By Kyle Ellison
November 05, 2014
Robert Harding World Imagery / Alamy

Nature has a way of reminding humans of our general insignificance. Humpbacks whales would still powerfully breach whether anyone was here to watch them, and turtles would still crawl their way up on beaches to bask on the warmth of the sands. Proximity to nature can also be healing, and encountering, watching, or spending time with animals is proven to be therapeutic. Also, children love them. That said, there are only two land mammals native to Hawaii: the Hawaiian Monk Seal and the Hoary Bat. Everything else was introduced by explorers or carried in the hulls of canoes. Axis deer and feral goats are now an ecological nuisance, and wild boars inhabit remote corners of the lush, mountainous valleys. You aren’t likely to encounter these, however, as they tend to make themselves scarce, and a better bet for finding animals on Maui is at the farms and viewpoints below.

Papawai Scenic Lookout

When visiting Maui from January-March, it isn’t a question of if you’ll see whales, but rather which whales you should watch. From this lookout just north of Ma‘alaea, the splashes of humpbacks fill the ocean like shooting stars in a meteor shower: First you look this way, and then over there, and did you see that enormous breach? Mornings provide the best conditions before whitecaps confuse the view.

Ho‘okipa Beach Park

For some inexplicable but astounding reason, over a dozen sea turtles bask on the sand at Ho‘okipa Beach Park at sunset. Watch as 300 pound Hawaiian green sea turtles emerge from the crashing surf, and then slowly flap their way up on shore to rest in the sugary sands.

Surfing Goat Dairy

Delightfully quirky and decidedly tasty, this working goat farm and its 100+ goats produce the island’s best artisanal cheeses. For a hands-on experience that children will love, the “Evening Chores and Milking Tour” provides visitors the chance to hand-milk the goats and help with the afternoon feeding.

East Maui Animal Refuge

If it’s an animal on Maui, and it’s been orphaned or injured, there is a good chance it will end up here at this lush Ha‘iku compound. Tours are arranged by advance appointment and are entirely run on donations, and visitors can get close to axis deer and owls—who will often approach you first.

Lahaina Animal Farm

Miniature horses, turtle races, and catching fish in a bucket—it’s all here at this interactive petting zoo just south of downtown Lahaina. Buy farm fresh eggs while the children play with the rabbits, goats, or ducks, and horseback lessons and pizza making sessions are available on private tours.