Friday, November 27, 2015         

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Things We Love on Maui

By Christie Wilson


I love Maui so much that I refuse to move from our home there even though my job is in Honolulu. So when friends, family and co-workers are planning a trip to the Valley Isle, I'm happy to offer some tips on what to do and where to go.

Here are five things I love to do with guests:

1. Halfway to Hana

If you get queasy just thinking about the 600 or so curves on the road to Hana, take it (almost) halfway to the picturesque taro-growing community of Keanae. Before entering the quiet village, pull over between mile marker 16 and 17 on Hana Highway (aka Highway 36) and go for an easy nature walk among the exotic flora, fruit trees, tropical wood specimens, and native plants on display at the state's Keanae Arboretum (no entry fee). Piinaau Stream runs through the park; expect to get muddy. No facilities available.

When pau, turn left off the highway and head down Keanae Road into the peninsula. Rugged lava outcroppings provide a dramatic seascape, but avoid the treacherous waters. This really isn't a tourist town, so please be respectful of the residents when you explore. You can drive to the end of the road for more stunning scenery, visit the Congregational church built in 1856 of lava rocks and coral mortar, and drop by the Keanae Landing Fruit Stand for hotdogs and smoothies. Pick up Aunty Sandy's banana bread and ono coconut candy for snacks or omiyage. Before you head back to town, drive a little farther east on Hana Highway to take in the view from the Keanae lookouts, where the patchwork of ancient taro loi comes into focus.

One of the island's best-kept secrets when it comes to accommodations is the Maui YMCA's Camp Keanae, which offers tent and dorm-style camping, as well as two fully equipped, two-bedroom cottages with wrap-around lanai. The camping area overlooks Nuaailua Bay; the last time we were there a pod of dolphins spent the day frolicking in the waters. Nonmember rates range from $20 for singles and $35 for families for tent camping, to $150 a night for the well-appointed cottages. Call 248-8355 or visit

2. Adventure on the high seas

For guests who can't imagine visiting Maui without boarding a snorkeling, dolphin- or whale-watch cruise, I offer this advice: Don't book until you get there. You never know what the ocean conditions are going to be like and nothing kills a vacation like a serious bout of seasickness.

It's hard to go wrong with any of the Maui tour boat companies, but my favorite whale watch is Pacific Whale Foundation's two-hour cruise out of Maalaea Harbor. The nonprofit organization's modern, eco-friendly boats offer room to move about the vessel and certified marine naturalists who provide running commentary. And two hours is just about right for being out on the water.

Sightings are guaranteed during the winter whale season, and every time we've been out on the foundation's cruise we've had a close encounter with one of the behemoths.

Prices start at $24.95 for adults and $17.95 for keiki ages 7 to 12. Kids ages 6 and under go free. (Twenty percent discount for kamaaina.) Visit

For the more adventurous, hop on the Expeditions ferry at Lahaina Harbor for a day trip to Lanai. You're bound to see dolphins and/or whales (flying fish for sure) on the 45-minute voyage to Manele Harbor. A short walk takes you to Hulopoe Bay, a world-class marine preserve popular with spinner dolphins and snorkelers alike. Roundtrip fares for kamaaina are $40 for adults, $20 for kids; reservations:

Pack a picnic lunch for the beach, or catch the bus from the harbor to Lanai City for $10 and dine at Joe and Georgia Abilay's Blue Ginger Cafe (808-565-6363,

3. Foreplay at the municipal course

If you're a golfer or just like to drive the cart, there are plenty of gorgeous golf links available from one end of Maui to the other. But you won't find a better bargain — with amazing views to boot — than at the county's Waiehu Golf Course near Wailuku. Most of the front nine is a short slice from the ocean and east-facing views of Haleakala. (I've found hundreds of golf balls along the beach when the tide is right.) During the winter months you're likely to see humpback whales lolling about just a few hundred yards from shore.

We usually have no problem walking on in the late afternoon when you can play at a more leisurely pace.

Enjoy breakfast, lunch, happy hour or an early dinner at the classy but reasonably priced clubhouse restaurant, Cafe O'Lei (open until 5 p.m. daily).

Kamaaina who live outside Maui County pay $25; out-of-state residents, $55. A cart for two is $20. Call 243-7400.

4. Haleakala: More than a crater

Otherworldly Haleakala Crater is truly awe-inspiring, but for a more intimate nature experience, don't overlook Hosmer Grove below the 7,000-foot elevation just inside the entrance to the national park. A half-mile loop trail takes you to a gulch where Maui creepers, apapane, iiwi and other birds can be spotted flitting from branch to branch. Bring binoculars for a better look, and if you're still enough, some of the birds may forage on bushes just an arm's length away.

There are also tent campgrounds, barbecue grills and pit toilets at Hosmer.

While thousands trek to the mountain for sunrise, we like to go in the late afternoon hours when the park is nearly empty. Stay for sunset — make sure to bring a jacket or blanket for the chill — then head down to Makawao town for dinner at Makawao Steak House, Casanova Italian Restaurant & Deli or Polli's Mexican Restaurant; also nearby is Bev Gannon's Haliimaile General Store.

The entrance fee to Haleakala National Park is $10 per vehicle. The pass is good for three days, so use it again when you journey to Oheo Pools in the park's Kipahulu District. Visit for more information.

5. Beat the heat Upcountry

When Central Maui gets a little too hot and stuffy, we head Upcountry to Polipoli State Park. But first, we stop at Pukalani Superette (15 Makawao Ave., 572-7616) for chili chicken, chow fun and other grinds. Continue on Kula Highway (Highway 37) until mile marker 13. Just past Harold Rice Memorial Park, turn left up Kekaulike Avenue (Junction 377). Drive about a quarter mile around the bend and take a quick right up winding Waipoli Road. Head past Alii Kula Lavender (808-878-3004) to cruise through open pastures and take in expansive views of the Central Valley, South Maui, Lanai, Molokai and Kahoolawe. Pull over anywhere, set up some folding chairs and picnic right out of your car trunk. You might even spot paragliders circling silently overhead. There's a good chance you'll get caught in the fog belt, so bring a light jacket or blanket.

(It's best not to venture all the way to the campground and hiking trails at the end of the road in the Kula Forest Reserve at the 6,200-foot elevation unless you have a four-wheel-drive vehicle.)

Too much effort? Grab a picnic table atop the hill at Rice Park at the 2,500-foot elevation. And if you're packing kids, you might want to also pack some cardboard for sliding down the grassy slope. Cheap fun!

If at all possible, plan your visit for the spring, when the jacaranda and silver oak trees are in glorious bloom.

(For a more scenic route, continue up Haleakala Highway instead of taking Kula Highway. Once you pass the sign pointing the way to Haleakala National Park, the highway becomes Kekaulike Avenue and turns downhill, so look for the left turn at Waipoli. If you meet up with Kula Highway, you've gone too far.)

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