The “Valley Island” of Maui is the second-largest Hawaiian Island and has a surprisingly sparse population of about 144,000 inhabitants. At all times of the year, the population is swelled with visitors from around the world who come to see the “Best Island,” the award consistently conferred on Maui by readers of Conde Nast Traveler magazine. People come to watch migrating humpback whales, to feel the warmth of the sun on a sandy beach, or to watch the sunrise from the peak of a volcano. Here are some of the best reasons for visiting Maui.
Best Hike: Pipiwai Trail, Haleakala National Park
Best Drive: The Hana Highway, from Kahului to Kipahulu
The trail through the Bamboo Forest to the 400-foot high Waimoku Falls is as unforgettable as the drive to the trailhead along the Hana Highway. Both deserve a spot in “The Best of Maui.” The Hana Highway is 60 miles of curves, switchbacks and spectacular ocean-cliff scenery. Single-lane bridges enhance the driving experience and the adrenaline rush of this winding coastal highway.
It is hard to say where the Hana Highway begins, but you won’t be sorry if you drive the route from Kahului to the entrance of Haleakala National Park, a drive of about three hours. At the end of the Hana Highway, you’ll find the entrance to the national park. The Pipiwai Trail is well marked and easy to follow. It will lead you into the Bamboo Forest along a boardwalk as it climbs around 800-900 feet in elevation.
You’ll love the dark creepiness of the dense bamboo forest. It’s like being ant-small and hiking through a gigantic lawn. There are several waterfalls along the way, but be very careful if you decide to take a swim. People have lost their lives being swept away by a flash flood or unexpected current along the slippery rocks. About a half mile in, you’ll come across a 200-foot high thundering waterfall crashing down a vine-covered cliff. You may be satisfied to stop here. It’s a worthy destination.
The trail ends at the amazing sight of the 400-foot high Waimoku Falls. It takes at least two and a half hours to hike the four miles round trip, and it is not recommended for a rainy day. Wear sturdy, non-skid shoes that can get wet in stream crossings. Bring plenty of drinking water, and don’t be tempted to drink from the streams.
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Best Sandy Beach: Kapalua Beach
Maui’s coastline includes some thirty miles of beautiful, sun-baked beaches where the roar of the Pacific and the rush of wind in the palms make beautiful music for sun worshippers. It’s difficult to argue that there is a “best” beach, because some provide perfect curls for surfing and some offer calm pools of swimmable, clear waters made for snorkeling.
Kapalua Beach, on the northwest coast of the island, is the home of Kapalua Resort, but there is plenty of beach space for public and guest use. This was the first beach ever to be named “America’s Best Beach (1991).” It’s a small beach with clear, aqua waters perfect for snorkeling. You’ll see puffer fish, eels, angel fish, sea urchins and coral under the gentle waves. A grassy area with shade trees, adjacent to the beach, provides a pleasant way to get out of the direct sunlight and enjoy a tropical breeze.
Best Wedding Spot: North Maluaka Beach
Getting married is a popular activity on Maui, and if you think you’ll have the beach to yourself at sunrise or sunset, don’t count on it. More than 10,000 couples fly to this romantic island each year to get married. Some of our favorite wedding beaches were eliminated from this article because they are just too crowded and your dream of an intimate ceremony can be ruined by a screaming sandy toddler. The prettiest little wedding beach may be Makena Cove Beach in south Maui (Makena), but so many weddings happen there that it is difficult to ensure a secluded spot.
You’ll have the best chance for a memorable sunset and perfect weather if you plan your wedding from May through October, and set your location on the west or south side of the island. The quietest days are weekdays, but avoid Spring Break. Consider consulting a wedding planner, available at most Maui resorts, in order to assure that you have all necessary permits. Be sure to research permit requirements!
For location, any of the public beaches on the west or south side of the island should be fine. We chose North Maluaka Beach because it offers a bit of privacy. It is at the end of a quiet road, with sugary white sand and gorgeous views of the ocean and out islands. Adequate parking and bathroom facilities were another factor. This ideal wedding beach is located just south of Makena Bay, north of the black-sand Oneuli Beach and Makena State Park.
Best Area for Vacation: West Side Condos
The island of Maui has two major resort areas – west side and south side. The north and east are worth visiting, with the scenic coastal cliffs and rugged mountain highways; staying there is more difficult. There are a few places to stay “upcountry,” but you’ll be driving to the beach, restaurants and activities.
On the west side is the historic town of Lahaina, with its active boat harbor and many quaint restaurants. Lahaina is an active tourist town – and a fun place to visit – but for a vacation stay, we recommend a beach location instead. Ka’anapali Beach is a luxury area, and its northern neighbors Honokowai, Kahana and Napili, all have resorts and condos, some less expensive than Ka’anapali. The farther north you go, the more rain and wind you’ll have, so we don’t suggest staying in Kapalua at the northern point of the island.
The south side of the island has fewer resorts, and they are not as close together. If you want quiet and seclusion, this may be the area for you. The southern side has the condo area of Kihei, which is popular with families. Most of the hotels and condos in the southern area are not on the beach, but across the street.
Our conclusion? Stay on the vibrant west side, on the beach at Ka’anapali if you can afford it, and a little farther north if your budget is more restrictive. Try to stay on the beach. There are many lovely Maui resorts and condo rentals that face the incomparable Pacific sunset.
Best reason to go?
After reading this far, you can probably pick your own “best reason to go.” Maui is a spectacular vacation destination all year round whether you go for romance, hiking, beach combing or sunbathing by an infinity pool.
By Kay D. Harrison
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