Admit it – you’re grinning already, even before you step on the plane. It starts with the idea of Maui … the anticipation. With the abundance of white beaches, waterfalls, and waves, what is there not to love? With all this island has to offer, you may be wondering where to start – never fear we got you covered with our top 10 Maui travel experiences.
The Road to Hana, which traces Maui's eastern coastline, is chock-full of waterfalls and ocean views © Monica & Michael Sweet Perspectives / Getty Images Plus
1. Road to Hana
Ready for an adventure? Of all the heart-stoppingly dramatic drives in Hawaii, this is the Big Kahuna. A roller-coaster of a ride, the Hana Highway winds down into jungly valleys and back up towering cliffs, curling around 600 twists and turns along the way. Some 54 one-lane bridges cross nearly as many waterfalls – some of them eye-popping torrents and others so gentle they beg a dip. But the ride’s only half the thrill. Get out and swim in a Zen-like pool, stroll a ginger-scented trail and explore the wonders along the way.
2. Halaekalā National Park
Picture yourself huddled at predawn, blanket wrapped around you in the frozen air, surrounded by hundreds of people trying to keep warm. Everything seems surreal and there’s a sense that something unworldly is about to unfold. Then a soft, orange glow pierces the darkness on the summit. Everyone lets out a gasp – followed by cheers. Rich tones of amber and ocher light up on the crater floor below, inviting exploration. The aptly named Sliding Sands Trail crunches beneath your feet as you descend into the lunar-like world of Haleakalā.
3. Snorkeling at Maluʻaka
Don your mask and snorkel on the shores of stunning Maluʻaka Beach in Makena and start swimming in the direction of the tour boats. Before you get halfway you’ll likely spot a magnificent green sea turtle nibbling algae on the ocean floor. Welcome to ‘Turtle Beach’ – where the underwater scenery is nothing short of mesmerizing.
It was once forbidden for commoners to visit the ʻIao Valley © Kaisao / Shutterstock
4. ‘Iao Valley State Park
Nowhere is Maui’s verdant, moody beauty better captured than at ʻIao Valley, where the ʻIao Needle – a phallic-shaped, emerald-green pinnacle – shoots straight up from the valley floor. The pinnacle is the centerpiece of this mystical state park. Snuggled into deep folds of lush rainforested mountains, ʻIao is such a sumptuous sight it’s easy to understand why Hawaiian kings placed a kapu (taboo) on the valley, forbidding commoners from laying eyes on it. Luckily for you, the kapu has been lifted. You brought your camera, right?
5. Old Lahaina Luau
They had us at aloha, but who are we to refuse the cool mai tai and fresh orchid lei that followed? At Maui’s most authentic luau, Hawaiian history, culture and culinary prowess are the focus, presented like a gift from the most hospitable of hosts. Highlights? The unearthing of the imu-cooked pig, the dancing of the hula kahiko, and, of course, the savoring of the feast – a spread of hearty salads, fresh fish and grilled and roasted meats. But it’s the sense of shared community that will linger longest in your memory.
6. Whale watching
Seems humpback whales find Maui romantic, too. Every winter, thousands of them frolic off Maui’s western coast, courting, mating, calving and breaching in what can only be described as pure joy. If you’re in Maui at the same time, treat yourself to a whale-watching cruise. Whales are also readily spotted from lava-rock lookouts such as Makaluapuna Point, from west-facing beaches, and from your oceanfront condo – just about any place will do. Snorkelers and divers who stick their heads underwater at the right time can even hear them singing – love songs, we presume.
7. Upcountry drive
Ramble any back road in these fertile hills and you can’t go wrong. Upcountry bursts to the brim with rolling pastures and bountiful gardens. No surprise this region that supplies Maui’s locavore cuisine is heaven to foodies. Sample tangy cheeses at Surfing Goat Dairy, munch on aromatic scones at Aliʻi Kula Lavender, sip Maui-grown coffee at Grandma’s, join a pick-your-own organic lunch tour at Oʻo Farm. Then get yourself over to Maui's Winery and cap off your day with a toast to green Maui.
The Molokini Crater is teeming with aquatic wildlife © M Swiet Productions/Getty Images
8. Diving Molokini Crater
Hawaiian legend says Molokini was a beautiful woman turned to stone by a jealous Pele, the goddess of fire and volcanoes. Today Molokini is the stuff of legends in the diving community. The crescent-shaped rock, which sits about three miles from the South Maui coast, is the rim of a volcanic crater. The shallow waters cradled within are a hospitable spot for coral and a calling card for more than 250 fish species. For an iconic Hawaiian dive, this is the place.
9. Pi’ilanihale Heiau
Standing in front of Hawaii’s largest temple – five stories high – it’s impossible not to feel dwarfed by the scale of Pi’ilanihale Heiau. The remote setting on a windswept coast adds to the sense of being in a sacred place. Be still. You can almost hear the footsteps of the ancients and see the high priest walking up the terraced stone steps to offer sacrifices to the gods. The surrounding Polynesian gardens – swaying coconut palms, sturdy breadfruit trees – add depth to the vision of how it must have looked centuries ago.
10. Big Beach (Oneloa) Makena State Park
Close your eyes and conjure up the idyllic Hawaiian beach. An endless expanse of gleaming sands, no development in sight, unbelievably blue water, a surfer scanning for the next perfect wave. Open your eyes – you’re at Big Beach, the heart of Makena State Park. If one beach captures the spirit of Maui, this is it: wild, vast and in a completely natural state. But unvisited, no. This is where Mauians come to celebrate Maui the way it used to be. Join them. Worship the waves. Applaud the sunsets. Big Beach is big enough for everyone.
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