We kicked off our first vacation of 2017 at none other than Maui, Hawaii, considered the prettiest island of the archipelago and had a great time, thanks to its abundant natural beauty, the incredibly delicious food as well as the scenic views. Although we were there for only three days in Maui, we did manage to squeeze in a few things which I’ll cover in this Maui itinerary of mine for you to help plan your magical trip. In this blog post, I will be sharing our experience which includes some of the top attractions in Maui, a relatively budget hotel option (where we stayed) as well as some great spots to hit when hunger calls when you need a break from all the sightseeing in Maui. Maui is also the ideal honeymoon destination and you can read this post on Hawaii honeymoon guide for more inspiration.
Planning a Maui itinerary: Things to know before you go
a) Hawaii, the 50th state of USA and the northernmost island chain in Polynesia is located in the south Pacific ocean and comprises of essentially eight islands going by the names of Niʻihau, Kauaʻi, Oʻahu (read this fantastic experience on Lei making in Waikiki beach resort here), Molokaʻi, Lānaʻi, Kahoʻolawe, Maui, and the Island of Hawaiʻi (also known as Big Island since it is the largest of them all). Islands of Hawaii were formed entirely out of volcanic activity which explains the surrounding verdant greenery (volcanic soil is the most fertile of them earthly soils) and thanks to native Hawaiian pride in their earth (‘āina) most of the islands have not yet given way to unchecked urbanization and have thus managed to retain their virgin feel of lush green forests, paradise like beaches and jaw dropping waterfalls. Nature has blessed Hawaii with a beauty so stunning and a landscape so rapidly changing as one traverses from sandy beaches to the rugged volcanic craters, that words simply do not render justice to the state’s pristine beauty. Even if you are not big into swimming or the ocean, this Maui itinerary will definitely help you find something that is up your alley to have a great time in Hawaii.
Where to stay in Maui: Hotel options
b) Hawaii is one of the most popular vacation destinations in the WORLD because it’s diverse ecosystem, abundant cornucopia, pristine beaches and warm azure blue waters provide a plethora of activities such as snorkeling, diving, surfing, hiking, spiritual retreats, food workshops, windsurfing and endless other activities. Being such a popular destination means that you have to plan months in advance for accommodation because Hawaii is anything but cheap and hotel fares can quickly climb north of $500/night if bookings are not made in advance. After weeks of scouring the internet for good deals, I booked the Ka’anapali Beach Hotel, based on a friend’s suggestion who had been to Maui. The hotel prides itself on being the most “Hawaiian” hotel in Maui, which means making the guests aware of Hawaii’s heritage (Polynesians were the first inhabitants of this island and much of their culture, language and practices persevere), an “orientation breakfast” where they introduce you to the many attractions of the islands, Hawaiian etiquette and several activities for adults and kids such as Lei (a Hawaiian garland of flowers) making along with a small Lei ceremony for the guests when they depart. For people like us who tend to stay out the entire day simply to crash in at night, the hotel with its decent amenities worked well. If you have a mountain of cash to spare and would like a stellar resort experience, I highly recommend the Andaz Maui at Wailea Resort in the south, where we had dinner one night at Morimoto Maui.
c) Winter is definitely the busiest month for tourism in Hawaii while summer can get oppressively hot and humid, so early spring or late fall are better times to visit for relatively less crowds at your favorite tourist spots in your Maui itinerary. It is worthwhile to know that the western and southern parts of the islands, with stunning beaches and relatively dry weather, are where the tourists reside while the Kahului airport (main Maui airport) is to the north and the wettest zones of the island are to the east (Hana), with the dormant volcanic mountain of Haleakala in the center. Affordable hotels are all on the west while expensive resorts, secluded beaches and wineries are to the south past Kihei. Many people also stay close to the airport at Paia, another small town with the famous Mama’s Fish house restaurant and the surfers’ paradise Ho’okipa Beach as it’s major attractions. Ka’anapali Beach Hotel, located right next to the famous Black Rock and the breathtaking Ka’anapali beaches along with it’s close proximity to Lahaina (western Maui’s prominent town), gets brownie points for affordability (less than $250 stay per night with $12 self parking), great location, friendly hotel staff, clean and spacious rooms and a darn good evening entertainment program comprising of hula and other traditional dance forms at no extra charge (unlike the adjacent Sheraton that charges a tidy $112 for their evening entertainment program).
d) Another thing to keep in mind about Maui, and other Hawaiian islands in general is that public transportation is extremely limited, so you have to get behind the wheels, i.e. get a rental car and drive. Don’t worry about the roads cause they are in great condition but are full of hairpin bends, twists and turns, specially when you are driving to the the two major attractions of Haleakala and Hana. Naturally, speed limits are enforced and driving is slower here than on the mainland, as a result of which relatively short distances can take longer to cover. Finally, as with everything else, food in Maui is extremely expensive (even for San Franciscans like us there was some sticker shock from the menu cards) and meals can cost you a pretty penny. This is especially true for the south and west sides which is full of tourists and therefore prices will be jacked up. But that should not deter you from having an incredible experience meal wise and tasting some Hawaiian delights that are not available on the mainland. I will share some of our dining experiences with you in this post as well towards the end.
Highlights of our three days in Maui: Top things to do in Maui
There is so much to in Hawaii that three days in Maui (i.e. the time we spend there) is simply not enough, even more so if you are into water activities. Since S and I are strictly land animals and were running short of time, we chose to explore a few major attractions in Maui and must dos, enjoying them thoroughly in the process. I am going to share those with you in detail, with plenty of tips and suggestions so that you can take the stress of your vacation and have a splendid time, with nary a thing to worry about. An easy way to kick off your stay is by visiting the Black rock beach just before sunset to witness the ceremonial dive from the black rock jutting out into the ocean (thus the name of the beach) which happens “daily”. Essentially, a young Hawaiian man, lights up the lamps with his torch to the sound of conch shells and after offering a prayer to the ancestral Gods, jumps off into the ocean from the rock. This event, organized by the Sheraton hotel, is free for viewing by the public from the beach but we unlucky souls chose that one fateful evening where the dive did not happen (which is why the sarcastic quotes around the word daily) despite seeing a lone figure standing patiently at the end of the rock for what appeared to be the longest time. However, this is a rare, free event with lots of eyewitnesses to its occurrence (including my friend), and so you should definitely snag a spot prior to sunset at the beach to witness this spectacular dive, or at the very least, a breathtaking sunset.
This unique natural attraction is a must visit, and lies north of Ka’anapali past Kapalua. What happens here essentially is that the seawater gets trapped in an underwater lava tube and frantically finds a way to escape, resulting in a jet of water blowing upwards in full force. The hike down to this spot from the parking lot is covered with volcanic rocks which are huge with jagged edges. Therefore, appropriate footwear (read sneakers and not beach flip flops) is a must. Also, obey all posted signs and do not venture near the blowhole since it might simply suck you in. Watch it from a distance near the dry rocks and venture out to the north-west direction (with the blow hole to your back, aka south) to discover the cute heart shaped rock. This rock with a heart shaped hole in the middle will fall to your right as soon as you descend from the last set of jagged boulders while facing the blowhole. That or persistent tourists with cheesy smiles and poses will guide you:-)
WHALER VILLAGE AND LAHAINA
Whaler village is a tiny mall located right next to Ka’anapali beach hotel, where you can stop by for some yummy shaved ice, a Hawaiian dessert introduced by the Japanese plantation workers to the island. It is a simple concoction of shaved ice with fruit syrup of your choice and you can choose up to three flavors in one cone. You can do some shopping here if you want or in Lahaina, the only “downtown” in west Maui with a bustling Front street full of shops and restaurants. Unlike other beach towns, Lahaina has a Hawaiian twist to its proceedings with several historic centers still intact along Front street, such as the conspicuous red and white Wo Hing Museum (built in the 1900s for Chinese immigrants) or Old Lahaina courthouse and the sprawling Banyan tree, Baldwin museum, Hongwanji Mission (for Lahaina buddhists) and many more hidden remnants of Hawaii’s past. A Lahaina historic walking tour is a good way to familiarize yourself with a slice of this port town’s past if you have time. We simply had some delicious tacos at Lahaina Luna cafe and strolled around for some time on this busy Front street.
A must see/do item on the Maui itinerary, watching the sunrise from atop the dormant volcanic Haleakala mountain crater standing at 10, 023 feet above sea level is an experience like no other. There are several things to note if you are planning to experience this out of the world phenomenon starting with making a sunrise reservation online at least a month in advance to watch the sunrise since the park now regulates the number of visitors entering between 3-7AM to witness the same. Without a reservation, you will be TURNED AWAY and not allowed to enter until past 7 AM (we saw that happen to a car right behind us). Also remember that reservations ($1.50 per vehicle) are non refundable in case of inclement weather and non -transferable (a photo ID of the person making the reservation along with his/her name on the print out has to be handed to the park ranger while entering). Also, the entrance fee per vehicle is separate ($20/vehicle) which has to be paid in cash. Do not throw away this receipt because it is good for the next three days and can be reused on your road trip to Hana when you have to reenter the park to see the Oheo gulch.
Here are some more tips to help you plan for this epic sunrise witnessing event in your Maui itinerary. First, if you are staying anywhere in the south or west (almost guaranteed that’s where you will end up staying), the drive to the summit will take a good two hours. It is highly advisable that you start early, preferably 2.5-3 hrs to give yourself some buffer and to snag a spot at the summit parking lot, since reservations do not guarantee parking. There are four viewing spots in Haleakala, including the visitor center at over 7000 ft elevation, but the best views are undoubtedly from the summit. It is best to drop a pin and save the “haleakala summit parking location” on your phone’s Google map and do print out directions just in case you lose signal while driving. The drive up can be tedious since you are not only ascending but also navigating hair pin like bends in the dark. So please drive carefully! Also, it is extremely windy and cold at that very high elevation, with temperatures dropping rapidly as you ascend, sometimes to as low as 30-40F. Please wear sturdy shoes covering your feet and bring in cap, gloves, scarf and warm clothes (sweater and jacket) to keep yourself from dying of hypothermia! Finally, the sunrise is an event like no other, so come in early to set up your goPros or tripods to avoid jostling for space with fellow photographers. Also, I would advise you to get zoom lenses (telephoto) for your DSLRs since my 18-35mm did not work great (understandably) to capture the sunrise in all its glory. To make up for that, please click on the Youtube video link for a time-lapse video of the sunrise created by S.
Now that we have sunrise covered, let’s talk about sunsets! South Maui is blessed with incredibly beautiful beaches but what makes a sunset in town overrun with tourists, is sunset in a secluded beach, hidden from prying eyes. Maluaka beach in Wailea, is one such beautiful beach with soft white sand, very few people (it is located in a beautiful residential area near the Keawalai church; note there is no beach access via the church grounds) and presents you with a gorgeous sunset which you can enjoy in solitude.
Where to eat in Maui: The best of Maui restaurants and dining spots
Being a land blessed with fertile soil with vegetation growing from every pore, Hawaii has no shortage or dearth of fresh tropical fruits and veggies and the freshest catch (seafood/fish) imaginable. However, given the Polynesian heritage the diet is very fish and meat centralized, so vegetarians will be left wanting for options, although we did find a few everywhere we went. Hawaiian cuisine is a mishmash of eclectic ingredients borrowed from a population that is a melting pot of cultures, thanks to plantation workers pouring in from China, Japan, Philippines and even Portugal in the past. All these people brought in their indigenous food and style of cooking, which when adapted to island ingredients has given rise to dishes that are unique to Hawaii and must be sampled if you are a foodie with an adventurous soul. Taro (Colocasia esculenta), the edible starchy root vegetable occupies the center of the table and is utilized fully (including the leaves) to make either the sludgy poi or Lau lau (steamed chicken or pork wrapped in Taro leaves). You get the famous Kahlua pork sandwiches here and fish tacos are out of the world! A hearty, yet cheap meal would be a “plate meal” with rice, protein and sides as relished by the plantation workers in the past. The other Hawaiian delicacy is the poke bowl, which is ahi tuna chunks marinated in lime (much like ceviche) and served with different toppings. Do not forget to stop by fruits stands on the way (like the roadside Olowalu juice stop between Kihei and Lahaina) to pick up some freshly squeezed cane juice, tropical smoothies or mango/guava/pineapple bread from a neighboring vendor. Fresh papayas, coconuts, passion fruits, guavas abound while a taste of the Maui Gold pineapple is a must! Finally, quench your sugar craving with some Hawaiian hula pie (an island favorite made of chocolate cookie pie crust, macadamia nut ice cream, hot fudge, whipped cream, chopped mac nuts) or Kona mud pie.
We tasted our first poke bowl at Leilani’s on the beach, a super popular restaurant near our hotel on the beachfront (reservations highly recommended), had excellent crab cakes, coconut curry fish at Mama’s fish house (a MUST VISIT with great food and exceptional service although super expensive), mouth watering chocolate chip pancakes, side of papaya and freshly squeezed pineapple juice for breakfast at the super popular Kihei Caffe and a sumptuous dinner of sushi and Ishiyaki-buri-bop (Korean bibimbap/ fried rice with egg) at the famous Morimoto Maui in Andaz Wailea. Some vegetarian dishes can be made vegan upon request by removing the fried egg.
Maui Sightseeing: The road to Hana
The spectacular drive to the sleepy, eastern town of Hana will take you all the way around the island and is a drive to remember (a must do on your Maui itinerary). The tagline for this drive is “it’s the journey and not the destination that counts” because the road with 90 one way bridges, lots of hairpin bends, spectacular waterfalls, arboretums, beaches and blowholes is one of the most beautiful journeys that you will undertake and thus requires a separate blog post fully dedicated to it in order to achieve its full effect. I have covered our Hana adventure in detail in Part 2, so please click on the link to read all the juicy details about it. Mahalo for stopping by and I hope this post has fueled your desire to see the pretty island of Maui! I for one, cannot wait to get back and this time go on an actual whale watching tour! For more on Hawaii and all the things that you need to know before you get there, read this article to plan your travel smoothly!