Anyone who thinks Maui is just an overrated holiday destination crawling with American tourists in floral shirts and visors needs to seriously reinvestigate. True, you can still find parts of Maui that feel painfully over-developed with resorts (and visors), but that’s only the experience you’ll have if it’s what you’re looking for. By and large, Maui is a tropical paradise full of sparkling waterfalls, lush jungle hikes, pristine beaches, and bustling reefs. There’s adventure on every square inch of this tiny island, so here are just 10 of my favourite things, adventurous and relaxing, to while away the days in paradise and truly live that aloha life.
What's in this travel guide
1 | Snorkel with turtles
One of the best experiences of any trip to Maui (dare I say the best?) is just hopping in and getting to know the local aquatic life. I am constantly amazed by how many sea turtles are flapping about if you just know where to look— my favourite spot is Maluaka beach near Wailea-Makena in the south of the island. BYO snorkel gear or rent it for a few dollars at one of the many Snorkel Bob locations.
Undoubtably one of the most popular activities on Maui, sunrise from the summit of Haleakalā is an otherworldly experience not to be missed. The number of daily visitors to the national park is limited, so you’ll need to reserve tickets online in advance, and be well-warned that it’s quite a drive across the island to reach the volcano for sunrise (we left Lahaina at 230am).
A tour could be a good opportunity to combine some other activities like ziplining and/or mountain biking with the sunrise viewing AND avoid driving in the middle of the night. Tours aren’t cheap, but I’d highly recommend the Sunrise/Bike/Zip tour we did with Skyline Ecotoursfor around $220USD— it was a phenomenal, action-packed day that began with one of the most stunning sunrises I’ve ever seen from Maui’s “House of the Sun”. Worth every penny.
My absolute favourite thing to eat in Hawaii is shave ice. And for those reluctant to dig into what may appear to be glorified sugar water, I promise it will not disappoint: start with coconut or vanilla ice cream on the bottom, fill with finely shaved ice and incredible tropical flavours, top with condensed milk.. It’s well and truly paradise in a cup. Try Ulalani’s in Lahaina, Kihei, or at several other island locations, or the tiny Surf Ripper Cafe in Lahaina.
4 | Go ziplining through the trees
There are a handful of companies offering zipline tours on Maui for the adventurous traveller, and I’d highly recommend a zoom through the trees if you have the time (and funds). We chose to go with Skyline Eco Tours, actually the first zipline company in the US, and the experience was great. In all honesty, we could have done with a few longer zips, but the course builds from small to large, probably to ease nervous guests into it a bit more. Still, a cloudy afternoon well-spent in the trees!
My favourite place to stay in Maui is Lahaina, on the west side of the island. It has beautiful beaches, is in close proximity to heaps of great snorkel spots, has a bustling main street lined with shops and restaurants, yet still doesn’t have anywhere near the tourist buzz of Kaanapali’s resort-crammed coastline.
6 | Drive the Road to Hana
One of the most famous road trips of all time, the Road to Hana is a day-long drive snaking along Maui’s north coast Hana Highway to the surprisingly small town of the same name. The drive itself is a bit miserable, to be honest— it’s a lot of hours on a narrow, often sketchy, painfully windy road, but the stops along the way make it all worthwhile. Expect to see stunning beaches, beautiful forests, and non-stop waterfalls.
My absolute favourite Road to Hana stop is the Pipiwai Trail in Haleakalā National Park— so good it’s worth making a special trip across the island even if you don’t drive the Hana Highway. This 4-mile trail winds past a towering Banyan Tree, dozens of waterfalls, through a breathtaking Bamboo Forest, and finishes at the impressive Waimoku Falls, all in under 2 hours. I can’t recommend it enough for walkers of any fitness level.
Still looking for more adventure? Hop on a bike near the Heleakalā Summit and zip all the way down the volcano, passing some truly gorgeous coastal scenery along the way. I’m an awful biker, so believe me when I say that this really is more of a cruise than a mountain biking expedition— all the better for snapping photos while riding one-handed down the hill. We went on this bike tour as part of a combined sunrise/bike/zip tour with Skyline Eco Tours, and I can recommend the whole experience.
Why not try your luck on some of Maui’s famously pumping waves? I may not have hopped on during this last trip to Hawaii (only because I’ve previously proven myself to be a less than talented surfer and didn’t feel the need to embarrass myself again), but don’t take my lead, just get out there!
A few of the bigger and more touristy beaches even offer surfing lessons, which I would highly recommend for beginners— within a few hours, you’ll actually be able to stand and catch a few small waves if the surf isn’t too crazy. And, more importantly, you’ll have the photos to prove it for a lifetime.
10 | Kick back on the beach
No Maui holiday is complete without a few afternoons just lounging about in the sand. Live your best island life beachside: splash around in the surprisingly warm water, tuck into that new book, polish off a couple of cold piña coladas.. it’s truly unlikely you’ll ever want to leave. Skip the touristy beaches and just drive along coastal roads until you see a nice vacant patch of sand with your name on (this particular beach is near Wailea-Makena in south Maui).
Getting to Maui
Most visitors to Maui will fly into the international Kahului Airport on the north shore of the island. There are heaps of shuttles and taxis here if you aren’t hiring a car, but I’d definitely recommend getting your own vehicle.
Getting around Maui
Really the only way to get around Maui is by car, so you’ll either need to hire one at the airport or spend the entire holiday lounging at the hotel pool. Being one of America’s top tourist destinations (not to mention a tiny island), car hire and fuel are a bit pricey on Maui, but it’s truly the only way to enjoy the best beaches, snorkelling, hiking, and hidden gems.
Where to stay on Maui
As I mentioned previously, my favourite spot to stay on the island is Lahaina, a well-appointed but not overly crowded town on Maui’s west shore.Lahaina Shores is a beautiful place to stay with its own private beach or the Aina Nalu condos set a few blocks back from the water is a cheaper and still lovely option. Both are within walking distance of restaurants, shops, beaches, and a supermarket.
Because Hawaii can get quite expensive, I’d recommend stopping at a supermarket and stocking up on food for the week, at least for breakfast and lunch. There’s a Costco right near the airport and a Safeway in Lahaina.
International visitors from most countries can travel to Hawaii on a visa waiver called an ESTA, which you should apply for online at least a few days before your trip. It’s really simple and only costs $14USD, so don’t be fooled by all the third-party sites advertising “official ESTA” for $40+. Apply directly on the government websiteto make sure you’re paying the right price and getting the real deal.