Getting the Most out of Maui
Published: June 2009
By Jessica Dineen
An essential guide to the magic isle
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.
If you like the idea of coming face-to-face with a Humboldt penguin in your hotel courtyard, the Hyatt Regency Maui (200 Nohea Kai Dr.; 800/233-1234 or 808/661-1234, fax 808/667-4498; doubles from $275) is your place. Despite its towering scale, the 809-room hotel has a calming atmosphere.
A meandering layout of bridges and ramps makes the 510-room Sheraton Maui (2605 Kaanapali Pkwy.; 800/782-9488 or 808/661-0031, fax 808/661-0458; doubles from $310) feel luxuriously private. Because it's closer to the ocean than the rest of Kaanapali's hotels, the property is blessed with constant breezes.
WAILEA AND ENVIRONS
After a day or two at the luxe 380-room Four Seasons Resort Maui at Wailea (3900 Wailea Alanui Dr.; 800/332-3442 or 808/874-8000, fax 808/874-2222; doubles from $305), you'll no doubt begin to feel relaxed. And where else can you look up from your tented chaise by the pool to see an Evian-toting attendant asking, "Care to be spritzed?"
Grand is the perfect word for the Grand Wailea Resort Hotel & Spa (3850 Wailea Alanui Dr.; 800/888-6100 or 808/875-1234, fax 808/874-2442; doubles from $380), with its Italianate palace of a lobby, cascading bougainvillea, and Botero sculptures. There's also an astounding water park with waterfalls and tunnels. The 50,000-square-foot spa is a fabulous retreat.
Much has been made of the Mediterranean-style Kea Lani Hotel Suites & Villas (4100 Wailea Alanui Dr.; 800/659-4100 or 808/875-4100, fax 808/875-1200; doubles from $295). You'll understand why, once you glimpse the resort's sprawling suites, which measure nearly 1,000 square feet.
On the southwestern reaches of the island, the 310-room Maui Prince Hotel (5400 Makena Alanui Dr., Makena; 800/321-6248 or 808/874-1111, fax 808/879-8763; doubles from $280) makes a subtle statement. It's an oasis for those who appreciate Japanese-style furnishings and delicate gardens.
Perfect for visitors who want to avoid the big-resort experience, the Kula Lodge (475 Kula Hwy., Kula; 800/233-1535 or 808/878-1535, fax 808/878-2518; doubles from $135) has five Swiss-style chalets with wood-burning stoves. At these elevations, nights can be cool. The décor of Silver Cloud Ranch (Thompson Rd., Keokea; 800/532-1111 or 808/878-6101, fax 808/878-2132; doubles from $85) falls somewhere between turn-of-the-century summer cottage and college dorm, with crazy touches such as a bright red plastic claw-foot tub in one room. The breakfast is the sort of hearty meal you'd hope to get from your grandmother.
Run by the owners of Hana Gardenland, the Hana Plantation Houses (21 Kelo Rd.; 800/228-4262 or 808/923-0772, fax 808/922-6068; doubles from $100, with a two-night minimum stay) is made up of nine tasteful villas scattered across the Hana region.
Signing in at Hotel Hana-Maui (360 Hana Hwy.; 800/321-4262 or 808/248-8211, fax 808/248-7202; doubles from $395) is a little like visiting a monastery—an expensive one with an atmosphere worthy of Buddhist meditation. The recently purchased property is receiving a physical overhaul, but its spirit remains the same.
On a five-acre flower farm, Hana's Tradewind Cottages (135 Alalele Place; 800/327-8097 or 808/248-8980, fax 808/248-7735; from $100) has two secluded hideaways, both with hot tubs on private decks.
A night in a harbor-view room at the Lahaina Inn (127 Lahainaluna Rd.; 800/669-3444 or 808/661-0577, fax 808/667-9480; doubles from $99) is the best value on Maui. In the inn's 12 guest rooms, every detail has been attended to, from the polished oak floors and Oriental rugs to the interesting, pristine antiques and Japanese yukata robes.
If you want to stay in Lahaina but require a pool (or have children under 12—not allowed at Lahaina Inn), check out the Plantation Inn (174 Lahainaluna Rd.; 800/433-6815 or 808/667-9225, fax 808/667-9293; doubles from $135). The 19 rooms are furnished in an eclectic—and not altogether pleasing—mix of styles. But the breakfast of French toast is superb, provided by the excellent restaurant Gerard's.
WHERE TO SHOP
MOST STYLISH FINDS
hibiscus-print backpacks ABC Stores (eight locations throughout Maui; 808/591-2550 or www.abcstores.com). They're not too sturdy, but the design is stunning. hula-girl costumes ABC Stores. Complete with coconut tops and shell leis. real flower leis Safeway (1221 Honoapiilani Hwy., Lahaina; $9 each). aloha handbags Honolua Surf Co. (845 Front St., Lahaina, 808/661-8848; 2411 S. Kihei Rd., Kihei, 808/874-0999; www.honoluasurfco.com). kids' sarongs Tropical Kids (658 Front St., Space 147, Wharf Cinema Center, Lahaina; 808/661-1356). Plus sundresses, handmade toys, and storybooks with local tales.
VINTAGE ALOHA SHIRTS
Hawaiian-print shirts are a fusion of Western and Asian cultures. Their forerunner is the "thousand-mile shirt," a heavy work shirt once worn by pioneers and missionaries. Polynesian motifs were added, but the term aloha shirt wasn't coined until Ellery J. Chun decided to sell the garment—up to that time homemade or sold in small numbers at boutiques—in his store in 1936. Covetable early versions can cost as much as $1,000. Some vintage labels to look for: Aloha, the Kahala, Royal Hawaiian, Paradise Hawaii, Surfriders Sportswear. By the mid-1940's, Hawaiian shirts tended to be made of rayon, a trend that lasted through the fifties and returned in the 1970's. Shirts from the seventies to the present are scorned by true collectors. where to buy The best aloha shirts are at Cuckoo for Coconuts (1158 Makawao Ave., Makawao; 808/573-6887) and Paia Trading Co. (106 Hana Hwy., Paia; 808/579-9472). For polyester prints from the mid-seventies through the eighties, head to Malice in Wonderland (10 Market St., Wailuku; 808/244-9315).
Discover the lost art of Hawaiian ei-ei vine weaving and find translucent Norfolk pine bowls by Ron Kent at Hana Coast Gallery (Hotel Hana-Maui, Hana; 808/248-8636), by far the best place on Maui for fine art and Hawaiian crafts. Kent's bowls are in the permanent collection at the Louvre, the Met, and the Vatican Museum. The gallery also carries tomorrow's Ron Kent, J. Kelly Dunn (his prices begin at $450, compared to $2,300 for Kent's smallest bowl). For Hawaiian landscape paintings and Kay Sattler's fired clay vases, go to Village Galleries (120 Dickenson St., Lahaina; 808/661-4402), which also has a store at the Ritz-Carlton. Viewpoints Gallery (3520 Baldwin Ave., Suite 101, Makawao; 808/572-5979) represents Denise Champion, who does Polaroid transfers of flowers.
BASKET AS ART
Niu Creation's Mika and Charlene Villaren (808/242-8167) sell their handwoven coconut palm-leaf baskets at Maui Tropical Plantations and, on Friday mornings, in the lower courtyard of the Four Seasons Maui at Wailea. The baskets are beautiful to look at, but they can be put in the microwave, used as stovetop steamers, and washed with soap and water.
You'll find Maui's finest antiques on Market Street in the small plantation settlers' town—now more a ghost town—of Wailuku. Peruse the collections of T'ang Dynasty ceramic figurines, calligraphy scrolls, Japanese stone rubbings, and Chinese vases at Brown-Kobayashi (160A N. Market St.; 808/242-0804). shopper's lunch Enjoy the blackened mahimahi with papaya salsa and steamed rice ($5.95) or the daily plate-lunch special ($5.50) at Café O'Lei (2051 Main St.; 808/244-6816).
This Hawaiian cowboy town has been nearly taken over by ex-Californians who discovered the mellow life, and merchants who transformed many of the Western-style wooden buildings into boutiques. The paniolo soul of the town is still present at the rodeo held regularly on the outskirts of town, and at the general store, which sells chewing tobacco and pickled eggs. There's plenty of aloha wear and trinkets behind all the dolled-up storefronts on the main street, Baldwin Avenue. Here, the best finds: hawaiian-print wrapping paper Maui Hands (No. 3620; 808/572-5194). hand-blown glass Hot Island Glass (No. 3620; 808/572-4527). custom hunting rifles Base Camp (No. 3619; 808/573-2267). hula-girl travel alarm clocks Hurricane (No. 3639; 808/572-5067). shopper's lunch Don't miss the fajitas with shrimp or mahimahi at Polli's Mexican Restaurant (1202 Makawao Ave.; 808/572-7808).
Less quaint but more lively than Makawao, Paia marks the beginning of the Hana Highway. Standouts: maui-made swimsuits Maui Girl (12 Baldwin Ave.; 808/579-9266) kids' ukuleles Plantation Store (27 Baldwin Ave.; 808/579-8601). hawaiiana and collectibles Paia Trading Co. (106 Hana Hwy; 808/579-9472). hawaiian-print halter tops and baby blankets Biasa Rose Boutique (104 Hana Hwy; 808/579-8602). shopper's lunch Try the fish tacos at hip, laid-back Milagros Food Co. (3 Baldwin Ave.; 808/579-8755), also known for frozen cocktails.
With Ulalena, a show about Hawaiian mythology and history, the new Maui Myth & Magic Theatre (878 Front St., Lahaina; 808/661-9913) proves there's life beyond the luau. In one act, an acrobat gives the illusion she is a lizard swimming up a waterfall that cascades from the rafters to the stage. More than 20 of the islands' most talented musicians, actors, and directors—along with ARRA Montreal, developer of the original Cirque de Soleil—banded together to create the spectacular production.
No need for disappointment. You can whale-watch indoors at the Maui Ocean Center (192 Maalaea Rd., Maalaea; 808/270-7000). The largest tropical aquarium in the Western Hemisphere has a 750,000-gallon tank with deepwater species, from Humu Humu Nuku Nuku Apuaa (triggerfish to you and me) to tiger sharks.