Maui is the second biggest of the eight Hawaiian islands and it is versatile like no other. Often described as the island that offers ‘the best of both worlds’, on Maui you will find a good infrastructure and some city hubs as well as incredible untouched nature. In this article I share the best things to do on Maui with you including some real insider tips!
Of all the four islands I visited in Hawaii, on Maui it felt like I was in a continuous battle with nature the most. This of course is experience based and you probably won’t feel like you are fighting the force of nature if you are staying in a five star resort. But if you are the sporty and explorative type, the wind, waves, sun and different altitudes might get to you.
While life is one hundred percent dictated by the laws of nature on all of the Hawaiian islands (you are in the middle of the ocean, 6 hours by airplane away from the nearest land!) on Maui I felt particularly exposed. Even though it’s hard to admit, I am a city girl! The jungle, the mountains and the ocean are just not my natural habitat! Waking up early to do yoga, hiking, surfing, snorkelling and driving through wind and weather with the surfboard on the roof of my car, left me happy but shattered most evenings.
That being said, Maui is a magical island and I am excited for anyone who gets to visit. The nature is stunning and there is so much to discover! Keep on reading to find out about my favourite things to do on Maui!
In a nutshell: historic beach town;
Location: about 6.5km (4 miles) east of Kahului;
This is a cute little town which is worthwhile visiting for it’s authentic flair, surf board hire, really good food, marvellous coffee and unexpectedly amazing boutique shopping!
Paia is extremely small and you can finish your stroll in probably around two hours. If you also throw a lunch in there, three.
Secret tip: instead of eating inside one of the restaurants grab fresh and cheap food at the fabulous organic supermarket Mana Foods on Baldwin Ave and take it to Paia Bay to enjoy a lunch with ocean view. Mana foods is only about a five minute walk from the beach. To get to the beach, find the store called Puka Puka. The path to the beach is to the left of Puka Puka when you are facing the store.
For more detailed information about Paia, check out this article about my favourite spots in town.
In a nutshell: world-famous surf spot;
Location: east of Paia;
Ho’Okipa is a famous surf spot where you can usually find wave surfers in the mornings and many windsurfers later in the day. During the afternoon you will usually see all the windsurfers to the left of the big beach and all the wave surfers sticking to the right corner of it since there is a good break in that corner.
As far as surfing is concerned this is a very intimidating spot. All the locals and many pros come here. It’s mostly reef bottom filled with sea urchins and in my personal opinion the waves here are never small. To the right corner of the beach directly overlooking the surf break there is a lookout. Here all the local surfers seem to gather right next to the lifeguard’s hut. There is definitely something very competitive about the way this place feels. I did go surfing here with a local surf teacher one day because the waves were ‘small’ but they were definitely the largest I had ever surfed before and the paddle out to the line up is not a piece of cake either. Definitely not beginner friendly.
In addition to surfing and watching people surf, another great reason to come to Ho’Okipa are the turtles! Every afternoon huge sea turtles come out to sunbathe close to the cliffs. You can’t touch them but you can still get very close. They also move at a lot slower pace in comparison to when you see them in the water! Their spot is the far right corner of the beach close to the life guard. Look closely to spot them, their shape and color is very similar to some of the rocks lying on the beach!
In a nutshell: scenic tide pools on lava rocks;
Location: about 1 hour drive north from Kahului;
At the scenic Olivine Pools, waves hit the lava rocks leaving natural ocean pools that you can swim in. It is beautiful to watch the waves breaking over the black lava rocks and very fun to swim in the pools. Just don’t get to close to the edge…
The Road to Hana
In a nutshell: a windy road through the jungle along great ocean views and waterfalls;
Location: 103.6 km (64.4 miles) long road between Kahului and Hana;
This enchanting road is long and windy and leads you along magical coastal views as well as through some stretches of jungle lined with waterfalls. In conversation I often like to describe it as ‘the jungle tube’ because it feels like you are being sucked in on one end driving this road and then when you get to Hana it’s like you are being spit out on another planet!
The road to Hana is a beautiful drive. Watch out for flower stands on the road where you leave a dollar and get to take a huge tropical flower with you. If you get hungry look for fruit stands where you can get avocados, mangos, bananas and more! Personally, we even stopped at a random garage sale! But admittedly we passed only one.
Also don’t forget to bring a swimsuit and a towel on this drive. You might just want to to stop on the side of the road and jump under a waterfall!
The Bamboo Forest
In a nutshell: an adventurous hike with waterfalls;
Location: a few kilometers east of Ho’Okipa on the road to Hana;
In a nutshell: a remote peaceful costal town;
Location: on the coast of east Maui;
In the gorgeous little town of Hana you have no cellphone reception and no wifi. Nada. You are literally forced to disconnect, which is part of what makes it so special. There is literally nothing there apart from a few houses, 2 strange ‘have it all’ supermarkets, a school and one or 2 resorts.
It’s absolutely worth it to spend a night in this magical place. As far as daytime adventures are concerned, you can enjoy breathtaking beaches such as ‘the read beach’, discover nearby waterfalls or go cliff diving!
In a nutshell: a scenic national park with a breathtaking view;
Location: Upcountry Maui to the southeastern coast;
3055 meters (10023 feet) above sea level, this dormant volcano is a force of nature in itself. You can hike up there and marvel at the view or go very early in the morning to enjoy a spectacular sunrise. Up here, it somewhat feels like you are closer to the sky. The clouds are always at eye level – if you are not above them!
The incredible red Mars-like landscapes, the rock gardens as well as the spectacular sunrises and sundowns make a visit to Halekakla an out-of-this-world experience.
The Lavender Farm
In a nutshell: a lavender farm and nursery of many other local plants;
Location: between Kula and Keokea;
The views of Maui and the many exotic plants growing at Ali’i Kula Lavender farm make it absolutely worth a visit. I drove up there by myself and already thought I was lost because I didn’t see any other cars. It was getting foggy and I just kept on driving up and up the mountain. But eventually there it was, a huge lavender field on a clearing in front of the forest.
I got there in the afternoon. With the clouds at eye level again and some fog hanging over the mountain, I remember the whole visit feeling quite mystical. Once you access the facilities, you enter a beautiful curated garden constructed on a hill hosting a variety of exotic flowers. My favourites were the baby cacti.
Kula Upcountry Maui Farmers Market
In a nutshell: known as the most versatile farmer’s market on Maui;
Location: Pukalani Longs Drugs at Kulamalu, 55 Kiopaa Street;
I had to include the farmers market in this article because my visit to the Upcountry farmers market on Maui was one of the highlights of my stay on the island.
The farmers market is almost a kind of cultural experience with many locals coming out to do their grocery shopping for the week. It’s nice to mix and mingle and the food is simply amazing. You can find fresh produce such as vegetables and flowers but there is also a lot of already prepared food. If you are vegan or vegetarian you will find a variety of delicious options!
My absolute favorite however were the fresh lays that were being sold. Lays are the Hawaiian flower necklaces or crowns. Of course I bought one! I haven’t seen lays as beautiful as on this market during my entire stay in Hawaii.
The Big Beach (Makena)
In a nutshell: a big beach for swimming and snorkelling;
Location: a few kilometers south of Wailea;
Makena beach is the biggest beach I visited during my stay in Hawaii. It is a huge sandy beach from which you can see the nearby island Kaho’olawe. It’s great for swimming, sunbathing and snorkelling in the clear waters.
If you are into snorkelling, drive further down the coast on the same road and you can stop at different spots to have a little snorkel in the black lava rocks that surround this part of the island. Lots of sea creatures hide out here.
In a nutshell: historic whaling village with commercialised front street;
Location: at the coast of West Maui, 45 minutes from Kahului Airport;
Lahaina is a town on the west coast of Maui that 80% of all visitors who come to the island experience. It has a little port and features a variety of galleries, cafes, shops and restaurants. It’s perfect for a stroll around town and to have a nice lunch or dinner. However it is very touristy.
During my stay on Maui, I actually ended up in Lahaina not to shop but to surf behind the harbour! This is another spot I would recommend only for experienced surfers. The paddle to the line up is relatively strenuous (at least if you have limited arm muscles like me!), the water is extremely shallow and the whole place is flooded with sea urchins!
Historically, Lahaina was famous for whaling during the boom of the mid-1800s. Today on the other hand you can book whale watching tours that leave from Lahaina. The best season to catch them is between November and May. If you happen to miss the whales or you are just not that into them, there are also a variety of other tours that leave from Lahaina such as diving, sailing and snorkelling excursions.
1000 Peaks (also Ukumehame)
In a nutshell: a known surfspot;
Location: off the coastal highway connecting Kihei and Lahaina;
1000 Peaks is a surf spot which locals consider a great long boarding spot for all levels. Friends who grew up on Maui took me here. As the name suggests, there are always ‘a thousand’ peaks breaking at this beach. It’s not the easiest paddle out because you have to overcome a lot of white water. But the numerous peaks do increase the probability of catching waves. In addition, the sandy sea bed makes it a relatively safe spot.
I believe this beach is worth considering because it’s slightly off the beaten path. It’s not hyper-competitive and it doesn’t get overcrowded. To get there drive on Honoapiilani Highway. It is located close to the 12 mile marker. If you are tech savvy, just look for ‘Ukumehame Beach Park’ on google maps and you should find it right away.