It's hard to choose which Hawaiian Island to visit, especially if you only have a few days to spare. Growing up on the island of Oahu had its perks, best of which was its proximity to the other islands—we could hop an inter-island plane and be in Kauai, Maui, or Lanai in less than 30 minutes, or, God forbid, 45 minutes to the Big Island of Hawaii. I recently wrote about the best things to do on Oahu—here are my tips and recommendations for can't-miss spots on Hawaii's beautiful Valley Isle.
Pick a beach, any beach
Beaches are probably the first thing that come to mind whenever people mention the Hawaiian Islands, and Maui has its fare share of picturesque options. We stayed primarily on the western side of the island, where the big attraction is Ka'anapali Beach, located just outside the historic whaling village of Lahaina. If you actually hit the point where you need a break from sun and sand, try a day of shopping at nearby Whalers VIllage or take some time to check out the art galleries and historic trails in the area. In the mood to snorkel or dive the coral reef? Try a day-trip to Molokini, a submerged crater and marine preserve only accessible by boat.
Take a whale watching cruise from Lahaina Harbor
December thru April is prime whale-watching season in Maui, when humpback whales migrate from the cold waters of Alaska to Hawaii's warm waters to breed and raise their young. The Pacific Whale Foundation says whale sightings can start as early as late September and last as long as mid-May. We were lucky enough to visit in early May both times, and took a whale-watching cruise from Lahaina for a better look. There's nothing quite like having a mother whale and her baby swim up alongside your boat for a look at you!
Visit Mt. Haleakala with all the other tourists
Maui's most popular attraction is definitely Haleakala, the 10,023-foot-tall dormant volcano that rises above the island—the only other point taller in all of Hawaii is Mauna Kea on the Big Island, which you can see from the top of Haleakala. You will need a car to visit this popular tourist spot (unless you're part of a tour group) and be warned that it takes at least two hours to drive the long and winding road up to the summit. We learned the hard way that it's pretty cold at the top of the mountain—as in 35 degrees cold, because of the altitude—so bring along a jacket! There are several lookout points on the way up, but nothing beats the view from the top. Some people recommend driving up in the very early morning to be there in time to watch the sun rise from the summit for the most stunning view, but we have yet to do that (our family prefers to do things a little later in the day.) Haleakala National Park offers horseback riding and a number of hiking trails through the crater. There's also the opportunity to bike down the volcano, something I'm definitely doing the next trip.
Experience Hawaiian Culture at a Luau
If you get a chance, don't miss a night of traditional Hawaiian food—kalua pork cooked in an underground imu oven, anyone?—music, and of course, hula performances that will make for one of the best memories of your trip. We went to the Old Lahaina Luau, but there are others throughout the island as well. Don't be shy, since most luaus have a tradition of welcoming visitors up on stage to learn the hula—shed your inhibitions and shake your hips to the rhythm of the islands, enjoy the music, and make sure someone is snapping photographic evidence of your new dancing skills.
Brave the Hana Highway
The scariest, most scenic road in the islands is the Hana Highway. Located on the easternmost side of Maui, it is a long, winding, one-lane road that stretches the length of the coastline from north to south, giving you gorgeous views of the Pacific, and all the mountains, cliffs, and valleys Maui has to offer. A number of lookout points, waterfalls, and natural pools are available road-side, and you'll take on 620 curves and 59 bridges, making the drive about two to four hours long one-way for those brave enough to try it. The views and bragging rights alone make this trip worth it.