THE ISLAND OF MAUI
After O’ahu, Maui is second in population, development, and resort options for visitors. After the “Big Island,” it is second in size and age. It offers experiences ranging from the luxurious hotels, beaches, and golf courses on the West Coast, to an old fashioned unspoiled Polynesian experience on the Road to Hana on the East Coast.
It is similar to the Big Island in that it has a very large volcano (Haleakala is 10,000ft) that effectively shields its Western leeward side from the winds and rain that generally arrive from the East on the trade winds. This creates a tourist friendly West coast that is almost always sunny and also allows for the creation of more beaches. Again, like the Big Island, East Maui has the lush tropical look with numerous streams, awesome waterfalls, and a rugged coastline.
Maui is/was actually two islands that were close enough together that the erosion from each built up and provided a land bridge between the two – hence the “valley” from where Maui gets it’s moniker of the “Valley Isle.” This valley between Haleakala and the West Maui mountains allows for very windy weather at times when the trade winds become strong and are funneled between the two higher terrains. But on the West sides of Haleakala and the West Maui mountains the winds are generally calm and the weather sunny – more so in the south on the Kihei coastline. The West coasts of North and South Maui are world class tourist meccas, with beaches, fishing, diving, snorkeling, whale watching, golf and and more. In South Maui you have Kihei, Wailea, and Makena.
Kihei is the most developed area with well maintained beaches for daily swimming and picnicking if not already staying in one of the hotels and many condos. Wailea is an upscale resort, with expensive homes, and impressive art collection, architecture, and golf course.The beaches here and further south along the pristine coastline of Makena are some of the finest in the world. The Northwest coast is home to Ka’anapali, Napili, and Kapalua, as well as the old storied town of Lahaina with its many galleries and tourist shopping. Don’t miss the Banyan tree. Lahaina was a central whaling town in the day, and the history is unavoidable. Beyond Lahaina are the prime resort areas of Ka’anapali and Kapalua with their fine beaches and luxury hotels. This area if pure resort, and one of the finest resort areas you will ever visit. Further North still is Honolua Bay, a good place to snorkel when the water is calm, and one of the finest waves in the world when there is surf. Here you can see coral formations and honu (turtles). The Nakalele Blowhole often provides a spectacle of water shooting seventy feet high.
At the end of the road is Kahakuloa, a small fishing village. And if the road is passable, you can go farther around for great coastline views. The “valley” area of central Maui is where you will land when arriving. The main towns of Wailuku and Kahului are side by side with your typical small town atmosphere. If you have extra time there are interesting “off the beaten path” experiences here. But it is usually passed over by visitors on their way from the airport to the resort areas. Something not to miss in this area is ‘Iao Valley State Park. This lush tropical valley is rich in plant life, clear pools, and Hawaiian culture. The trails are paved, but there are several dirt paths to explore more deeply into this magical valley. The many lava rock formations are spectacular – with the most famous being the towering spire known as the ‘Iao Needle, which rises 1,200 feet from the valley floor. “Upcountry” Maui is home to many locals because of it’s slightly cooler climate and more open affordable land. Up here they farm, an occasional rodeo, and run into neighbors in the small towns. You can start in Pa’ia, continue on through the ranch town of Makawao, and higher yet to Kula. There are flower stands, Maui wine, and pineapple fields for your enjoyment. And of course there is Haleakala, and Haleakala National Park. Read more in the Sights and Adventure sections for Maui.
Experiencing some aspect of the “House of the Sun” is a must in any Maui visit. The East Coast, or Hana, is pure tropical magic. Home to movie stars, and recluses, it remains isolated and unspoiled. It requires a day from the resorts to Hana and back along a road you will never forget, but shouldn’t miss. On the way you will pass through the wind surfing capital of Ho’okipa, and small smaller towns. For more on what you will see on the Road to Hana, see the dedicated section. ROAD TO HANA