The second largest of the Hawaiian Islands, Maui is as diverse as its people with physical allure ranging from mountainous tropical rainforests, sandy crescent beaches, rolling natural pastures, and rocky volcanic cliffs. Add to this an abundance of natural sunshine and temperatures that average between 75-85 degrees as well as a variety of outdoor water activities and you can see why Maui attracts more than 2 million visitors annually.
This was the first visit to this island for my wife and me and renting a car was a must in order to see as much as possible in a week’s time. I opted for a compact vehicle owing to the high cost of gas here ($4.89 at the time of my visit). My rental through Budget Rental Car at the airport was effortless and they had me on the road in short order.
Fortunately, there are an abundance of accommodations to fit any budget, including hotels, timeshares, condominiums and B&B’s. We drove to South Maui for the first part of our stay at the Wailea Beach Marriott Resort & Spa. This area is known for its upscale resorts and five stunning crescent-shaped beaches nestled along the technicolor shoreline.
The Marriott is situated on 22 acres (about 4.5 football fields) of gorgeous oceanfront property, which, together with their low-rise buildings, give the resort a spacious feeling. Each of the 544 guest rooms includes amenities such as flat screen TV’s, high-speed Internet and private balconies. The bed was so comfortable, we had a hard time getting out of it each day. Of course, if total relaxation is the order of the day, then why bother?
There are five pool areas, including one just for kids and a cell phone free serenity pool just for adults. My recommendation is to book a private cabana (includes water and a fruit plate) overlooking the pool and the Pacific Ocean. This was one of the highlights of our trip and total bliss. During November through early May, you can see humpback whales just offshore. I was fortunate enough to catch one breaching about ½ mile away and snapped a photo with my long camera lens. (Yes, I never go anywhere without it, even the pool.)
There are a host of activities on-site including golf, tennis and the resort’s 10,000 square-foot Mandara Spa. Off property excursions such as sunset sails, snorkeling or whale watching (my choice) aboard the catamaran Ali’I Nui can also be arranged. On our trip, we saw a pod of whales gliding gracefully in and out of the cobalt-blue ocean. During the season, you can get close enough to feel the spray from these masters of the deep. The price includes champagne, wine or beer, tropical sodas (including homemade ginger ale), and an assortment of snacks.
Kumu Bar and Grill is the place to go for poolside drinks and snacks. Their mixologist expert Joe creates some of the best tropical libations on the island, including the killer Pele’s Lava Flow inside a pineapple. Try this together with their sweet Maui onion rings at sunset and you may never want to leave.
Another not to be missed activity is the nearby Te Au Moana (the ocean tide) Luau. After a grand buffet that includes Imu baked Kalua pig, Hawaiian sweet potatoes and sautéed island fish, performers tell the story of the people of Maui and the Pacific using a combination of contemporary songs and hula. The highlight was the fire knife dance of Samoa. I was 20 feet away taking photos and could feel the heat generated from the whirling, flaming blades.
After leaving Wailea, we took some time to explore some of the many small and charming towns that dot the island. Central Maui and upcountry, as it is called, offer a glimpse into simple island life built upon tradition, values and family businesses passed down from one generation to another. In Wailuku, near the West Maui Mountains, the area is known as the mom and pops with many wooden storefronts. Mark Twain once lived here on Market Street.
For a taste of great local food while in Wailuku, try AK’s Café run by Chef Elaine. Although located in a non-descript storefront, the cuisine is healthy, affordable and, well, exceptional. Her crab cakes are to die for and some of the best I have had anywhere. They are sold locally in stores all around town.
No trip would be complete without an excursion to the Road to Hana, a 68 mile serpentine but quite scenic drive connecting the towns of Kahului (largest) and Hana in east Maui. Along the way, there are a variety of roadside vendors, many of which have signs alerting drivers that they are their last chance for food before they get to Hana. We learned that you can pretty much ignore these signs as more appeared around further bends in the road. The actual drive is a thing of beauty with glimpses of the ocean; waterfalls; lush, green vegetation; and interesting sights. Once you get to your destination, however, there is little more than a general store and a gas station, but as they say, the journey is the thing.
Our home during the last part of our trip was the town of Lahaina in West Maui, once the royal capital of the Hawaiian Kingdom. We chose the Maui Guest House after some research and finding that they are consistently ranked #2 on Tripadvisor.com.
This B&B is located in a residential neighborhood just a couple of blocks away from the bustling and popular Front Street where you can shop in the many retail shops, dine, snorkel, dive, or just take a stroll.
Walking in the front door, we couldn’t help but notice the cool temperature, soft Hawaiian music playing and vintage furniture. After being greeted warmly by our host Tanna, we were made to feel like this home was ours for the next couple of days.
Our room was large and came fully loaded with a queen-size Tempur-Pedic bed, private bath, 6-person softub, and flat screen TV. Even though the rooms are all fairly close to the kitchen and living room, they felt very private and insulated from other sounds. Each room also has a DVD player and a huge collection of movies from which to choose.
With competing large hotels nearby, I found the Maui Guest House to be a perfect choice for this part of the island. Folks like us looking for a good value or honeymooners will appreciate the all inclusive pricing ($129- $189); the quiet, safe and central location close to Front Street; the large comfortable rooms; and Tanna herself, who acts as your personal concierge and can send you off in the right direction and also book discounted attractions. The house also accommodates divers and their gear and Tanna is a certified Divemaster.
Driving along the coast from Lahaina took us past endless beaches, and at some locations, sports enthusiasts were wind surfing, kite boarding and, what seems to be a new favorite, paddle surfing. If you have been to the other islands, I’m sure you will find that Maui combines the best of all of them. The colors of the sky, landscape and ocean, along with the friendliness and spirit of its people, all seem to converge here into one harmonious feast for the eyes and senses.
If you take the best of each of the Hawaiian Islands–the natural beauty, balmy weather and pristine beaches– and roll them all into one, you would have Maui. In fact, the local phrase Maui Nô ka’oi (Maui the best) isn’t just a trite slogan but indicative of a lifestyle that encapsulates the good life on this lush tropical island.
|Bamboo Room-Maui Guest House|
(Note: All accommodations and attractions and the rental car and cuisine were sponsored by the providers mentioned in this story).
Recipe for Pele’s Lava Flow (Kumu Bar and Grill)
1 ½ oz. Meyers Platinum Rum
1 oz. Coconut syrup
1 oz. Pineapple juice
1 oz. Ice cream
¼ Piece of banana
1 Cup ice
1 oz. Strawberries
Puree all ingredients (except strawberries) together.
Pour strawberry in first, then pour mix into glass.
(Good values in May and November when
rooms can be found for as low as $199)