Maui has some unique sights to see like Haleakala and the road to Hana, but mostly, when my family visits, we go to relax, rent a condo, and snorkel at a different beach every day. Andrew Doughty writes the best guidebooks on the Hawaiian Islands (Maui Revealed is just one in a series) and I highly recommend reading them for each island you plan to visit.
He covers every inch of the island, while I’m just going to describe the few places we visited. Unlike most guidebooks, he tells it like it is and doesn’t sugarcoat anything. But as with any recommendation by anyone, do use common sense and exercise caution when venturing out into the “wild.” There is so much to do there that you will really have to make some tough decisions to fit everything into a one-week vacation. Or better yet, just do a few things and come back again another year!
Snorkeling on Maui
Snorkeling is one of the most relaxing and fun things to do, so when we visit, we like to try out new beaches. One year we stayed in South Maui (south Kihei, to be exact), and snorkeled many south beaches. Another year we stayed in West Maui (Honokowai, to be exact), and snorkeled many beaches north of Lahaina. I need to mention here that the concept of an island being small can be deceiving, and that drive times from one part to another can be long, tiring drives. In fact, it is recommended that when you drive to Hana, you spend the night, and then drive back the next day. The error in calculation is that you’re not covering those few miles at freeway speeds of 60 mph, so it does not represent the mileage you cover at all in an hour, especially when you include multiple stops along the way for photos and mini-hikes. In fact, the locals jokingly refer to “Hawaiian time,” which loosely means “whenever you get there.”
For the best snorkeling, get to the beach as early as you can, because parking is first come first served, and also, the waves pick up as the day goes on, making the water cloudier the later you go. Conditions change depending on the time of year you’re there, but here are my impressions, when we visited in May:
Honolua Bay: Some parts of Honolua were crystal clear, and we saw a good variety of coral and fish, but the shoreline is rocky with no sand, so it made entry and walking in uncomfortable. There is really no place to just sit and put your gear on with all the rocks there. On a return visit to Honolua in late June, we had to forge a rocky stream to get to the beach. That is way too much trouble, given that there are other better snorkel beaches. It had also rained the day before, so the water was somewhat cloudy and there were leaves in the water.
Slaughterhouse Beach: The bay on the other side of Honolua’s left. In other words, you could swim around the leftmost point of Honolua and end up in Slaughterhouse, but we drove. This was my favorite beach on this side of the island. There was ample sand at the shore to set up chairs, along with a tree to sit under. There were waves so my son could ride the boogie board we found at the condo, and even though a little cloudy from the wave action, there were lots of fish to see, and interesting rock/lava formations in the water to swim around. On my last visit to Slaughterhouse, I saw a parrotfish that was over a foot long and two turtles, when I snorkeled the right side of the bay.
Kapalua Bay: Very nice snorkel beach on Kapalua property. There’s parking, restrooms, and a beach rental stand if you need to rent any gear. Snorkeling on the right side of the bay, you’ll see nice coral, red sea urchins, and a good assortment of fish. Kapalua Bay is calm even when it’s choppy elsewhere, because an offshore reef offers protection from the waves.
Napili Beach: Very pretty beach. Right down the middle of Napili Bay, parallel to the shore, is a long band of rocks where the fish congregate. So you can jump in the water on either end, and then snorkel down the middle to the other end. The left side of Napili Bay has exposed lava rocks and is great for looking at tide pools and seeing sea urchins. While we were there, we saw a whale breach way out in the ocean.
Kahekili Beach: A beautiful beach with lots of sand or grass to spread out on. It was pretty deep where the coral/fish were, so I didn’t think it was the greatest snorkeling since I needed binoculars in my mask if I really wanted to see anything. Contrast this to the beach area right outside our condo, which was so shallow I was practically grazing the coral and my face was only a couple feet away from open-mouthed eels!
Black Rock: The rocky point separating Kahekili Beach on the right from Ka’anapali Beach on the left. The snorkeling at Black Rock is supposed to be amazing, but we’ve snorkeled a lot, so I didn’t think it was far superior to any other place. Especially since it took us two tries (two different days) before we landed a parking space. Parking at Black Rock is extremely limited because this is Sheraton property, and there are only a few designated public parking spaces. My son and I snorkeled completely around the point to the other side and we saw the usual turtles and assortment of fish. But the most amazing thing we saw was about two inches long, clear like a jellyfish, that had a band of colored electric lights running through its body. I have no idea what this was, nor any way to describe it to look it up on the internet. It wasn’t a fish, nor a jellyfish. The lights on its body lighted up in sequence, like Christmas lights do, and went from one end to the other, then started again at the front. This creature had no “head.” I would have to say that this is the most interesting thing I’ve ever seen while snorkeling, and I’ve seen turtles, eels, and octopus.
Charley Young Beach, Kama’ole Beaches I, II, III: These beaches around Kihei all blur together in my head as relatively the same. They were pleasant public beaches with rocky points on each end where you could see fish. They also seemed more crowded than the beaches north of Lahaina described above. Ample parking and facilities were available.
Maluaka (Makena) Beach by the Maui Prince: Beautiful sandy beach with a shady area by a tree to set up your stuff. We were there on a perfectly calm day and snorkeled clear around the point to the left for a long ways. It’s not too deep, which means you’re not far above the coral and can see everything. It was perfectly calm and clear the day we were there and we saw numerous turtles, along with a Hawaiian cleaner wrasse station, which I understand is quite rare to see. My husband was the one who spotted it, because the wrasse are fluorescent colored—bright neon purple and yellow.
Ahihi Cove: Small cove right next to the road; no parking except further down the two-lane road. Very rocky and difficult to enter/exit and really not that much to see. Not worth the trouble.
Molokini: Several boat tours will take you to snorkel this partially sunken volcanic crater just off the west coast of Maui. There are multiple tour operators, they each have their own spot at Molokini, and they each have a boatload of people, so snorkeling at Molokini is not exactly a solitary experience. I also didn’t really see anything fascinating there and in fact have seen more interesting things at some of the beaches we snorkeled. Don’t think I’d recommend this unless you happen to like boat rides with lots of people with lunch included.
Hulopo’e Beach, Lana’i: We took the Trilogy all day Lana’i tour and I got to snorkel Hulopo’e Beach, which had some interesting coral, but really wasn’t that great, snorkel-wise. I still thought the full-day trip was worthwhile though, because we saw dolphins in the ocean on the catamaran ride over to Lana’i, I got a mini bus tour of Lana’i, got to hike up the left side of the beach to see the sea cliffs, and they fed us a nice lunch before we sailed back. It was just a nice break from another day in an office cube. : )
D. T. Fleming Beach: D.T. Fleming has a real parking lot and restrooms! This is not a snorkel beach at all, but good for those who want to body surf or walk along the beach. With the shade trees, you could easily stay at D. T. Fleming all day without getting sunburned.
Oneloa: Oneloa is on Kapalua property, so there’s a nice parking lot and even a shower. We went on a Saturday and the parking lot wasn’t even full. When we got to the beach we could see why. Oneloa is too rough to snorkel, and while there are some good waves for boogie boarding, most of the beach is rocky, which means there’s no open sandy area to stand in. There are also no shade trees. We just took some pictures and then headed home and snorkeled in front of our condo.
Haleakala National Park
Haleakala is a national park, so you will be able to find lots of information about it. The most common recommendation is to drive up to see the sunrise, which is what my brother made us do one year. He dragged us out of bed at 2 a.m. for the two hour drive up to Haleakala’s summit, where we then waited, freezing, with hundreds of others, waiting for the sunrise. Part of the reason you have to leave so early is to make sure you’re parked and at the summit before the actual sunrise. Believe it or not, if you don’t get there early enough, you can run into a traffic jam as you get closer to the top around 5 a.m! Also understand that Haleakala is at an altitude just above 10,000 feet, so it does get quite cold in the early hours before the sun rises. Skiwear is not inappropriate, yet few pack gloves and jackets for a trip to Maui lol! And if you have any problem with high altitudes, you may feel it after ascending from sea level to 10,000 feet in only a couple hours’ time. Anyone with a known low thyroid condition may be especially prone to high altitude sickness, especially if they are taking a medication like Synthroid. If you experience headaches, a rapid heartbeat, and can’t breathe at high altitudes, it might be worthwhile to check out the link. Bring plenty of drinking water to stave off a headache. So was it all worth it, you ask? For me, no. Andrew Doughty covers this in his book. He says some of the Haleakala sunrises are glorious, while others are just pleasant. Why? It has to do with the cloud cover on that particular day. We must’ve hit it on a rather clear day, because I didn’t find it extraordinary and we were so dead tired that we just drove back to the condo and went back to bed.
A pretty park, not far from the airport, with an interesting, rock formation, called, you guessed it, ‘Iao Needle. It’s in a very lush, tropical part of the island, there’s a stream that comes down from the valley, and it’s nice just to walk around and take some pictures.
Ho’okipa Beach for World Class Windsurfing and Pa’ia
Pa’ia, a town on the north side of the island, is worth a visit for the shopping, dining, and a visit to Ho’okipa Beach, which is considered one of the best places to windsurf in the world. The pros don’t take to the water till after 11 a.m., when the wind picks up. We arrived very late in the day, about 5 p.m., and saw one poor fellow repeatedly trying to get up and launch from the shoreline. Eventually, exhausted, he finally gave up and came back in. The winds at Hookipa are that strong. We did see a couple of guys out there who were just flying across the water at high speed; it was incredible. A Stand-Up-Paddleboarder really impressed us–he paddled out and surfed in, all while standing and holding on to a paddle!
After that, we drove back to Pa’ia, enjoyed looking at some of the artsy shops, and then had dinner at Café Mambo, where I had an absolutely delicious crispy kalua duck salad. Looks like they also make duck fajitas, quesadillas, and burgers, if you happen to like duck, like I do. Kalua pig is the Hawaiian way of roasting a pig in an underground pit heated with hot lava rocks. It creates a smoky, moist, delicious shredded pork, and I guess you could put a duck in there and get the same results!
For dessert, or a cool treat on a hot day, there’s Ono Gelato in Paia. Gelato is delicious anywhere, but of course they have the expected island flavors of lilikoi, guava, mango, pineapple, and their own concoction– Sandy Beach, which was yummy!
Makawao is a cute little artsy town uphill from Paia, on the way up towards Haleakala. We spent a morning there and if you like art, I would highly recommend it. Large, expensive ($10,000+), unique art was for sale, along with more moderate items. I bought two artsy turtle tile coasters for $25. We saw a glass blower and a painter at work that day. A number of bicyclists also pass through Makawao down Baldwin Avenue every morning, as part of the daily, morning bike tours that descend from Haleakala..
Lahaina Friday Art Night
Lahaina, on the western side of the island, has a Friday Art Night each week that we always go to because we like looking at art galleries. I don’t think we’ve ever bought anything, but we do enjoy looking. The art quality is excellent; this is not flea market junk and some of the pieces have price tags in the $1000s or $10,000s.
Maui Swap Meet
The Maui Swap Meet is a Saturday flea market in Kahului where they sell fresh produce, food, t-shirts, art, jewelry, local food products (coconut, guava, and lilikoi jams, etc.), and pretty much anything you can think of. My son bought an old Hawaii license plate, because his roommate collects them from different states. I bought a tank top for $10, and lots of fresh produce (purple sweet potatoes, sweet Maui onions, Kula strawberries, a Maui pineapple, bell peppers, and apple bananas). After a week at our condo, I only wished I’d bought more of everything for our veggie omelets! Warning–don’t buy green apple bananas–those took over a week to ripen and I took them back with us (still green) to Honolulu!
For lunch I had a mushroom-spinach crepe with a creamy white cheese sauce–it was absolutely delicious! It was also fun to watch them make it on this 3-foot tall, round cylinder that was hot on top. My husband and son grazed on empanadas, and a rice treat wrapped in ti leaves. There was lots of Filipino food available too.
The Maui Swap Meet is not far from the Kahului airport in the University of Hawaii Maui College parking lot, and was open from 7 a.m. to 1 p.m. when we visited in June. There was a 50 cent per person entry fee. It just happened that we flew in on a Saturday morning, so it was a convenient first stop after landing. I should mention that I have never seen the inter-island terminals so uncrowded as they were the Saturday we traveled. My brother, who lives in Honolulu, told me it’s because locals doing a long weekend getaway would leave Friday and return Sunday. And Monday through Friday would have business travelers. Which makes Saturday a slower travel day. Sure enough, our return flight was on a Sunday, and there were lines for check-in and security then. The Maui Swap Meet and Saturday travel will definitely be my itinerary in future trips.
Kapalua Coastal Trail Hike
The Kapalua Coastal Trail starts at Kapalua Bay, and continues north past Namalu Bay to a rocky point, until you are at Oneloa Bay. It turns inland after Oneloa Bay, so we turned around once we reached Oneloa. The rocky point is incredibly scenic, with interesting lava rock formations that drop into the ocean. You can take lots of pictures of surf crashing onto the rocks with either Lanai or Molokai in the background. We hiked the Kapalua Coastal Trail at the end of a rainy day so it was cool, but I imagine it can get pretty hot during the day, and would suggest bringing water.
Scenic North Shore Drive from Kapalua
If you drive north towards Kapalua, there are some interesting scenic stops. Dragon’s Teeth is an interesting lava formation that looks like–dragon teeth! You can park and walk out to this point, and see D.T. Fleming Beach on the right, and Oneloa Beach on the left from here. As you continue driving north, there are several scenic overlooks of beautiful beaches, and some areas have parking. A lot of times you’re on a cliff looking down towards the beach, so don’t plan on going swimming unless you’re in the mood for a serious hike. I’m not sure if these beaches are safe for swimmers either. If you continue driving long enough, you’ll run into a narrow, one-lane road, which would eventually take you all the way back to Wailuku, and you could literally circle the West Maui Mountains. We did not go that far and turned around far before that. It’s an interesting day trip if you get tired of snorkeling.
Dining in Maui on a Budget
Can you dine in Maui without breaking the bank? There are places to get great food at reasonable prices. Ba-Le, in the Lahaina Cannery Mall, had good Vietnamese food. Honokowai Okazuya Deli was one of our favorites near our condo north of Lahaina. They are a hole-in-the-wall take-out place and they aren’t cheap, but they make a lemon caper mahi dish that is fabulous! Maui Tacos was also not far from us and had huge, filling burritos, perfect for lunch after a morning at the beach. L&L, a standalone building in the Honokowai Times parking lot, is a local chain that serves up the standard “plate lunch” consisting of rice, macaroni salad, and an entrée on a plate. Healthier side options of brown rice and steamed veggies or salad are now offered too. It’s a great place to eat if you want to become familiar with a variety of local food. Each L&L appears to offer different specialties, and I’ve seen Japanese, Korean, Hawaiian, and Chinese dishes, along with fresh fish offerings. Ono Kau Kau (across the street and up the road from Times in Honokowai) offered good Chinese takeout. The local grocery stores also have some decent deli selections for take-out. Then there’s the old standby called McDonald’s. The menu in Hawaii is actually customized for the area, and you will not only find hot apple pies there, but probably something local, like hot taro pies, which are lilac colored, sweet, and actually quite tasty! On our last visit back they were selling haupia (coconut) pies. The McDonalds here also sell saimin, which is a Japanese noodle soup that most kids here grow up eating. It’s a fresh version of what mainlanders know as dried ramen noodles in soup.
T-shirts, souvenirs, and macadamia nuts
Where’s the best place to get all these things you’re expected to bring back to the mainland? We’ve actually found the most reasonably priced selection of t-shirts at the supermarkets. I got my favorite tank top at Foodland! They all have a Hawaiian section, and so does the local Wal-Mart. Long’s Drugs is in nearly every community and often has sales on the local foods like chocolate covered macadamia nuts, preserved dried fruits (a Chinese snack aka see moi), arare (a Japanese snack of seasoned, crispy rice crackers), and other quite unique local goodies. A warning on the chocolate covered macadamia nuts—you get what you pay for. If one brand is significantly cheaper than others, you may only get macadamia nut chips in each bite. Other brands will advertise a whole macadamia nut center, and you pay more, but get more. The quality of the chocolate can also have a huge impact on the taste, so you might want to sample a few brands early on in your trip before making bulk purchases to take home. Being forced to sample different brands of chocolate covered macadamia nuts is rough work; think you can handle it?