The island of Maui is dramatic—mountains born of violent ruptures, sinking craters, dense tropical forests, and white-sand beaches burning from the sun’s flare, all surrounded by the turbulent deep-blue ocean.
Within the monumental nature of the island that seduces travellers and visitors, are many towns inhabited by the locals. Some communities are designed for ritz and glamour, and tourists, yet others for laid-back relaxation.
As the second largest island in the Hawaiian archipelago, it takes about three hours to drive across the island. In my previous post on Maui, I discussed the history of Hawaii, including a few of Maui’s budget-friendly activities you can partake in during your travels. In this article, we are going to explore five different towns you must visit while in Maui.
Paia was our favourite town to visit on the island. It used to be the site of a sugar cane plantation during the 1800s. Once the manufacturing of sugarcane dwindled in Hawaii, the town was later revisited in the 1970s by counterculture groups who were attracted to the lower rent prices.
Although this modern-hippie town north of the island is small with little-to-nothing to do, it is exactly this characteristic that makes it one of the more charming and relaxing areas to visit in Maui. Especially in comparison to the upscale town of Wailea where expensive resorts line the luxurious beaches.
In the central part of town, you will find grocery stores stocked with an assortment of vegan goods, boutique clothing shops, trendy surf-wear shops, boho-chic restaurants offering healthy eats influenced by the Asian culinary world, and near-empty serene beaches.
During our stay, we spent hours at Paia Bay beach taking photos, eating, and watching boogie-board surfers catch the shortest waves. The laid-back ease of life that Paia boasts is also visible in the locals who live there, because although tourists visit this town, it is not over-run with waves of tourists like other areas of Maui. There is even a Tibetan Buddhist Temple in town, further evidence of Buddhism’s attractiveness to North Americans who want to learn how to manage the inescapable busy-ness of modern society.
Not too far from Paia, near Ho’okipa Beach Park you will find surfers riding 70-foot waves during the winter months when the ocean is even more relentless. Nearby is also the famous and ultra-expensive Mama’s Fish House, offering delectable and unique seafood dishes.
The quintessential opposite of Paia, Lahaina is densely-populated with visitors from all over the world. Front Street, the main area of the town, is unapologetically lined with shops selling expensive souvenirs with “Maui” written on miscellaneous objects such as mugs, keychains, and t-shirts. Busy with restaurants, bars, and cafes, the town is attractive for those looking to spend their evenings partying, meeting travellers, and retiring to the nearby beaches.
The popularity of the town must stem from its early days as a major whaling port and fishing town during the 1800s. Situated on the west coast of the island, it was also within travelling range to other islands in the archipelago. It was therefore one of the first towns established on the island. This can be seen in the nearby schools and churches, along with older colonial-style homes further away from the central area. In fact, Lahaina was even the capital of the Kingdom of Hawaii from 1820-1845.
If you are looking for an easygoing nightlife, then Lahaina is buzzing with late-night activity.
Kihei is like the island version’s older sibling of Paia—all grown up with a family, a not-so-demanding career, yet still surfing and partying on weekends. Southwest of the island, the town is more sprawling than Paia or Lahaina, both of which are smaller in design with a central hub. During your visit you will find that northern Kihei is slightly different from southern Kihei.
Southern Kihei generally contains more action with increased options for bars and restaurants in close proximity to each other. Parks can be found in the area, including markets, and surfboard rental shops near the tiny coastline and small waves of Cove Beach Park for beginner surfers.
Northern Kihei is more quiet and suburban. If you are wandering around the neighbourhood, there is little you will find within walking distance. We stayed in northern Kihei and the area reminded us of your typical American suburban living with rows of family homes and a commercial strip mall surrounding a wide expanse of parking lots.
Therefore, if you visit this town, we recommend staying in the livelier area of southern Kihei. A highlight of staying in Kihei is that you are closer to the nicest beach on the island, Makena Beach. The vast, impeccably clean beach is devoid of any resorts so you will find it more relaxing.
West of Paia, Wailuku sits further away from the coastal beaches, and is the county seat of Maui’s government. Our first impression of the town was that it was an artist’s enclave because of the many beautiful murals we saw painted on the walls of family businesses. The town is equally relaxing as Paia, and its quaint style mixes non-righteous hipster aesthetic with an emphasis on genuine local art and culture.
You can learn about the history of the town by visiting the Bailey House, a museum about Hawaiian history, or even the Iao Theatre built in 1927, originally a vaudeville and movie house. Wailuku is the gateway town to the stunning Iao Valley State Park where you can hike through the tropical light rain to the Iao Needle, and swim in the Kinihapai Stream.
Nature’s paradise, Hāna is a rich world of vibrant green mountains, forested areas, and winding cliff-side roads with magnificent coastal views. The drive along Hāna Highway, the northeastern coast of the island, is the ultimate scenic drive with foaming waves, vast ocean views, and jagged steep cliffs. In much of the area you can visit black sand beaches, stunning farm land, and mountain views that instill a longing for freedom.
Hāna is unique in its colonial history more so than other areas of Hawaii because Hāna Bay is where the English explorer, Captain James Cook, first arrived in 1778 and slowly but surely occupied the land and its people.
The main characteristic of the town is its atmosphere of escape into nature’s wonderland. If you are looking to flee the city atmosphere of other towns in Maui, then Hāna is a perfect option due to its fewer developments.
The Black Sand beach is a highlight of the area before you drive into the town. The black rocky beach shimmers from the sunlight, and you can cautiously swim in the rough turquoise-blue waters, as well as climb the green cliffs overlooking views of the expansive ocean.
Are there other towns in Maui you would add to this list which are worth a visit? Let us know below!
Copyright © Beyond Here 2020
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