Top 5 Things To Do On Maui
Land, Sea and Air
Maui is a larger island than most people think. It’s hard to get a grasp on its size and all there is to do unless you’ve been there. And even if you have been here once or twice it always seems like there are still some things that you’d like to do but didn’t get a chance to do. This is why Maui has such a high return rate …. there is always something new to discover! I have lived on Maui as a professional photographer for over two decades. As an instructor I have also enjoyed teaching photography to students from all over the world.
It can be like a lot of places in that to live here you have to work hard. But when friends or family come to visit that is the time I truly enjoy where I live. I have always recommended at least a 10 day stay in Maui, with 14 days being optimal, to really see the whole island and still have some relaxing beach time. Maui has so much to offer that I’ve tried to narrow it down to a hand full of highlights that include sections on land, sea and air.
The Road to Hana – I have been going out on the road to Hana 2-3 times a year for the last 20 years. It never gets old. For the last 10 or so years I have been going out on a van tour unless I’m spending the night. Tour vans have much larger windows and sit higher off the ground than cars and Jeeps. By not having to drive myself I can focus on making images. Because they leave early and include food and beverages I don’t have to arrange all that either. I can caption my photos better because I have a guide to ask questions….”what kind of tree, flower, plant is this”? Plus Hana tour guides are hilarious!
The road leading to Haleakala National Park winds its way up the mountain through some of Maui’s most inspiring views and countryside. This area is known to locals as “Upcountry”. The amazing thing about Upcountry Maui is it’s diversity. Each elevation change is another micro-climate. It is said that of the 20 known climate zones on earth Maui has 17. No doubt many of them are in this upcountry area.
Bring a jacket if you go to the crater for sunrise at 10,000 ft. It’s cold at 5:30 am! Also keep in mind that Haleakala National Park requires a reservation if you drive yourself up for sunrise. Or you could book a tour and have everything taken care of for the 4 am drive (3 am if your on the west side). A good sunrise van tour will have coffee and pastries before heading up the mountain and then a full breakfast afterwards. Some companies offer sunrise combo tours that can include a downhill bike tour or a zipline tour. Day tours, sunset tours and night astronomy tours round out the incredible amount of things to do in this unique national park!
Often visitors will stop in the upcountry town of Makawao for lunch or dinner after visiting the summit of Haleakala. It’s a beautiful little town and the restaurants are quite good. Casanovas has fine dining Italian cuisine and Polli’s has some great Mexican fare. There are also plenty of boutique stores loaded with clothes and gifts including multiple art galleries and an outstanding bakery!
Maui basically has two mountains, or volcanoes, divided by a wide, mostly flat plain. This area of the island has been cultivated in sugar cane for over 100 years so – lots of history to learn. Sugar production on this land was halted in 2016 but the Puunene Sugar Mill Museum just outside of Kahului has extensive exhibits and bizarre monolithic machinery used to harvest the nearly 36,000 acres that covers the cane fields of Maui’s central plains. There’s much more to see around this part of the island which includes sacred Iao Valley, the town of Wailuku and Kealia Pond Wildlife Sanctuary. Visitors can book a van tour through these areas which include a daytime tour to the summit of Haleakala!
The first commercial zipline course in the U.S. started on Maui in 2002. Since then this has become one of the most popular things to do on the island with some 16 zipline course ranging from the slopes of Haleakala in and around upcountry Maui to the west side at both Kaanapali and Kapalua. It’s super fun for kids of all ages and a thrill for even the older family members. Just be sure to check the weight limits and restrictions. Most tours require children to weigh at least 80 lbs. Smaller kids and grandparents can enjoy the mellow course at the Maui Plantation in central Maui while much faster and longer ziplines are in the upcountry area and the west side.
If you’ve never been to Hawaii you have to go to a luau. There is no better way to learn about the culture of not just Hawaii but Polynesia in general. My favorite is Old Lahaina Luau, but it can be booked out a month in advance. My second favorite is Feast at Lele. Both are on the west side of the island (Lahaina).
A large part of the beauty of Maui lies underneath the ocean. The south and west shores of the island have the best snorkeling reefs and therefore that’s where all the boats are. The north shore is too rough unless you’re an extreme diver/ fisherman type.
Maalaea Harbor is on the south side and the boats out of this location are mostly headed out to Molokini Crater. This is a world class snorkeling spot especially during whale season (December through April) when you can view the Humpback whales along the way out to Molokini. Whale watching tours are truly worth the time and money to see these incredible creatures up close. There are several large boats that cruise out of Maalaea and though you will be with over 100 people they are comfortable and stable craft that are often the most affordable to get out on the ocean.
Another option is booking a smaller boat. Vessels like ocean rafts carry less people, can maneuver into places large boats can’t, they travel faster giving you more time in the water and they can launch from smaller harbors like the Kihei boat ramp. This means the smaller boats have shorter distances to travel to places like Molokini Crater and La Perouse Bay. You might pay a bit more for these tours but you’ll actually see more exclusive areas and have more time in the water.
If your the more adventurous type a kayak tour will get you up close and personal with the amazing reefs and wildlife of Maui’s near shore waters. Group kayak tours on the south shores near Makena or on the west side to Honolua Bay Marine Preserve are spectacular! Snorkeling from a kayak takes a bit of practice but the guides are wonderful and there is something special about being right on top of the water. Same goes with an outrigger canoe tour with the added benefit of group participation, a more stable craft and the cultural connection of learning about this unique Hawaiian watercraft!
Sunset boat cruises consist of shorter cocktail cruises with live music to full on dinner cruises. It’s a great way to experience Maui waters with festive atmosphere and stunning views. These usually larger boats and catamarans also launch from either Maalaea or Lahaina and have wonderful entertainment including talented hula dancers and local musicians. The food is great and there is no better oceanfront dining and partying than a sunset cruise!
Whatever route you fly or type of aircraft you’re in, you’ll never be disappointed seeing these beautiful islands from the air!
For every waterfall you see along the road to Hana, there are 20 that you don’t see upstream on the mountainside. Having photographed from the air on many occasions, I can tell you that only about 40% of the truly spectacular beauty of Maui can be seen from ground level. Helicopter tours range from 30 minutes to over an hour and can include Haleakala Crater, Hana, the West Maui Mountains and a quick flyby of the ocean cliffs of the nearby island of Molokai. Some helicopter companies will have external cameras that will record your flight, making them available for purchase afterwards.
Traveling inter island is a big part of life in Hawaii. With most flights taking around 30 minutes it’s easy to hop on a plane for the day and visit another island.
Although you can get some good photos through a commercial jet window when traveling inter island, there are some smaller scenic plane flights that travel inter island too that will have larger windows that are much better for shooting through than the larger jets though they can be a bit longer flight times. Mokulele Airlines is the only one with smaller planes and they are often a bit more affordable.
Air Tour Photo Tips: Wear a dark or black shirt to reduce window reflections when photographing through a helicopter canopy. Also bring the widest angle lens you have – the landscapes are big from the air!
Well there you have it. This list is a bit more than a “top five things” that you can do while vacationing on Maui but that’s kinda how it goes on the island – there’s always more to do and see than you think – which makes for a great variety of experiences the next time you visit Hawaii!
Aloha Nui Loa