Aloha, Hawaii: 30 things to do when visiting Maui

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Take time to stop and smell the flowers when visiting beautiful Maui. (Photo courtesy of MVB/Dahlquist)
October 27, 2011
PGA TOUR staff

Maui is a dream for the active traveler. There are adventures to outlast even a month-long stay. Here are some starters:

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1. Watch whales. From November through May, Maui welcomes the humpback whales, our largest seasonal visitors. They are Maui's other honeymooners, arriving to mate and give birth and provide joy and entertainment for their viewers. Maui's south and west coastlines provide abundant opportunities for watching this endangered species, and various operations offer whale watching excursions aboard both power and sail boats. Among the shoreline sites offering vantage points are Puu Olai at Makena; the hotels of Wailea, Kaanapali and Kapalua; the Papawai Lookout on the road to Lahaina, near Maalaea Harbor; and the waterfront restaurants in Lahaina. There are three whaling museums: The Lahaina Whaling Museum, the Pacific Whale Foundation, and the museum at the Whaler's Village shopping complex in Kaanapali. Lahaina is one of the largest marketplaces for scrimshaw, the indigenous American art form developed by the whalers.

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2. Windsurf. Hookipa Beach is world famous among windsurfers, who have made the charming town of Paia their own. The perfect waves and brisk onshore breezes are ideal for the fleets of neon-bright sails streaking across the waves. Spectators can watch from a convenient hillside lookout. Rentals and instruction are available in Paia and other locations around the island. Once a plantation town, Paia is now awash with trendy boutiques, antique shops, art galleries and notable restaurants, as well as windsurfing shops.

3. Hike. Walk into a rainforest echoing with the songs of birds found nowhere else on the planet. There are trails to waterfalls with plunge pools for swimming, and walks into valleys so deep they never see a sunrise or a sunset. There are trails into the dramatic lunar landscape of Haleakala Crater. There are trails and nature walks for every level of skill. The Hawaii Department of Land and Natural Resources provides free hiking info through their Na Ala Hele Trail & Access System at http://hawaiitrails.ehawaii.gov/. Park rangers at Haleakala National Park, both at the summit and the Kaupo shoreline section, offer nature walks and guided hikes. The Nature Conservancy of Hawaii manages the 5,230-acre Waikamoi Preserve and offers guided public hikes from Hosmer Grove Campground in Haleakala National Park with advance reservations. New trails at Kapalua Resort meander down toward the panoramic coastline, or up to the lush Maunalei Arboretum. Professional guides to other locales are available for hire, and private operations with special permits can also take you to otherwise inaccessible spots.

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4. Bike. Few places are as committed to bikeways as Maui. It is possible bicycle from the east end of the island at Wailea Resort to Kapalua on the west end. Much of the ride is along spectacular shoreline road. There are guided downhill bicycle tours from the summit of Haleakala, through the flower farms and small towns of Upcountry to the beach at Paia. In 38 miles, the elevation drops 10,000 feet. Bicycle rentals are available on the island.

5. Drive. Road warriors on the path to paradise can immerse themselves in the all-American romance with the road. Here is a journey that takes on another dimension: the road, Hana Highway, has 54 one-lane bridges in 56 miles and winds along lava shores, through old plantation towns, past miles of beaches and through towering forests. In West Maui, Kaanapali and Kapalua are a bicyclist's fantasy, with views in every direction and the ocean a stone's throw away. Maui's roads are well maintained and well marked, making driving a pleasure. Car rentals are often included in hotel or airline packages.

6. Dive. Maui has some of the finest dive spots in Hawaii, with dozens of reputable operators. There are two marine conservation areas, one at Honolua Bay on West Maui and the other at Molokini, a partially submerged volcanic crater offshore at Wailea. The contours of the crater turn it into an aquarium without walls. Certification is available in PADI, NAUI or NASDS. Boats at Lahaina and Maalaea offer a number of snorkel and dive excursions. The nearby award-winning Lanai Cathedrals at Lanai is considered to be one of the most beautiful dive sites in the world, and there is also a sunken US submarine to explore. Glass bottom boats and a pleasure submarine open up the wonders to non-swimmers.

7. Ski. In season, jet skiing and water skiing are available along the south and west shores.

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8. Parasail. See the ocean and the island from the air. When conditions are right you can drift above the island, floating in a parachute drawn by a powerboat.

9. Fly. See Maui from a helicopter and fly through vibrant, circular rainbows into remote valleys lined with waterfalls. Fly above the dimpled crater of Haleakala and see the waterfalls, pools and valleys along the serpentine Hana Highway.

10. Dine. Maui is Hawaii's dining epicenter, with a restaurant for every taste. Maui's creative environment has attracted enthusiastic chefs who make national headlines (and great cookbooks) using fresh local produce from Upcountry farmers. From lavish hotel dining rooms to lunch counters serving local plate lunches and saimin, the ubiquitous noodle soup, Maui's eateries are pleasing and diverse. Chinese, Japanese, Thai, Vietnamese, Italian and Mexican are among the specialty restaurants. The pride of the island, Hawaii Regional Cuisine, is served at many award-winning restaurants.

11. Dance. Try cheek-to-cheek on a sunset terrace, or rock wild in a chic new nightclub. Take hula lessons. Dance at a luau, lessons or not. Dance barefoot on the beach to the sound of the sea. Maui is made for dancers.

12. Fish. Big-game fish are plentiful in Maui's waters, and charter boats are available on a private or share basis in Lahaina and Maalaea.

13. Hunt. Game birds, mouflon sheep, and wild boar are the hunters' targets on Maui. Qualified guides can arrange license, arms, equipment and meals, and lead you on one- to three-day expeditions. A taxidermist is available on the island, and information on licenses, laws and seasons may be obtained from the Department of Land and Natural Resources.

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14. Camp. There are campsites in Haleakala National Park, both in the mountains and on a cliff overlooking the ocean. Bargain-rate cabins are available on a lottery basis. There are also cabins at two State parks, one at Waianapanapa on a black sand beach and the other at Polipoli Springs in a high-elevation forest preserve overlooking Ulupalakua and the south shore. Camping is allowed at some beach parks, and rental equipment is available at various shops on islands.

15. Sail. Sheltered by Lanai and Molokai, the breezy offshore waters of Maui are ideal for sailing. Try a sailboat charter, a speedy catamaran, a sailfish or a sunset cruise. Family-run picnic excursions cross the channel regularly to Lanai and can get you back in time for sunset at your Maui hotel.

16. Island Hop. Go to Molokai or Lanai for the day, on any of the ferries or sailboats that ply the channels between Maui and Molokai and Maui and Lanai. Look for dolphins or whales along the way, and in about an hour, you'll be on one of Maui's sister islands. At your destination, you can explore the beaches, snorkel sites, bike paths, golf courses, hiking trails, restaurants and local culture of the island.

17. Shop. Fashion slaves and art lovers have a new frontier on Maui. The island abounds in galleries, international shops, designer boutiques and shopping malls. Many carry Maui specialty items and products unique to Hawaii. These include hand-turned bowls and objects of beautiful native woods; hats woven of lau hala; hand painted resort fashions; and one-of-a-kind jewelry, glass work, and art.

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18. Swim. There are more than 80 beaches on Maui and 120 miles of coastline. The beaches come in sands of gold, black, green, red and pure, shimmering white. And while you're at it, grab a snorkel and mask and commune with turtles and butterfly fish. The waters of Kapalua, at the north end of Kaanapali (near Black Rock), and in Makena are ideal snorkeling grounds, especially early in the morning. Many of the hotels rent snorkel gear, or you can rent it from dive and sports shops in Lahaina and Kihei.

19. Surf. Try the ancient sport of kings. "Hot-dawg" surfers can test themselves at Slaughterhouse, Ho'okipa and Sand Box. Novices can rent boards and sign up for surfing lessons at the hotels, where expert instructors get them up and riding the rollers from the first time out.

20. Golf. There are 14 courses on Maui, Lanai and Molokai. Most of them are championship courses designed by golf's biggest legends and many have hosted the sport's leading professional players. Maui hosts a prestigious golf tournament annually: The Hyundai Tournament of Champions at Kapalua.

21. Tennis. Love is in the air on Maui, with approximately 100 tennis courts, both public and private, that keep the racquets moving day and night. Many courts are lighted for night play and are in excellent condition.

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22. Find a park. The island abounds in beauty. Making Maui's spectacular natural heritage accessible to the public is a network of 95 State and County parks, and Haleakala National Park.

23. Smell the flowers. Pick a plumeria for your hair on the way to breakfast or dinner. Flowers are everywhere on Maui. Many hotels invite guests to meander their lavish tropical gardens, and botanical gardens feature a dazzling array of native and exotic blooms. Orchids. Protea. Calla lilies. Lavender. Flower farms along the Haleakala and Kula Highways offer flowers by the acre, millions of them, spreading their perfume over the island. Ship some flowers home, or take pre-approved and pre-packed plumeria cuttings to spruce up your garden at home.

24. Catch a train. The refurbished Lahaina-Kaanapali and Pacific Railroad, the old sugarcane train pulled by a vintage stream locomotive, carries passengers between the resort of Kaanapali and the town of Lahaina, chugging through plantation fields, past old homes, across a trestle and along a golf course.

25. Visit a farm. Agriculture thrives on Maui. The rich soil of Maui spawns vast pineapple and sugar plantations and small farms growing Maui onions, designer vegetables, exotic fruits and the newest craze, herbs. The word is out that Asian and European herbs grown in the Islands have a more intense flavor, creating a buzz among savvy chefs nationally. Maui Tropical Plantation in Waikapu has turned farming into a tourist attraction. A tram ride tours the plantation while guides show how sugar, pineapple and other Maui crops are grown. The colorful story of Maui's sugar barons and plantations is chronicled in the Alexander & Baldwin Sugar Museum in Puunene.

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26. Get fit. Where else but Maui? Fitness and wellness are a way of life here. Several resorts have complete spa facilities along with advanced facilities and programs culled from the finest traditions in the world, from Ayurvedic medicine to Chinese, Swedish and Japanese techniques. The spas offer everything from computerized fitness profiles to ancient Hawaiian lomi lomi massage and vanilla salt scrubs. Many hotels offer free aerobics and fitness classes, and there are gyms around the island. Runners have miles of jogging paths and several major races including the world renowned Maui Marathon, held every September; the Run to the Sun (a rugged 36-mile race up the slopes of Haleakala); and for the extreme "off-roaders," the XTERRA Championships.

27. Love a luau. The traditional celebration of the islands remains a Maui staple. Several hotels stage beachside luau featuring Hawaiian foods such as kalua pig, cooked in an earthen oven, poi and haupia (coconut pudding), along with a buffet of more familiar foods. There is singing, hula, fire dancing and laughter. In Lahaina, on specialty built, open-air luau grounds next to the ocean, one of the finest luau in the world offers excellent Hawaiian food and entertainment in an unparalleled setting.

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28. Sightsee. Maui's sightseeing potential is limitless. Visit nostalgic plantation towns, tour the historic preservation district of Lahaina, see the biggest Buddha outside of Asia, stop at old Hawaiian churches, and peer at the skeleton of a whale in an oceanfront whaling museum. Walk through an aquarium and watch the fish swim around and above you, or marvel at the beauty of Iao Needle. Drive to the pools of Oheo Gulch or under the canopy of giant redwood trees in Olinda. Wherever you are, look for the rainbow-haunted Mauna Kahalawai (West Maui Mountains) and the voluptuous purple canyons.

29. Make the art scene. Maui has more than 50 galleries carrying the worlds of well-known local artists as well as internationally acclaimed masters such as Dali, Erte and Gorman. Galleries in Kapalua, Lahaina, Kaanapali, Wailea and Hana, and in Upcountry Makawao and Paia on the way to Hana, offer fine arts and crafts in all media. In Makawao, the Hui Noeau Visual Arts Center opens its doors for exhibitions, classes, demonstration and workshops in a noteworthy year-round program. The Maui Arts & Cultural Center in Kahului presents art exhibitions and events in its two theaters, exhibition space, and outdoor presentation facilities.

30. Ride a horse. Maui is made for horses, the ultimate avenue to discovery. Riders can descend into a volcanic crater and picnic in a landscape that looks like the moon. Guided rides for all levels of experience explore Maui's ranches, rainforests, remote beaches and high meadows. There are moonlight rides across the lava, breakfast and luau rides, a wine tasting ride with glorious views. Maui is equestrian country, with a popular July 4th rodeo in Makawao and a high-profile polo season that runs from April through June.

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