Hanging Loose in Hawaii: Maui is Unparalleled
No Ka ’Oi – meaning the best or unparalleled – is what the residents say, when you ask them why they prefer Maui to the other seven Hawaiian Islands. And between you and me, I agree.
Maui has the perfect mix of white sandy beaches, palm trees, clear blue and turquoise water, rough volcanic landscape and rainforest as well as seaside towns with all the dining, drinking and shopping that complete your visit.
After a stop in metropolitan Honolulu on the Hawaiian island of Oahu, we head to Maui. So what is the story about this small Pacific island that everybody talks so fondly of? For a start, if you come to Hawaii to “Hang loose,” this is a good place to do it. Here, there is no rush. Everybody is on “island time” meaning time is not an issue.
On the other hand if you are an ambitious traveler like us, wanting to experience it all, you are going to need a lot of time or be very busy. Maui has a lot to offer.
Most people stay on the west coast of Maui in one of the seaside towns of Ka’anapali, Lahaina, Ma’alaea, Kihei, Wailea or Makena. Here you will find luxurious hotels, exclusive shopping and golf courses. Old Lahaina is probably the one with the most town-like feel to it.
In Ka’anapali you will find America’s first master-planned hotel resort from 1963, whereas in Makena you will find Maui’s last undeveloped large white-sand beach Big Beach – No Ka ’Oi.
Horseback ride down Haleakala
The Hawaiian Islands are all created from volcanoes rising up from the ocean floor. Maui consists of two volcanoes, the largest one being 10,023 foot-high Haleakala, which means house of the sun. There are many must-see places on Maui, but this has got to be number one.
The best time to see it is at sunrise. The best way to see it is up to you. You can drive up to the summit in a rental car and see the sun rise over the crater. It is a breathtaking sight. Get there early, because you will not be alone.
If you want to rough it a little, you can also take a helicopter ride, bike down or – my favorite – ride on horseback down the volcano. Pony Express Tours offers one of the only horseback rides in the world that goes into a dormant volcano.
Drive to Hana
My favorite day on Maui is the day we drive to Hana. Hana is a small town on the island’s east coast, and like with so many other things in life, it is the journey of getting there, not the destination, that makes it special.
Despite what the “I survived the road to Hana” T-shirts will make you think, driving to Hana along the north coast is no problem. The reason for the saying goes back to a time when the road was unpaved. Nowadays it is – although winding – as safe as any other road.
However it is not Hana you want to see, it is the drive. Stuck behind the wheel concentrating on the road, the turns, speeding locals and with no idea of what and where to look, you will most likely miss out on all the good stuff.
As much as I like exploring places on my own, this is the one time I am glad we go with a guide. No Ka ’Oi Adventures is a one-man company for the alternative traveler, and the owner Wade Holmes knows Maui and all its hidden gems like the back of his pocket. The places he takes us to are so secret he does not even want me to write about them.
Wade runs personalized tours according to one’s wishes and limitations. Being overly cocky in our white summer skirts and expensive Prada trainers we ask for adventure, and get it – unforgettable, dirty, wet and wonderful adventure – swimming below hidden waterfalls and in underwater caves, hiking through the rainforest, climbing cliffs and relaxing on a red-sand lava beach. And with degrees in zoology and ethnobotany, there is not a question about Hawaii and its plants and wildlife Wade cannot answer.
Hanging loose in Hawaii
If you literally want to “hang loose,” then go on a zipline tour above the lush green forest or a canopy adventure in the treetops at Piiholo Ranch in the cowboy town of Makawao. The beautiful views and the adrenaline from flying through the air sure put smiles on our faces.
Even if you are afraid of heights and want to challenge yourself, the friendly staff at the seven-generation family cattle ranch makes this a safe and fun experience for all, adults and kids, chickens and brave hearts.
“Just add water”
After seeing Maui on land, it is time to hit the waters surrounding the island. The marine wildlife is amazing here. Maui has a reputation of being one of the best places in the world to see humpback whales, but you can also spot other whales, dolphins, sharks and sea turtles.
You can go on a whale watching cruise, but to be honest with you there is no need. No matter what cruise you go on during whale season, from November till April, you will see whales. A good place to see them from land is Papawai Point Lookout between the towns of Lahaina and Ma’alaea. Allegedly you can also hear the whales simply by diving underwater at the beach.
We go with the oldest family-owned and -operated sailing company in Maui, Trilogy Excursions, on a morning snorkeling and diving cruise to the beautiful islet of Molokini, just off the coast of Maui.
The sunken volcanic crater is a bird sanctuary and marine preserve. The calm and safe caldera is one of the best places for underwater fun. Here you can see coral reefs and colorful fish.
Whether it is the warm homemade cinnamon buns for breakfast or the staff, who know all our names before we even sail out of Ma’alaea Harbor, the whole day has a warm ‘Ohana’ – family in Hawaiian – feeling to it. Our captain says: “We have everything. Just add water.”
On the way home, Trilogy’s vessel makes a lunch stop in Turtle Town. Needless to say this is where you can swim with the beloved Honu, the Green Sea Turtle.
Honu is an endangered species who actually do not like us much. So if you want to experience the turtles, be quiet and stay at a distance of about 10 feet, or they will simply flee into the depths of the ocean.
Get the royal treatment
Another must-do cruise while visiting Maui is a sunset dinner cruise – the ultimate romantic and enjoyable evening. Hawaii is the only state in the US which was once a kingdom with its own royal family and monarch. So what better place than Hawaii to get the royal treatment?
Alii Nui means highest of royalty in Hawaiian, and with homemade food, homegrown fruit and vegetables from the family farm, colorful cocktails and spectacular sunset views onboard a luxury sailing catamaran, we feel like queens for a night.
And that feeling can be quite addictive. So on our last night in Maui we go for a traditional hula feast at Old Lahaina Lu’au. Today the hula is merely entertainment, but it used to be a religious ritual performed as worship of the Hawaiian Gods and only in front of the royalty.
Originally Hawaiian was only a spoken language, so the way history was brought down was through narration and chanting, which is what you will experience at a hula.
Old Lahaina Lu’au is located in the town of Lahaina facing the sea – adding a beautiful sunset to our evening. Upon arrival we are greeted with leis, wreaths of flowers, traditionally given as a symbol of affection.
Hawaii is quite a melting pot of Polynesian cultures and mainland immigrants, but the owners have tried to keep the hula feast as authentic as possible. Thus all 160 employees serving the 440 guests are native Hawaiians.
The local kitchen is often a very interesting fusion cuisine, but at the hula they also serve traditional dishes like Ahi Poke, Poi, Laulau and Kalua Pua’a. Aloha!
The trip to Maui was conducted with the assistance of Maui Visitors and Convention Bureau. For more information about Maui go to: gohawaii.com/maui
Getting to Maui:
Hawaiian Air hawaiianair.com
Top things to do on Maui:
Connie Maria Westergaard is a freelance travel writer living in Denmark.
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