Maui, or the “M” word, as the other islands call it in good-natured competition, has long been known for romance, due in part to its lovely beaches, but mostly to its relaxed pace and restful spirit. It also ranks as the favorite island of visitors from the mainland, much to the dismay of its sister islands…but for good reason! This lovely island has plenty of features that make it the preference of first-time and repeat visitors alike.
The waters offshore teem with life, and are excellent for water sports of all kinds. The tiny half-submerged caldera of Molokini just offshore from Wailea is one of the best areas to snorkel and dive in the world, and the channel between Lahaina and the neighboring island of Molokai is one of the best places for whale watching from November to March.
Maui also has vast mountains on both the western and eastern halves of the island, which are home to numerous outdoor pursuits such as zip lining, horseback riding, hiking, and wildlife viewing. One of the most sacred and beautiful areas on the island, Iao Valley State Park, is sadly one of the most overlooked. Many travelers rise long before dawn for the trek up to Haleakala’s Crater on the island’s eastern side so that they can sit huddled on the crater rim, shaking with cold, to watch the sun rise majestically above the clouds. The experience has such a profound effect on travelers that it is often described in spiritual terms.
While all of these experiences are amazing, perhaps the most well-known in Maui is the Road to Hana. This route, winding along the island’s northeast coastline from Paia all the way to the small town of Hana, is one of the most scenic in all the Hawaiian Islands. The road hugs the coastline, dipping into hairpin curves and under dripping rock ledges, for miles with fruit and banana bread stands along the way, as well as several food trucks offering local specialties such as the famous huli huli chicken. Take it from me – it’s delicious and part of the experience.
On a personal note, upon reaching Hana I decided become one of the brave few to continue around the island on the rough stretch of road into the high plains of paniolo country. Most travelers are advised to turn back and return by the path the arrived on, but I was itching to see this lesser-traveled side of the island. Having emerged on the other side, I can say it’s not for the faint of heart – I can definitely understand why continuing on is not advised; however, I also believe it was totally worth the risk. The road became much more winding and steep as we left Hana, until it was finally nothing more than a rough, gravel one-lane track hugging very steep cliffs. We held our breath at every turn, praying there were no other vehicles coming toward us beyond our line of sight. After about an hour of white-knuckled driving, the road widened into a rolling path that snaked through the fertile fields of local farmers, and we were treated to breathtaking vistas in completely secluded peace.
While Maui is the most visited island in the Hawaiian chain, it has beautifully preserved not only its landscapes, but also its culture. The sense of aloha is alive and well here, and friendly locals mix easily with their constant tourist companions. So, when you’ve had your fill of active travel, make Maui your last stop. Slow down, take deep breaths, and let the warm island culture seep into your heart. Trust me – you’ll be glad you did.
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