By Guillermo Rodriguez (Award Travel Points)
1. The Road to Hana
The Road to Hana is a scenic highway that twists through lush rainforest, cascading waterfalls and past Maui’s dramatic northeast coastline. Most people start their trip along this highway in Kahului, Maui’s main city, with the intention of motoring the 55 miles to Hana. Along the way they encounter hair-splitting blind turns, more than a few harried commuters, and some awful traffic. But to most, the experience is oh so worth it.
The Road to Hana might seem short, but travelling it will most likely take all day. There are many notable photo opportunities along the way, including the Twin Falls around the two-mile marker; and the Wailea Overlook or Waikani Falls around the 21-mile marker. The Waianapanapa State Park and Ho’okipa Beach are also popular stops. Since the trip will take you awhile, pack snacks and a cooler with drinks. Also, prepare to stop along the way to take photos (and to let your stomach calm down after some harrowing curves).
2. Kaihalulu (Red Sand Beach)
The red sand at Kaihalulu Beach is too exotic to be missed. Its vibrant color is due to the eroded volcanic cinders that surround the shore, and it makes a startling contrast to the bright turquoise water off Maui’s east coast.
The only problem for travelers is the steep and slippery 10-minute hike down to the beach. Wear sturdy shoes and go in pairs down the path. Also, brace yourself for a narrow path near the end. Keep in mind that Kaihalulu is a clothing optional beach. The area’s remote and hard-to-reach locale has made it a haven for nude sunbathers.
You’ll find Kalihalulu behind the Hana Community Center in the town of Hana. It’s open at all hours, but visiting during the day will make the short hike to and from the beach safer. Plus, Kalihalulu makes a great rest stop at one end of the Road to Hana.
3. Iao Valley State Park
Many tourists say that their experience here was a Maui highlight. As you walk along the moss-colored floor of the Iao Valley toward the iconic Iao Needle, you’ll see what all the fuss is about. Hiking trails offer varying degrees of difficulty, so be sure to pick the right one for you. The easiest is a paved 0.6 mile trail. Nearly every route will bring you to some incredible vantage points of the island.
The valley is also steeped in history. The rocky terrain was a battleground in the 18th century battlegrounds and is the final resting place of many Hawaiian kings. That’s more reason to respect the land and to stay on trails. At only 10-miles long, the valley is worth about half a day’s exploration on foot, a little less in a car. You’ll probably spend most of your time in search of the famous Iao Needle. Rising 1,200 feet, this green-hued rock looks most majestic on clear days. Bring plenty of water for your hike. Although the park has restrooms, there is no drinking water or other refreshment offered on the grounds.
The Iao Valley State Park is open every day from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. You’ll find it easily off of Highway 32 in central Maui. There is a $5 parking fee. Visit the park’s official website for more pointers on visiting.
4. Haleakala National Park
More than a million tourists annually visit Haleakala National Park — the location of the world’s largest dormant volcano. To reach the summit, you’ll have to take the two-hour winding drive through the park. Still, time flies for excited travelers. Consider making the trek to the summit in the morning to see the sunrise. Be sure to wear warm layers — the air up top is thin and chilly.
On the way up, you should stop around mile 17 at the Leleiwi Overlook for a panorama of the crater. And on your descent, swing by the Kalahaku Overlook (around mile 19) and search for the park’s rare silverswords (a purple and silver plant shaped like an artichoke). Also, don’t limit yourself to just the volcano. The park itself spans approximately 27,284 acres and features hiking trails and overnight camp sites. The park’s most popular trail, Pipiwai, is a four-mile trek above and around the magnificent Seven Sacred Pool of Oheo Gulch, so be sure to take plenty of pictures. The round trip takes travelers approximately five-hours.
Haleakala National Park is located in southern Maui and welcomes visitors 24 hours a day. The Haleakala Visitor Center (near the summit) is open from 5:15 a.m. to 3 p.m. The Kipahulu Visitor Center (at the base) is open from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. each day. You can enter the park on foot for $5 per person or in a car for $10, and admission is good for the next three days. Check out the National Park Service’s website for more details.
5. Wailea Beach
This beach hosts the swankiest hotels and some of the poshest vacationers. Instead of umbrellas and beach chairs, you’ll find cabanas and chaise lounges (for the Four Seasons Resort guests only, thank you very much). But you’ll also be treated to warm stretches of white sand and some of the best sunsets on the island.
A beautiful piece of real estate, sandy beaches and volcanic formations along the seaside are a pleasure to behold at any time of the day, and whale watching is easy.
And the best feature: Wailea is free to enjoy at any time of day. You’ll find these prized sands on the Maui’s southwest coast.
6. Ho’okipa Beach
The wintertime waves at Ho’okipa Beach are so white and frothy that hardcore surfers and windsurfers can’t stay away. The water is definitely too rough for swimming, but if you’re even remotely curious about surfing, you should pause on your Road to Hana trip at this north shore beach. You’ll catch some real experts in action.
There aren’t many changing rooms around Ho’okipa, and there are no restaurants to speak of. But there are a few lookout points and picnic benches set up, so pack a snack to enjoy while you watch. Surfers typically hit the waves in the morning (the best time to find them is around 11 a.m.), while the windsurfers take to the water in the afternoon.
7. Waianapanapa State Park
In Hawaiian, Waianapanapa means “glistening waters,” but visitors come to this state park for just that, plust its black sand beaches and intermediate hiking trails. Although it’s often seen as a quick lookout stop along the Road to Hana, northeastern Waianapanapa State Park’s beauty merits an extended visit. Take note that this beach is not good swimming or lounging. The pebbly shore can do a number on your feet, and the waves are often rough.
The 122 acres of Waianapanapa are free to enjoy at any time of day. In fact, the popular (and rustic) Waianapanapa State Park Cabins are some of the most coveted accommodations on the island, and they’re located on South High Street within the park’s limits. Visit the park’s website to plan a short visit. You’ll need to book early if you’re interested in the cabins; check our Maui hotels page for more information on them and other lodging in the vicinity.
8. Old Lahaina Luau
The Old Lahaina Luau is hands down one of the most popular things to do on Maui. Many say that if you haven’t been to a luau before, this is the one to attend, and it’s largely because Lahaina prides itself on sticking to tradition while other luaus have started to kowtow to touristy notions. You’ll dine on a meal of Kalua Pua’a (roasted pork), Pulehu steak, lomi lomi salmon and poi (mashed taro plant). Plus, you’ll listen to chants and witness hula dancing, all set along the waterfront on Front Street at sunset.
The Old Lahaina Luau takes place nightly in the town of Lahaina and lasts about three hours. Luaus from April to September start at 5:45 p.m. while those from October to March begin at 5:15. p.m. Visit the website to plan your night out, and remember to make your reservation well in advance.