Maui's 150 miles of coastline boast 33 miles of beach--more than any other Hawaiian island. The variety of beaches along Maui's coast is extraordinary; visitors will find everything from classic white-sand beaches to black-sand lava-formed beaches, and even a shimmering red-sand beach located near Hana.
Most of Maui's best beaches are located on the island's west and southwest coasts, where the water tends to be calmer. Not surprisingly, this is also where the majority of the resorts are clustered. Of special note are the beaches of Kaanapali, Wailea, and Kapalua Bay.
Hawaii and surfing are often mentioned in the same breath, and it's easy to understand why. The shores of Maui are legendary for their challenging waves; and the island's beaches are varied enough so that surfers of all levels can find waves at just their speed.
Conveniently, many beaches in the resort areas offer lessons for beginners. Hookipa Beach on the north shore is probably the island's most famous surfing spot; in fact it was on this beach that the modern sport of surfing originally took hold in Maui. Honolua Bay, located next to Slaughterhouse Beach on Maui's northwest coast, also inspires awe among experienced surfers, many of whom come here during the winter to test their skill in waves that often reach up to 15 feet.
Of course, if your surfing skills are a bit rusty, there is no harm in watching, and it is not unusual to see crowds of wowed spectators on the shore.
Snorkeling and Scuba
Maui's underwater landscape rivals the breathtaking scenery on the land. Probably the island's best-known snorkeling and scuba location is Molokini, a volcanic islet between East Maui and the island of Kahoolawe where a submerged crater shelters an enormous variety of colorful fish and plant life. While the huge influx of daily visitors here is definitely taking its toll, the site still offers a lovely glimpse into a genuine underwater habitat.
Other equally good snorkeling and scuba locations include the beach near the Sheraton Maui on Kaanapali, where the fish are tame enough to eat out of your hands, and the easily accessible Kapalua Beach. In addition, many tour operators offer snorkeling and scuba-diving excursions to the wondrous and more untouched sites off of the nearby island of Lanai.
Maui has earned a reputation as one of the world's best windsurfing destinations--in fact, two world-class competitions are held on the island every year. The demanding sport combines surfing and sailing, drawing upon the best of both.
Experts--and experts only--enjoy careening off the waves at Hookipa Beach; it's worth a trip just to watch them. But plenty of the island's beaches offer ideal conditions for windsurfing neophytes. The calm waves on Kahana Beach are ideal for beginners, and intermediate-level windsurfers might enjoy unfurling their sails at the popular Spreckelsville Beach. Maui is home to numerous windsurfing and water-sports schools; just ask your hotel concierge for recommendations.
Following an ancient pattern of migration, humpback whales arrive in the islands like clockwork every year between November and April. These enormous mammals travel in groups, and their anthropomorphic antics are a delight to watch. It is possible to see whales from many of Maui's beaches--although locals argue that the beaches near Makena and Maalaea are the best for viewing the fabulous creatures.
Numerous boating companies on the island offer whale-watching tours, but the most educational excursion is given by Pacific Whale Foundation. This non-profit organization offers a two-and-a-half hour outing aboard their 53-foot cruiser, which leaves from the Maalaea Harbor daily during the winter months.
If you wish to learn more about the humpback whales, visit the Whale Center of the Pacific in Kaanapali. Also known as the Whalers Village Museum, the center has many displays showcasing the fabulous animals and their habitat, and also has exhibits pertaining to the history of whaling.
Anglers adore the year-round sportfishing available off of the shores of Maui, and numerous charter companies on the island offer day and half-day excursions. Pacific blue marlin is undoubtedly the most coveted catch, and this variety of fish usually bites during the autumn months. Prize specimens of wahoo, dophinfish, yellowfin tuna, and bonito are also found in the waters off Maui, and, of course, on most restaurant menus as well.
Maui is a golfer's dream. The island's many courses offer an exciting variety of terrain, challenging all levels of ability. Of course, all of the golf courses share one unifying trait--the fabulous scenery.
Probably the top spot for golf is Kapalua. Three championship courses occupy this property, and include a course designed by Arnold Palmer and Francis Duane, a course designed by Arnold Palmer and Ed Seay, and another bearing the signature stamp of Bill Coore and Ben Crenshaw. The Kapalua hosts the Lincoln-Mercury Kapalua International tournament every year in November.
Other top spots include courses at the Makena, the Royal Kaanapali, the Wailea, and the Sandalwood golf clubs.
A perfect way to explore Maui's hinterland, horseback riding is also an adventure in itself. Guided overnight trail rides in Haleakala State Park available through Charley's Trail Rides and Pack Trips allow visitors the chance to experience Maui's incredible flora and fauna firsthand. These trips are extremely popular and should be booked at least a month in advance. Many other companies offer day trips through Haleakala, Maui's upcountry, and the Hana area.
Be sure to leave room in your suitcase for souvenirs, as it is nearly impossible to avoid the lure of Maui's numerous shops. Ubiquitous island mementos include colorful floral-print clothing and T-shirts; traditional arts and crafts, including jewelry made from coral, enamel, and precious metals; feather and flower leis; and a host of take-home foods, which include everything from exotic fruits to coffee, macadamia nuts to Maui potato chips.
Large malls are usually air-conditioned and feature chain stores like the Sharper Image, Louis Vuitton, Benetton, and Esprit.
Not nearly as wild as the downright rowdy clubs in Oahu's Waikiki, most of Maui's nightlife caters to an older, more-refined crowd. The town of Lahaina does have its share of hot spots, however, including bar-restaurants like Planet Hollywood, Moose McGillicuddy's and dance clubs such as Longhi's and the Stephen Stills-owned Studio 505.
For more of a taste of the Hawaii of yesterday, ask us about traditional luaus. Usually held on a picturesque beach, these fun-filled evenings pay tribute to Hawaiian culture with traditional drinks, food, and hula demonstrations.