Magical Maui Should Be Your First Hawaiian Experience

Somewhere between Oahu and The Big Island is the Maui Experience
Directly after high school, under extreme stress, I moved to Oahu with $40 and a pretty good idea I’d get a grant to go to Chaminade. That was a pivotal year in which I had to actually grow up and learn the facts of living sort of like an adult. As I said, “sort of like an adult”, since I lived on campus, in a co-ed dorm that tended to default to partying every weekend.

But the view from Hale Koa, the co-ed dorm was spectacular. I could see from Diamond Head to Pearl Harbor just by stepping out my front door. I grew up very fast in Hawaii, learned to live with people other than my family and tolerance. Oahu has always been very dear to me. I love Oahu and don’t think I will ever get tired of exploring the main island of Hawaii.

That year at Chaminade allowed me to travel to the Big Island a few times, but I never visited Maui. I didn’t think I needed to because over the years, I have always found something cool to explore on Oahu. Give me a week, a rental car, and I can craft a wickedly fun time on Oahu that doesn’t wrap you in “tourist”, but does immerse you in the wonders of Hawaii’s most populous island. Of course on Oahu, you can always be deep in tourist. It takes some skill to get away from the hustle that spreads from Waikiki.

Don’t get me wrong, Oahu can be fun and features unique opportunities to explore. On the other hand, if you want a more diverse, easier to have fun adventure, visit Maui! My vote is that Maui offers more of a “Hawaiian” experience. When I mean “more Hawaiian”, I mean friendlier, slower paced and focused on the beauty of the island. Of course if your Hawaiian vacation mission is to go to places like Pearl Harbor, BYU and other unique Oahu assets, by all means, visit Oahu. If that isn’t the case and want to sample a little bit of all the Hawaiian islands, go to Maui first!

I think the biggest advantage to Maui is you will spend less time getting to cool places. In other words, you can do more with less effort. The only exception is the adventurous drive to Hana via the Hana Highway. If you were to drive around Oahu, from Waikiki to the North shore and then around Kanehoe and back over the Pali, you could spend as much time as you would on the Hana Highway. The difference is that where the Hana Highway offers some spectacular views and maybe some one-lane experiences. Almost any route around Oahu will at some point inject you into Honolulu’s hateful traffic.

But I digress and this isn’t to be a book. The bottom line is that if you have about 5 days to spend on a Hawaiian vacation, consider Maui first. You won’t be as frustrated because you will see more and relax more. That is what a vacation is about right? In five days on Maui you can visit Haleakalā Crater, Drive to Hana, spend an afternoon exploring old Lahaina or Paia, explore several beaches, snorkel in whats left of an old volcano and just chill.

All the typical Hawaiian tourist assets are available on Maui including helicopter tours, dinner cruisers, luaus, plenty of seafood and of course beaches for days. If you stay in Kihei or Lahaina, every dusk offers a chance at a spectacular sunset. During certain times of the years, you can watch for whales from the beaches. Just bring some binoculars. Then there is Haleakalā National Park. If you are bold, get a reservation to catch a sunrise at 10,023 feet!

We stayed with family in Wailuku on our recent trip to Maui. That area was about three miles from Kahului, where the main airport is. Although Kahului is on the north side, it didn’t take too much to get into Kihei or Lahaina. I will suggest that if you are going to or from Lahaina, avoid so from about 4PM to 6PM due to typical “rush hour” traffic. Route 30 is only two lines, one in each direction between Lahaina and Maalaea, though the traffic tends to speed up once you are past Olowalu.

The bottom line is that I think you will have more fun if your Hawaiian vacation is going to be five to seven days if your destination is Maui. Again, the exception is if your mission is to see certain assets like Pearl Harbor. Then you have to go to Oahu. Otherwise, go to Maui, the Valley Isle.
Rainbow at Haleakela National Park

Other Cool Places and Beaches On Maui

Here goes a short list of places to explore when on Maui. Look them up on a map, zoom in and you will find plenty between these places to wear you out for two weeks on Maui! Imagine you will have to get pick if you only have five to seven days.

Haleakalā National Park
The Haleakalā crater is just simply spectacular. You cannot visit Maui without visiting Haleakalā National Park. This huge crater is one reason Maui exists. From here you can see forever. Don’t let a rainy day stop you from visiting. In many cases you simply drive above the clouds. You can check the weather to be sure.
Paia
Small town you pass through east of Kahului on the Hana Highway. Old sugar mill town featuring notable bars owned by famous people and plenty of shops. This is actually a viable town to lodge in if you prefer to stay on the north shore.
Makena Beach
Keep driving past Kihei to Wailua-Makena to the two entrances to Makena State Beach. Catch a day at a pretty beach, sans a lot of tourist. View of whales with the island of Kaho’olawe in the background.
La Perouse Bay
Drive past Makena State Park and hike the lava fields that pour from the mountain into the ocean, creating a surreal landscape of jagged black lava formations. The road ends in the lava field, take plenty of water and good shoes.
DT Fleming Beach Park
Push a few miles beyond Lahaina, past Napili-Honokowai till you get to this favorite beach for surfers. If you are a golfer, close by is the Kapalua Golf The Plantation Course.
Black Rock Beach
Black Rock splits Ka’anapali Beach. If you are driving, look for small, inconspicuous “Beach Access” signs for small parking lots that allow free parking and beach access. Not easy to find, but these parking lots offer from ten to forty or so parking spaces. I recommend the boardwalk is on the Whaler’s Village side.
Ho’okipa Lookout
Just east of Paia, this view offers a spectacular vista to the north. The surf is favored by many local surfers. Small parking lot with a high view worth a 30 minute rest break. No services, but you might find a food truck or vendor camping there.
Waianapanapa State Park
What can I say, a cool blowhole and a black sand beach. Note that this is one of many places you can camp on Maui. There goes a do-able idea on Maui, unlike Oahu, you could plan your whole trip as a camping adventure.
Seven Sacred Pools at Ohe’o
Awesome hikes available to the backside of the Kipahulu Forest Reserve and a trail head into Haleakalā National Park.
Palapala Ho‘Omau Congregational Church
A small, quaint church from which you can see the Big Island of Hawaii on a clear day. Charles Lindbergh is buried here.

Things Not To Do On Maui

I can only thing of one thing not to do on Maui
1. Do not even think about driving all the way around the Hana Highway to the backside of Haleakalā.
The Hana Highway is a heck of a drive and you get to see all sorts of fantastic beaches and waterfalls, but it is one of those creepy mountain roads where one side is straight up and the other can be, straight down. All the bridges narrow to one lane and there are plenty of them. In some places either due to design or landslide, you will have to observe “one lane etiquette” and pull over for locals. Locals are not sightseeing, let them by. Also one in Hana, the shorter route home tends to be excluded from rental car contracts. That shorter route is gorgeous, but for a few miles it is not paved. Absolutely don’t go that way unless you want awesome views and have a great rental car. (Avoid those discount rental car places that offer “Beach Cars”. Yelp and Google Reviews should be headed)

I can tell you from our experience, it the Hana Highway loop was awesome, but if you ignore my advise, do so at your own risk like so many others do.

Basic Common Sense ANYWHERE in Hawaii

The locals live by a motto and you will hear or read it near any beach…
“If in doubt, don’t go out”
I don’t care if you are an Olympic hero swimmer, respect the ocean, period. If you don’t understand the power of a wave, don’t get in the water unless you are on a beach with a lifeguard. People, including locals and visitors, drown in Hawaii because they got in the water. Don’t go swimming in caves either. A visitor recently drowned in a cave near Hana and he was with local “friends”. Another visitor drowned at Makena Big Beach because a wave hit her and she became unresponsive. The last ten days of January 2017 saw five drownings.

Again, if in doubt, don’t even go in. The ocean will win every time.

Random Images of Maui – January 2017
I took over 1200 images, but did not take enough. New 4/3 camera that relies on an LCD screen, not your typical visual viewfinder will take some getting used too. In any case, here are 16 that should help you see the wilder side of Maui. I purposely did not take any images where the density of people was high due to a respect for privacy.