Planning a trip to Hawaii can be a bit overwhelming, especially for first-timers. Researching what island(s) to visit along with must-do activities can be very time consuming. During all my trip research and conversations with friends, Maui kept popping up as the island that offered the perfect mix of activities (several free or low cost) and tropical island beauty for a first time visitor. We ended up staying in Kihei, which turned out to be a central location for all the things we wanted to do during our time on Maui. Here’s my suggestions for 8 activities we enjoyed that I think will give you a true flavor of the beauty that makes Hawaii so special.
1. Visit the Turtles at Ho’okipa Beach Park. Seeing animals in their natural habitat is always exciting for us, and on our first full day in Maui, one of the guests at our condo recommended visiting this beach, so off we went. It’s known to be one of the best spots to view the sea turtles as they are resting on the beach. When we arrived, there were easily 15 Hawaiian green sea turtles resting in a cove area of the beach. The area was roped off, but it was so cool to be able to see them fairly close. It’s amazing to watch these beautiful creatures swim up on the beach, and we enjoyed learning about them from the friendly volunteer with the Defenders of Wildlife. The beach is popular for windsurfers, and there are lifeguards if you want to take a dip in the ocean. I highly recommend stopping in Paia for lunch before or after your visit. We really enjoyed the tuna melts at Cafe Mambo!
2. Snorkel at Molokini Crater. If you want to splurge, take a boat out to snorkel at Molokini Crater. We went with Aqua Adventures for our half-day adventure, and even though the ocean was rough and I experienced some sea sickness, I was ultimately glad we chose a smaller boat for this excursion. Check-in went quickly, the captain and crew were fun and helpful, and our boat was one of the first to arrive at the c-shaped island. The first thing that struck me when we arrived at Molokini was the amazingly clear dark blue water, which made for great snorkeling visibility. Aqua Adventures also offers a Snuba option, where you are tethered to an oxygen tank floating at the surface, but we opted to stick with snorkeling. I was surprised that there weren’t as many large fish as I would have expected but then I reminded myself that the Hawaiian Islands really are out in the middle of the ocean. After we snorkeled at Molokini, we hopped back on the boat for the short trip to “Turtle Arches” close to Makena. Here we saw several green sea turtles, both swimming and getting cleaned by the fish at a “turtle station.” Being under the water and watching the turtles glide by was definitely a memorable moment. Getting seasick was not so memorable (I blame that on the wind and high surf), but the crew was very helpful with suggestions for my queasy stomach. My only regret on the trip was that I wasn’t able to enjoy lunch and a Mai-Tai on the way back to land!
3. Drive the Road to Hana. I had heard plenty about driving this iconic road on Maui, and I’m so glad we spent the day on the Road to Hana. There is nothing better than rounding the bend on a curvy road in Hawaii to suddenly finding a beautiful waterfall, or a picture perfect coastline view. The stops along the way are what makes the trip special, and you can pick and choose based on your own preferences. Even though the highway is only roughly 64 miles, the one-lane bridges and over 600 curves make for a slow, scenic drive. I think my favorite place was the black sand beach and surrounding area at Waianapanapa State Wayside Park. The photos don’t do justice to the color of the water, and the intensity of the ocean, especially at places like the Keanae Peninsula. Be sure to read my recent post for tips and photos from our amazing day on the Road to Hana.
4. Watch the Sunrise on Haleakala. This was an incredible experience, even though the weather at the summit was somewhat overcast on the morning we visited. Advanced reservations are required, and you can’t drive into this national park between 3 and 7 a.m. without a ticket. When you go, allow plenty of extra time to drive the windy road to the summit in the dark. It doesn’t seem far on a map, but it will take much longer than expected. We left around 2:45 am from the Kihei area (always fun for teenagers!) and reached the summit around 4:45. Because it was slightly overcast and drizzly, the sunset was not as dramatic as some of the pictures I had seen, but it was still an awe-inspiring experience to be standing at 10,000 feet waiting for the sun to rise over the clouds. The temperature hovered around 40 degrees when we visited in late June, but we were somewhat prepared with sweatshirts and jackets (gloves and blankets would have been helpful). If you are not a morning person, I’ve heard the sunset from the summit can also be quite breathtaking. In hindsight, I should have scheduled this early morning adventure soon after our arrival in Hawaii, since we were still on East Coast time for a few days.
5. Take Sunset Pictures at Makena State Beach. Since Maui is relatively small, I was anxious to capture the sunset view from different locations. While I loved walking out on Sugar Beach each night to see the beautiful sky, we hit the jackpot one evening when we ended up just south of Wailea at Makena State Beach. It’s known as the “Big Beach” for a reason. At nearly a mile long and about 100 yards wide, it’s a gorgeous, popular stretch of beach, known for having strong surf. Walk over the Pu’u Ola’i cinder cone and you’ll find “Little Beach” which offers amazing sunset views with a backdrop of Molokini Crater. Just don’t be surprised to see sunbathers with little or no clothes on this somewhat secluded section of beach.
6. Take a Surfing Lesson. What better place to try surfing than on the beach in Hawaii! My husband and daughter really enjoyed their 2 hour group surfing lesson with Maui Wave Riders at the Kihei location (it ended up being just the two of them so it was perfect). They each were provided with a rash guard shirt and booties, and after a brief lesson on the grass, they easily walked the surfboards across the street to Kalama Park, where they entered the water. After a few minutes of coaching in the water, they were ready to take on their first waves! By the end of the lesson, both were able to stand and ride a small wave most of the way to shore.
7. Try Local Foods. I often joke that local food is one of the main reasons I travel and Hawaii was no exception. Fish tacos are a popular menu item, and Coconuts Fish Cafe knows how to make them! Recommended by several locals, we were not disappointed. The tacos are meant to be eaten with your hands, so be prepared to get a little messy. Another local favorite is Ululani’s Hawaiian Shave Ice, with several locations in Maui. You can’t go wrong with any of their flavor combinations, like the Sunset Beach with guava, mango and passion orange! It’s the best treat on a warm summer day, like eating soft, powdered snow. Fortunately for us it was just a short walk down the beach from our condo. In Paia, our best casual picks are the Paia Fish Market for dinner, and Cafe Mambo for lunch (try the Ahi Tuna Melt). And finally, if you are staying in Kihei, don’t miss breakfast at Kihei Caffe. Bring cash, because you can’t pay for your huge breakfast with a credit card. Who can resist coconut syrup!
8. Head to a Luau. It wouldn’t be a first time trip to Hawaii without attending a luau and there is no shortage of offerings on Maui! So I was disappointed to find out that the highly rated Old Lahaina Luau was booked a solid two months in advance - take note if this is on your Maui to do list! I reached out to my personal concierge (more on that in my Kihei Sands post which will be live soon), who made some phone calls on my behalf. Unfortunately, since I was within 10 days of our trip, she was unable to get a reservation for a family of 5 at our next choice, the Grand Wailea. I am happy to say that it all worked out, as we had a memorable night at Chief’s Luau when we spent our last few days on Oahu. But you can’t go wrong with a luau on Maui.
There are still plenty of Maui adventures that we had to save for our next visit, like a helicopter tour, a swim in the Seven Sacred Pools (which were closed when we arrived), and sunset on Haleakala. Let us know if you have a favorite we should add to our list. Aloha for now Hawaii, we will be back!
My family took a ton of photos, but here are a few more favorites from Maui!
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