If I could only visit one place for the rest of my life, that place would be Maui. My family and I have been to the paradisaical island five times, and while our activities have changed as the children have grown, one thing remains constant: we love it. There are a ton of things to see and do on the island, but after multiple trips, I’ve narrowed my list to eight places to visit in Maui.
The trip to the summit of the Haleakala Volcano, which last erupted in 1786, is a must. Allow at least half the day for the trip to the top, depending on where you’re staying on the island. It’s fascinating to watch the landscape change as you drive up from sea level to over 10,000 feet. Early morning is one of the favourite times to visit. Tour groups shuttle visitors to watch the sunrise from the summit and then ride bikes back down.
Layer up; it’s cold at the summit and often windy and rainy, too. Take the time to acclimatize at different viewpoints on the way up to minimize the risk of altitude sickness.
Pa’ia and Makawao
Stop in at both Pa’ia and Makawao—adorable, small towns rich in Hawaiian heritage—on your way to the volcano. Pa’ia was formerly a sugar plantation village now renowned for its unique shops, boutiques, and restaurants. Makawao has roots in the sugar industry, but it’s now known for its thriving arts community. The nearby North Shore is popular for its massive surf that makes it the best place to watch daredevil windsurfers.
Be on the lookout for celebrities! The artsy feel of these communities attracts the likes of Woody Harrelson and Halle Berry, both of whom like to visit.
A fun fact for Ashtanga yogis: Nancy Gilgoff’s yoga studio is located outside Makawao. It’s not advertised, but those in the yoga community know it well. Dedicated practitioners would be well advised to visit her for a beautiful morning practice.
Lahaina is rich in history and was the capital of the Kingdom of Hawaii from 1820-45. Take a walking tour of the town to learn more about Hawaii’s history. Of note is the Old Lahaina Lighthouse, which was the first in all Hawaii, and the Lahaina Banyan Tree that covers an entire acre.
The Banyan Tree is also the site of regular art shows and a talk about whales. Lahaina was the centre of the global whaling industry, making it a port of call for sailors, who were also in conflict with the local missionary community. Spicy times, indeed.
Happily, the whaling industry is long gone, but the whale watching industry is going strong. The whale watching season runs November through February, as the North Pacific humpback whales migrate south to calve in the warm Hawaiian waters. February is the peak of the season, and the south and west shores of Maui are prime viewing areas. It’s worthwhile to book a tour, but the whales can often be seen from shore as well.
Tours vary in length and amenities. We took our then-six-and-seven-year-olds on a two-hour tour, which was manageable, if a bit too long. A long boat ride may prove boring for small children, so a six-hour dinner tour might not be the best choice. Book according to what you and your children will enjoy.
Maui Ocean Center
If you’re looking for a good activity for the kids, the Maui Ocean Center is an aquarium with incredible exhibits, including a gallery of sea jellies that’s a feast for the eyes. The Center works with endangered species and educates the public on the importance of sustaining sea life.
Don’t miss the Open Ocean display, which walks you through an impressive, clear tunnel with sharks and stingrays swimming all around.
Nakalele Point and Blowhole
Driving around the north part of the island is beautiful and full of interesting viewpoints, but the most remarkable one in my mind is Nakalele Point and the Blowhole. During high surf it’s an incredible show of nature, but beware: getting too close can be deadly. Watch from a safe distance.
Wear good walking shoes to hike down for a view of the blowhole. Flip flops aren’t going to cut it.
Road to Hana
I include this with some hesitation and a few caveats: I have a friend who has done this drive with her three kids and absolutely loved it. It was a highlight of her trip. There are many people who love this drive, and to be sure, there are many incredible sights to see, from lava tubes and waterfalls to ancient temples and arboretums. There are people who live along the Hana Highway, and who are totally off the grid. They sell banana bread and other goodies by the side of the road, and are otherwise seemingly unaffected by modern life. It’s a full day of driving; factor in at least eight hours, depending on how many times you stop. This was something I’m happy to have done, but once was enough.
The road is very curvy. And by “very curvy” I mean if you have a tendency towards carsickness, give this a hard pass. There are also many, many parts of the road that are one way only, meaning you need to yield to oncoming traffic. I’m not trying to scare you off because the drive is truly spectacular, but it’s also not for the faint-hearted.
Get Your Beach On!
You can’t go to Maui without enjoying the beautiful beaches. There are no private beaches in Maui; they’re open to the public and they’re all beautiful. Boogie boarding, snorkeling, or just lying on the beach are my family’s favourite activities (my personal favourite is the latter, but occasionally I participate in the former).
Polo Beach is our family’s favourite for boogie boarding; the waves are a good size, without being scary. Ulua Beach is great for snorkeling; it has an easy entry for the beginner, and the strong swimmer can go out further to see even more tropical sea life.
You can’t go wrong with Maui for either a relaxing vacation or one that’s action-packed. The moment you step off the plane into that soft, floral scented air, you will feel like you have landed in paradise.