Best of Maui: Top 10 Attractions
Article by Baljeet Sangwan
If Hawaii is your idea of a dream vacation, then Maui ought to be the realization of that dream. For Maui, of all the Hawaiian islands, is the most magical, the most alluring, the most exciting. It has the best beaches, best golf courses, best windsurfing, best weather, and the sweetest pineapples you’ll ever taste, Maui Gold!
And on Maui, besides soaking up the sun and sipping a mai tai as the sun sets, what else should one see and do? Well, here’s the island’s ‘Top 10’, do-not-miss list.
Haleakala is a place almost of pilgrimage. The dormant volcano looms large on the island, more or less at the center of it, and at 10,023 feet, its summit is the highest point on Maui. Besides a visit to the informative Haleakala National Park Visitor Center, you can hike or go on horseback down into the 3,000-foot-deep Haleakala crater. You can also explore ancient lava flows and see silverswords here, which are rare, silvery flower stalks indigenous to the area. But for a spiritual journey, try to go there early and catch the sunrise. There’s a park entrance fee of per vehicle, or each for hikers and bikers.
2. Road to Hana
The Road to Hana is singularly the most scenic drive in the Hawaiian islands. It begins just south of Kahului and madly winds down the southeast coast of Maui, some 55 miles, twisting and turning around no fewer than 617 bends! and crossing over 56 tiny, mostly one-lane bridges. The secenery enroute is stunning, with lush vegetation and sweeping views of the ocean at every turn, and scores of swimming holes beneath waterfalls, ideal for a picnic and a splash or two. The principal attractions along the Hana Road are the Keanae Peninsula, a serene patch of green with an overlook with panoramic views; the Keanae Arboretum which incorporates an authentic representation of a Hawaiian rain forest; the 126-acre, tropical Kahanu Botanical Gardens; and the charming, laid-back town of Hana itself, where the centerpiece is the Hotel Hana-Maui.
Lahaina, situated on the West Maui coast, is an historic town. It was once the capital of Hawaii, and later on a bustling whaling town. Today, it is the liveliest, most colorful place on the island, filled with restaurants, smoothie bars, souvenir shops, art galleries, and even high-end boutiques; but which, if one is not careful, could easily become that proverbial ‘tourist trap’. Still, there’s a lot to see and do here: chief attractions include the Whaling Museum, Brig Carthignian, Jodo Mission, the 19th-century waterfront Pioneer Inn, and the jaw-dropping Banyan Tree which was planted here in 1873 and now occupies an acre of land, with a branch spread of 50 yards, supported by myriad aerial roots and 12 major trunks!
Ka’anapali is Maui’s best-known beach resort. Apart from the ‘Who’s-Who’ of resort hotels lining its shore, the white-sand Ka’anapali Beach offers some of the best swimming and snorkeling conditions on the island. But its notoriety has inevitably also made it one of the most visited and therefore most crowded beaches on Maui. There is also a touristy train, the ‘Sugarcane Train’, which runs between Lahaina and Ka’anapali, offering good views of the area. Another attraction here, just north of Ka’anapali, is Kapalua, with a lovely beach and even lovelier sunsets.
5. Iao Needle
Iao Needle: This is quite possibly the most photographed landmark on the island. Located in the Iao Valley State Park, in a lush valley in the West Maui mountains, the moss-covered stone spire rises 1,200 feet vertically from the valley floor. There are several trails and planks to walk around, with abundant tropical flora and excellent photo opportunities. The state park is accessible from the twin, principal Maui towns of Kahului and Wailuku.
The most colorful coastal town in East Maui, and a former hippie habitat, Paia is a surprising little jumble of eateries and boutiques, and the defacto northern terminus of the Road to Hana. But its chief interest lies in its beach park just outside town, Ho’okipa Beach, the premier windsurfing spot in the islands, where you can watch world-class windsurfers hone their skills and perform in championship events. The town is approximately 6 miles east of Kahului.
Makawao is one of those gems that most visitors to the island miss. It is a principal town in Maui’s Upcountry (Mount Haleakala’s slopes), where in an Old West setting of false-front wood-frame buildings, yoga centers and herbalists are juxtaposed with the ‘paniolo’ (Hawaiian cowboy) culture, offering a unique contrast between two distinctly different worlds. The town is also the locale of the biggest rodeo in the Hawaiian islands, held on the 4th of July. The town is situated 16 miles southeast of Kahului.
8. Wailea Beach Resort
Wailea Beach, situated on the southwest coast of Maui, just south of Kihei, is one of those manicured white-sand beaches, where they rake the sand and arrange beach chairs in neat little rows. But make no mistake, this is a public beach, one of the best on the island, and hugely enjoyable. It is lined with Maui’s premier resort hotels – Marriott, Renaissance, Four Seasons, Fairmont and Grand Wailea – which offer some of the best luaus and hula shows on Maui. Sunsets off the coast of Wailea are fabulous.
9. Makena Beach
Makena Beach, also on the southwest coast of Maui, just south of Wailea, lies in sharp contrast to the latter, undeveloped, pristine, less visited. This is also a highly enjoyable beach, particularly if you like being far from the madding crowd.
If you’re crazy about snorkeling, you cannot afford to miss Molokini. It’s a partially-submerged, crescent-shaped crater, rising 150 feet from the ocean, just off the southwest coast of Maui. Now a protected marine preserve and seabird sanctuary, it offers some of the best snorkeling and diving conditions in the Maui area. There are charter boats and snorkeling excursions departing for Molokini from the Ma’alaea (just north of Kihei) and Lahaina harbors several times a day. Cost ranges from to 0.
About the Author
Baljeet Sangwan is a globetrotter, travel editor and travel writer who has published 12 travel guidebooks. He is a contributor to the Maui, Oahu, and Big Island of Hawaii travel guides.