Maui Off the Beaten Path
Maui Off the Beaten Path
Maui’s warming sun, fine beaches, extravagant skies, tropical forests, and towering volcanoes live up to their legendary status in every way. Finding the soul of the Valley Isle, however, requires some savvy. It’s not necessarily in big-ticket resorts or restaurants; for amenities and a quarter-mile of white sand, there are less expensive places to go. The real fruits of Maui—a profoundly laid-back vibe, great food, and world-class hiking and snorkeling—are well worth the effort.
Fundamental to Maui and all of the Hawaiian Islands is that by law, all beaches are public, regardless of land ownership. This means anyone can enjoy the pristine swimming beaches of the five-star hotels the same as their patrons. Public access to the shoreline (getting down to the beach) is a more contentious issue, and has become increasingly compromised in recent years. In many places public access remains good, for now, and even in the heart of fancy Wailea there is beachfront parking, beach showers, bathrooms, and barbeques.
Maui is a small island. Aside from the narrow roads and bridges on the Road to Hana, most things are within an hour’s drive, making it easy to zip around from one locale to another. Roll down the windows, turn up the classic Hawaiian tunes, and admire the abounding beauty as you pass.
Maui’s ease of movement means that although the resorts in Wailea, Kihei, and Kaanapali truly are wonderful, there are other places worth exploring. The sugar plantation town of Paia, located on the north shore at the start of the Hana Highway, is likeable, quaint, and offers a taste of old Maui. Paia isn’t as dusty as it once was with a handful of newish yoga studios and galleries, but by Maui standards it is off the beaten path.
Regardless of location, the essence of Maui is in the pristine coastline, mountains, and greenery. Nothing is more fun or easier than snorkeling, which, aside from renting or buying snorkel gear, is free. A classic snorkel spot is south of Wailea in the Ahihi Kinau Reserve, and the more challenging La Perouse Bay is just down the road. The Molokini crater has good snorkeling and top-notch diving, and the boat ride to it also provides a nice opportunity to see the islands from a different perspective. Trips that stop at Turtle Arches on the way back often see Hawaiian green sea turtles, and in clear conditions the snorkeling there can top that at the crater.
The Road to Hana, the 42-mile stretch along the island’s northeastern coastline, is a must-see on any trip to Maui. The road is slow and full of curves but makes its way through the heart of some of Hawaii’s most spellbinding scenery. Travelers to Maui should consider staying in Hana to enjoy the beauty and seclusion of this corner of the island long after the crowds have departed.
There are myriad ways to get out and explore Maui. The hiking trails vary from easy strolls off the Road to Hana to a multi-day jaunt down the face of the Haleakala Volcano all the way to the ocean (Kaupo Gap). Ho’okipa Beach Park, three miles east of Paia, is the premier windsurfing site in the world and a terrific public beach. Visiting Maui is in many ways about rejuvenation, but this need not equate to staying put.