Everybody knows that Maui is an alluring island getaway. But if you've never gone there, it's easy to be blasé. You've seen it all on TV: the stunning coastline, manicured resorts, golf courses, and hula girls that are about as authentic as plastic leis. Never mind justifying your taste for grass skirts—now you can visit the island for downright intellectual reasons. There's a new 700-seat theater devoted to serious productions and a culinarily redeeming luau. Not to mention those flower farms, abundant beaches, rain-forest waterfalls, and a glorious 10,000-foot volcano.
LAY OF THE LAND
Of Maui's master-planned resort areas, Kapalua ("arms embracing the sea" in Hawaiian) yields most to the natural world. Bordered by a working pineapple plantation, it encompasses five bays at Maui's northwest end. The few hotels there blend perfectly into the landscape.
The oldest resort development, Kaanapali is also the largest. Despite the fact that guests have a hard time escaping views of other hotels along crowded Kaanapali Beach, there are payoffs: this is a water-sport mecca with a range of affordable accommodations.
The 19th-century whaling village has become Maui's tourist-packed shopping hub. But it's worth fighting the crowds to see the town's remaining turn-of-the-century sugar-plantation houses, Buddhist temples, and banyan tree that spreads out over an entire acre.
The showiest of the resort areas, Wailea commands attention with over-the-top hotel lobbies and swimming pools. The ocean, sheltered by lava points, is calm here. Views of Kahoolawe, Lanai, and Molokini are spectacular at sunset.
The 1,500-foot-high pasturelands are Maui's heart and soul, with their cattle ranches, small boutiques, B&B's, and a section of Haleakala volcano's slope. This is the place to escape the resorts and get back to basics—if your idea of basics includes fields of protea blossoms.
The remote village near the end of the famed Hana Highway is a Hawaiian holdout. Except for the island's most exclusive hideaway, the Hotel Hana-Maui, the area has barely been touched by the modern way of life.
THE SCOOP ON MAUI FOOD
Portuguese sausage with eggs and rice. Fastest way to get some: at the McDonald's in Kahului.
The plate lunch—a favorite Hawaiian takeout—consists of a meat entrée, two scoops of sticky white rice, and a salad. Try the new Honokowai Okazuya & Deli (3600-D Lower Honoapiilani Rd., Lahaina; 808/665-0512; lunch for two $12). Another lunch option is saimin—Chinese egg noodles in a Japanese beef broth topped with chopped meat and onion. Locals get it at the Dairy Queen in Wailuku.
Hot chef James McDonald, owner of Pacific'O and the new I'O, has started a revolution with his Feast at Lele (505 Front St., Lahaina; 808/667-5353; $89 per adult). What distinguishes the luau is that food is an integral part of the performance: each of four acts is coordinated with a tasting menu of traditional dishes such as fafa (steamed chicken and taro leaf in coconut milk) and eiota (raw fish). Desserts are divine: banana-coconut haupia; truffles made with locally grown chocolate. This is the most fabulous cooking on Maui, which is saying a lot.
You'll find roadside shaved-ice stands in just about every small village. The flavors are strong and 100 percent chemically induced.
SIP ON THIS
Don't miss pineapple-strawberry flavored guri guri, a milk drink made only by the Tasaka family at their stand in Kahului's Maui Mall.
Don't be fooled—coffee with 10 percent Kona beans can be labeled Kona. Look for the pure stuff at Safeway (1221 Honoapiilani Hwy.; 808/667-4392), Anthony's Coffee Co. (90 Hana Hwy., Paia; 808/579-8340), and Paniolo Coffee Co. (900 Front St., Lahaina; 808/661-8488). Hawaiian Coffee Bean Co. (888/313-2552 or 808/579-9944) will send it to you.
YOU CAN TAKE IT WITH YOU
Must-haves: Maui onions, pineapples, papayas, Big Island chocolate, and (of course) macadamia nuts. The sources: Take Home Maui (121 Dickenson St., Lahaina; 800/545-6284 or 808/661-8067) will deliver most of these items to the airport. Kapalua Land Co. (877/288-7359) ships pineapples. Ili Ili Farms (Kula; 800/535-6284 or 808/876-0564) ships Maui onions.
A QUICK RESTAURANT GUIDE
The Current Star I'O 505 Front St., Lahaina; 808/661-8422; dinner for two $80.
New-American Beauty David Paul's Lahaina Grill 127 Lahainaluna Rd., Lahaina; 808/667-5117; dinner for two $100.
Hawaiian Continental Anuenue Room Ritz-Carlton, Kapalua; 808/669-6200; dinner for two $140.
Always in Flavor A Pacific Café 1279 S. Kihei Rd., Suite B201, Kihei; 808/879-0069; dinner for two $80.
Fusion with History Haliimaile General Store 900 Haliimaile Rd., Haliimaile; 808/572-2666; dinner for two $75.
Fish & Cocktails Hula Grill 2435 Kaanapali Pkwy., Building P, Kaanapali; 808/667-6636; dinner for two $60.
Party Spot Mama's Fish House 799 Poho Place, Paia; 808/579-8488; dinner for two $90.
Big Crowd, Big Taste Roy's Kahana Bar & Grill 4405 Honoapiilani Hwy., Kahana; 808/669-6999; dinner for two $65.
Top Sunset View Seasons 3900 Wailea Alanui Dr., Wailea; 808/874-8000; dinner for two $160.
European Enclave Gerard's 174 Lahainaluna Rd., Lahaina; 808/661-8939; dinner for two $100.
Late-night Dining Sansei 115 Bay Dr., Kapalua; 808/669-6286; dinner for two $60.
Beachside Breakfast Charmer Gazebo 5315 Lower Honoapiilani Rd., Lahaina; 808/669-5621; breakfast for two $20.
Best Sunday Brunch Prince Court 5400 Makena Alanui Dr., Makena; 808/875-5888; brunch for two $68.
HOW TO SPEND THE DAY
surfing Catch a wave during a surfing lesson with Action Sports Maui (360 Papa Place, Kahului; 808/871-5857; $49 a person). horseback riding Roam the pastures with Hawaiian cowboys at Mendes Ranch (3530 Kahekili Hwy., Kahakuloa; 808/871-5222; $130 a person). spelunking If you don't mind dark, dank places, sign up with Maui Cave Adventures (808/248-7308; $25 a person) for a hike through a 40-foot-high lava tube in Hana.
quiet coves Hamoa Beach, Hana; D. T. Fleming Beach Park, adjacent to the fourth hole of the Kapalua Bay golf course. surfer scene Hookipa Beach County Park, one of the first stops on the Hana Highway. pristine swimming Napili Bay. top snorkeling Around Black Rock, off Kaanapali Beach (mile-marker 14 on the Honoapiilani Highway; to get to the reef, you might have to swim out 50 feet or so). family friendly Kapalua Beach. secret stretch The cove west of Keanae Peninsula. people-watching Kaanapali Beach. picnic spot Kanaha Beach Park, near the Kahului airport, in central Maui.
November through March, humpbacks appear on the scene to breach and bellow. Watch them from McGregor Point (mile-marker 9 on the Honoapiilani Highway). Or take a whale-watching cruise on a 65-foot catamaran with Ocean Activities Center (800/798-0652 or 808/879-4485; $30 per adult).
TIPS FOR HALEAKALA
It's easy to drive the corkscrew road to the top of dormant Haleakala volcano, once you've downed some Dramamine. If you're determined to see a summit sunrise, you'll have to leave your hotel by 4 a.m. The best bet is to overnight in a park cabin, reserved by lottery. Applications are due three months in advance (808/572-4400; doubles from $40). If you're not the lazy type, bike the volcano with Maui Mountain Cruisers (800/232-6284 or 808/871-6014; $105) or Maui Downhill (800/535-2453 or 808/871-2155; $125). The all-day exercise starts in comfort with a van ride from your hotel to the summit for sunrise, and ends in a 31/2-hour downward spiral, with a lunch break in Kula.
THREE GREAT DRIVES
Kahakuloa Take the serpentine Honoapiilani Highway north of Kapalua to the village of Kahakuloa. The road is narrow, but the ocean views are worth the fear. After 45 harrowing minutes you'll reach a smattering of wooden houses and a shaved-ice stand, where you can buy a snack and a CD of the Hoopii Brothers, leo kiekie (falsetto) singers who are all the rage on Maui.
Hana Highway Stops not to miss: Waikamoi Ridge, a trail with an abundance of tropical flowers; Puohokamoa Falls, an easily accessible waterfall; Keanae Arboretum; the dramatic black-lava shore of the Keanae Peninsula; the 400-foot Waimoku Falls in Oheo Gulch; and the Blue Pool, less touristy than the legendary Oheo Pools.
Up-country Along every curve of the Kula Highway, mountain pastures give way to ocean vistas. From central Maui, take the Hana Highway, then the Haleakala Highway (Route 37) toward Keokea. Stop for Kona coffee at Grandma's Coffee House, and then check out John Sheldon Wallau's wacky paintings on surfboards next door at the Keokea Gallery. Just for the novelty of it, taste the pineapple wine at nearby Tedeschi Vineyards.
WHERE TO STAY
Kapalua Bay Hotel (1 Bay Dr.; 800/367-8000 or 808/669-5656, fax 808/669-4690; doubles from $295) lies on a palm-studded point with spiritual significance for Hawaiians. This December, look for a redesign of the Modernist 194-room property.
There's no better service than at the 548-room Ritz-Carlton, Kapalua (1 Ritz-Carlton Dr.; 800/262-8440 or 808/669-6200, fax 808/665-0026; doubles from $265), whose public areas mix Victorian splendor and summer-house charm.