10 Days in Maui: The Highlights
Remember when I went to Hawaii in March, and loved it so much that I booked a return trip the week I got back? Well, that return trip was 10 days in Maui, and I went at the end of October. It’s been a busy few months so I was desperately looking forward to the break, but the craziness of September also meant that this was the most unprepared I’ve ever been for a vacation. The boyfriend came down with food poisoning the night before, I forgot to print directions to our hotel, and left without any kind of cardigan or jacket. Luckily, none of it mattered and we had an amazing time exploring the diverse island of Maui. October really was the best month to do; the weather was 30 degrees and beautiful sunshine, yet the island seemed…empty. There was always a lounger at the pool, and always a table for dinner. I’m not sure where all the other tourists were hiding, but it wasn’t on Maui. Here’s a few things we got up to.
We spent our first four nights in Kihei, a resort area on the south coast of Maui. It’s the hottest part of the island because its sheltered by the wind, and is where most of the hotels are. We stayed at the Coast Hotel Maui which was across from Kamaole Beach Park I. It had a small but mostly empty pool area, where I spent a good amount of time reading and swimming.
Kihei is famous for its beaches, which really are beautiful. We visited most of the beaches in Kihei and Wailea (the expensive resort area just South of Kihei) either for a swim or a sunset stroll. My favourites were the stunning Big Beach with its yellow sands, and award winning ‘best beach in America’ Wailea Beach.
Kihei’s unobstructed view of the horizon over the water made it the perfect place for watching sunsets, and we spent two lazy evenings drinking Mai Tai’s by the beach. There’s no real ‘downtown’ in Kihei, it’s pretty much hotel after hotel, but we still found some great local food options, including the world’s sweetest French Toast and the local dish ‘Loco Moco’ (rice, hamburger meat, mushroom, fried egg and gravy). It was definitely very quiet in terms of nightlife, but the beautiful beaches made up for it.
As soon as we booked our trip, I knew I wanted to snorkel at Molokini. Molokini is a volcanic crater that’s partly submerged underwater, leaving a crescent shaped reef that just happens to be a stunning dive spot. The shape of the crater means that it blocks a lot of the currents, leaving a calm and protected area with great visibility. We did a morning boat trip with Pride of Maui which included snorkelling at Molokini, snorkelling at Turtle Town, breakfast, lunch and an open bar. I rented an underwater digital camera for the morning and got some great shots of the fish, and of the boyfriend trying out Snuba (just what it sounds like, a cross between snorkel and scuba). Turtle Town is an area closer to the shore where turtles are known to gather, and we were able to spot and swim with three or four. I looooove snorkelling and was very happy to spend a morning out on the water.
Road to Hana
The Road to Hana was another must-do on our list. This drive is famous for being very windy and narrow in places, with over 600 turns (apparently) and 50 one-lane bridges. It’s described in a way that makes it sound like a terrifying drive, when in fact it was a calm, relaxing and scenic journey through lush rainforest. If you’re an American in a large car who is used to multi-lane freeways then I can see how you might find it uncomfortable, but if you’ve driven anywhere in Europe it won’t be an issue. The highway itself is only about 70 miles long, but it takes at least 4 hours to drive because of all of the pools, waterfalls and hikes on the way. The scenery really is beautiful, and even though we missed a few stops (instructions like ‘stop 7/10’s of a mile past the mile 42 marker’ were not helpful when we couldn’t reset our odometer) we saw our fair share of rainforest life. My favourite stop was Ching’s Pond, a pool popular with locals where we stopped for a swim and saw a man cliff dive from a crazy height. Luckily James recorded the jump, as I couldn’t watch!
We spent the night in Hana itself, which is a very sleepy town. Hana itself is definitely not a ‘destination’, the road is about the journey rather than getting there. The apartment we booked was huge, and a had a great view of the black sand beach at Hana Bay.
In the morning, we got up and continued along the highway to the Seven Sacred Pools, part of Haleakala National Park. There are not seven pools, and they’re definitely not sacred, but were a beautiful (and popular) place for a morning swim.
This is where most people turn round and return via the same route they came on, but we kept driving round the bottom of the island, and the back of Haleakala Crater. The reason most people don’t go this way is that there’s a 5 mile section of unpaved road, which technically isn’t covered by rental car insurance. This means that if you break down they won’t cover your recovery cost, which will be in the thousands of dollars range. After a LOT of internet research I decided that we’d go for it anyway, as the promises of amazing scenery seemed to outweigh the possible risks. The decision paid off, and we couldn’t believe how quickly the scenery changed from rainforest to desert, and back again, as we passed behind the volcano. The road itself really wasn’t that bad, especially if, like the boyfriend, you grew up in mid-Wales where gravel roads are part of your daily commute. I’m so glad we took the risk as we got to see a part of the island that most people don’t.
On the way back from Hana, we stopped off for sunset at Haleakala Crater. The crater itself isn’t actually volcanic, but was formed when two large valleys were formed in the volcano summit by erosion, and then covered in lava in the latest 17th century eruption. The summit is 10,000ft high and is reached by driving up a series of long switchbacks. I did this drive, and can safely say that driving into, through, and out of the clouds was a surreal experience.
A lot of people travel up to the Summit for a great view of the island, but I was really hoping for cloud to have formed (it usually has by the afternoon) so we’d be able to watch the sunset from up above. Sunrise is the most popular (and coldest) time for visits, but this didn’t fit into our schedule so we went for sunset instead. We weren’t disappointed. After a very short hike down inside the crater, we curled up at the viewpoint to watch the sun light up and sink behind the clouds. Once it disappeared, it left behind a really eerie atmosphere. The drive down was long, slow and very very dark, but was made all the better by the world’s best burrito on the way home. This was the best day of our vacation!
When we returned from Haleakala Crater we drove straight to our final destination, Ka’anapali. Ka’anapali is in West Maui, and is a resort area known for the beautiful Ka’anapali Beach. We were upgraded to a HUGE apartment (bigger than any I’ve lived in!) which was a 7 minute walk across a golf course to Ka’anapali Beach itself. The resort owned a private beach cabana right on the sand, with sun loungers, towels, showers, washrooms and even a kitchen. It was the perfect place to spend the morning, especially as snorkelling at Black Rock (50ft away) was pretty good for considering it was so close to the shoreline.
10 minutes walk down the beach was Whalers Village, a shopping mall with a series of beachside bars and restaurants. We definitely made the most of a Happy Hour or two, and this part of Maui was much more lively in the evening. The guidebooks said that West Maui would be windier than South Maui, but we didn’t feel a single breeze during our 4 days there. It turns out I didn’t need any of the cardigans I’d forgotten, as it didn’t cool down much in the evening. Way to pack light!
Lahaina is a small town about 10 minutes south of Ka’anapali, and is an actual town. It has high street (Front Street) full of restaurants, boutiques, art galleries and tourist shops. The oldest house on the island, Baldwin House, can be found here, and there’s also a Banyan Tree that spans a whole block.
We first came here for a boat trip to Lana’i (more below) and ended up coming back for lunch at Bubba Gump and an afternoon exploring. That wasn’t quite enough, so we went back once more for dinner on our last night. Lahaina was quieter than I expected, and was touristy but quirky and loveable at the same time. It was a little like a Hawaiian Carmel, and I definitely did some Christmas shopping in the most amazing gift store. Next time we visit Maui, we’d love to spend a night or two in Lahaina to really make the most of it.
I didn’t go to a Lu’au on my last trip to Hawaii, so I was exited to visit the Old Lahaina Lu’au on this trip. We were greeted with a flower Lei and a Mai Tai, and watched a huge, roasted pig getting dug out from the underground sand oven it was cooking in.
We’d selected the traditional seating, so we were placed in the front row on a low table where we sat cross legged on cushions. Dinner was a delicious buffet, and the cocktails kept flowing. The show itself is known for being the most authentic in Maui, and the performers told the history of the Hawaiian islands through a moving performance. The evening wasn’t cheap ($100 per person) but definitely worth doing once for a truly Hawaiian experience.
What’s better than going on vacation to a Hawaiian island? Going on vacation to TWO Hawaiian islands! Lana’i is just a 90 minute catamaran ride from Lahaina, so we booked ourselves a day trip to check it out. Lana’i is the smallest of the Hawaiian islands that’s accessible to the public and only 3,000 people live there. It’s a privately owned island, which means that every person with a job works for ‘the company’. Strange. When James Dole was the owner in the 1920s, Lana’i was the world’s largest pineapple plantation. Today, the main source of employment is two Four Seasons resorts plus a handful of grocery stores. We booked our trip with Trilogy as they are the only tour company who has access to Hulopoe Bay, a preserved beach area with fantastic snorkelling.
After breakfast and snacks on the catamaran we headed to Hulopoe Bay for some snorkelling, before joining a 90 minute van tour around Lana’i City. The city is where most people on the island live, and it was so interesting to see how the island transitioned from a plantation to modern day living. I say modern…there are no traffic lights or public transit on the island, and the barge arrives from Oahu on Wednesdays with food and supplies for the coming week. It has a very laid back, traditional feel, and I’m really glad I took the time to see the island. After the tour we had a delicious meal before returning back to Lahaina for sunset.
The question I keep getting asked now is ‘which island do you prefer, Oahu or Maui?’. My answer is that they were both beautiful, and my two vacations has very different themes. Waikiki has a bad rep for being touristy, which it is, but that’s no bad thing if you’re looking for a busier area with lots to do. I loved my trip there as we spent our days exploring the island and the stunning shorelines, and our nights eating and drinking in the many beachside bars and restaurants. Maui was much more laid back with more diverse scenery (rainforest, volcano, beaches). The focus on this island was the beaches and the relaxation that comes with them, to the extent that most restaurants stopped serving dinner by 9pm. It was also great to be able to visit Molokini and Lana’i, and the driving was fantastic. This made for a very different vacation, and I still don’t prefer one island over the other. My advice? Visit both! Next stop, Kauai…