By Patricia Doherty
December 20, 2019
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If you thrill to the sight of wildlife in their natural surroundings or even if you’re just a bit intrigued by the thought of watching whales from the comfort of your hotel lanai, you’ll want to spend some time in Kapalua.

Each winter, thousands of North Pacific humpback whales arrive in Maui from Alaska to breed, give birth, and raise their young in Hawaii’s warm waters. Arrivals from their 3,500-mile journey begin in December and reach their peak in February.

Dave Fleetham/Design Pics/Getty Images

Kapalua, a 23,000-acre resort area on Maui’s northwest shore, is an ideal place to view the humpbacks. The Ritz-Carlton Kapalua is home to Jean-Michel Costeau’s Ambassadors of the Environment program with naturalists available to offer in-depth details on the whales’ behaviors as they observe the humpbacks during boat trips. You can also watch the whales from the two-mile oceanfront Kapalua Coastal Trail or even from the Ritz-Carlton’s lobby lanai or guestrooms.

Professional golfers also head to Maui in December to enjoy the sunshine and prepare for the first PGA Tour Tournament of the year, the 2020 Sentry Tournament of Champions, to be held Jan. 1-5. This year, 2019’s winners on the PGA Tour will be as anxious to arrive as their seagoing counterparts since the famed Plantation Golf Course has just reopened after nine months of renovation. The clubhouse and restaurant have also been updated making this year’s tournament a special event for visitors as well. Community charities, ranging from youth after-school programs to elder care facilities and wildlife protection, benefit from the tournament, with nearly $7 million generated since 1999.

Courtesy of Sentry Tournament of Champions

Kapalua’s five bays and three beaches offer perfect conditions for swimming, surfing, snorkeling, and diving. Hiking and walking trails range from easy to challenging, rewarding hikers with panoramic views and hidden lakes. The strenuous Mahana Ridge trail winds through rugged land where coffee and pineapple were once cultivated. Adventurous visitors can fly through the West Maui Mountains on Kapalua’s two-mile zip line course. Then relax aboard Trilogy’s luxury sailing catamaran with a cocktail and appetizer, and enjoy the stunning hues of a Maui sunset.

Be sure to visit the town of Lahaina, once a bustling whaling village and capital of the Hawaiian Kingdom. Today home to art galleries, restaurants, the country’s largest banyan tree, and historic sites dating back to the 1800s, Lahaina can be appreciated on your own or with an organized walking tour. Stop for brunch, dinner, or happy hour at oceanfront Mala OceanTavern and watch the waves while you dine. For a light snack, don’t miss Breakwall Shave Ice for a traditional flavored ice, smoothie, or ice cream.

Home to the highly regarded annual Kapalua Wine and Food Festival each June, Maui offers fine dining throughout the island, including the popular Merriman’s in Kapalua with delicious food and ocean views. The Maui Chef’s Table at The Mill House in Waikapu is a weekly culinary event featuring a multi-course menu of seasonal ingredients. Surrounded by farmland with views of the Waikapu Valley, the Mill House is set in the Maui Tropical Plantation, a unique mountainside environment. For creative dishes in casual surroundings for all-day dining and weekend brunch, stop at Fond in Napili Plaza.

After just a few days in Kapalua, you’ll be wishing your winter vacation matched that of the visiting humpback whales who stick around Maui until March before they head back to Alaska.