By Sara Benson – Check out her custom guide for more tips and recommendations!
Maui’s cloud forests, cliffside waterfalls, tropical botanical gardens, and rainbow-colored native birds call out to anyone who loves being outdoors, Polynesian-style. Whether you’re camping by the beach, spotting whales on a catamaran cruise, or catching sunrise atop a volcano, living local-style and going green on Maui, even just for a few days, can turn any trip to Hawaii into a life-long addiction.
Food: Fueling Up for Adventure
While most visitors head straight from the airport to their hotel or condo, you’re probably starving after getting off the plane, right? Make a pit stop at Kahului’s Da Kitchen to fill your belly with island-style fusion, like heart-stopping loco moco (fried rice topped with eggs, meat, onions and gravy) or a slow-cooked Hawaiian kalua pig plate lunch.
In the nearby surf town of Paia, the Flatbread Company’s wood oven-fired pizzas are topped with locally grown, organic produce and free-range meats. A few doors down, Ono Gelato Company crafts homemade flavors like POG (passion fruit/orange/guava) and macadamia-nut crunch. Outside town by Hookipa Beach, Mama’s Fish House serves seafood so fresh that the menu tells you exactly who caught the fish and where that morning. For less coin, but just as much of a commitment to locally sourced ingredients, drop by casual Colleen’s restaurant at the Cannery Marketplace in Haiku. Fresh island fish also features on the daily-changing menu, along with organic green salads from Maui’s Upcountry farms.
Haleakala National Park, Hana & Beyond
As you drive from sea level to the summit of Haleakala National Park, it may feel like you’re heading into what Hawaiian legends call the “House of the Sun.” Pitch a tent in the grassy meadow at rainy Hosmer Grove, or reserve ahead for one of the 1930s-era wilderness cabins inside the volcano itself. Sunrise from the summit is what most people come for, but stick around afterward to go hiking down the steep Sliding Sands Trail or the gentler, switchbacking Halemauu Trail, either about an 8-mile round-trip into the volcano’s rainbow-colored cinder cone wonderland.
After backtracking to Paia, cruise the waterfall-strewn, winding Hana Highway, with its jungle-esque scenery and dozens of narrow one-lane bridges. Pull over for gushing cascades and pools, then detour down Ulaino Rd to visit Kahanu Garden, protecting tropical flora and the island’s biggest heiau (temple) ruins. Waianapanapa State Park is another leg-stretcher break before Hana, where you can hike above black-sand beaches with limitless ocean horizons. Join local families camping out, or reserve ahead for a rustic cabin above the rocky shoreline.
About 10 miles beyond Hana, at last you’ll reach Kipahulu, home to Oheo Gulch, a series of waterfall pools that tumble down into the ocean inside Haleakala National Park. After a dip, take a meditative hike along the Pipiwai Trail, which climbs through a Zen-like bamboo forest to waterfall views, then camp for free back below on ocean bluffs. To see ancient Hawaiian ways being preserved, take a tour of the Kipahulu Ohana’s Kapahu Living Farm, which raises wetland taro in the traditional way.
From Kipahulu, the highway (partly paved, sometimes requiring 4WD) runs around the back side of Haleakala volcano past Kaupo, eventually winding through Maui’s Upcountry, where paniolo (cowboys) still ride the range on horseback.
West Maui Away from the Crowds
Lahaina, the busiest town in West Maui, was once a raucous whaling port and a royal Hawaiian court. After a morning of poking around the town’s historical sites, get out on the water at Maalaea Bay. The Pacific Whale Foundation offers whale-watching boat tours from mid-November until mid-May, when migratory humpback whales give birth and wallow in the warm waters of the Hawaiian Islands Humpback Whale National Marine Sanctuary just offshore. Or stay dry on the boardwalk at nearby Kealia Pond National Wildlife Refuge, a haven for water birds.
You can camp cheaply at county-run Papalaua Beach Park, north of Maalaea Bay, or at private Camp Olowalu, which is more secure and also offers A-frame beach cabins, with snorkeling spots and hiking trails nearby. With all the cash you’ve saved by roughing it, feast at Mala Ocean Tavern, a locals’ joint down by the waterfront in Lahaina, where friends divvy up tapas plates of tropical ceviche, Maui-grown farm-fresh salads and whole wok-fried fish with Molokai sweet potatoes on the side.
The next day, work off your meal at the Kapalua Resort: catch a free shuttle up to the hidden Maunalei Arboretum, also the start of a satisfying summit-to-sea trek. Or drive to the beach at Honolua Bay, an all-natural aquarium for snorkeling in summer when the waters are calm. Natural ocean baths and lava blowholes line the action-packed Kahekili Highway, a scenic drive around the forgotten back side of West Maui. Before arriving back in Kahului, stop to hike Waihee Ridge, where you can race up to a viewpoint looking deep into the wild, untamed West Maui Mountains.
But Wait, There’s More!
Planning a trip to Maui soon? Join the party at the East Maui Taro Festival in and around Hana on April 21, the Maui Onion Festival at Kaanapali Beach on May 5 or the Kapalua Wine & Food Festival from June 8-10, 2012.
Check back soon for the third blog post in Sara Benson’s series on local and eco-travel in Hawaii. Next up: Kauai on Travel Tuesday, April 24.