Maui may be a tourist’s paradise, but it is also one of the best places to brush up against Hawaii's unique culture and scenery. (And no, that luau you went to at the Sheraton that one time probably doesn't count.) Had enough beach time at Ka'anapali? Get out there and experience more of the Garden Isle.
What: Most visitors to Maui prefer their sunshine to come with a guarantee, meaning there’s plenty of room for the rest of us on the more fertile side of the island.
Do: Start your day with a drive up Olinda Road, which runs up the side of the Haleakala volcano, through ranch country, past lines of fragrant eucalyptus trees and into some beautiful pine woods. Near the end of the line at close to 4,000 feet up, you’ll find the trailhead for the Waihou Springs Trail; the moderate hike is popular with exercising locals. About 15 minutes back down the hill, take time to appreciate the historic ranch town of Makawao; check out the Viewpoints Gallery for a glimpse at the work of talented local artists, then stop in at the old Komoda Store for fresh malasadas, the Portuguese-style donuts that are a breakfast staple throughout Hawaii. Grab a few and take off down the Kula Highway, the Upcountry's Main Street, stopping to smell the lavender at Alii Kula or the local meat on the grill at the Ulupalakua Ranch Store (Lunch from 11-3). Soon after, the road winds around the back of Haleakala, drops down to the coast and heads towards Hana. This is one of Maui's most memorable drives, taking you from ranch land into volcanic moonscape and on to a secluded, tropical paradise. There are good reasons why the rental car companies and some local information sources discourage traveling this route, but the greatest danger I've experienced here would definitely be other tourists in rental cars driving very, very badly. Use common sense, check that there's a spare in the trunk, grab some bottled water and maybe brush up on your defensive driving skills.
Tip: If you're looking to sample Hawaii's famous poke, do like the locals and grab some at the Foodland supermarket in Pukalani, near Makawao.
Where: Central Maui
What: Dramatically located on a hillside at the mouth of the cool, green ‘Iao Valley, historic Wailuku is the seat of county government, a sleepy town of about 13,000 that sees relatively few tourists. Too bad for them – this is where you'll find some of Maui’s tastiest food and some of its warmest smiles.
Do: The island may be famed for its sunny weather, but just minutes from the dry climate of beachy Kihei, you can find yourself in the ‘Iao Valley, the second-wettest place in the state (the first is on Kauai). Wailuku’s quiet Main Street runs straight into the valley, the burial ground of many important Hawaiian chiefs. Take a hike at ‘Iao Valley State Park, then stop in at the heritage gardens in Kepaniwai Park, featuring pavilions and gardens from the many and diverse groups that contributed to what we know today as Hawaiian culture. They don't spend a ton of money maintaining it, but it's still fascinating. Of course, a great way to learn about a culture is to eat the food, and no place on Maui offers as tasty a crash course as Wailuku, overloaded with excellent local dives. If you eat only once, let it be at the Geste Shrimp Truck, Maui’s answer to the more famous trucks that line Oahu’s North Shore. Anyone who's been, knows: Geste’s scampi platter beats any of those tourist traps hands-down for quality and taste. Find the truck on the harbor side of Kahului Beach Road, Tuesdays through Saturdays from 10:30-5:30, or until they run out of shrimp. For a nostalgic slice of old Maui, make your way up the hill to Sam Sato's, a basic lunch counter hiding out in a nondescript commercial area that very few visitors ever seem to find. Order a bowl of saimin, Hawaii's multi-culti noodle soup that might be best described as a distant descendent of ramen. If you like, order it dry, as many others do.
Tip: For a further look at local life, come down to Wailuku’s Market Street on the first Friday of every month for First Friday – the event that features local art, live music and more food.
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Where: West Maui's North Shore
What: Experience the best of both worlds – one of the state's top resort communities, along with some of its most appealing backcountry.
Do: Many of Maui’s major resorts are situated in order to maximize days of sunshine and accessibility to beaches. This means that they are generally situated in relatively dry environments. To experience the actual tropics (as in, where they don't pipe in water to make it look like the tropics), you’ve got to commute – particularly from the mid-level resort areas like Kihei and Ka'anapali, which many visitors discover to be surprisingly one-note. Down the end of the line, on the doorstep of cooler, wetter climes, Kapalua is a 22,000-acre planned community that features miles of hiking trails, from pleasant coastal walks to challenging mountain hikes. Just east of here, popular Honolua Bay beckons snorkelers from all over the island – it’s the first in a long string of beautiful natural features that make a drive along West Maui’s North Shore so worthwhile. From here, you can drive the Kahekili Highway (State Route 340) all the way back to Wailuku. Only the tough need apply, though – the road narrows to (sometimes barely) one lane for nearly a dozen miles. Recent improvements have made it a little less dicey than it used to be, but still, be careful – some Swedish visitors took a tumble over a cliff here in February – they were lucky to escape with minor injuries. About midway, you’ll see Kahakuloa, one of Maui’s coolest little villages and home to the little green roadside stand that houses Julia’s Best Banana Bread, a legendary stop across the street from the historic St. Francis Xavier Mission. Julia is generally there every day, from 9:00am until she sells out. Continue on to Turnbull Studios, a pretty mountaintop campus that showcases sculpture and art from more than twenty local artists. By now, you’re not far from Wailuku; keep going, but remember: mind those curves.
Tip: On your way up to Kapalua, stop off in Lahaina. Yes, it's easily the most tourist-friendly town in Maui, but up on the hill, away from the crowds, Star Noodle is cooking up some of the island's most inventive food – share plates (definitely get the pork buns) and solid ramen, all with stepped-up ingredients, make this a strong recommend. Sensitive to MSG? Let them know before you order.