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CityTips Guide to Maui

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Aloha! Welcome to Maui, the tropical paradise known as the "Valley Isle." Millions of visitors flock to the surf and sand that rises from the blue Pacific. Explore its dramatic volcanic past and island heritage--and experience its modern amenities.

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Local Overview



Many people have remarked upon the verdant Valley Isle's resemblance to a woman. Whether you see it or not, this island certainly nurtures plenty of men, women and children from various parts of the world.

West Maui

The jolly, busy resort town of Lahaina resembles Main Street Disneyland in many ways. Front Street, the main drag area, is wall-to-wall art galleries and fine restaurants. Dozens of pleasure cruisers and fishing boats set sail from the harbor daily, carrying vacationers to nearby coves and reefs. Lahaina is also the hot spot for shopping and nightlife.

About 10 minutes' driving distance from Lahaina is the resort community of Ka'anapali, famed for its golf courses, beaches and fantasy hotels. The golf courses are easy to spot; as you drive down the Honoapi'ilani Highway, the rolling greens stretch for acres along the landbound side. The coast side is bordered by the famous Ka'anapali Beach. The water is warm and clear, and landmark Black Rock dominates the skyline.

Further down the coastal highway one will find the charming seaside towns of Kahana, Kapalua and Napili. The golf courses of Kapalua are also widely renowned.

South Maui

Approximately 30 minutes from West Maui is the other main tourist area, known as South Maui even though it's actually further west than south. The uppermost segment of South Maui is Kihei, site of many mid-priced hotels, condos and swimming beaches. This is a very popular spot with families; it's affordable, safe, and offers all kinds of diversions. Locals also frequent the South Kihei strip, particularly the Kamaole Beach Parks and the Azeka shopping centers.

South of Kihei is Wailea, one of the most breathtaking communities in the world. The air is perfumed with island blossoms, the beaches (all of them public-access) are white sand, and the buildings are architectural wonders. The road travels along through a few miles of dry underbrush and weeds that give some indication of what South Kihei looked like before it was developed. About five minutes down the road are the three turn-offs to Makena State Park, thought by many to be the world's best swimming beach.

Upcountry

The tiny towns in Upcountry Maui are the opposite of Wailea and Lahaina in every way. Laid-back, local, simple and friendly, they are populated by an odd mix of islanders, white locals, eccentric recluses and passionate nature lovers. Protea farms, cattle ranches and botanical gardens thrive on most of the land, while the "towns" are usually comprised of a few streets with a handful of stores and a couple of restaurants. Makawao and Pukalani are the two largest upcountry towns. Nestled in the mountains is the town of Kula. Most Haleakala downhill bike rides begin or end in Kula, as do many roadtrips to Hana. Olinda and Haiku are 'blink-and-you'll-miss-it' towns, worth visiting only if one prefers birdsong to human conversation.

(One thing to keep in mind when visiting Upcountry is that as the elevation rises, the temperature drops—so bring a sweater.)

Haleakala/Hana

While Haleakala and Hana are two of Maui's major tourist attractions, almost no tourists stay in either of the areas. Hana has a couple of hotels, but it's impossible to lodge at Haleakala National Park; most of it is volcanic crater or scientific research zone. These regions are undeveloped and somewhat dangerous. It's fine to drive the main roads or to explore back roads with a guide, but venturing off alone into the Hana rainforest or the Haleakala crater is very inadvisable.

Still, no trip to Maui is complete without a Hana or Haleakala experience. The twisty road to Hana is as famous as the epic waterfalls at journey's end. The sunrise over Haleakala is truly inspirational—as any fan of Jimi Hendrix's "Purple Haze" knows.


While the adorable seaside town of Paia is not in Hana—or anywhere near—it is probably the town that is most often passed through on the way to the rainforest. This town is a destination in itself. It is arguably the world's top windsurfing location. It's also home to some fabulous art galleries, clothing boutiques and restaurants. Anyone who wonders what ever happened to the '60s should visit Pa'ia—it seems to be stuck in them.

Central Maui

While some travel writers rave about the untouched-by-tourists appeal of Hana, the truth is that Hana's main industry is tourism. Central Maui is the place that offers authentic local color. Compared with the rest of the island, it's decidedly un-lovely. Even semi-touristy Kahului is choked with asphalt and chain link, while Wailuku is, at first glance, a cluster of dilapidated buildings that seem to be under a constant black cloud. However, Kahului is the closest thing to a city that Maui has, and Wailuku is the county seat. Across the Mokulele Highway is Ma'alaea, an up-and-coming town known for its picturesque harbor and its near-constant winds.

Perhaps the main appeal of Maui is the way it manages to have a little bit of everything. It is simultaneously an undeveloped jungle and a bustling town. By offering the perfect combination of secluded natural beauty and sophisticated commercial appeal, this little island manages to touch a special place in everyone's heart.

North Shore

The North Shore of Maui offers a refreshing change from the ordinary vacation. Between exotic recreational opportunities, a peaceful and natural setting, and a diversified cultural environment, this is not your typical vacation spot. The North Shore (encompassing Paia, Kuau, Sprecklesville, Haiku and Huelo) has both pros and cons compared to the more popular west and south areas. On the positive side you will enjoy a relatively unspoiled tropical setting and be close to rainforest hiking trails, waterfalls, world class windsurfing, and uncrowded beaches. While there are plenty of shops and restaurants, there is a welcome absence of commercialization and high-rise development. Accommodations will be small-scale, privately-owned B&B or vacation rentals, where you can become acquainted with your hosts and have more access to an authentic experience of island culture. You will be conveniently situated for a day trip to the remote jungle village of Hana, or a visit to the crater of the dormant volcano.

Unfortunately, few north shore properties offer direct beach access, so it will be a short drive to reach the white sand. For those of you who must have your creature comforts and round-the-clock service, North Shore will be roughing it. Imagine, no 24-hour room service, no night life within walking distance, and it will rain! (after all, it is a jungle). Maybe you'll find North Shore a hardship, but if you are tough enough then this is the ideal island getaway. 

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