lahaina is a historic town that has been transformed into a Maui hot spot with dozens of art galleries and a variety of unique shops and restaurants.

Once the capital of the Hawaiian Kingdom in the early nineteenth century, Lahaina was also a historic whaling village during the whaling boom of the mid-1800’s. Up to 1,500 sailors from as many as 400 ships took leave in Lahaina including Herman Melville, who immortalized the era in his classic novel Moby Dick.

Today, Lahaina is on the National Register of Historic Places. You can still get a feel for old Lahaina as you stroll down lively Front Street and visit historic stops like the U.S. Seamen’s Hospital, Hale Paaho (Lahaina Prison), the Pioneer Inn and other sites on the Lahaina Historic Trail. Approximately 55 acres of old Lahaina have been set aside as historic districts.

Lahaina’s sunny climate and oceanfront setting also provides the perfect backdrop for a variety of activities and entertainment. Get a fresh taste of Hawaii Regional Cuisine in Lahaina’s fine restaurants. Get your tickets to some of Maui’s best seaside luau where you can eat, drink and watch the traditional dances of Polynesia. The award winning show Ulalena at the Maui Theatre offers a Broadway-caliber production showcasing the culture of Hawaii.

And during the winter months, don’t forget to set sail from Lahaina Harbor on an unforgettable whale watching tour. The channel off the coast of Lahaina is one of the best places in the world to spot humpback whales. Even these magnificent creatures can’t get enough of Lahaina.

Makawao

Located on the mid-slopes of Maui’s Haleakala volcano, Makawao has one foot in its plantation past and another in its thriving arts community. This charming town was once named one of the top 25 arts destinations in the United States.

Makawao is the biggest little town in the region locally known as Upcountry Maui and is famous for its Hawaiian cowboys, or paniolo. Since the late 19th century, horseback-riding paniolo have wrangled cattle in Maui’s wide-open upland fields. The Makawao Rodeo, held yearly on the Fourth of July, is Hawaii's largest paniolo competition and has been an Upcountry tradition for more than 50 years. The weekend events include a parade and traditional rodeo competitions such as barrel racing, calf roping and bareback bronco riding, all with a few Hawaiian twists.

For a snack, follow the locals to get a famous cream puff from T. Komoda Store. Established in 1916 by Takezo Komoda, a Japanese plantation worker, this little store and bakery does big business. Lines can be long in the morning when everything’s fresh, so come early. The bakery is closed on Wednesdays and Sundays.

You can also spend the afternoon meandering through the eclectic shops, boutiques and art galleries. It’s a town of working artists, where you can watch glassblowers, wood sculptors and painters as they fulfill your order. Makawao is also home to the Hui Noeau Visual Arts Center, where visitors can take classes and explore free gallery exhibits. The combination of its paniolo heritage and its lively artistic community make Makawao a unique stop on your visit to Maui.

Makena Beach State Park (Big Beach)

Maui's southwestern shores are home to many extraordinary beaches and Makena Beach, also known as "Big Beach," is one of the island's best.

This is one of the largest beaches in Maui, with golden sands extending nearly 2/3 of a mile long and 100 yards wide. Visitors can swim or snorkel in these pristine waters, picnic in the shade, or simply sunbathe on the seemingly endless expanse of sand.

Big Beach is located south of Wailea near the Makena Beach and Golf Resort and provides a secluded alternative to more crowded beaches in Kaanapali and Lahaina. Nestled between two black-lava outcroppings, Makena offers protection from the trade winds and provides great views of the islands of Molokini and Kahoolawe. Picnic facilities and restrooms are also available.

Molokini

Molokini is a small, crescent moon-shaped island that is a State Marine Life and Bird Conservation District. Lying only three miles from Maui's southwestern coast, Molokini spans over 18 acres and rises 160 feet above reef-filled waters, offering visitors snorkeling and diving amongst a kaleidoscope of coral and more than 250 species of tropical fish.

Tours are available from nearby Maalaea Harbor and Lahaina. Early morning is the best time of day to explore this pristine reserve, and whale watching is an added bonus during the winter months. If you're a scuba or snorkeling enthusiast, a visit to Molokini is a Maui must.

Pools of Oheo

Just 15 minutes south of Hana on Highway 31 on the lower slopes of Haleakala are the famous Pools of Oheo in Oheo Gulch. Here you’ll discover beautifully tiered, pools fed by waterfalls. Weather permitting, you may take a dip in these tranquil pools fed by streams starting two miles inland.

Here in the Kipahulu area of Haleakala National Park, you can explore the many self-guided hiking trails on your own through forests of bamboo, past roaring cascades and into the green heart of the island.

Here you'll find the Pipiwai Trail, one of the best trails on the island, which leads to the 400-foot Waimoku Falls. Please consult park rangers at the Kipahulu Visitor Center before you embark on this 3 to 5 hour hike. Don’t forget your hiking shoes and expect to get muddy.

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