what do do & see in maui, hawaii
In early March, I went to Hawaii, specifically the island of Maui. My aunt has lived there for over twenty years and I've wanted to visit her but could never ever afford a thousand dollar ticket there. But then I had a genius idea: as a consultant, I would travel to San Francisco three or four times a year, I could buy the ticket to Hawaii from SF, cutting the ticket by more than half. Yes, I am a genius. So I went to Maui! Here are the highlights.
March is prime whale watching in Maui
Humpback whales migrate from Alaska to Hawaii every year from November to April roughly. They head there to mate and birth their babies in the warm waters! Ah. Isn't evolution so cool? We went on a whale watching tour on a boat. The first fifteen minutes were a bit slow as the boat captain tried to find the whales. But once we started spotting whales, we couldn't stop. We met one whale who was a bit of a show boat; (s)he kept jumping out of the water and breaching, which was breathtaking. Then we found a group of whales and eventually were surrounded by five or six humpback whales. Oh, is that not amazing enough? EFFING DOLPHINS JOINED THEM!!! I saw dolphins and whales play. I have made terms with my impermanence now because I saw the most amazing thing in the world.
Bike Down a Volcano
My aunt has lived in Maui for 20+ years and knows all the cool local stuff to do. She even knows the cool things to do at the tourist sites. She has two bikes, which we drove up to the top of the dormant Haleakalā Volcano. Her mom drove us up and we were able to get out and explore the top, the Haleakala National Park, a bit. This site is known for people getting on long waiting lists and purchasing tickets to camp overnight to watch the sunrise here. But we weren't there for that. We cruised down the 10,000 feet on our bikes. It got scary at points, when cars were on the road or it got really windy. But it was really beautiful and fun. It's not something you can many other places in the world.
Stand Up Paddle Board
I also went stand up paddle boarding in Ukumehame Park with my aunt. This is a small public beach, and there didn't seem to be any rentals around there. I was very lucky because again, my aunt had two SUP boards. In March, its still a bit choppy out there and while I've been SUP before, I am only good at it on very calm water (i.e. I could not get up in Lake Michigan). I was barely able to get up here and didn't stay for long. Probably speaks more to my weak core though.
There's a small farmer's market in Pukalini on Saturdays. I heard there's a bigger one somewhere else in the island, but this one had everything I really needed. Most of the vendors were food; I ate some coconut milk panna cotta (very yum). I also bought a real, whole coconut, which the dude had to chop with a machate in front of me, and then drank out of it with a straw.
Big Beach in Wailea
Are you asking yourself, Stephanie did you go to the fucking beach at all? Yes, I did! I went to the Big Beach in Waileia, but not until my second to last day. And until then, I was kind of feeling like my trip was missing something and I was right. Wailea is where it's at. There's definitely a reason why it's where all of the luxury hotels are. The Big Beach (McKenna) is public, but I did not find it to be busy at all. It was very beautiful and peaceful; I sat there and read for hours. I went two days in a row. Tip: there's lots of free parking there and the beach is very long. But get there early for parking and before it gets too hot around 1/2pm.
Sneak into a Fancy Hotel
The first day I was at the beach, my aunt called and said when I was done I should meet them at this fancy hotel pool. She knew which hotels to sneak in. It was way easier than I thought. I just valeted my car. I told them my aunt was staying there, but he didn't care. He said valet was $20 or I could order something at the bar/restaurant and get it validated. Easy. So we soaked up the sun at this gorgeous hotel with multiple infinity pools and a view of the Ocean. With the exception of my aunt, I think I was the only person not on a honeymoon there. I felt lavish and loved every minute.
After I left the Big Beach for the second time, on my last day (I was leaving at 11:30pm), I went to the restaurant, Monkey Pod. I heard good things about the cocktails, which I did not have. I needed to try poke before I left the island. I ate poke tacos, which were pretty delicious.
Road to Hana
By far, the highlight of my trip was the Road to Hana. It's a well known drive around almost the entire island of Maui. The whole trip is about eight hours; its filled with winding roads, one lane bridges, and hundreds of spots to stop and see, i.e. waterfalls, rivers, beaches, markets. The trip is designed to take all day and for a lot of stops to explore. You don't need a map because its literally one road you can take the whole time, going in a loop. But I needed a guide to tell me what I was looking at and where to stop. I downloaded the app, Gypsy Guide: Road to Hana. It was about $6 and well worth it. The app is run by satellite, not cell service, which was helpful because I didn't have service about 25% of the time. The app had a voice guide, who would tell me what sight was about to come up so I could make a decision to pull over or not. And when we approached it would give me more historical/cultural information about the site. It would also provide random tid bits throughout the trip. Sometimes it was interesting, sometimes it wasn't. But it was easy to skip the dude if I knew I didn't want to stop there (you can only stop at so many waterfalls) or if I didn't find the information interesting.
I did the drive alone, started in Paia, and set out to finish at the Maui Winery. The entire trip was beautiful. Its miles of rainforests, followed by coast lines, followed by miles of driving on cliffs, all of which are breathtaking views. I stopped off at a couple waterfalls. I also stopped in the town of Haiku, which involved driving down a dirt road, parking, and then walking for 15 min to see the ocean. It took a bit of time but it was really secluded and unexpectedly beautiful. I stopped at few secluded rocky beaches on the side of the road. Just for 20-30 min to read and look at the scenery. That's the beauty of the Road to Hana - you can stop whenever the eff you please.
The most beautiful stop off was Wai’anapanapa State Park. There's a black sand beach. Its huge. I found myself taking hundreds of photos here because I was trying so hard to feel the beauty I was seeing. Sometimes when I see something overwhelmingly beautiful and I'm happy/excited/nervous, I want to embrace the beauty, I want to truly embody the earth that I'm seeing. I want to be truly connected to the beauty and earth. My only solution so far is to take a lot of photographs in hopes that I will get a few good ones that I can look at when I get home.
Of course, the last stop is Hana. It's an underwhelming town. And a lot of locals will tell you that before you go or you will read it in guides, "Oh Hana is not that great." But it's all about the drive.
I found the whole trip, which I believe took me about eight hours, cathartic. Not just the beauty. Because I'm sure you're sick of me saying how beautiful Hawaii is by now. But it's a peaceful drive. There's no traffic. Yes, the one lane bridges can be intimidating, but everyone was really polite about the whole thing and I never ran into any issues. And the winding roads require a lot of attention, but the island has such diverse terrain and scenery, you're never bored. And it's just calm enough to think to yourself and come to some really positive epiphanies. I said this on my Instagram, but the trip was almost a spiritual experience. But not quite because I listened to podcasts about serial killers the whole time.
All of my pics of the road to Hana are below.
Tips for the Road to Hana:
Start early because you do not want to drive at all when it's dark. The latest you should start is 11am.
Don't bring kids.
Try to do it solo.
Drive an SUV. Even a small one is fine.
I strongly suggest finishing at Maui Winery. It's a long day and it feels very good to finish with a glass of wine.
In Hana, seek out the Thai food truck. It's bomb.
Champagne at Sunset
On the evening of my last day in Maui, my aunt had another local secret adventure for us. We went to Mama's Fish House for a champagne toast. But not in the restaurant. Apparently, it's a very good, very expensive restaurant. Also, the view of the sunset is perfect there. So we grabbed a bottle of champagne. Parked the car. Sat on the grass on top of the hill. And toasted to my inaugural trip to Hawaii.
It's a really magical place. I was surprised at how much I loved it. Before the trip, a significant portion of me thought Hawaii might be slightly overrated. But when I was at the airport about to leave, I felt like I was going to cry. I don't know why. I should have been eager to get home; I hadn't been in Cleveland for 10 days. But I didn't want to leave. I had this yearning to stay. Maybe move there. When I got back to Cleveland, I went into a depression. I explained this to others and anyone that had been to Hawaii before said the same thing happened to them. Someone said, "Hawaii will do that to you."