OUR GUIDE TO SOME OF MAUI'S BEST ACTIVITIES

Activities on Maui

HOUSE OF THE SUN

Aside from having some of the best beaches in all the Hawaiian Islands, Maui is an explorer’s paradise, with so many great activities to enjoy that it’s possible to do something extraordinary every day. We’re live and local on Maui, and we’re passionate about the island and the lifestyle: following is a list of our staff’s favorite spots and activities. 

The easiest place to start the list is at the top – the top of the mountain, that is! The banner image is a truly average example of the beauty that is the Haleakala Sunrise. Haleakala means “House of the Sun” and traveling from South Maui to Red Hill, Haleakala is about a 2-hour drive. You will need a reservation available through the Recreation.gov and be prepared for inclement weather when you go. While it is always summer in South Maui, the weather above 10,000 feet is another story. Temperatures in the 40’s and winds will ruin your experience if you are not prepared. Dress warmly or in layers. Bring water, sunscreen, and wear sturdy shoes. And don’t forget your camera!  

SHORE SNORKELING

Indulging in one of Maui’s many boat tours, whether a basic cruise or an elaborate snorkel adventure, is highly recommended – but you don’t have to leave the shoreline to experience a world-class snorkeling outing. Much of Maui’s magic lies below sea level: clear, warm, extra-buoyant water makes the island a dream destination for snorkelers and a great place to learn.

A few dollars to rent a snorkel set is your ticket to a vast, brilliantly colored undersea world that brings to mind an aquarium, times a thousand. The reef life is astonishing in its variety and beauty, even in surprisingly shallow water. You don’t have to stray far from the reef for this ever-changing show, and many of the best spots are very close to shore.

Rent a snorkel set from a local shop or kiosk – don’t buy or bring one, unless you’re experienced and know your gear. The good shops make sure you have a good mask fit, which will make or break your whole adventure. Weekly rental is best, as it enables spur of the moment adventure.

It’s highly likely that you will be treated the sight of one or more of Maui’s graceful “Honu” (sea turtle), one of the most graceful of the reef inhabitants. Pleas keep your distance and do not approach or touch them: not only is it unwelcome island etiquette frowned upon by the locals, but it is against the law and could result in a hefty fine. Likewise, please do not feed the fish: both of these actions have the potential to disturb natural behavior patterns and can impact the amount of sea life on the reef.

The following four locations are among our favorites, and on calm days, there’s a high likelihood of a great underwater show. (On some days, the fish may have different ideas). There are dozens more and everyone here has their favorites – ask around and explore!

The Kamaole Beaches
Go to the beach and bring your snorkeling gear: the Kamaole Beaches are all framed by lava outcroppings, and there is colorful reef below. Each has its particular flavor: on some days, Kamaole III seems like Turtle Happy Hour as they munch the algae off the rocks. Kamaole I and II are on and off, but always great to explore. 

Keawakapu Beach
This go-to destination almost always delights, with a moving parade of incredible creatures of all manner cruising a large and well-populated reef. In addition to the expected array of stunning fish, we’ve seen eel, lots of turtles, and the occasional Manta Ray. In 15 years of relatively consistent snorkeling this great spot, we’ve seen exactly one shark – a white-tipped reef shark, which lived up to the breed’s reputation for calm, unobtrusive curiosity. Several entrances, but the most convenient is the gravel parking lot located next door (south, toward Wailea) from the 5 Palms Restaurant entrance. More parking on S. Kihei Rd. and Kilohana Dr.

Ulua Beach
Right off the Wailea Beach path, Ulua Beach and its neighboring Mokapu Beach (separated by a finger of lava rock) feature excellent, clear-water snorkeling that’s well suited to all levels of experience. Calm days often reveal a seemingly endless reel of beautiful aquarium-level fish, against a brilliant blue backdrop. Parking makes it super convenient when it’s available – there’s a small sign on Wailea Alanui Rd.

Ahihi Bay (Advanced)
Some say it’s not what it once was before frenzied Wailea/Makena development and runoff to the reef, but Ahihi Bay still brings the magic that only a designated Marine Preserve can offer: relaxed, accessible marine life, much of which has grown to full scale without the looming presence of human predators. You’ll see some species that have vanished at unregulated reef (and not so coincidentally appeared in record numbers in captivity -- thanks to the aquarium fish trade). Bring foot protection for the walk in from the parking lot above the site. Access by the wall, on the road. Moving over the rocks to get submerged can be awkward, but the payoff is worth it.

WHALE WATCHING

Groceries, gas, and real estate is expensive on Maui by most standards – but much of the island’s entertainment is free. Experiencing the island and its many sensory pleasures is the core of many an amazing Maui vacation. With the winter comes one of the star attractions of this array – watching the Humpback Whales. There’s no predicting where they’ll choose to show off their aerial acrobatics – pick a beach, and grab the binoculars.

You may get lucky and see these two-ton creatures, as large as a bus, at incredibly close range – or you may see spouts and big splashes in the distance. The whales migrate 2500 miles from Alaska every year to breed and birth. Competing males provide the drama, and the shows are often breathtaking. Mama whales shelter their calves, who do their best to copy the launching (breaching) and splashing moves.
When you see whales, grab a snorkel and submerge: you can clearly hear whale song, in its eerie beauty, sometimes from long distances.

There are ways to increase your chances of seeing these mellow, magnificent creatures at close range. A whale cruise is the surest way for a close encounter. Or, rent a kayak or paddleboards and cruise out a hundred yards and scan the horizon for spouts and spray. A relaxed board or kayak paddle is highly recommended if you’re even marginally fit. Don’t go if the wind’s blowing, go early, and be mindful of the prevailing afternoon trade winds that can make for a miserable return to shore.

STAND UP PADDLE BOARDING

Most south Maui mornings are sublime, with brilliant sunshine breaking through the clouds, a flat surface with visibility to the coral, and water temperatures sitting somewhere between refreshing and bath water. That makes for an ideal SUP playground suited to all, from beginner to distance adventurer. You can cover a lot of water (and shoreline) on these agile boards, and see a lot.
Rental boards are generally massive, easy to maneuver, and fall-resistant (but not fall-proof). Getting a good splash now and then is part of the fun, especially during the learning curve. There are plenty of rental options across the street from the Kamaole beaches. Mark’s Surf Spot on the beach next to the Mana Kai Resort, near the 5 Palms Restaurant, eliminates the need to slog these unwieldy boards around (you pay slightly more).
Experienced SUP’ers will find more riding options (including wave riding) on the beach highway headed to Lahaina.

SURFING

A gentle, warm-water cove located practically in the center of South Kihei makes it convenient to experience the thrill of gliding across a wave, and rental operations with excellent local instructors make sure that just about anyone succeeds in standing up and riding a wave or two.

South Kihei’s “Cove” is a protected inlet with a natural reef break, with mostly small to moderate waves. On most days dozens of student surfers trade positions in a sometimes-chaotic lineup that works despite its sometimes-intimidating crowd of beginners. Instructors are trained to keep things safe and mellow and make sure that everyone has their best chance at experiencing the sport, and they’re very good at it. From grade schooler to Granny, almost anyone can learn to surf here.

The Cove is located by Kalama Park, to the north of Charlie Young Beach. Get all-inclusive lessons or rent a board at one of several trucks the parking lot, or across the street at Maui WaveRiders. Check conditions before going out: you won’t have as much fun if the wind is blowing. Waves should be clean and sporadic, not constant and wind-blown. On flat days, instructors often give the process a human hand with a strategic push to get things in motion, which also isn’t as much fun as riding a small, natural wave, but is way better than never experiencing surfing.
You can get away from the swarm at The Cove by hanging to the right (facing the water). It’s a bit of a paddle, but worth it on good days. Or, drive the shoreline toward Lahaina, and follow the action – there are lots of great spots. Google Grandma’s and Thousand Peaks.

There is a particular island buzz in the air when the big waves hit the North Shore in the winter months. About an hour from Kihei, past the sleepy surf town of Paia, Maui’s North Shore is world famous for monster waves on some days. An elite international contingent of serious, big-wave surfers challenge monster faces – which can rise to 60 feet -- on the rare days when “Jaws” breaks. Hookipa Park, a few miles past Paia, is a destination for elite windsurfers, kiters, and surfers, and the close-range show is well worth watching when the waves are going off.

In the mood for something with a little more spice? Kamana Kitchen offers freshest food made from traditional homemade recipes and choice spices utilizing the finest handpicked ingredient found both here and abroad. All its dishes are freshly made right after you place you orders and will customize to satisfy every palate’s request.

KIHEI AND WAILEA BEACH PATHS

Maui’s beach culture is all about accessibility: there are no private beaches in Hawaii, and south Maui has expanded its shoreline paths and access in recent years. You’d never know it from Kihei Road, but you can walk right along the ocean all the way from Kalama Park four miles to the incredible Wailea Resorts, with only a short detour to Kihei Road in the early stage of the walk.

Catch the beginning of the walk at Kalama Park across the street from Foodland. There is no official boundary line between North and South Kihei, but locals put it roughly here. The paved path winds into left field on one of the most picturesque recreational baseball diamonds on the planet, along the park and directly in front of ‘The Cove’ surf break. It connects to local favorite Charley Young Beach, and winds along the three Kamaole beaches. You hike a hard sandy trail past the quaint Kihei Boat Ramp and beyond to Kamaole III Beach (a sea turtle hangout), then cut across the brilliant green lawn of the Kihei Surfside. Magnificent Keawakapu Beach, possibly the best walking beach on the island, bridges South Kihei and the Wailea Beach Path at the Andaz. Catch your breath and bask in Wailea’s elegant, sun-drenched vibe at one of two beachfront cafes offering healthy snacks, lunch and specialty coffee drinks.

BOAT TRIPS

Seeing Maui from the water is a richly visual experience that creates a perspective you won’t see while landlocked, and we highly recommend spending a morning aboard a cruise or snorkel boat. Trips range from basic cruises on large boats with a lot of people, to more intimate snorkeling adventures with gourmet lunches and multiple jumping-off destinations.  If you visit between late December and late March, consider a whale watch tour with the Pacific Whale Foundation. Their boat rides are economical, and they know how to find the whales.

Snorkel tours and cruises abound, for every budget. For decades, Trilogy has been hosting brilliant snorkeling outings aboard its fleet of Catamarans, and we’re huge fans of this first-class operation.  We also love Red Line Rafting. With a max capacity of only 24, their boat is smaller and more agile. This means you can stay away from the crowds and spend more time observing our aquatic friends.  If you’re a bit more adventurous, book a day trip with Captain Chad and the Ocean Riders. This 30’ rigid inflatable is rock-solid, and powers through a jet-drive, which enables the boat to thrive in shallow water. Ocean Riders leaves out of Lahaina and circumvents the island of Lanai, with several excellent snorkel stops, sea cave exploration, and a great lunch.

DIVING

Maui’s brilliant South shoreline presents a rich array of shore diving experiences and boat trips, with several “big event” dives that keep experienced divers coming back. Molokini Marine Sanctuary, visible about eight miles offshore, features a vertical backside wall that runs to 130 feet. Each of the operations has its favorite dives, including a battleship, WWII vintage plane dive, and some very cool caves.
Dive boats depart from the Kihei Boat ramp and Maalaea Harbor (past North Kihei, on the way to Lahaina). Most dives run from early morning to early afternoon, before the trades tend to kick in. Some companies specialize in certifying beginners, and others work mainly with experienced divers. There is no bad time to dive Maui, but whale season (late December to March) is particularly appealing because of the prevailing whale song soundtrack.

HELICOPTER TRIPS

Even if you allot abundant time to explore and experience Maui’s natural beauty, there is no way your ground-level experience can compare to the visual bounty of a couple of hours strapped into one of Maui’s scenic helicopter tours. Cruise comfortably over Maui’s rich, dense rain forest, hover alongside waterfalls at eye level, and gain perspective of Maui’s shoreline. Chopper adventures range from 45-minute rain forest flyovers, to a multi-island adventure spanning Hawaii’s tallest sea cliffs. Some tours drop you into secluded beauty for a catered lunch, intermission between spectacular sets of memorable fly-overs.

HIKING

Maui has a hike for everyone: pick your difficulty level and preferred backdrop. Hike a rocky, isolated stream with giant sunning rocks and thick, mountainside vegetation alongside a needle of a mountain, piercing the sky (Iao Valley). Walk dense groves of sky-scraping Pine Trees rising through a cooling mountain mist, shedding a thick carpet of pine needles (PoliPoli). Or a lava-lined ocean trail with visible remnants of ancient lava walls built by 17th century Hawaiian fishing villagers (La Perouse Bay, Makena). Persevere a rugged mountain trail with a huge payoff at its peak, an overview of a thousand miles of impossibly blue ocean (Waihee Ridge Trail). Slip over the lip of Maui’s highest peak and trek deep to the surface floor of an inactive volcano (Haleakala, Sliding Sands Trail.) Experience a towering bamboo forest that leads to a 400-foot Hawaiian waterfall, quite possibly the best hike on Maui. Then, cool off downstream at Ohe’O Gulch, also known as the “Seven Sacred Pools”. Just 10 miles past Hana, Pipiwai Trail & Waimoku Falls offer breathtaking views and an unforgettable experience.
Options also include outings involving conservation and volunteer maintenance, some sponsored by Maui’s Sierra Club.

LAHAINA

A day on the west side (Lahaina-Kaanapali) begins with a 40-minute drive on one of the world’s most beautiful highways. You are feet from the ocean almost the entire drive, and the coastline takes on a different personality than that of the South side. Consider bringing swim and snorkel gear – there are dozens of small beaches and snorkel spots with parking just off the highway. Lahaina’s Front Street is a full-blown tourist destination, with an array of excellent restaurants and watering holes, dozens of art galleries, and great shopping. Once the capital city of the entire island chain, Lahaina is steeped in history, and it’s well documented.

EXPLORING UPCOUNTRY

When beaching it begins to feel a bit routine, take a half-day (or more) and head “Upcountry.” You’ll experience an entirely different Maui in and around upcountry’s distinct communities, including Pukalani, Makawao, Kula, and Haiku.

Makawao is a boardwalk town, steeped in cowboy culture, and host to talented Maui artists of all persuasions. Further up the hill, Kula reaps the lush rewards of heavy rainfall, and oversized, brilliantly colored plant life brings the movie set of Jurassic Park to mind. Lunch at the Kula Lodge, with its astonishing views and cozy vibe. Explore (and inevitably get lost) in the community’s myriad back roads. Experience Maui’s tropical essence in Haiku, where the plants and foliage seem to grow even as you’re watching, and the vast Pacific beckons in the distance.

Upcountry tour destinations include the Ali'i Lavender Farm, Ocean’s Vodka Distillery, Tedeschi Winery, and Surfing Goat Dairy. There is also a smaller and lesser known retreat that has become a favorite of ours: The Sacred Garden, a soothing natural sanctuary and retreat, thick with wonderful plants, sculpture, natural art, labyrinth and bench seating. Take Baldwin Avenue from Paia toward Makawao, and watch for a small sign on the left.  Don't forget the Kula Botanical Garden, offering 8 acres of colorful and unique plants, amazing rock formations, a covered bridge, waterfalls, koi pond, aviary and a carved tiki exhibit.

ROAD TO HANA

There’s no middle ground on this one: most people get it, but some don’t. The Road To Hana is best enjoyed slowly and leisurely, with the Hana “destination” optional – if you can’t slow down your vibe, the endless twists and turns and slow pace may drive you bonkers. If you’re into taking in a slice of tropical paradise, one narrow bridge, switch-back, and waterfall at a time, it will be a highlight.
Probably the more you get out of your car, the more fun you’ll have. There are dozens of unmarked trails that can lead to stunning beauty, or nowhere at all. Among the more popular hikes:

  • Twin Falls (Mile Marker 2.1). Easy, 1.5-mile round trip through tropical vegetation leading to two refreshing waterfalls with cool cave backdrops.
  • Waikamoi Nature Trail (Mile Marker 9.5). Easy to moderate, one-mile round trip through dense forest, native trees and bamboo with magnificent views of Ke’anae Peninsula and rain forest.
  • Wai’anapanapa State Park (Mile Marker 32.2). Easy stroll down a paved path to volcanic sand beach with views of stark contrasting black sand, sapphire blue ocean and brilliant green native Hawaiian foliage. A photographer’s dream.
  • Pipiwai Trail and Waimoku Falls (10 miles past Hana). Moderate 4-mile round trip hike over bridges, through thick bamboo forest, to Makahiku Falls, and the ultimate destination, Waimoku Falls, cascading down 400 feet of sheer lava rock. Ohe’O Gulch and the Seven Sacred Pools are accessed where the stream meets the ocean.

You’ll want to stop at Ke’anae Arboretum, a traditional Hawaiian village that seems frozen in time. The centerpiece of the town is the historical Ke’anae Congregational Church, built in 1860, and open to visitors all year round.  Where time seems frozen in an isolated local ocean community.

Local advice for your Road to Hana trek: Leave as early as you can. Pack plenty of water and snacks. Consider buying your lunch in advance, or on your way. Mosquitoes can be especially viscous here – bring spray, and make it the good stuff. Expect your footwear to be muddy and soaked when you finish. Bring umbrellas – chances are very good you’ll see rain. Don’t leave valuables in your vehicle.  Most of all, take your time, enjoy the sights, and take in all the beauty that this adventure has to offer.

ARE YOU ISLAND HOPPING?

While there are endless things to do to occupy your time on Maui, we know some of you will venture out to some of the other amazing Hawaiian Islands.  While we feel that Maui nō ka ‘oi (Maui is the best), we encourage you to adventure out and see what wonders the Hawaiian islands have to offer.  Check out a few links below to help you find your perfect adventure!

Looking for something specific, be sure to ask us!  We are happy to share our local knowledge and we might even tell you are secret snorkeling spots!