The name of the second-largest island in the Hawaiian archipelago is derived from the legend of Hawai‘iloa, the Polynesian navigator credited with the discovery of the Hawaiian Islands. According to legend, Hawai‘iloa named the island of Maui after his son, who in turn was named for the demigod Maui. Today, the island is also known as the Valley Isle. A world away from beach resorts, the bucolic scenery in Upcountry Maui reflects its agricultural and paniolo (cowboy) roots. On the slopes of Haleakala, you’ll drive by ranches and farms in the communities of Makawao and Kula. The air is scented with eucalyptus and pine; the forests of Olinda resound with birdsong. In the spring, jacaranda petals paint the road purple beneath the shade of their majestic trees. With 120 miles of coastline, Maui boasts more than 30 miles of spectacular beaches.
The Island’s Culture
There’s a reason why celebrities choose to have a home on Maui: it’s quiet and its residents are good-natured. Kahului is Maui’s busiest port and most populous metro area. This workaday town of some 20,000 people is usually the first city visitors to Maui see after touching down at nearby Kahului Airport. The southern and western side of the island bustles with tourists from around the world. But in Upcountry, it’s all about nature and surf. Once a plantation town centered on Hawaiian Commercial & Sugar Company, today Pa‘ia is one of the top windsurfing destinations in the world. It’s also an enclave for hippie-chic cafés, juice bars and vegan restaurants, plus shops sporting hemp products, East Indian imports and funky galleries catering to this community of mellow-yet-obsessive outdoor enthusiasts.
From Upcountry to the shoreline, rainforests to resorts, Maui is the island that has it all. The drive to Hana, though, has to be one of the most spectacular experiences. The three-hour drive—if you’re leaving from Lahaina or Kihei—stretches along 50 miles over single-lane bridges, past taro patches, lush rainforests and a bamboo forest. You’ll also find some of the island’s most striking trails here, including the one within Haleakala National Park. In the winter months, humpback whales find a safe haven in the Pailolo Channel. The island’s dominant geological presence is the 10,023-foot-high Haleakala, the world’s largest dormant volcano, and the perfect place to watch a sunrise.
Where to Explore
Maui is a diverse group of destinations, each sounding exotic and each living up to its impeccable reputation. Often called the “jewel in the crown of Maui,” Lahaina’s honors its history through its road structure and architecture, which have been carefully preserved for generations. Central Maui’s crowning glory is ‘Iao Needle, a 1,200-foot cone of hardened lava at the heart of a 6.2-acre state park just west of Wailuku. In Kihei, attractions include the Pacific Whale Foundation’s Marine Resource Center and whale watching in the Hawaiian Islands Humpback Whale National Marine Sanctuary. Mokapu, Ulua, Wailea and Polo Beaches offer prime snorkeling, swimming and unrivaled views of the neighboring islands of Lana‘i, Kaho‘olawe, and Molokini Islet. One of Ka‘anapali’s signature attractions, Pu‘u Keka‘a (Black Rock) is a unique outcropping of lava surrounded by thriving coral reef. And if you just want to lie in the sun, Maui’s beaches rival the best in the globe.