My mom and I went on vacation to Maui in December 2015. We stayed on the West side of the island and drove all around in the 5 short days that we were there.
The top 5 places we loved most:
- Haleakala National Park
- The Road to Hana
- Northwestern parts of Maui (precisely the roads where you are not supposed to drive a rental car)
- Upcountry (Kula)
- Makena (Big Beach)
Haleakala National Park is an overwhelmingly beautiful place. The views are vast and very enjoyable from the overlook points spread out across the park. However, I highly recommend going on a hike down to the crater on a Sliding Sands Trail if the time and energy allow. It’s a great experience. Aside from feeling like you are walking on the surface of the extraterrestrial planet like Mars, it’s a very humbling endeavor. We hiked about 2.5 miles down into the crater. It was very fun and exploratory at first. The challenge started the minute we turned to walk back. It was “nature vs. man”. Given high elevation and low oxygen level, going up might have easily been one of the most difficult things I’ve ever done. Even running a half-marathon was easier. When we finally made it back up, I felt really grateful, thankful, and invigorated. Go for it, if you are brave. And don’t forget to bring water!
The Road to Hana is a picturesque drive up the Northern shore of the island. It was fun for me to drive the winding and narrow coastal roads, to pass by the waterfalls and enjoy the tropical greenery. However, it’s not the safest route and requires one to be very cautious at all times. Most of the time, the visibility is very low due to frequent turns and it’s hard to tell whether there is a car coming toward you. What I did appreciate, is that this road made me a very good driver. When we finally drove past Hana and stopped at the Hamoa Beach (which I think is the most beautiful beach in Maui) I was visibly tired. We went for a swim and lay in the sun for about an hour. Unfortunately the weather wasn’t cooperating and it started raining (it happens a lot on the Northern shore). The drive back was a thriller. It didn’t really help that I drove on this road once before. It was raining hard at times and I felt like I was on a roller coaster, with my eyes wide open, but still unaware of what is ahead of me. It was the second hardest thing I’ve ever done. If we had two drivers and stayed near Hana overnight, it would’ve been more enjoyable. If we come back to Maui, I would just fly straight to Hana and stay there for a week. The trip is worth the experience, but I would stay away from driving if I had to do this again.
Northwestern parts of Maui could be just as dangerous and thrilling as the road to Hana. Except, for some reason nobody talks about that route. It was our first day exploring the island and we ended up going east from the Kapalua toward Kahului. Kahakuloa Valley is a nice little gem on that road. There is a tiny village and it’s mostly hidden from the tourists. One thing to be aware though, just before you approach the town, the road gets really narrow and can only accommodate a width of one car. If you are unlucky and there is a car going your way, one of you might need to back up. We were lucky not to run into a passerby, but I saw others who did. Don’t go if you are afraid of heights. Toward the end of the road, there are hiking trails, such as Waihee Ridge Trail that lead into Iao Valley. We didn’t get a chance to go on that hike, but I would love to come back one day.
Upcountry is full of green pastures, farms, and ranches. We drove around this area on our way to the Haleakala and came back the second time to visit Kula Botanical Gardens. There are a couple of great hiking trails that we wanted to try out, but didn’t have enough time in the day: Polipoli Spring State Recreational Area & Forest Reserve and Waihou Spring Trail Loop in Olinda. Will have to save these for the next trip.
Makena (Big Beach). There are lots of great beaches in Maui – some are great for snorkeling, others for swimming. I liked Big Beach because it was the least crowded. This beach is not meant for swimming, but is great for sunbathing.
For me, Hawaii is all about escaping the city life and enjoying the peace that the nature provides. If you want to be in the crowd you might like the fact that Maui feels a lot like SoCal. However, if your goal is to “run away from it all” and you are willing to put in some effort, you can still find a piece of your own paradise whether it’s near water, up in the mountains, or down on the trail.