Five incredible adventures you can have nowhere but in Maui, Hawaii.
By Shelley Seale
Known as the Valley Isle, the Hawaiian island of Maui is an island-lover’s dream: pristine beaches with jaw-dropping backdrops, charming towns full of surfers and artists, and a diverse array of adventures. We rounded up our picks for the top five experiences that can’t be had anywhere else.
1. The Road to Hana
An epic road trip, this route is a must when visiting Maui. More than 50 miles of winding two-lane highway—often merging into just one lane when it crosses the island’s 54 bridges—and 600-plus hairpin curves hug Maui’s North Shore, connecting Kahului with the town of Hana.
The journey begins just outside Pā’ia, at the intersection of Hana Highway 36 and Baldwin Avenue. You’ll want to be sure to fill up with gas, as this is the last place to do so before reaching Hana. While the actual driving takes about three hours, you’ll want to allow much longer in order to take in the wonderful sights and ocean vistas along the way that make this one of the best drives in the world.
The route passes a number of stunning waterfalls, including Twin Falls, Upper Waikani Falls and Wailua Falls. The overlook points are a must, especially since the entire drive is essentially a series of jaw- dropping moments, but the sharp curves and lack of road shoulder make it impossible (and dangerous) to pull over most of the way. The Ho’okipa Lookout is one of the best, along with Wailua Valley State Wayside, where a climb up the stairs to the viewing platform affords amazing views to the village and taro fields below, all set against the backdrop of the deep-blue water of the Pacific Ocean.
What a coastline it is. For one of the best—and most fascinating— beaches in Maui, check out Wai‘ānapanapa State Park. The 122-acre park has a black-sand beach, tide pools, seabird colonies, lava tubes, blow- holes, freshwater caves to explore and a natural stone arch.
Maui’s explosive past is on full display at the Ke‘anae Peninsula. Stretches of green fields are stopped in their tracks against a black, jagged shore of lava rocks, a lasting reminder of the incredible lava flow from Haleakalā Crater that created this peninsula. It’s also a great place for a snack break at Aunty Sandy’s stand, where the shave ice and banana bread are legendary. Or choose Coconut Glen’s, an iconic ice-cream stand serving delicious non-dairy, vegan ice cream made with coconut milk.
2. Throw-Net Fishing
The road, of course, leads to Hana, one of the most isolated communities in the state. The locals proudly proclaim it the “most Hawaiian” place on Maui, and it certainly has a slower and less touristy lifestyle than anywhere else on the island. Everyone here knows each other, and it’s the place to come if you want to experience the traditional Hawaiian way of living.
One way to do that here is to witness and even try your hand at the local art of fishing by throw-net. It’s a technique—more of an art, really—that has been passed down through generations for centuries.
Local fishermen such as Naihe Akoi and Kini Oliveira happily teach anyone who wants to learn this unique way of catching fish by skillfully throwing out a circular net ringed by small weights. Setting up the net to throw-gathered just so, with one part over the shoulder and the other across the knee—takes a lot of practice, but visitors who go fishing with Akoi and Oliveira are welcome to learn and practice, or simply tag along and watch their exceptional talent at this.
“We live off the land, for the most part,” Akoi says. “Food you catch and grow yourself is better than anything you can buy in a restaurant or market.”
Ala Kukui, a small cultural retreat in Hana, is one place that can set up such an experience.
3. Exploring the Water of Kanaio Coast
Anywhere there are islands and ocean waters, there are often vibrant coral reefs that make for excellent snorkeling and scuba diving. But no place is quite like the Kanaio Coast of South Maui, where the last volcanic eruption here owed about 220 years ago. This rugged part of the coastline, full of lava arches and sea caves, is not accessible by car. Only a few hike the lava rocks, and the area provides a variety of remote, exotic snorkel and dive sites accessible only by boat. This is the place to explore a rarely seen part of Maui, with its volcanic formations, caves and blowholes, along with the stunning variety of tropical sh found in the pristine coral reefs, spinner dolphins and green sea turtles.
Set out with an experienced, reputable operator, such as Blue Water Rafting, which takes people out on a Zodiac-style raft that speeds along the waves for an aquatic roller-coaster ride. After checking out the crashing of the sea against the lava formations (and a few celebrity-owned homes in this out-of-reach spot), the Blue Water Kanaio adventure makes two snorkeling stops at exquisite reefs known for their abundance of sh, eels and turtles.
4. Horseback Riding
When most people think of Hawaii, the first images that come to mind are usually the beaches and stunning coastline, but you shouldn’t overlook the lush mountains and highlands that are as much a part of the islands as the ocean.
Taking a horseback ride along mountain trails offers a way to see a side of Maui that is unlike much of the scenery you’ll find doing other activities. Piiholo Ranch near Lahaina is the perfect place for horseback riding. The ranch has been in the Baldwin family for seven generations and is located in Maui’s Upcountry at the edge of the rainforest, 2,000 feet above the Pacific Ocean.
With plenty of wide-open ranges for horseback riding and panoramic views over the mountain range to the ocean—and sometimes of neighboring island Lanai—the Baldwins’ legacy trail makes for a fascinating Hawaiian “paniolo” cowboy adventure. After a beautiful ride through the forest and pasture land, a picnic lunch is served at the ranch’s hilltop cabin before the horses return to the stables.
5. Upcountry Farm Tour
The fertile slopes of Upcountry Maui are home to ranches, botanical gardens and farms, which offer another only-in-Maui way to experience the island’s off-the- water treasures.
Located on the high elevations around Haleakalā, most of Upcountry enjoys soaring views over the misty mountains, where cool breezes are a refreshing change from sea level.
A variety of makers have farms or property open to the public, often for tours and tastings. You can visit them on your own or make a day of it with a service such as Maui Country Farm Tours. Guided by Marilyn Jansen Lopes, who owns the business with her husband, this tour is a great way to see a variety of Upcountry places on one easy itinerary.
Ocean Vodka Organic Farm and Distillery is one such stop, and guests can tour the state-of-the-art vodka distillery that uses sugar cane organically farmed from the rich, volcanic soil. After the tour, sample some of the popular vodka goat- cheese truffles.
If you’re more of a wine person, you’ll enjoy Maui Wine at Ulupalakua Vineyards, the island’s only wine producer, open since 1974. Built around historic buildings from the original ranch, the winery is just down the road from the vineyard, which encompasses 23 acres of gorgeous countryside.
One favorite stop is the Ali’i Kula Lavender Farm, with 13.5 acres of dazzling tropical gardens that are a tranquil oasis. At an elevation of roughly 4,000 feet, Ali’i Kula is home to approximately 55,000 lavender plants of 45 different varieties, as well as a diverse array of other flora, such as olive trees, hydrangea, protea and succulents.
If you really want an adrenaline-fueled adventure with only-in-Maui vistas, arrange to paraglide right over the lavender farm. Launching from 6,500 feet above sea level, you’ll soar over the slopes of Haleakalā like an eagle.