Getting “Maui’d” goes way beyond vows over the surf. Travelers can incorporate a delicious Hawaiian vacation as a free stopover offered by Hawaiian Airlines to or from destinations in the Pacific and Asia. And although travelers will no doubt want to stay forever, Maui is a compact island and, if a full vacation is not in the offing, a few days of “Valley Isle” bliss can add up to some impacting Maui memories.
For starters, Maui is the second-largest of the Hawaiian Islands at 727 square miles, but getting from place to place in Maui can be handled, at most, in about four hours
“Maui is particularly well-positioned for business travelers who may be trying to fit some vacation time in Maui into a packed schedule,” said Leanne Pletcher, marketing director for Maui Convention and Visitors Bureau. “It’s a small island and the proximity of different types of activities as well as a full range of experiences – luxury, family, off the beaten track. Getting from one point to another is quite manageable and there are plenty of reasons to leave with more reasons to come back.”
Visitors land in Kahului (OGG), which is a good hour’s drive from the resort beaches of Ka’anapali and about a half hour to the posh backwaters of Wailea and Kihei.
The island presents an opportunity to use rental car points and even hotel points as pricey rates can turn into true rewards for business travelers. Ka’anapali Beach is the tourism zone, stretching from Lahaina toward the scenic arm of Kapalua. Lahaina is where to find the nightlife, the fabulous hole in the wall dining opportunities, even those gotta-do-it-at-least-once-in-you-life luau dinner shows.
The beach strand is fronted for miles by behemoth island resorts bearing familiar brand logos and featuring post card pool settings overlooking the surf. Ka’anapali is the place to be for being central to what is happening in Maui or near the jump off points for island exploration.
Take it up Highway 30 and find the most popular spots for wedding ceremonies and sunset cocktails. These include Montage Kapalua Bay and a few miles further, the Ritz-Carlton Kapalua.
A 45-minute drive south along coastal roads and you will be in Wailea. This corner of the island is quiet, private and given to elite resorts, such as the Four Seasons Maui, Fairmont Kea Lani and the Grand Wailea Waldorf Astoria. A fun beach walk connects the resorts and vacation complexes with trails that bring ocean access and a way to explore the various spreads as a matter of casual curiosity.
Those who truly want to get away from it all will want to get on Route 360, a.k.a. the Road to Hana. It’s easily a four-hour driving commitment along Maui’s eastern coast through 50 slow miles of rainforest gullies, around remote and hidden beaches, one car bridges, and blink-and-miss it towns to get to the end of the road and its rewards – a stay in one of the eleven cottages at the Travaasa Hana Resort. The resort is a splendid experiential option where guests unplug, hear nothing but the surf and watch the stars at night.
But the Road to Hana is a fun day trip as well, the very definition of travel when the road is the destination.
Maui has an amazing ability to be all things to all people. The island works magic on romance but also satisfies quests for adventure, thrills, immersion in natural beauty, and time to simply simmer in the sun. Which way do you want to go? What experiences do you want to try? No need to sweat it out. Decide on the fly. The island is small enough to accommodate whimsy and big enough to supply the answers for every appetite.
Maui’s 120-square-mile coastline brings plenty of remote and uncrowded coves to visitors looking for alone time along sand and surf. Ka’anapali’s 1.7 miles of well-trod resort beachfront is always available for those seeking simplicity, scene and service. For others looking for the quiet, privacy and some of the rare beauty Maui provides, traveling a bit off the track will bring adventure and awe.
Maluaka Beach: Along south Maui’s golden stretch, an idyllic setting of sand and surf can be found near the old Makena Beach & Golf Resort that is now closed. The crowds have vanished and the sea turtles have taken over.
Secret Beach: Not far from Maluaka within throwing distance of Wailea’s luxury hotels is easy-to-miss “Secret Beach,” formally known as Paako Cove. Find it hidden between homes and behind a rock wall. Many a wedding happens here as the white sand, palm trees, waves and black lava rock make it a postcard spot for celebrations or just hanging out. Nearby Makena Cove is a good place to watch for whales while observing the meanderings of green sea turtles in the calm waters.
Po’olenalena Beach: Also along the coast near Wailea find Po’olenalena, one of Wailea’s biggest and most scenic beaches that remains largely uncrowded and unknown by visitors. It runs around a kilometer in length and is protected by kiawe trees (Hawaiian mesquite). The powdery sand and gentle surf is good for boogie boarding and novice surfing. Beyond the lava outcropping find, at the northern end, placid waters that are great for snorkeling.
Olowalu Beach: Moving north along the ocean-hugging Honoapiilani Highway, just south of busy Ka’anapali and Lahaina beach walks, is a quiet, hidden beach of nearly a kilometer in length sheltered by verdant kiawe trees. Visitors can find it across from mile marker 14. The waters here are cool, shallow and protected and lead to a reef right off shore that teems with tropical fish. The turtles here well out-number the humans. The reef is nick named Turtle Reef as green Hawaiian sea turtles hover here and often crawl onto the beach.
Kapalua: Kapalua along Maui’s northeastern corner just beyond the Ka’anapali strand brings a 1.75-mile-long exquisitely beautiful path that meanders in and out of paved road, dirt trails, resort walkways, and boardwalk extensions offering the most stunning ocean views and post card beach moments to be found on the island. It runs from Napili Bay to Kapalua Bay, to Namalu Bay (known for cliff diving) and connects to the Mahana Ridge Trail near The Ritz-Carlton, Kapalua and keeps the nearby island of Molokai in its vantage. Easy access is through the Montage Kapalua, a 24-acre intimate resort, with 50 bookable residences ranging from one to four bedrooms.
Maui’s natural wonders provide backdrop for adventures had by land, sky and sea. The island offers hikers many miles of rough and groomed trails that cross through rainforests and redwood forests, to lava fields and windswept ridges to the slopes of Haleakala volcano at 10,023 feet. Haleakala National Park brings more than 30 miles of trails in its own right but most visitors prefer to take the peak the easy way – driving up and biking down and enjoying the riveting views and endless meadows of lavender and farms of proteas blooms on the way down. Opportunities abound for ways to take the sleeping volcano – from multiday back country hikes to biking and foodie tours.
Maui by air is best accomplished by several helicopter tours available for taking visitors on one- to two-hour journeys over Maui’s coasts and mountainous inland areas. Save time by flying over Haleakala or flying to Hana rather than riding the legendary road. Add a visit to a chocolate farm, a ranch or local specialty food houses through Platinum Tours Maui.
Zipline over the landscape courtesy of a number of zipline companies that have set up shop at various scenic spots, including Haleakala. Flyin’ Hawaiian Zipline Tours bills itself as Maui’s longest and highest and fastest zipline course, along a system that starts at the Maui Tropical Plantation in the village of Waikapu and ends in Maalaea a little over a mile from the Maui Ocean Center Aquarium and Maalaea Harbor. The company’s location in Central Maui makes it convenient for stays in both South Maui and West Maui. Other zipline companies to consider: Piiholo Ziplines, Skyline Ziplinesand Maui Zipline Company.
Whale watching and snorkeling can be wondrous enough and are easily managed for those economizing on time. Many companies provide whale-watching tours during winter (the season typically lasts from mid-December to mid-May), but there are plenty of places on land where you can photograph whales that are mating, calving and training their newborns. La Perouse Bay in South Maui is an ideal vantage point to see whales. Find it where the road ends in South Maui, ringed by lava rocks jettisoned from Haleakala’s last eruption in 1790. Atrail leads down to the rugged shoreline, traversing the ancient King’s Highway trail and leading to Cape Hanamanioa and La Perouse Bay for a remarkable three-mile circuit hike.
A number of companies will take passengers to see the whales up close and possibly combine those trips with snorkeling and diving excursions to magical spots that might otherwise be missed. Pacific Whale Foundation offers such tours and many of these include a marine biologist who rides along and reveals added secrets of the sea.
Snorkelers will want to check out the Keawanaku Beach near Le Parouse Bay as well as the crescent-shaped Molokini crater for a true sense of wonder under the water. Snorkeling at Maui’s Molokini Crater is like snorkeling in an aquarium. An ample number of operators out of Lahaina, Maalaea Harbor or Makena offer exhilarating half-day trips. Another recommended spot is Black Rock by the Sheraton at the north end of Ka’anapali Beach. This spot is also the best for swimming on Ka’anapali Beach.
What to Eat
Food adventures abound on Maui, often the very definition of locally sourced and fresh from the land or sea. The traditional offerings are especially tasty and usually infuse Polynesian sensibilities with Asian influences.
Poi and Laulau are well known as starch staples, both made from the taro root and requiring lengthy cooking processes to produce their smoky flavors and smooth textures.
There is also a slow-roasted pork dish known as Kalua Pig flavored with pungent wood aromas.
Poke is becoming well known on the mainland as the Hawaiian version of Japanese sashimi, usually served atop a bowl of rice.
Lomi Salmon might be considered a Hawaiian ceviche as raw salmon is cured with salt and diced up along with tomatoes, onions and chili peppers — often served with poi.
Chicken long rice is a Chinese mashup that combines clear mung bean noodles cooked in chicken soup and ends up as a gingery stew with clear noodles, chunks of chicken.
Finally, there is pineapple. Pineapples here are sweet and juicy and served with nearly every meal.
And Spam. This canned specialty hails from its introduction to the islands during World War II and is now often served sushi-like wrapped in rice and seaweed.
Where to Dine in Maui
Maui brings top tier chefs and restaurants, and here, the tables come with to-die-for views. Experiences can include Wolfgang Puck’s Spago at the Four Seasons, Chef Peter Merriman’s cuisine at Monkeypod, Iron Chef Masaharu Morimoto’s cuisine at Andaz Mui in Wailea, Beverly Gannon’s oeuvres at Gannon’s Restaurant at the Wailea Gold and Emerald Golf Course, and Merriman’s farm-to-table concepts at Merriman’s Kapalua. Of course, the island offers a profusion of grub shacks that serve up affordable adventures in fresh local food combos that satisfy and surprise. Check out Cow Pig Bun, Fukushima General Store, the food truck lot in Kahului, Eskimo Candy Seafood and the Flatbread Company, during those mini Maui road trips
Where to Stay in Maui
A Maui vacation whether for bleisure or celebration can be a good way of getting value out of loyalty and rewards points. The island is replete with Marriott brands: Westin Ka’anapali Ocean Resort Villas, The Westin Maui Resort & Spa Ka’anapali, Wailea Beach Resort – Marriott, Sheraton Maui Resort & Spa, Marriott’s Maui Ocean Club, the Westin Nanea Ocean Villas, the Ritz-Carlton Kapalua, the Courtyard by Marriott Kahului and Residence Inn Wailea. Hilton operates both the Grand Wailea, A Waldorf Astoria Resort and theHo’olei at Grand Wailea. And then there is the Hyatt brand that operates Hyatt Regency Maui Resort and Spa, Hyatt Residence Club, and Andaz Maui.
Southwest Airlines began service to Maui in Mrch with a flight from Oakland International Airport to Kahului Airport. However, the Boeing Max 8 debacle continues to cut into the frequency and breadth of Southwest’s plans for this destination. Stay tuned.
For more options and information contact the Maui Visitors Bureau, (808) 244-3530; www.gohawaii.com/islands/maui.