Maui is filled with exciting activities and adventures, but the island’s spectacular scenery is not to be missed. It’s a large part of what makes The Magic Isle of Maui so special. Whether you’re on Maui for a day or a month, rent a car and explore some of the island’s most beautiful spots.
There are a number of great road shows on Maui, some longer than others. Here are five of my favorites:
1. Climb to Haleakala's Summit. Haleakala National Park is one of Maui’s most surreal places. At 10,023 feet high, Haleakala (House of the Sun) is the earth’s largest dormant active volcano with a crater that spans over 19 square miles. Haleakala is a sacred spot for Hawaiians and those who come here will quickly understand why. It’s an amazing place.
There are many ways to see Haleakala. One of the peak travel experiences of my life was watching the sunrise from Haleakala’s summit. If the conditions are right, making the nighttime drive and watching the morning sunrise can be a peaceful moment of spiritual renewal. It’s nice to know I have company – Mark Twain stated that this experience was “the sublimest spectacle of his life.” Getting out of bed at 2:30 a.m. to see this can be difficult, but for me it was well worth it. After seeing the sunrise, stay in the park to hike, stop in at the Haleakala Visitor Center and look for the endangered nene (Hawaiian goose) and the threatened Haleakala silversword plants that grow only at this location.
If seeing the sunrise isn’t possible, simply make the drive up Highway 378 (Haleakala Crater Road) during the day. Actually, there’s nothing particularly simple about it. Ascending steeply from sea level to over 10,000 feet, Haleakala Crater Road has over 30 switchbacks as well as blind turns and steep drop-offs without the benefit of guardrails. Bring warm clothing, fill up your gas tank before making the drive and check on current conditions - although the weather changes constantly. Other popular ways to see Haleakala are by bike and on horseback. Several Maui tour companies offer these sightseeing options as well as group Haleakala tours for those who'd prefer to let someone else do the driving.
2. Take the Road to Hana. Like all of these routes, the Road to Hana is all about the journey. Take the time to savor the experience. Fill up your car with gas and plan to arrive at around 7 a.m. in Pa’ia. Have breakfast at Charley’s Restaurant or stop at the T. Komoda Store & Bakery on Baldwin Avenue in Makawao to pick up a few tasty pastries for the road. Then head out on the Hana Highway (“the Road to Hana”) before most of the crowds arrive. You’ll benefit from the early start, as many stops near waterfalls and scenic overlooks have a limited number of parking spaces.
There are lots of roadside stands, waterfalls, corkscrew turns, one-lane bridges, wayside parks, botanical gardens and picture-perfect spots along the journey to Hana. Some of the best include Kaumahina State Wayside Park, Honomanu Bay County Beach Park, Ke’anae Arboretum, Ke’anae Peninsula Lookout, Wailua and Wailua Valley Wayside Park, Pua’a Ka’a State Park, Ka’eleku Caverns, the Hana Lava Tube, and the tiny town of Nahiku. Hike the Waikomoi Ridge Trail and don’t miss walking along the black sand beach and exploring the freshwater caves at Wai’anapanapa State Park. In addition, stop to sample some freshly baked banana bread at Aunty Sandy's Keanae Landing Fruit Stand or Halfway to Hana.
The one-way drive to Hana can easily take three or more hours if you’re planning to stop along the way. Don’t just rush to Hana - the stops are a large part of what makes this drive so much fun. If your schedule allows, plan to stay over in heavenly Hana for one or more nights to relax and see some of the area’s sights early in the morning before they’re inundated with tourists. Browse through the over a century-old Hasegawa General Store, take a swim in one of the many pools at Ohe’o Gulch (sometimes called the "Seven Sacred Pools" although there are dozens more) and stroll along Hamoa Beach – regarded as one of the country’s most stunning strands. The award-winning Travaasa Hana (formerly the Hotel Hana Maui) is an oasis of calm for those who can stay and enjoy Hana’s serene beauty.
3. Go West. Vacationers will find many articles devoted to the Road to Hana, but few mention the West Maui drive from Kapalua to the spectacular Nakalele Blowhole and beyond. The scenery here is stunning – so don’t miss it. If you can, start your excursion by taking an informative coastal hike and tide pool exploration trek with Jean-Michel Cousteau’s Ambassadors of the Environment Program at the Ritz-Carlton Kapalua. Then take some time to explore the jagged lava formation known as Dragon’s Teeth at Makalua-puna Point near the hotel. Next, jump in your car and traverse the narrow, curving road that will take you to scenic spots such as Honolua Bay, Slaughterhouse Beach, the tiny town of Honokoahau, and to the massive Nakalele Blowhole that can shoot over 70 feet up into the air. Wear hiking-type sandals or shoes and plan to stop to take plenty of pictures along the way.
4. Explore Maui's Upcountry. Maui is well known for its stunning vistas and beautiful beaches, but it’s also a fantastic destination for food lovers. Sprawling up the side of Haleakala, Maui’s upcountry region is filled with agri-tourism delights. A drive through this area is a great way to spend the day and beat the heat as well. Sample award-winning goat cheese spreads and scrumptious gourmet goat cheese truffles at Kula’s Surfing Goat Dairy or stop in at Grandma’s Coffee House to pick up a bag of their organically grown coffee. Stroll through the grounds of the Ali'i Kula Lavender Farm, try a lavender scone, and breathe in the rejuvenating scent of lavender. Have a gourmet lunch at O’o Farm in Waipoli and learn more about how the farm’s coffee and other sustainable “Farm to Table” crops are grown. If wine tasting is more your thing, head to Tedeschi Vineyards – Maui’s Winery at Ulupalakua Ranch. This commercial winery produces sparkling, pineapple, grape, and raspberry dessert wines for sale. Daily tours are offered and complimentary wine tasting (proof of age required) is available for visitors ages 21 and older.
Upcountry Maui isn’t just for foodies, however. Those craving an adrenaline rush can soar above Haleakala's slopes with Dexter Binder’s Proflyght Paragliding. Skyline Eco-Adventures also offers a zipline tour on the way to Haleakala’s crater featuring five ziplines and an “Indiana Jones” type swinging bridge.
5. Wind Your Way to Maui's ‘Iao Valley. Pass through Wailuku and curve north into the ‘Iao Valley, an eroded volcanic canyon-like caldera shrouded in rainforest. This region is home to the 4,000-acre ‘Iao Valley State Park and the ‘Iao Needle, a rocky vegetation-covered pinnacle rising 1200 feet up from the valley’s floor. Plan to spend several hours up here hiking and exploring the area – it’s magical. Located along Iao Valley Road, the 35-acre Hawaii Nature Center features a lovely rainforest walk and numerous exhibits providing information on the life of native Hawaiians and the history of the ‘Iao Valley area.
If You Go:
* Rental cars are readily available on Maui, but they can be in high demand – so make your reservation in advance. Check to find the most convenient office for you. Companies such as Budget Rent-a-Car, for example, have offices at Maui’s Kahului Airport and in Wailea.
* For more information on planning your visit to Maui, go to The Magic Isle’s website at www.visitmaui.com.