Islands Travel & Hotels

Visiting Maui

Let’s get sustainability out on the table early on. While many have dreams of solar powered light rail connecting all of Maui, the reality is you will most likely rent a car during your stay. Maui actually has its own bio-fuel refinery (sugar cane by-products) on-island and, you guessed it, a bio-fuel car rental with a range of vehicles and free pick-up and drop-off service. Yes, they are “off airport” but consider that your fuel bill will be nearly halved and you are not burning fossil fuel. Give Bio-Beetle a look. If it doesn’t work for you this trip, all the usual suspects in the car rental business serve the airport at Kahului. Pick up one of the many free Maui driving maps. Get your bearings and a good overview of the island before you set out.

Part of the magic of a Maui visit is that you can craft your own itineraries from the abundant activities menu. I want to share some off-the-beaten-track ideas that won’t include golf. That said, Maui has world class links that will make golfers think they are in heaven.

Exploring the Best of Maui

Your lodging location might determine your agenda in exploring more of the Valley Isle. If you are staying in one of the beautiful Kaanapali hotels or up in Kapalua you might want to nose around Napili Bay, one of that area’s sweetest little treasures and best swimming coves. And just beyond Kapalua and the swanky Ritz Carlton is D.T. Fleming Beach Park where some good snorkeling can be enjoyed.

For those of you who like to be anointed and massaged in a fabulous oceanside setting, the Heavenly Spa at the Westin Maui Resort and Spa offers Maui-grown lavender as its trademark and main inspiration. Signature treatments, such as the Island Lavender Body Butter with lavender-lilikoi sugar scrub, have been designed, using an exclusive line of local products sustainably and organically grown by Maui Lavender Farm on the road to Haleakala. Hey, you’re here, and you might as well take advantage of a little island pampering.

Breathetaking North Country and Up Country

You must make a visit to the North Shore area and Up Country, as they call it. This can be fun and maybe a little different than your typical tourist experience, though, not to worry, I’m not sending you deep in the jungle.

People come from all over the world to kite board and windsurf on Maui’s North Shore. Kanaha Beach Park is just beyond the airport, down the rental car return road, then right on Amala Place and you’ll see the sign for the park. Some of the people you see out there could be world-famous boarders and even manufacturers and developers testing out their latest ideas in an industry that is constantly evolving.

The other location on the North Shore for this is Hookipa Beach Park, about 3 miles towards Hana from the town of Paia. Hookipa has a great observation parking lot where you can take in the entire bay. Depending on conditions, it is not unusual to see lots of 360’s by windsurfers and some spectacular “air” by the kiteboarders.

There are three towns I especially like on the North Shore: Paia, Makawao and Haiku.

Paia is comprised of mostly old plantationstyle buildings gone to colorful shops, most with a lot of character. Paia has done a very good job of tipping the hat to that era in Maui’s past. Some of my favorite eateries in Paia include The Paia Fish Market and Cafe Mambo. Also, the sushi bar at Jacques Bistro is really worth a visit.

Lodging on the North Shore can be an adventure in itself, but the newly opened Paia Inn is bound to be a welcome stop for savvy travelers looking for something unique and elegant with a local feel. Exquisitely finished, the Paia Inn offers delightful second floor rooms in the main building plus a real gem of an authentic plantation house right on the beach. A lovely private lawn sprawls from the house to the beach gate and a separate private walk guides guests on the short stroll from the main building to the beach as well.

Looking at your Maui map, you can see that if you drive up Baldwin Avenue, you’ll end up in Makawao and on the way there you might want to stop at the Hui No’eau Visual Arts Center, which is housed in the magnificent old Baldwin Mansion. Just before you get to the Arts Center, you’ll pass Hali’maile Road. If you turn right you’ll come to Hali’maile General Store which has become world famous. Its plantation setting is worth a look and a taste.

Further up the hill you’ll come into the town of Makawao, with the main intersection being Baldwin and Makawao Avenues. Makawao has a paniolo (Hawaiian cowboy) history and the town has become a fullfledged artist’s colony offering blown-glass demonstrations and a large gaggle of galleries and un-common shops. Polli’s Mexican Restaurant at the main intersection is a great locals joint with very decent food and the pau hana (after work) scene has a great soundtrack of raucous laughter. I like just walking around Makawao, peoplewatching and enjoying the cool tradewinds that make living in Up Country Maui comfortable.

Driving east on Makawao Avenue, you’ll pass a lot of Up Country homes with a huge range of scale, from the modest tin-roof plantation house with front-yard chickens to the zillion-dollar horse spread. The ocean views are dazzling.

While Haiku is primarily a residential community, a cruise through the area gives you a feel for what it might be like to live Up Country and see more of Maui that is not beach-centric. You’ll get an appreciation for the dramatic topography of relatively new earth, with ravines and long slopes up to Haleakala and down to the ocean floor. When it rains, the ravines roar with water.

As you come into the small town center of Haiku, the largest building is the Cannery, surrounded by numerous other small buildings that house an extraordinary number of interesting small businesses and eateries.

The Cannery is the home of Haleakala Bike Company that offers a stunning life-experience of a Haleakala sunrise bike tour. What makes this outfit different from some of the other bike tour companies is that they hold a permit to give a van tour of the Haleakala National Park after your sunrise experience and before cutting you loose on your glorious downhill ride.

And the gem of the Cannery is Colleen’s Restaurant. Every time I go in there, whether for breakfast, lunch or dinner, it seems I’m surrounded by diners — locals and visitors — who are so happy to be on Maui that it sets a great aloha tone. Colleen Nicolas’ menu has evolved in a careful (and generous) way to truly one of the island’s best. The seared ahi is deliciously prepared.

So, dear reader, I hope this whets your appetite for a wonderful trip to The Valley Isle. There is lots more to see and do in Maui. You’ll find your own adventures and create some lasting memories.

– FRANK DIMARCO

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