Maui is second to O'ahu in terms of development and resort options for visitors. Whether you're heading to the ragged coast of Kapalua, the lush valleys of Hana or the nightlife in Kihei, there are four- and five-star hotels, golf courses, stunning beaches, great food and nightlife. But the Valley Isle is also rich in cultural and historical sites and opportunities to experience Hawai'i's unique natural heritage up close.

It's called the "Valley Isle" for a good reason: A large saddle separates the West Maui mountains from Haleakala to the east. The older western mountains, which rise to 5,788 feet at their highest, are eroded and cut by numerous gullies. The younger Haleakala rises to more than 10,000 feet above sea level (and more than five miles from the sea floor). Its summit is often shrouded in the clouds, and in the winter it can get cold enough for snowfall. Maui offers a variety of microclimates and terrain within a small area; you'll be amazed by the diversity of ecosystems, geology and weather as you explore.

South Shore

The South Shore resort area, which includes Kihei, Wailea and Makena, offers a wealth of accommodation and activities: fishing, whale watching, world-class golf courses and more. But south Maui is really all about the beaches, which seem to stretch on forever. This is the sunniest area on the island-Haleakala protects it from rain and clouds-and water temperatures average around 74 degrees in the winter and 80 degrees in the summer, making south Maui the perfect watersports playground.

Big Beach
Kihei is the most developed area, with shopping centers, restaurants, parks, hotels and condos all close to the water. Along Kihei's six-mile stretch of beach there are a number of spots for sunbathing, swimming, picnicking, etc. Wailea is an upscale resort area with expensive homes, championship golf courses, five-star hotels and some of the best beaches on the island. The hotels themselves are worth visiting for their stunning architecture and elaborate grounds. The Grand Wailea, for example, has one of the finest art collections in the state. These resorts have made the beaches they front fairly accessible to the public, with parking areas, showers and picnic tables. Because most hotel guests tend to lounge near the swimming pools, the beaches are relatively empty. Just past Wailea is the pristine coastline of Makena, a favorite of locals as well as adventurous visitors who love to swim, snorkel, bodysurf or lie in the sun. There's Big Beach, which is 100 feet wide and 3,000 feet long, and Little Beach, which can be accessed by walking over a cinder cone at the west end of Big Beach. A word of warning to the curious: Little Beach is notorious for nude sunbathing, even though nudity on Hawai'i's beaches is illegal.

Kama'ole Beach Parks I, II and III are at the south end of Kihei, all with facilities, picnic areas, calm waters, white sands and lifeguards. There's good snorkeling around the reef between the second and third beaches. Keawakapu Beach, where Kihei meets Wailea, is a less crowded option. Wailea's five crescent beaches cover almost two miles of coastline and offer safe swimming and good snorkeling at the lava outcroppings. Polo Beach is a nice, long stretch of sand. Beyond Makena, you might want to check out Ahihi-Kina'u Natural Area Reserve, a lava outcropping and an underwater preserve great for scuba. The Natural Area Reserves (NARs), which are maintained by the Department of Land and Natural Resources, have the highest protection status of any natural areas in the Islands, making them must-see destinations for those who want to see Hawai'i's indigenous flora and fauna. Farther down the road is La Pérouse Bay, a marine preserve providing Maui snorkeling at its finest. On a calm day you are sure to see myriad fish and green sea turtles. We can't leave the South Shore without mentioning Molokini islet, a crescent-shaped crater off the coast that's a prime snorkeling and scuba diving site. You can get there only by boat with one of several tour companies.

In the winter months, Maui is prime whale watching territory. The humpback whales migrate approximately 3,500 miles from Alaska each autumn and spend the winter months mating and calving in the warm waters off Maui. There are estimated to be about 3,000 humpbacks in the North Pacific, and they are protected by federal and state laws as an endangered species. You can take one of several whale watching tours, and you'll frequently see them breaching and spouting from the shore.

The West Side

The West Side is a nearly circular peninsula dominated by the West Maui Mountains. Once heavily planted with pineapple and sugar cane, the sunbathed leeward coast is now dominated by resorts, particularly at Ka'anapali, Napili and Kapalua. The town of Lahaina has a long, lively history as a whaling port; today it's home to galleries, jewelry stores and restaurants along Front Street. You can shop till you drop in Lahaina, or you can go for a more educational experience by visiting its historic spots: Banyan Tree Park, a landmark for more than a century, is great place to escape the midday heat ("lahaina" means "merciless sun"); the building that was once a courthouse and prison now houses art galleries and the Heritage Museum, which showcases the town's whaling and missionary past. A replica of an eighteenth-century vessel serves as a museum of whaling with exhibits, videos and artifacts. The Wo Hing Museum provides a glimpse of life for the Chinese who immigrated to Hawai'i in the early 1800s. Lahaina is not coincidentally home to the largest bronze Buddha outside of Asia.

Beyond Lahaina are resort areas of Ka'anapali and Kapalua. Here the hotels themselves are the attraction, with their waterfalls and tropical landscaping. Ka'anapali Beach is the center of action for sunbathers, windsurfers and boaters. Swimming and snorkeling in this area are spectacular. Ka'anapali is home to four great resort hotels, a shopping center, fine restaurants and the Whalers Village Museum. Black Rock, in front of the Sheraton, is an all-around fun beach, with good swimming, lounging and snorkeling thanks to a huge lava outcropping loaded with coral and fish. Check out Kahekili Beach Park, also known as Airport Beach, where the water is generally very calm, and Napili Bay, which is great for kids. Kapalua Bay is an easy place to relax, with good snorkeling on the north side of the beach. The Ritz-Carlton at Kapalua is a beautiful resort that's gone to great lengths to promote Hawaiian culture; it offers a number of cultural experiences, including an ancient burial site on the hotel grounds. Further north is Honolua Bay, a good place to snorkel when the water is calm. You can see coral formations and sea turtles, called "honu" in Hawaiian. The Nakalele Blowhole often provides the spectacle of water shooting seventy feet high. Kahakuloa is a small fishing village at the end of the road. If the road is passable, you can go farther around the rugged coast for great views of pounding surf, steep cliffs and deep valleys.

With over fifteen golf courses, including several of world-class caliber, Maui can easily lay claim as one of the world's premier golf destinations. The courses offer panoramic views, and most are within an hour's drive of each other along a gorgeous tropical coastline. These courses offer virtually anything you'd want from a golf vacation (except maybe inexpensive courses): There are holes along the ocean, holes that climb a volcano and holes that open to fantastic ocean vistas with views of the neighboring islands.

The Central Plain

Ka'ahumanu Church, Wailuku
Central Maui includes Kahului, Wailuku, and Maui's main airport and commercial harbor, Maui Community College, the Maui Arts and Cultural Center, shopping centers and historic buildings. Most people zip through central Maui on their way to and from the airport, but the area is well worth a tour. Beyond the strip malls and the developments that house a third of the island's population there are noteworthy natural and historical sites. Kanaha Pond Wildlife Sanctuary, once an ancient Hawaiian fishpond, is now a nesting area for two critically endangered endemic birds, the Hawaiian stilt and the Hawaiian coot, two species that any birders will want to tick off their life lists. The Alexander & Baldwin Sugar Museum sits beside an operating sugar mill-the last in Hawai'i-and has informative displays on the lives of sugar plantation workers from the 1870s through today. The Maui Arts and Cultural Center next to the community college provides a great venue for performing arts, including hula. A surprising number of big-name acts play here when they pass through Maui. Ka'ahumanu Church in Wailuku sits on the site where the first church services-attended by Queen Ka'ahumanu, Kamehameha the Great's favored wife who converted to Christianity-were held on Maui in 1832. The structure is a beautiful historic building where Sunday hymns are sung in Hawaiian.
'Iao Needle
Finally, there's the sacred 'Iao Valley where at one time chiefs were buried. Today 'Iao Valley State Park is a must-see on any Maui itinerary. This lush tropical valley is rich in plant life and clear pools. The trails into this popular sate park are paved, but you can escape the present and follow dirt paths more deeply into this magical valley. There are some incredible volcanic rock formations, the most famous being the towering emerald peak, 'Iao Needle, which rises 1,200 feet from the valley floor. There are many rare and native plants throughout the park as well as scenic waterfalls and spectacular views of the valley from the lookout.


Maui might be best known for its resorts, beaches, whale watching and the winding road to Hana. But don't forget Upcountry, the area on the western flank of Haleakala that's home to quaint, historic towns. Upcountry Maui first attracted ranchers and farmers who preferred a solitary, rural life. Today there are upscale restaurants, art galleries, specialty produce, arts festivals and the Makawao Rodeo, yet people here still live a bit differently from those down below. They stoke their fireplaces at night and grow cool weather crops like lettuce, tomatoes, potatoes and sweet onions. There are flower farms growing exotic protea, ranches manned by modern-day paniolo (cowboys), and a vineyard, one of only two in Hawai'i.

Start in Pa'ia, continue through the ranching town of Makawao, then on to Kula, known for its flowers and vegetables, and end at 'Ulupalakua, where you can sip a glass of Maui wine. Outside of Pa'ia you pass through pineapple fields before coming to Makawao, one of the last paniolo towns. In the early 1800s, long before there were cowboys in the American west, paniolo came from Mexico to teach the Hawaiians how to herd cattle. Makawao is one of the few places on Maui that hasn't much changed, although its old buildings now house fashionable shops, galleries and a number of good restaurants. Cowboys still tie their horses to the hitching posts, and there are saddleries and feed stores; several rodeos are held each year, the most popular on the Fourth of July. The drive from Pukalani to Kula will take you through some beautiful country. Kula (literally "plain" or "open field") is the source of most of the island's produce. At approximately 3,000 feet, Kula produce includes sweet Maui onions, lettuce, tomatoes, potatoes and goat cheese. There's an abundance of flowers such as protea, orchid, hibiscus and jade vines; dozens of varieties of lavender bloom in June, July and August. The Kula Botanical Gardens offers a nice hike among five acres of trees and flowering bushes, including native koa and kukui. Polipoli State Park features groves of imported trees: eucalyptus, cypress, sugi pines and redwoods. You can take a serene walk along the 1.7-mile Redwood Trail. Further Upcountry is Maui's only winery offering various wines made from local grapes.

The heart of Upcountry, though, is Haleakala (the House of the Sun). You can drive to the summit along a winding road that switches back slowly through changing climates and mist-hung meadows. Haleakala National Park is 28,665 acres, and the road to the summit climbs nearly 10,000 feet in thirty-eight miles. Just past the park entrance, turn off the main road to Hosmer Grove, where you can see some of the rarest birds in the world up close, in some cases without even getting out of your car: 'apapane, amakihi and the scarlet 'i'iwi flit among an 'ohi'a forest. From the summit, you can hike down into the barren crater, which, due to some unusual acoustic properties, is one of the quietest places on planet Earth. The crater is seven miles wide and 3,000 feet deep, and hiking through its moonscape-like beauty will leave you breathless (or maybe that's just the altitude). The crater is also home to the endangered silversword, a yucca-like plant with a huge flowering stalk that grows only at Haleakala. You can day hike along the Sliding Sands Trail, or you can camp overnight and hike the entire crater in two to three days. There are cabins available at designated campsites, but reserve them early, as they get booked quickly during the summer months. If you do head into the crater, be prepared for sudden changes in the weather; anticipate blazing heat and bone-chilling cold. It's best to see Haleakala early in the morning, preferably at sunrise when the sun rises over the rim. Several tours bring visitors up to the crater to see the sunrise, an experience that should be on everyone's bucket list.

The park encompasses terrain that includes the crater, forest, desert and tropical valleys. You can hike atop the highest peaks of the crater or hike across desolate deserts. Nearer to sea level, you can visit lush tropical areas full of waterfalls and streams, particularly on the Kipahulu side. Many visitors come to see Haleakala's wildlife and scenery, but others come to experience the unique energy of the place. In ancient times, only kahuna (priests) lived here, drawing mana, or power, from the volcano.

The Hana Highway and Kipahulu

Ho'okipa Beach
Sometimes called the "road to heaven," the Hana Highway is a journey like no other. Of all the places on all the islands, the road to Hana has the look and feel of unspoiled Polynesia, with lush forests, empty beaches, secluded coves, remote valleys and waterfalls flowing into exquisite pools. You will cross fifty-four one-lane bridges, make 600 hairpin turns, pass by numerous waterfalls and pools, and end up in Hana, where people are laid back and friendly. It's not the destination, though, that makes this an exciting adventure; it's the journey. The Hana Highway hugs a coastline carved by streams, rivers and windward rains. This is a part of Maui where people still speak Hawaiian, grow taro, offer homegrown fruits and flowers for sale along the road (don't forget to stop for some amazing homemade banana bread at any one of many roadside stands) and share aloha. The drive takes several hours, not just because of the bridges and hairpin turns, but because you'll want to make a lot of stops along the way.

Hana Highway
Plan on spending a whole day to drive the Hana Highway. Ideally you can make it an overnight affair, and if you plan well in advance, there are some lovely accommodations. If you have only a day, leave early in the morning from Pa'ia, the former plantation town when sugar was king and today home to a hip and vibrant art scene. If the winds are pumping, stop at Ho'okipa Beach Park to view some of the world's best kitesurfing and windsurfing; the waves are usually too rough for swimming but make for great aerial tricks by the talented riders. Ho'okipa is the site of the O'Neill International Windsurfing Championship held each spring. After passing through Ha'iku and the tiny villages of Huelo and Kailua, the road heads through denser tropical vegetation fed by frequent rains. Stop to take the one-mile Waikamoi Ridge Nature Trail, and Puohokamoa Stream, with its waterfalls, pools and picnic tables. Bathrooms are available just a bit further at Kaumahina State Wayside Park overlooking Honomanu Bay with a mind-blowing vista of the Ke'anae Peninsula. A mile further is Honomanu Valley, which stretches back five miles with 3,000-foot cliffs and a 1,000-foot waterfall. The villages of Ke'anae and Wailua are sparsely populated by Hawaiians who tend their taro patches. The picturesque Coral Church in Wailua was built in 1860 from coral washed up on the beach. Further along are Waikane Falls and a road that leads to the village of Nahiku. Wainapanapa State Park offers a black sand beach and a trail leading to lava caves.

Once you arrive in Hana, you'll have time to explore this peaceful town. Swim and sunbathe at Hana Beach Park, or hike to the secret and isolated Kaihalulu Beach, also known as Red Sand Beach for its red cinder sand. Several miles beyond Hana is the ultimate tourist destination: the pools at 'Ohe'o Gulch. This is at the far end of Haleakala National Park and includes pools overlooking the Pacific, a path through a bamboo forest and close-up views of the 400-foot Waimoku Falls. If weather conditions make the road passable, you can continue around the island from here, but you'll need a four-wheel drive vehicle, stamina and a sense of adventure. The rugged road takes you past a couple of lovely Hawaiian churches, and then civilization ends until you find yourself back in Upcountry.

On Maui you'll find varied terrain, flora and fauna, geology and climates. You'll find more than 120 miles of shoreline, the world's largest dormant volcano, tropical forests and world-famous golf courses all on one amazing island.

Top 5 Things To Do On Your Visit...

1. See the sunrise from Haleakala
2. Snorkel Molokini islet
3. Visit 'Iao Valley State Park
4. Sports! Hiking, swimming, snorkeling, scuba diving, surfing, golfing …
5. Drive the Hana Highway