Maui Travel Tips

(Updated 11/05/12)

Index
1) General Costs
    - Getting there
    - Where to stay
    - Groceries
2) Your first morning - Sunrise from a volcano top
3) Helicopter Tours
4) Snorkeling
5) Dining
    - Luau - the Hawaiian barbeque
    - Vegetarian
    - Seafood
    - Mai-tais
6) Sunburn, the paradise killer
7) Street Hustlers and timeshare salesmen
8) Beaches
    - East Maui
    - West Maui
9) Windsurfing - Ho'okipa
10) Whales
11) Upcountry
12) Hotel fantasy, Disney reality

Friends,

Over the years Stephany and I have enjoyed our vacations on Maui. We would like to offer you some Maui info that you may find useful on your journey and make paradise more enjoyable.  If you want to view some of our vacation photos then click here.

  1. People often ask us "Isn’t it expensive to go to Maui"? The key words in that question are "go to". The airfare can be outrageous between the east coast and Maui, typically $1000-$1200. But the experienced traveler can always find a deal being offered by an airline. Delta and United fly direct to Maui from the east coast and mid-west of the mainland, so they’re your best bet (unless you want to stop in Oahu for a layover and see why Maui is where people from Honolulu go for their vacations).  If you are connected to the Internet then you may want to visit one of the many free virtual "travel agents" in cyberspace. These web sites allow you to enter a personal travel profile, search for the lowest fares, book your flights and assign your seats. Our favorite is Expedia (http://www.expedia.com/). It’s not the best user interface going, but it is the most flexible in terms of options. You may also locate hotel room and car rental deals.

    Also consider this option before trying to accumulate or spend 60,000+ frequent flyer miles per ticket for your dream vacation: Use 20,000 frequent flyer miles per ticket to fly to San Francisco or L.A. , then pay $325 - $450 (typical round-trip fares that we have paid) to fly to Maui.

    We’re not honeymooners, we’re frugal ("cheap" is such a tawdry word), and we have never really liked resorts so we rent a condo, cottage or apartment for our stays. Kihei has some two bedroom, two bath condos with a fully equipped (sometimes stocked) kitchen, washer & dryer, dishwasher, and house keeping service condos for $90-$150 a night. We recommend Maui Hill in south Kihei near Wailea, however any "Aston (formally Resort Quest)" managed property is a fair deal. A standard hotel room at a resort starts at $200 a night and you have to eat out all the time. It’s something to think about!

    Another hotel alternative is a bed and breakfast or inn, there are many all over the island.  The rates for most are below $100 a night and includes breakfast (of course).  If you want to get away from the crowds then this option may be for you.  Most B&Bs are located off the beaten path and have the benefit of friendly knowledgeable locals in residence.  For a real treat we can highly recommend the Olinda Country Inn and Cottages located upslope of Paia and Makawao on the edge of a lush forest.  Nice accommodations with lots of great scenery, hiking, and fantastic breakfasts featuring locally grown fruits and flowers (yep - flowers).  Cat lovers are especially welcome.  For the unique experience of living in the treetops where the rainforest meets the black sand beaches try the Hana Hale Malamalama in Hana.  The Kula Lodge is another upcountry alternative with quaint accomodations, great vistas and an excellent restaurant.  It is also only 40 minutes from the summit of Haleakela (see sunrise below)

     If you have some flexibility in travel dates then consider going during the "off season" (September-November and March-May) for further discounts.

    You can buy a week’s worth of groceries (with liquor) for the price of a really good dinner for two at a resort. Grocery prices generally run 10% to 15% higher in Hawaii (and this will vary from island to island). The prices marked on items are the "tourist" prices. Most stores offer a "kamaaina" (native or long-time resident) discount off the listed prices. Foodland is the best local supermarket; however don’t overlook some of the smaller "mom and pop" stores that you encounter during your travels (a friendly smile and small-talk will often net you the discount and some good inside information).  There is now a Safeway supermarket in Kihei so if you shop Safeway at home make sure you bring your Club Card with you on vacation for significant savings.

    One last money saving tip… Contact Entertainment Publications (1-800-374-4464) and have them ship you the Hawaii edition of the "Entertainment Book" (it is just like the version that local organizations sell as fundraisers). This little booklet will also serve as a directory for dining and entertainment opportunities allowing you to plan some things before you depart on your journey.


  2. If you find yourself wide awake at 3:00 AM because of the jet lag and a five or six hour time difference consider driving to the top of Haleakala to watch the sunrise over the east rim of the crater with the Big Island of Hawaii in the background.

    The drive should take a little more than two hours from Kihei or a little less than three hours from Lahaina if traffic to the summit is slow due to fog near the top.  If you go, remember that the summit is over 10,000 feet and it can be extremely cold in the wind before the sun comes up. Bring a camera, jacket, and a blanket from your room to snuggle-up in.

    The drive up the summit is paved, unlit past the ranger station, and has many switchbacks. The drive down the summit will be lit by sunlight and have some spectacular vistas of West Maui and the bay. We recommend stopping at the Kula Lodge for breakfast on the way down. Check out the Curtis Wilson Cost Gallery in the lower level of the lodge. The Sunrise Protea Farm is also worth a quick look if you would like to see some unusual local flowers (they ship arrangements to the mainland which can be dried to last forever). This trip is also good for your last day there because the airport is at the base of the Haleakala Highway.

    If you enjoy a good hike then bring some sturdy walking shoes and take a day hike on the crater trails. Stop and register at the ranger station / museum first.


  3. Look for a discounted helicopter tour of the island. The beauty and variety of this island can really be appreciated from the air.  The best visibility is early morning (8:00-9:00) before the clouds obscure the summit and crater of the Haleakala and the winds pick-up. If it's cheaper to get partial helicopter / van tours of the island then go for the East Maui / Hana package. We recommend Sunshine or  Blue Hawaiian services.


  4. The beach snorkeling is great. Don't waste time or money with boat operators. Snorkel equipment can be rented for $10 - $15 a week (we recommend renting from local legend Snorkel Bob) and the local shops have maps and instructions to guide you to some great spots all around the island. On the west side, the snorkeling on Black Rock reef (located on the beach at the Sheraton in north Kaanapali) is best for beginners. This is an afternoon activity. Illumination is better because the sun is high and the reef is out of the shadow of Black Rock. Stay for the sunset torch lighting ceremony and dinner. By the way, if you feed the fish, keep the food in a zip-lock bag. If the fish smell it while you are snorkeling you will be swarmed.  On the east side the stretch form Ulua Beach south through Makena offer fantastic snorkeling and beach dives if the surge is low.


  5. The "Old Lahaina Luau" is the "most authentic" Hawaiian luau (i.e. not a Polynesian fire show). It is entertaining as well as educational. The luau may not performed every night so call for the schedule & reservations. The luau is on the beach at 1251 Front St. and they offer "traditional" table seating as well as grass mat seating (depending upon your degree of flexibility). We recommend "traditional" seating at a center table if possible. Buy your tickets when you first arrive on Maui and arrive early on the day of your luau, watch them prepare the pig (the layered cooking pits are an art form!).


  6. While most restaurants offer a selection of vegetarian cuisine (heavy Asian influence), there are excellent little vegetarian restaurants, "Hocus Pocus (formally "The Vegan")" and Mana Foods, in Paia (the town just east of the airport) on the east side of Baldwin Ave. about a block and a half from the bottom of the hill. (Note: The Vegan was closed on our last visit.  Check local listings for a possible relocation).  Hawaiian Moon Natural Foods On Kihei Rd. is also a great place to shop for healthy products


  7. Best seafood and shellfish restaurant we've encountered is Mama's Fish House in Kuau (east of Paia on the north shore). Fresh local catch and imports (like Maine lobster) prepared almost any way you can imagine, you pick from a list of fish and a list of preparations. Their sauces are fantastic! Make reservations for weekend dinners and make sure you request an ocean view table if you go at sunset or lunch. Go early and stroll through the beach garden and watch the wind surfers "catch some air".  If you cannot obtain a restaurant reservation then enjoy the new bar/lounge area where the full menu is available. The atmosphere is casual but the service is top-notch. Stop on the way back from Hana.

    Cafe O Lei in Kihei also deserves a visit.  Great casual dining with an eclectic menu of seafood, local and Asian fare.

    (side note: Reviews and menus for many of Maui's restaurants can be found on the pages of the Maui Menus Online)


  8. May places claim to have "the best Mai-Tai on the island".   At one time, in our opinion,  the Tree House bar and grill located in the Lahaina Marketplace courtyard off of Front street held that title.  (The Tree House has been closed for years now.  A change in ownership was rumored. If they're open again and you stop in and try the Mai Tai let us know what you think about the drink and the cuisine).  Currently, our favorite mai-tai / happy hour / sunset spot is the Five Palms in located in Kihei.


  9. Check out the latitude of Hawaii on a map. Sun screen! Sun screen! Sun screen! Try not to let a burn ruin a good time in paradise. Be particularly aware of this if you are snorkeling or lying about on the exposed beaches or hiking the lava flows. Apply the sunscreen before you head to the beach.


  10. Beware the activity desk and booths located at your resort and on the streets. They may all offer discounts on the same activities but their prices vary greatly. These booths are all associated with different time-share condos so their subsides may vary along with the length of the real estate sales pitch which you must endure to receive the activity discounts. Shop around for the best activity deal if you plan on subjecting yourself to one of these operators.


  11. The beaches are all public (even the ones in front of luxury resorts and private homes) and there are lots of public accesses. Pack a picnic lunch and find your own slice of paradise. The beaches are bigger and less populated over towards East Maui. You can get absolute privacy on some beaches in Wailea or Makena.  A personal favorite is the combined 1.5 mile stretch of Keawakapu Beach / Mokapu Beach / Ulua Beach / Wailea Beach.  The beach is wide and soft.  The shore diving is good wit plenty of showers and near-by parking.  The surf is (generally) gentle.  The views of Molokini, Kao'olawe, Lana'i and west Maui across the channel are spectacular.

    Poipu Park Beach just south of Wailea (north of the Maui Prince Resort) is usually empty during the weekdays before noon. Big Beach (Makena State Park) is in Makena and offers a HUGE sand beach but nothing else. If you're feeling a little adventurous and naughty, climb over (or snorkel around) the lava ridge at the north end of Big Beach to Little Beach and get naked with the locals. Little beach is the unofficial "official" clothing optional beach on Maui. Little Beach is also a family place so you'll see all kinds of people there. (** Note: Hawaiian state law prohibits Nude sun bathing. But on the other hand they can't arrest everyone on the beach.)


  12. The most "happening" beach is Ka'anapali ("Dig Me") Beach located at the south end of the Ka'anapali hotel strip. The chances are your hotel is near here if you are honeymooning. Enter the beach at the Whalers Shopping Village for "the full effect" Unlike the State Park and "natural" beaches, lots of volleyball and water sport activities, lessons, and rentals can be found. As the name implies, this is where all the narcissistic buff dudes and hard-bodied babes come to tan, play, and be seen. I recommend a beach side table at the Hula Grill for afternoon drinks and pupus. Grab a seat, order a drink and enjoy the view!

    (Visit Maui Beaches or HawaiiWeb.com for a comprehensive list of beaches on The Valley Isle)


  13. The most radical wind surfing can be witnessed on the north east shore at Ho'okipa Park and Baldwin Park east of Kuau on the north east corner of Maui (see Mama's Fish House, above). The trade winds really pick-up in the fall and people come from all over the world to this park for the conditions.  Also check out the kite boarding at Baldwin Park beach in Kahului between the shipping harbor and the airport.


  14. Best hotel (in our humble opinion) is the Grand Wailea Resort. The pool has to be seen to be believed. Great Asian art. The courtyard bar has reasonably priced drinks and snacks. The restaurants (there were 4 or 5 when we last went) are all four-star and each features a different type of food and unique atmosphere.  We watched this place being constructed and witnessed "Disney" terra-forming at its best.  A brush and cactus filled desert hillside was transformed into a lush tropical oasis in a few years. Like most of the resorts in Hawaii, it is designed to perpetuate the ideal vision of paradise.  While nothing is real it is an exquisite illusion.

    On a related topic, Wailea is replacing Kaanapali as the "in place" for honeymooners. Most of the resorts there were constructed since 1989. All feature deluxe (read $250 per night and UP, "garden view") rooms, lots of "couples" activities on premises, and shuttles to Lahaina and Kaanapali. Wailea beaches are better than Kaanapali anyway.  The new Shops at Wailea offer an east Maui experience comparable to Whalers Village in Kaanapali


  15. The most affordable souvenirs can be found in the ABC stores littering the island. There are usually specials on macadamia nuts, Kona coffee, postcards, trinkets and the like. However, before buying a "genuine" Hawaiian trinket check the label. We found that most of the shells came from Florida and the trinkets were made in Taiwan.


  16. If you have not converted to digital then buy all of your film before going to Hawaii. A roll of Kodak Gold 24 exposure can go for $10. You can get five rolls for $12 at BJ's or Sam's Club.  If you have gone digital then purchase extra large capacity memory cards and a spare battery for your camera.  You do not want to miss a photo opportunity.


  17. If the humpbacks are there for the winter then make sure you spend some time watching them. They usually don't come closer than a 1/4 to 1/2 mile from shore. Whale watching boat trips are fun but don't guarantee any whales.  The Pacific Whale Foundation offers a variety of tours that are both educational and fun.  Consider early morning tours for the best water conditions. If you have a good pair of binoculars then we recommend a late afternoon / sunset picnic in Kamole Park #2 or #3 in Kihei. It's free and the many restaurants across the street have great drink specials for happy hour.


  18. Spend some time "up country". We've met so many people who go to Maui and never leave the resort areas. Up country is the area on the east Maui mountainside. Life is different there. Ranching and agiculture are the major occupations there. There are real cowboys in Makawau. There is a winery on the mountain high above Makena (Tedeschi Winery is the only winery on Maui). The summit road to Haleakala passes through open grazing field so watch for cattle, sheep and such.   While exploring up country, get off the beaten path and visit the Ali'i Kula Lavender Farm  above Kula.

    Again, if you feel adventurous, try the Maui Downhill experience. It combines the Haleakala sunrise (see #1 above) and a bicycle tour of the up country and Paia. A van picks you up at your hotel (really early in the morning) and you are driven to the Summit where you may watch the sunrise. You are then given a rain suit (see "fog" in #1) and a mountain bike. You and your group then coast (most of the way) down the volcano. I believe the breakfast stop is at Kula Lodge. The Downhill experience should take most of a day by the time you get back to the hotel.


  19. Atlantis Submarines now has an operation on Maui that operates from Lahaina. We've never done this (scuba divers rarely would) but we've heard great reviews from those who have taken the ride in this real submarine. If "real" submarines scare you then there is a fun and educational glass bottom boat tour of a reef aboard the "simulated" submarine "Seaview", also out of Lahaina.


  20. Cats. Lots of them. Maui has the largest population of stray cats that I have ever seen. If you stay at a place that has lots of cats around, resist the urge to "adopt" one (no matter how cute they are). Feeding them only makes them hang around more, much to the dismay of the hotel management.  There are several organizations on the island with active programs to help reduce the feral cat population. One program wothe noting (and supporting) is the feline Foundation of Maui.  They utilize TNR (trap, neuter and return) along with colony care to create smaller healty population of non-reproducing cats.


  21. Another picnic idea is a drive around the north side of the west Maui mountains from Kaanapali. This drive is much shorter and easier to navigate than the "Road to Hana" around the east Maui mountains. The drive runs through the forest and along some sheer ocean side cliffs with great views. There are some great snorkeling spots in the bays along this stretch so bring your gear.


  22. Speaking of the "Road to Hana" ... Hana is on the east coast of Maui. It is remote (by island standards) and has some fabulous black sand beaches and rain forest parks. If you are hikers then the trails there are a must do. However the only "Road to Hana" is the stuff of legends. It is a two-lane road (one in each direction) with over 50 single lane bridges (each direction shares one lane with alternating traffic - the courtesy system applies) and countless (100+) hairpin turns as it follows the shoreline and cliffs of east Maui. The posted speed limit is 20 - 25 MPH for most of the 40 mile drive (but it's difficult to exceed 15 before you have to slow for the next turn or bridge). There are great vistas of the sea and rain forest. Local artisans making things from items which grow in the rain forest (bowls, hats, leis, dolls, etc.) can be visited along the roadside. A number of cars parked where there is apparently nothing usually indicates a hidden waterfall or field of "Maui Wowee", Maui's #1 cash crop (sugar is #2), growing in the nearby forest. Kaenae village is worth a quick stop for it's ocean side vistas of crashing waves on the rocky shoreline and working taro and fruit farms on the peninsula. Another reason to visit Kaenae is the banana bread available from the roadside stand

    If you plan to go then leave early in the morning and plan to stay all day. Leave Hana at least 1.5 hours before sunset because the drive doesn't get any better in the dark. Many honeymooners have filed for divorce after taking this drive, so be patient - it is worth it. While all the rental car companies and the maps say that you can't drive around the east mountain - you can. But if you break down you are truly on your own. The views of "The Big Island" 40 miles across the channel are spectacular!  

    If your schedule permits then we recommend spending the evening or two in Hana.  There are many bed and breakfasts and inns that accommodate the overnight guest.  We can recommend Hana Hale Malamalama.  The Treehouse is an intimate experience for a couple.  The upper floor of the Royal Lodge is great for families.  A longer stay permits you to watch the sunrise on a black sand beach, do a little horseback riding and hike up the trail in Oheo Gulch within Haleakala National Park.


  23. We recommend Gallery Night (Fridays) for touring the many art galleries in and around Lahaina. The original art is beautiful and pricey but prints and less expensive lithos are often available. The artists are usually present at the galleries on this night. We love Wyland's art and he has three galleries there for budgets ranging from postcards to original murals.


  24. Only if you absolutely must have an over-priced souvenir or mediocre meal should you visit the Hard Rock or Planet Hollywood in Lahaina. 'Nuf said.


  25. If you are computer savvy and have access to the Worldwide Web then I offer this tip: Before traveling anywhere for vacation visit the associated sites on the web. In this case, set your browsers to "http://www.maui.net/" (The Maui Net) you will find listings of new activities, upcoming special events, deals on lodgings, the online version of the daily newspaper (The Maui News), and much more.


  26. There's plenty of nightlife on Maui but it's hard to find outside of Lahaina. The major resort hotels always have something going on. The local bars and clubs in Lahaina offer something for every age group and taste, so ask a local for preferences. Also pick up a copy of "This Week Maui", available in the brochure kiosks sprinkled around the airport or the Friday edition of the Maui News for fairly complete listings and discount coupons.


  27. Five words, "fresh-picked ground-ripened pineapple!"


  28. Beware the poi! It tastes worse than it looks (if that is at all possible).  Actually poi is kind of of tasteless like most staple starches.  A little salt, sugar, or other spice does improve the flavor.  Try taro chips (near potato chips on the grocery) to see what I mean.


  29. If you like unusual T-shirts then visit one of the Crazy Shirts located in shopping centers around the island.


  30. Some of the best golf courses in the world are on Maui. If you can get a reservation and pay the fees it should be a highly humbling experience. The Course at Kapalua is one of the toughest and most beautiful in the world.


  31. You will encounter lots of advertising for Tropical Gardens of Maui. Do not get sucked in! While the gardens do contain nicely arranged samples of most of the island's flora, the same flora can be found all over the island for free. The Gardens cater to the cruise ship trade who don't spend much time on the islands. Don't waste your time or money.


  32. Pack a picnic lunch and visit the Iao Valley's parks, temples and natural beauty. The valley is a lush rain forest park located on the north side of Maui's west mountains. The Iao Needle is not a "peak" to be climbed but it is a spire to admire.


  33. There are lots of tourism and guide books on the market and we have browsed through most of them.  Some are written for the true tourist and feature "commercial" places and activities.  Some are written with the eco-tourist in mind.  All have some bias.  Few contain negative reviews.  Of the more widely available books we can recommend the "Maui Revealed - The Ultimate Guidebook"  We find the reviews to be accurate and largely without bias.  If something is bad the review is bad. A great review should be added to your list of activities.


Finally Hawaii is exotic but it is America. Soak-up the local culture. Talk with the friendly natives and kamaaina when possible for suggestions and directions (above all - be respectful!).  Pack light because it's a casual place with moderate temperatures at sea level. There are lots of ATMs (on Maui), so you may wish to use them instead of traveler's checks.

We have always had pleasant experiences on Maui and hope that this is a great journey for you! "Hang loose!" Maui No Ka Oi (Maui is the best).

Enjoy and Aloha,

Brian and Stephany