1) Swim at Makena Beach
2) Watch Surfers & Turtles at Ho’okipa Beach
3) The Lava Fields
4) Iao Valley State Park
5) The Nakalele Blowhole
6) Crater at Haleakalā National Park
7) Drive to Hāna
9) Snorkel at Molokini Crater
The mesmerizing landscape of Maui sits at the tip of the Polynesian triangle of islands in the Pacific Ocean. Maui is the second largest island in Hawaii, an archipelago created by volcanic eruptions. The history of Hawaii is vast and interesting.
Initially, the islands were settled by Polynesians of the Pacific Islands. Hawaii was once a monarch nation with their own cultural beliefs and societal laws. The arrival of British and American colonists between the 18th and 19th century started the slow and painful removal of the land from Hawaiians and into the hands of Europeans – a story similar to the violent stealing of land from Indigenous tribes in North America.
The production of pineapples and sugar cane used to be major components of their economy. However since then, due to lower labour-costs, these crops are produced in other parts of the world, such as the Philippines. You can see the old rusty sugarcane mill in the town of Pu’unēnē, south of Kahului, and visit the Alexander & Baldwin Sugar Museum for some historic background.
Numerous Japanese immigrants arrived in Hawaii during the 19th century looking for opportunities. They found work in the sugar cane plantations. Therefore, about 14% of native Hawaiians have Japanese ancestry.
In 1959, Hawaii became the 50th state of The United States of America. Currently, the islands are inhabited by many ethnicities, and is a prime tourist destination for people worldwide. Tourism has now become Hawaii’s major industry. To this day, groups of native Hawaiians still struggle for their right to independence from Americans. Check out the movement if you are interested in learning more. Or, click here if you would like to join or contribute to the movement.
The island of Oahu, north of Maui, is the most populated with millions of tourists visiting each year. The capital city, Honolulu, sits on the southern coast of the island, featuring the famous Waikiki beach towered by typical major resorts. Maui, on the other hand, is less populated, and many consider it to be a much nicer island to visit. We were advised by family and friends to visit Maui instead of Oahu.
Renting a vehicle on the island is the best way to get around. The island has public transportation but it can be infrequent with early curfews. A vehicle allowed us to essentially visit the entire island. We rented a fuel-efficient compact car from Thrifty for 300 USD for a week.
There’s more to do in Maui than meets the eye. It is not just an island for sunbathing on the beach. Of the many things you could do in Maui, here are some of our favourite budget-friendly activities for when you visit.
Swim at Makena Beach
Makena Beach or Big Beach is considered to be the nicest beach in Maui. The stretch of yellow sand is broad with an open expanse of blue Pacific waters ahead of you. The beach is undeveloped so you will not find the busy coast of resort beaches.
Makena Beach is located in south-central Maui. In the distance you can see Molokini Crater from the beach.
Since we visited the island during the winter month of October, the water was incredibly wavy and the current was strong. While walking along the beach Chris and I saw the undertow of the strong current, creating what looked like a whirlpool.
The afternoon was incredibly hot, and our skin was left scorching underneath the exposed sun. We dipped into the rough waters for about twenty minutes, then got out realizing the struggle with the waves was less than relaxing. Regardless, we still recommend you visit this beautiful beach, especially if you are there in the summer when the water is more calm.
Watch Surfers, Windsurfers, and Turtles at Ho’okipa Beach
Along the northeast coast near Paia, the hippie town of Maui, is Ho’okipa Beach Park where you can watch surfers, windsurfers, and turtles. In the afternoon waves one can spend endless hours watching the windsurfers perform flips on the water. For total beginner surfers like us, this is not a great place for surfing. Chris tried using a hard top surfboard for the first time, but it was difficult to read the waves. Knowledge of how to read the ocean’s moods is required, which comes with practice.
Despite the larger waves, there is a calmer area east of the beach where the waves break against the rocks. Here, you can snorkel for corals, turtles, fish, and even stingrays. The shore of this area is sanctioned off for turtles to rest on the sand and catch their breath. We saw 22 turtles on the shore!
Near the Ho’okipa Beach Park, a drive further west, is where you can see 70-foot waves for those crazy daredevil surfers.
The Lava Fields
Southwest of Maui are the glorious and historic lava fields, including the Kings Trail, by La Perouse Bay or Keone‘ō‘io. The lava fields are south of fancy-town Wailea and beautiful Makena Beach.
The area is covered in dark volcanic rocks creating a stark contrast to the blue of the sea, and you can see the impressive mountainous area of Haleakalā National Park.
It is a Natural Area Reserve, or ‘Āhihi-Kīna‘u, and is mostly closed off for the public. The two miles of coastline within the reserve are home to various wildlife such as dolphins, turtles, and seals which are free to roam without human disturbance. Fishing is therefore not allowed in this area. However, outside of the reserve you may enjoy the water, hike, or go snorkeling. La Perouse Bay is known for its high diversity of fish and coral.
To view archaeological sites you can hike the Hoapili Trail along La Perouse Bay to Kanaio Beach. This is a preserved historic trail dating back hundreds of years or more when many communities hiked to reach each other.
Interestingly, WWII soldiers used to use this site for bombing practice. You may find items or artifacts from such bombings, but be warned, the items you find may be dangerous.
Iao Valley State Park
Near Kahului in the northwestern mountainous region of Maui, is the Iao Valley State Park, which is one of the wettest places in Hawaii. The summit can receive an average of over an inch of rain per day. This is a forested area with volcanic mountains and rivers. Here you can find the Iao Needle, a volcanic protrusion which stands tall and erect at 686 metres. Its traditional name is Kūka‘emoku and the peak is the phallic stone of Kanaloa, the Hawiian god of the ocean.
The peak was used as a look out point during the Battle of Kepaniwai, where Kamehameha I waged a battle to unite all the islands under one ruler in the late 1780’s.
There are some stairs which take you closer to the peak but there is no cleared hiking path to reach this summit. As you walk through the forested area within the walls of the mountains, you will see many visitors bathing in the river.
The Nakalele Blowhole
Northwest of Maui is a stunning cliff face which is worth driving to even if the road is risky. During our visit to Lahaina, I miscalculated the driving time from Lahaina to Paia around the north edge of the island. We had wanted to see as much of the island as we could, so we decided to loop around north. We realized that the drive was actually going to take about two hours through treacherous winding roads at sundown. This drive skirts the Puu Kukui volcano, where you will find mostly single lanes, hairpin turns, and falling rocks. We were told goats used to walk this path around the mountain, so they had decided to build a road.
Before sunset we reached the Nakalele Blowhole, about a 30 minute drive from Lahaina. It is a geyser between lava rocks erupting every few minutes.
Once you park at the edge of the cliff, you need to hike down the shallow rocky area. The view was incredible because it had just rained, the sun was out, and a rainbow formed at the edge of the cliff. The rugged magnificence of this volcanic terrain was breathtaking.
Crater at Haleakalā National Park
East of the island are volcanic mountains where visitors can hike or drive to the Haleakalā National Park. The drive to the summit is long and scenic, but not tortuous like the road to the Nakalele Blowhole. The entrance to see the crater is 25 USD.
Haleakalā is home to many diverse plants and animals which have thrived on the isolated island of Maui. Hawaiians believe in the concept of kuleana (responsibility) which is passed down from generation to generation. It is up to any visitors venturing into Haleakalā National Park to take responsibility of the land, including respect for all things spiritual and physical.
The tropical warmth disappears as you climb the volcanic mountain and the air becomes chilly. All around you are red and dark brown soil. From a distance the edges of the multi-coloured sediments on the hills are well-defined.
At the summit you are in kua mauna, the land above the clouds, where you will find an observation deck. The summit stands at 3055 metres. It might extend even further below the ocean, and may be as tall as Mount Everest. The “crater” you see below you at the summit is actually a valley which was later filled in with lava flows, creating a large basin. The view from the summit is absolutely amazing. You feel like you are above the whole world looking down at the tufts of white clouds hovering over the land below.
Drive to Hāna
On the east-central coast is the village of Hāna, east of Haleakalā National Park. It is here at Hāna Bay where Captain James Cook, an English explorer, first landed in 1778. Hāna is considered to be the “old Hawaii” due to fewer developments in the area compared to other parts of Maui. Around this gorgeous mountainous small village you will find many cattle ranches.
The drive to Hāna is one of the most scenic routes you will ever travel. The highway from Kahului to Hāna was built in 1927 and to this day is still well-maintained. Many visitors drive along the edge of the coast to wonder at one of the last vestiges of natural beauty in Maui.
The road is winding and if you are making frequent stops (which we recommend) to gaze at the stunning shoreline, the waterfalls, eat some food, and bathe at black rock beach, then the drive can take a whole day. Most travellers start early in the morning to get ahead of the crowd, but we started our trip at 11 am and the road was not too crowded. Be warned though, depending on when you start, due to the constant curves of the road and the rush of people, the drive can take much longer.
Since we had a late start we didn’t make all the pit stops, although we did stop on the road many times during the drive to take pictures. We did get out at the following sites – Twin Peak Falls, Keanae Lookout, and Honokalani Beach.
Twin Peak Falls
These falls are one of the first stops you will probably make. They are small but lively and beautiful, so undress and bathe in the crystal clear water.
Northwest of Hāna Bay as we drove on, we stopped at Keanae Lookout where the waters of the Pacific ocean pound the cliff edges of the island with mighty force. Take your time here, wander, and watch the waves splash with enthusiasm onto the rocks.
Honokalani is a remarkable black-sand beach at Waianapanapa Park. The waves are ferocious, throwing you back onto the shore. Make sure to hike passed the beach area and up the rocky cliffs. There you will find volcanic cliffs overlooking the beautiful water.
After your visit to Hāna Bay where you will see more cliff edges, there are two options to get back to the other side of the island. If you continue on passed Hāna and loop around the south edge of the island, then it will be a much longer drive. The road gets windier here and is less paved. This is because fewer people venture around the volcanic mountains of Haleakalā. If you are feeling adventurous and have lots of time before sunset then drive south, and if not, we recommend driving back the way you came towards Kahului.
When in Hawaii, do as the Hawaiians do – surf the waves. As beginners, we went out to South Kihei to Maui Waveriders where you can rent surfboards, rash guards, shoes, and take group or private lessons. The baby surfs at Ma’alaea Bay nearby are great for beginners. The water is more wavy in the afternoon but the morning offers nice small waves for beginners. Chris and I had tried surfing before so we decided to just rent boards which were about 20 USD each for the whole day.
Make sure to get an earlier start for renting surfboards because the shops usually close mid-afternoon, and you need to return the boards by the end of the day (unless you decide to rent for a few days straight).
It is both exhausting and exhilarating to surf, and you won’t regret a single moment of it. No need to worry about tiger sharks attacking you, it is less likely than you think.
Snorkel at Molokini Crater
One of the more enjoyable things we did in Maui is snorkel at Molokini Crater, which is located off the southern-central coast of the island. If you’ve ever considered visiting Maui or looked up advise on what to do in Maui, then you’ve probably heard of Molokini Crater. Touring this crater is a very popular snorkeling activity.
The Molokini Crater was formed by a volcanic eruption 230,000 years ago. Its crescent-shape is partly submerged under water. Hawaiians used to fish here for livelihood. During WWII the crater was used for bombing practice which destroyed many corals and marine life. Since then it has become a marine and bird conservation site, and the area has nearly been rehabilitated to its earlier glory. Even if this is the case, the rising temperature of the ocean due to global climate change has caused some noticeable bleaching on the corals.
Boats arrive at this crater daily to allow tourists to snorkel, scuba, and snuba (diving without a tank). This means there are disruptions to marine life in the water and has been a point of controversy.
However, the area does have the clearest water in Maui for viewing coral reefs and marine life. We saw many dazzlingly colourful fish, eels, urchins, and turtles at Turtle Town, which we visited after Molokini.
The Molokini Crater tour can be expensive, however there is a way to experience it for much cheaper. For details on which Molokini Crater tour we took and our experience with finding a good deal, you can read our post here.
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