Top 10: best things to do on the island of Maui (Hawaii)

Monday newsletters always feature top 10 travel lists to inspire.

Today (November 27, 2017): Top 10 best things to do on the island of Maui (Hawaii).

Maui, known also as ‘the Valley Isle’, is the second largest Hawaiian island, behind the Big Island. While the Hawaiian island of Oahu – home to Honolulu – is most popular with Japanese tourists, the island of Maui appeals to visitors mostly from the U.S. mainland and Canada, and with good reason. The island is beloved for its world-famous beaches, the sacred Iao Valley, views of migrating humpback whales (during winter months), farm-to-table cuisine and the magnificent sunrise and sunset from Haleakala. It’s not surprising Maui has been voted ‘Best Island in the U.S.’ by Condé Nast Traveler readers for more than 20 years. I hereby share with you my favorite 10 things to see & do while on holiday in this beautiful island.

There is more info below the slide show.  Think I missed a Maui attraction? Leave a comment or take my poll below!

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Known for its five beautiful, crescent-shaped beaches and stellar golf courses, Wailea is Hawaii’s most luxurious resort community, located in South Maui and spanning 1,500 acres of land with staggering ocean views. The area is home to a myriad of resorts where you can relax and do nothing at all, including 5-star resorts like the Andaz Maui at Wailea and the Four Seasons Resort Maui at Wailea (which I will review soon). The area’s signature beaches include Wailea Beach (which has been named America’s Best Beach on several occasions), Polo Beach (with excellent swimming and snorkeling), and Ulua Beach Park (where early morning and sunset walkers and joggers abound). The Wailea Blue, Wailea Gold and Wailea Emerald courses make up the 54 holes of championship golf that have made Wailea so famous. The ‘Shops at Wailea’ is a destination in itself, featuring world-class restaurants and shops, along with regular entertainment programs.


With 120 miles (200 km) of coastline, Maui boasts over 30 miles (50 km) of beautiful beaches. On these world-famous shores you’ll find white, black and red sand beaches, renowned surfing and windsurfing spots as well as some of the best beaches in the world to simply swim, snorkel and sunbathe. Many are easily accessible beach parks with lifeguards, picnic facilities and restrooms. Others are undeveloped ‘secret spots’ found off the beaten path. Maui’s most diverse beaches are found around Hana. White sand Hamoa Beach was called by Author James Michener the most beautiful beach in the Pacific. The stunning black sand beach at Waianapanapa State Park offer good swimming, snorkeling and freshwater pools. And Red Sand Beach in Hana town is a dramatic and beautiful hidden cove unlike any other, although the short hike to the beach is hazardous.


Although Oahu’s North Shore is Hawaii’s most legendary surf spot, Maui has its own share of famous beach to experience the ‘sport of kings’. To watch pro surfers in action, head to Honolua Bay and Hookipa Beach near Lower Paia during winter big wave season. East of Hookipa, you’ll find Maui’s most famous surf spot for big wave surfing: Peahi, also known as Jaws. During big swells, surfers are towed into Peahi’s massive waves by jet-skis. This technique has lead to the emergence of a new sport called ‘tow-in surfing’. Maui is also famous for another form of surfing: windsurfing. Hookipa Beach on Maui’s northern shore is considered the windsurfing capital of the world, when the big north shore waves make this beach a magnet for pro windsurfers and kite surfers. No matter which style of surfing you want to try, lessons are highly recommended for your safety and the safety of your fellow beachgoers and surfers.


There is no better way to view the sheer scope and striking environmental contrasts of the island of Maui than from above. What’s more, helicopters can access parts of the island unreachable by boat, car or foot. Popular operators such as Air MauiBlue Hawaiian Helicopters and Maverick Helicopters offer tours of West Maui  and Hana and take passengers above the moon-like summit of Haleakala Crater, while others go on on scenic, hourlong flights of the whole island. No matter which route you choose, you’ll be rewarded with stunning vistas of Maui’s waterfalls, craters, cliffs and valleys. Be sure that your heli tour includes a flight over the neighboring island of Molokai, where waterfalls stream down the sea cliffs before plummeting into the ocean 3000 feet (1 km) below. Most heli excursions depart from the Kahului Heliport in west Maui (packages do not include transportation to or from the helipad).


Don’t leave Maui without snorkeling or scuba diving around the island’s magnificent reefs to see colorful fish, sea turtles and coral formations. The small, crescent shaped island of Molokini off Maui’s southwestern coast offers the best snorkeling and diving in the Hawaiian archipelago, offering visitors a kaleidoscope of coral and more than 250 species of tropical fish. When the USA entered World War II, the military used Molokini Crater for bombing practice. Years of protests and lobbying led the US government to deem Molokini Crater and the surrounding 77 acres a Marine Life Conservation District and Bird Sanctuary. The reef has restored its health and the fish have returned. Molokini is only accessible by boat tour. Tours are available from nearby Maalaea Harbor in Kihei and Lahaina Harbor on Maui’s western shores.


When your mind imagines Maui, it probably looks a lot like the island’s epic east side: cascading waterfall pools hidden in lush rainforests, roadside pineapple stands, hairpin turns around plunging sea cliffs. It’s all here, along the legendary Road to Hana – one big reason why East Maui is a must-see on any traveler’s list. The Hana Highway snakes along the island’s northern coast for 52 miles (83 km)  and the drive to Hana can take as few as 3 hours or last an entire day, depending on how many pictures you stop to take and food stands you sample.  After you’ve navigated the more than 600 white-knuckle turns and 50 bridges, you’ll enter Hana – a charming small town where time seems an abstract concept and aloha is a way of life. Considered staying a few nights at one of the most remarkable resorts in Hawaii, Travaasa Hana, which is located in the tiny town of Hana on the eastern tip of Maui and will immerse you in the real Hawaii.


Just beyond Hana is the stunning Kipahulu section of Haleakala National Park (cf below), where a hike to a stunning water fall and a refreshing swim is the perfect reward after a long drive. The Kipahulu area boasts plenty of self-guided hiking trails that weave through forests of bamboo, past roaring cascades to the green heart of the island. Consider the Pipiwai Trail, one of the island’s best trails, which leads to the 400-foot (121 m) Waimoku Falls. Make sure to consult park rangers at the Kipahulu Visitor Center before you embark on this three- to five-hour hike. Expect to get muddy, and don’t forget your hiking shoes. Here, you also find the famous Pools of Oheo in Oheo Gulch, which are beautifully tiered pools fed by waterfalls, where – weather permitting – you can take a dip in the tranquil waters, fed by streams starting 2 miles (3 km) inland. The pools of Oheo are currently closed though due to rockslides in the area, so be sure to get the latest information from the national park service site.


Maui’s southwestern shores are home to many extraordinary beaches, including Makena Beach, also known as ‘Big Beach’ and considered one of the island’s best. This is one of the largest beaches on Maui, with 1.5 miles (2,4 km) of golden sand stretching as wide as 100 feet 530 m) in places. Visitors can swim or snorkel in the pristine water, picnic in the shade or simply sunbathe on the seemingly endless expanse of sand. Nestled between two black lava outcroppings, Makena offers protection from the trade winds and provides great views of the islands of Molokini and Kahoolawe. Restrooms and picnic facilities are available, and a handful of food vendors operate out of trucks both inside and just outside the park. Big Beach is located south of Wailea near the Makena Beach and Golf Resort and provides a secluded alternative to more crowded beaches in Kaanapali and Lahaina.


Just as Hawaii’s idyllic weather welcomes tourists from around the world, the warm and shallow waters surrounding the Hawaiian Islands are a favorite destination for kohola, or humpback whales. Scientists estimate that two-thirds of the entire North Pacific humpback whale population return to Hawaii to breed, calve and nurse their young. They race more than 3000 (5000 km) miles from the Gulf of Alaska to Hawaii, then stay for a lengthy vacation, frolicking just off Hawaii’s shores and delighting spectators from December through May. Whales have great cultural significance for Native Hawaiians as they play a large role in Hawaiian legend and appear in ancient petroglyphs on several islands. Although humpback whales can be seen from all of the Hawaiian Islands, the shallow Auau Channel between Maui, Molokai and Lanai is one of the best whale-watching destinations in the world.


Towering over the island of Maui and visible from just about any point, Haleakala Crater is a force of nature in every sense. At 10023 ft (3 km) above sea level, this dormant volcano is the stage for a breathtaking range of landscapes and skyscapes. Haleakala means ‘house of the sun’ in Hawaiian, and legend goes that the demigod Maui lassoed the sun from its journey across the sky as he stood on the volcano’s summit, slowing its descent to make the day last longer. Many visitors wake up early to drive to the Haleakala Visitor Center, the best spot to watch what may be the most spectacular sunrise on earth. As the sun peeks over the horizon, an ever-changing swirl of color and light dance across the vast sea of clouds—a sight described by Mark Twain as ‘the most sublime spectacle I have ever witnessed’. Perhaps just as impressive are Haleakala’s sunsets and the bright, starry skies revealed at night.

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1 Comment

  1. This is a good list. I was surprised by the poll as watching whales is such a singular joyful experience. Perhaps people think of getting on a boat to “whale watch” when on the west side of the island you can sit on your lanai for breakfast lunch and dinner and watch the whale show! Perhaps your next trip will include Napili: one of the old resorts and beloved bay excellent for swimming and relaxing. Thank you for your quality site.

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