If you're intrigued about the Hawaiian islands and love travel in temperate and tropical climates read on. This blog post will cover some of the lesser known things to do on the Hawaiian island of Maui, as well as some insider tips on best beaches, great scenery, good food and of course where to find sea glass.
We've been to Maui three times now and have tried different things on different trips so what I mention in this blog post is based on these combined experiences.
We stayed in a timeshare resort for majority of the time in Ka'anapali but we did have a couple of nights in the Kehei and Wailea areas. A lot of the beaches and snorkeling areas that I'll recommend are located in these areas.
One incredibly useful book that we had was "Maui Revealed" by Andrew Doughty. He also gives exact mile marker locations for different points of interest. It's definitely worth purchasing as he has reviews on tours, eating out etc. and it's very comprehensive.
This is the view from our balcony or lanai looking towards Molokai'i at sunset.
Without a doubt, the activity that our family enjoys the most when we travel to Maui is snorkeling. We all have our own equipment which includes flippers/swim fins, mask and snorkel. My husband invested in a mask with the same prescription as his glasses. This means that he can see details on things further away, so these were really worthwhile.
We are all fairly strong swimmers, so we head to the edge of bays or even swim across them observing all the cool marine life that we can possibly see. (You can rent snorkel gear from a variety of dive shops too), Snorkel Bob's is a good one.
Best west Maui diving/snorkeling beaches:
- Kapalua Bay (also great resort beach, and kid friendly), public parking available but go early to get parking, otherwise there's a bit of roadside parking. This beach is also a lovely one to be at all day and they also have paddleboarding.
- Black Rock Beach, Ka'anapali (great resort beach and kid friendly), public parking available but not plentiful, you can pay and park at Whaler's Village too. It's also a great place to paddle board or just spend a day on the beach.
- Honolua Bay (even catamaran cruises with snorkelers come here, and it's definitely not a resort beach as it has a rocky water access), limited parking but you can also park alongside the road.
- Ahihi-Kinau Natural Area Reserve (South Maui) has the most incredible number of yellow tang fishes we've ever seen in one area, A couple of the underwater lava flows provide protection for the little fish and corals too. We also saw an octopus here which was incredible to watch. This beach is quite rocky and entrance into the water is a small spot of sand on the beach. There's a large parking lot.
Oval Butterfly fish always seem to be in pairs
At all of these beaches and bays you will see incredible tropical fish as soon as you enter the water. Depending on the beach, you will also find corals etc. that the fish live and feed on. (word of caution here, don't touch the corals as it can damage them, but more importantly, they contain bacteria that if you have an open wound or you get a graze from them, you can end up having quite an infection.
You may be lucky enough to see and swim with a green sea turtle too, but one should keep your distance from them as they are a protected species. While snorkeling we've even seen a barracuda, small sharks and an octopus. It's really worth investing in a good underwater camera or consider renting one from a dive shop or a resort. It will be really worth your while to get some good quality underwater photos. One final tip with snorkeling, it's smart to go with a buddy and keep an eye on each other as you explore and enjoy the plentiful marine life.
Sometimes the turtles even come up and sun themselves on the beach.
- Snorkel Trip to Molokini and TurtleTown - we did this trip with Calypso Cruises, one of the bigger cruise companies on the Island to Molokini. It was incredibly well run, the staff on board were all friendly and very professional and they also had equipment you could rent like cameras, snuba etc. We left out of Ma'alaea harbor and the whole trip took at least 5 hours. The added plus about snorkeling in Molokini crater is that the water clarity is incredible because it's protected by the crescent shape of the volcano crater. Our stop off in Turtle Town (near Makena Beach) also gave us great turtle viewing as these majestic creatures glided by. If you do this trip anytime from November to March you also have the chance of seeing humpback whales.
Our family is rather fair skinned, so we try to mix in our sun days with day trips and less beach time. You will also be amazed at the diversity of scenery when you do some day trips around Maui. There are definite wet and dry sides to Maui which is mostly related to mountains/volcanoes and where the rain comes in from (mostly the east).
We did three separate day trips on this particular trip to Maui.
- Round trip of perimeter of West Maui (took all day) on the Kahekili Highway You do not need a 4-wheel drive vehicle for this, but you do have to have nerves of steel as there are some very windy parts with narrow roads and hair pin bends after the Nahalele Blow Hole. Make sure you stop off at various artist's studios along the way. There are at least two really good ones.
Nahalele Blow Hole with surf surge spouting through the blow hole
Kahakuloa Bay with it's dramatic Head and bay. This is definitely not the touristy part of the island.
- Reverse round trip of Road to Hana. (Most trips start off in Kahului, going clock wise they make their way on the north side and end in Hana or at the Seven Sacred Pools) and then return the way they came. Because we are non conformists and partly because we had a 4-wheel drive rental, we decided to do the Hana trip from South Maui going counter clock wise and ending up at Kahului. We stopped at a few spots along the way and just enjoyed the wilder side of Maui including some pretty dry scenery. Word of caution, don't do this trip if you don't like driving on dirt roads or if you don't like very narrow and windy roads.
If you have any aviation or history buffs in the family (we do!) make sure you stop off at Charles Lindbergh's grave site at Palapala Ho'omau Church. It is 8 miles south of Hana and you really have to look out for the sign.
Also sample some banana bread from any of the roadside spots, it'll be delish. Make sure you look out for the Rainbow Eucalyptus Trees (mile marker 7 on the Road to Hana) that are in a grove. They are very Instagrammable. Along the way back to Kahului, look out for the Pipiwai Trail which meanders through the giant bamboo forest.
I bet you never thought that this would be a scene from Maui
Possibly Mokulao, either way it was a very cool beach with lots of black lava rocks that rumbled when the waves rolled in.
Now this is a very East Maui scene and you can see how this is the wetter side of the island. We stopped for a picnic lunch here, I think it was Hamoa Beach.
We didn't do the Seven Sacred Pools on this trip as they were closed for some reason. They are worth stopping in at and especially swimming in. Some of our family chose instead to head to this beach and to jump off a rock into the bay.
Waianapanapa Black Sand Beach where the other members of our family jumped off the rock (those tiny bodies are them). This beach is most unusual (off to the left) because of it's totally black sand. There is also a lava tube you can walk into which is very intriguing.
- Polipoli State Park which is on the foothills of Haleakala. Because we had the 4-wheel drive rental which had lots of clearance, we decided to head to this state park one afternoon for a hike. The road wound up through Kula and past small farms, including a lavender farm. After some tight curves and not the best dirt roads we arrived at Polopoli State Park. We enjoyed a couple of miles hiking in the Kula Forest where it felt almost as if we were in our home state of Washington. The mist was swirling all around us and it was a chill temperature of 49 F.
View on our return from Polipoli looking towards Kihei and West Maui. Molokai is is in the distance.
Haleakala Crater Hike
- Haleakala Sunrise and Crater Hike. This trip is well worth the early start and you have to book it through the National Park Service at https://www.recreation.gov. This is because it's so popular for visitors and it's a way to help control the numbers. Be forewarned though that it's very cold while you wait for sunrise. Don't bother with your beach clothes here, it's more like you'll need a down jacket. After the sunrise we headed for a hike into the crater which was other worldly and at this stage we stripped down to t-shirts. Even though we were relatively fit when we did this hike, the elevation of the mountain's 10,000 feet has quite an effect on your oxygen and energy levels.
Other great things to do
- Go whale watching with Pacwhale Eco-Adventures. The tour guides on the boat are certified marine naturalists and they really know their stuff about whales. Whale season is November to March when the humpback whales come in from colder northern waters to calve in the tropical waters of the Hawaiian islands.
- Go ziplining or rappelling in a waterfall.
- horseriding is offered by various tours, but if you want to avoid the effects of elevation as you exercise on Haleakala, then horseback seems like a great option.
- Visit the little towns of Paia, Makawao and Lahaina. Each has it's own charm.
Sea glass hunting beaches
I make jewelry in various forms, mainly pebbles, china and sea glass. I am always on the look out for sea glass whenever we travel to beaches.. I think my husband tries to be patient with me when I always angle to head to beaches that just might have sea glass at when we are on vacation. Thankfully both of our daughters are pretty willing to help hunt for sea glass too.
Here's one of my hand made sterling silver and sea foam colored sea glass pendants
I had success at the following beaches looking for sea glass.
- D.T. Fleming State Park. This is a lovely beach for beach combing along. There's not a massive amount of sea glass, but I did find one of my best pieces of the trip at this beach. It's also a great beach to spend the day at and there is some great body surfing and boogie boarding potential.. There's lots of parking.
- Napili Bay. This beach is best to go to at low tide as when the tide is in, there is no beach left. My daughter did what she called "extreme beachcombing" for me here. (I was still recovering from a broken leg and couldn't move very fast). She would head to the ebbing water, quickly look for sea glass and then run when a wave came in. The waves on this day were rather large dumpers. The pieces of sea glass are fairly thin and not very well worn here, but some lovely whites, browns and green were collected by her. Parking is a challenge.
- Lahaina downtown. Definitely go at low tide here and be prepared to get wet. You are looking for the section on Front Street where there is a rock wall. There aren't huge waves here (there is a sea wall) but as the tide comes it's worth being in your swim suit. Collect handfuls of pebbles, broken shells and sea glass between waves. It's worth having a small bucket to do this with. If you have a collecting buddy, dump the collections higher up and have that person sort through and separate out the good pieces while you go and get wet getting your next bucket load. Public parking is available in various parts of the town.
- I believe there are beaches on the North Shore of Maui that have good sea glass, but we didn't visit there.
This is an accumulation of sea glass from various Maui beaches as mentioned above
Isn't that rare yellow piece just delish?
Places to eat
We are not big on eating out and also since we were in a timeshare with a kitchen we did prepare a lot of our own meals. There are a couple of places that you shouldn't miss out on though.
- Geste Shrimp Truck, 111 Kahului Beach Road, Kahului. If you Google them, they have incredible reviews and yes, the shrimp are incredible. The locals pick up their meals here which says a lot!
- Ululani's Shave Ice, 790 Front Street Lahaina. Don't make the mistake that we did and think that shave ice is ice with flavor. It's ice cream underneath with shaved ice on top with various flavor options on the shaved ice. It's sort of an ice cream that becomes a milk shake as the ice cream gets the flavor of the syrups as it melts. Have one after doing your sea glass hunting in Lahaina as a reward for getting so wet. While in Lahaina visit all the stores and art galleries and see the Giant Banyan Tree too.
- Gazebo Restaurant in Napili. This place always has a line, but their meals are very generous and for Maui, quite reasonable, and at least someone in your group should have the banana macadamia pancakes. I saw a couple of regular breakfasts and they all looked good. Our entire family ate the pancakes.
Yup, they were as delicious as they looked and that cream was super creamy.
Don't forget to stop off at the roadside fruit stands. You can have fresh coconut here as well and try some local fruits, like guavas, star fruit, lilikoi, papayas, pineapples, apple-bananas (smaller very flavorful bananas) bread fruit, lychees and rambutan.
Rambutans are delish and are like lychees Starfruit are also yummy and rather like a crunchy watermelon in texture, but not taste.
Nature's Beauty in Maui
I love flowers of all sorts. It's one of the reasons I make jewelry out of upcycled china that often has floral designs. You can see some of these here.. I also have a tendency to take photos of flowers a lot so here are some of the ones I took photos of on this trip.
Gorgeous pink hibiscus
Detail of Plumeria flower.
The subtle pastel colors of Plumeria are as gorgeous as its fragrance.
Vibrant Ginger flower
I hope that you've enjoyed this post and that I've inspired you to at least put the island of Maui on your bucket list.. If you've enjoyed some of my photos here, make sure you follow me on Instagram as I'll have even more photos from this trip as well as some of the jewelry that I made from the sea glass that I found on Maui. I'm @andiclarkejewelry on Instagram.