If you’re looking for a classic beach resort town with all the shops, restaurants, perfect weather, and great beaches nearby – Lahaina on the island of Maui is perhaps your best choice. This little town exudes country tourism charm. Be warned though – during the peak season this little village swells from a population of about 12,000 to nearly 40,000! That’s not even including the nearby resorts of Ka’anapali and Kapalua.
Still, Lahaina is a fun place to go and offers something for everyone. However, if you are looking to buy a slice of Hawaiian paradise, this may not be the place for you. Lahaina has some of Hawaii’s most expensive real estate with homes that can cost as much as $5 million dollars.
There’s a reason for those prices. Prior to contact, Lahaina was the capitol of the Maui Kingdom. It was also the capitol of the Kingdom of Hawaii from 1820-1845 under King Kamehameha III – he preferred it to Honolulu. There are still vestiges of that legacy there. Front Street, the bustling main drag of Lahaina dates back to that period. While some guides will tell you that the big banyan tree at Banyan Court Park was planted by Kamehameha III’s queen, it’s not true. It was planted by William Owen Smith in 1873 to celebrate 50 yeas of missionary work. There is no larger banyan tree in the United States. Nearby are the reconstructed bulwarks of Fort Lahaina.
It’s a sunny spot which is reflected in the Hawaiian name – meaning ‘cruel sun’. It’s dry most of the time but gets a bit of rain in the winter months. Lahaina was an important center of the whaling industry in the 1800s and the conflict between conservative missionaries and horny sailors was the stuff of legends. Fort Lahaina was actually built to protect the town against rioting sailors! The whaling has stopped but Lahaina is still a heavily used port for whale watching cruises from November to May.
There is no shortage of historical or tourist attractions in Lahaina. Among them the Bailey Museum, the Lahaina Courthouse, and the Prison. Walking maps are available at the Baldwin House Museum for a couple of dollars. There are a huge number of restaurants, bars, and shops on Front Street.
The biggest celebration in Lahaina every year is Halloween with huge crowds walking up and down the main street. It’s not exactly kid friendly after dark because of the many drunks staggering around. Mardii Gras of the Pacific is what I’ve heard it called, but I think that overstates things by quite a bit.
I’ve always enjoyed spending time in Pa’ia on the Hawaiian Island of Maui, but I have to admit – on this last trip – after more than a decade since my last visit – I wasn’t too keen on it. I’m sure it would be cool if it was your first time to go there. My wife and daughter liked it. The thing is – it used to be kind of a hippie art town – but like most hippie things (granola, brown bread, tofu, soy products, hemp) it’s now sort of trendy, chic, and over-priced. For me what made the hippie stuff great was that it was cheap AND healthy. Now, the cheap part is gone.
Same goes for Pa’ia – although, I will say that the natural foods store is still offering far better prices than the other food places on Maui. Mana Foods is a hell of a lot cheaper than Whole Foods or Down to Earth here on Oahu. There are some decent restaurants in Pa’ia – the most expensive and most famous of course being Mama’s Fish House – which used to be a bit of a secret until Oprah let the world know about it.
There are art galleries, tourist shops, and a couple of surf shops.
Pa’ia is the first town on the famous “Road to Hana.” It used to be a sugar town. Then it became sort of a forgotten and overly wet artist and surfer spot – cheaper than Lahaina or the other beach towns. The sugar mill closed in 2000 and like most places – it started catering to tourists. Pa’ia is sometimes called the capital of wind-surfing and has some world class spots for it. There are also some amazing beaches around this north shore town, but I’m not going to spoil them any further by calling them out. You’ll just have to explore to find them.
Pa’ia has about 3000 residents and lots and lots of tourists. It is the gateway to upcountry Maui and the road to Hana. It’s a cute little town – a place where hippies used to hang out and now it’s a place where tourists come to pretend to be hippies. It’s definitely worth a visit.
(Scroll down for my gallery of photos from the Road to Hana)
The Road to Hana – also known as the Hana Highway is Routes 36 and 360 along the East side of Maui. It connects the towns of Kahalui, Paia, and Hana. The destination is not the purpose of taking this trip, literally, you are there to experience the road. There are 59 bridges (most of them one way) and with stops you should count on a minimum of 8-hours round trip. The highway was opened in 1926 and fully paved during the 1960s.
In the early 2000’s on Maui, I took my rental car the rest of the way from Hana to Ulupalakua Ranch. This route is even more treacherous than the main Road to Hana. I considered doing it this time but when I heard one baby boomer in a Mustang recommending it to another baby boomer in a Jeep, I decided it was a better idea to take the Road to Hana back – surprisingly – we saw very little traffic on the way back – so my assumption is that a majority of people are now taking the so called ‘road less travelled’ (which, if true, makes it the road more travelled).
The Road to Hana is one of those fantasy trips that people dream about doing. Sixty two miles with more than 620 turns and a natural treasure around every bend. Waterfalls, black sand beaches, green sand beaches, red sand beaches – tropical forest, more waterfalls, hikes to such amazingly named places as the ‘Seven Sacred Pools’. There are absolutely breathtaking views along the way with climbs along the coast up to as high as 4200 feet. Some essential stopping points are Ho’okipa Lookout, Twin Falls, Kaumahina State Wayside Park, Honomanu Bay, Ke’anae Arboretum, Wailua Valley (and falls), Upper Waikani Falls (the three bears), Pua’ Kaa State Wayside, Hanawi Falls, Wai’anapanapa State Park, Kahanu Botanical Gardens, and the Nahiku Marketplace (which, while priced for tourists, still offers some delicious lunch options).
The Road to Hana is beautiful and there are many places worth stopping along the way – if you can find a parking spot. Going past Hana to Kipahulu and Ohe’o Gulch is essential.
You can break your budget with mediocre roadside attractions along the way. A good example is the lovely but overpriced ‘Garden of Eden’ -a beautiful botanical garden that charges $15 per person to have a walk in the jungle, buy bird food to feed their birds, and shop in their gallery. Personally, my recommendation is to pass this one as the free botanical gardens, parks, and trails along the way offer everything you can get here (and more).
It’s hard to get a photo at any of the attractions along the way without a whole bunch of tourists (like us) in the background. Patience is the key here. If you are dreaming of being alone in beautiful and remote tropical areas – the Road to Hana is not your destination. Parking at the trailheads, beachparks, and attractions along the way is also a problem – at one point, I felt like I was jockeying for a space at the Iwilei Costco on Oahu (not a recommended experience).
Everything on the Road to Hana is priced at the highest possible amount. This is a well defined tourist route and you are paying tourist prices at every point.
I’d driven the Road to Hana a couple of times in the past. Once in 2005 and again in 2007. This was more treacherous than either of those trips. The problem was the constant stream of rented Ford Mustangs and Jeep Wranglers going in both directions – intersperced with pissed off locals trying to get home or someplace else and willing to make insane passing maneuvers when the Mustangs and Wranglers didn’t pull over to make way.
Don’t get me wrong – I’m sympathetic to both groups. After all, we live on Oahu and are visiting Maui – we were a little bit of both tourist and local, but both groups were engaging in some shitty behaviour. While most of the tourists used the pull outs to let groups of 3 or more cars go past – all it took was one jerk living out his jeep fantasy while holding his GoPro over the t-top who refused to pull over and left a line of ten or more cars behind him to ruin it for everyone. Also, while most of the locals patiently waited for a safe opportunity to pass – there always seemed to be at least one aggressive teenager in an oversized Tonka truck that was willing to play chicken with oncoming cars and endanger everyone. I lost count after the six or seventh near miss – but that was fairly early in the day.
I can understand why some people want to come to Maui and stay in the beach resorts in Kapalua, Kaanapali, or Kihei. Maui has beautiful beaches, great snorkeling, and some real high end resort experiences. That’s just not what we are looking for when we come to Maui.
We live on Oahu so we get plenty of beaches, resorts, and tourist activities. For us, the reason to come to Maui is to enjoy a break from tourism, the city, and the grind of traffic and city life on a resort island. We come to Maui to experience more of a simple Hawaii. The kind of Hawaii where you can look up at the stars at night, shower outside under a wealth of flowers, and wake up to birds, deer, and the sounds of nature.
Our go to place for all of that is Peace of Maui, an upcountry B&B located near the Maui cowboy town of Makawao. Peace of Maui is definitely not a resort. If you are looking for five star accommodations, this isn’t the place for you. If you are looking for golfing, beach umbrellas, and early morning swims – this isn’t the place for you. If you are looking for waiters and valets and bellboys and concierge – this isn’t the place for you. You need to know this before you book – you are not booking a luxury vacation at Peace of Maui.
What you are booking is a chance to enjoy the simple things on Maui. Peace of Maui is hard to classify. B&B might be closest, but from my experience – it’s more like a hostel for grown-ups with private rooms, laid back vibes, and a do-it-yourself ethos that works for those who (like us) don’t really want to stay in a resort that could be in Los Angeles, Miami, Honolulu, the Philippines, Australia, or dozens of other beach destinations. Peace of Maui gives you the chance to stay someplace that is uniquely and totally Hawaii and Maui.
There are no private bathrooms or kitchen unless you rent the cottage. We rented the Hibiscus room, a classic plantation style shack with unobstructed views of Haleakala. The bathrooms are in the main lodge (there are three of them for all rooms to share as well as two indoor showers and an outdoor shower that was near us in the Hibiscus Room.). We had a queen bed, a pullout single bed, a mini-fridge and a dresser. Nothing fancy but comfy beds and pillows, clean sheets, and a locking door.
Peace of Maui sits on a couple of acres and is surrounded by grasslands at the base of Haleakala. The shared kitchen is reminiscent of youth hostels with each room getting a cupboard and a section of the main refrigerator. The owners, Tammi and Mika live above the main lodge. Their two dogs Ranger and Awahi wander the property freely. There is an outdoor patio area near the kitchen and then a bigger outdoor patio near where we stayed with a hot tub, the outdoor shower, fire pits, and plenty of sitting areas. Mika is building an outdoor kitchen in this area too.
It should probably be noted, that the owners are Christians and there is a fair amount of Christian material around – be it the artwork, the embroidered towels, or the religious tracts – that being said, at no point was there any sort of conversation regarding religion or anything like that. I mention this because if you are for some reason ‘anti-religion’ or ‘anti-Christian’ this might put you off. We are not Christians and weren’t bothered by any of it, but I know some people have stronger views about his sort of thing. To be honest, I probably would not have booked if this had been obvious on the website – and if that had been the case, we would have missed out on a spectacular place. We really loved it!
The only reasons we had to go into the main house were to get access to the wifi (it doesn’t reach the Hibiscus Room), use the kitchen, and use the toilets. If there had been an outdoor composting toilet, an outdoor kitchen, and a stronger wifi signal – we would not have needed to go into the house at all. I suspect that all those things are coming. In any event, it’s nearly perfect as it is. Our interactions with other guests took place on the outdoor patio or in the kitchen. We swapped notes on going out the Road to Hana or going up Haleakala and generally interacted a bit less intimately than if we had been in a hostel but a bit more intimately than if we had been in a resort – just right for my tastes at this point in life.
Peace of Maui is perfectly located for all of your adventures on Maui. Just ten miles from the airport and an easy drive into Paia or Makawao, not far from the farms of Kula and the Haleakala Highway, close to the starting point of the Road to Hana and far enough away from Kihei and Lahaina to be peaceful, but close enough to be convenient. It’s about a 30-minute drive to the Maui Ocean Center, Lahaina, or down to Kihei.
Rooms start at the astoundingly reasonable rate of $115 per night and the cottage starts at $250 per night. This is a small place with limited capacity, so be sure to book early. Make your reservations at www.peaceofmaui.com
The view of Haleakala from the patio each morning where I drank my coffee.
I don’t want fans of the Waikiki Aquarium to get up in arms here – I love that place, but the difference between the Waikiki Aquarium and the Maui Ocean Center is like the difference between community college and university – and that’s all the comparing of the two I will do. The truth is that families traveling with kids will love both places. First let me give a little background.
The Maui Ocean Center opened in 1998 with the mission of respectfully educating and sharing the treasures of the Pacific Ocean as well as educating about and sharing many aspects of Hawaiian culture with visitors. At just over twenty years old, it’s a relatively new attraction in Hawaii, but already one of the best with more than sixty exhibits, a 750,000 gallon living reef aquarium, and the awesome 3-D encounter with humpback whales.
We arrived on Maui several hours before we could check in to our room at Peace of Hawaii and this was the perfect first destination. My wife was deeply immersed in the important exhibit on Kaho’olawe, the Hawaiian island that the US Navy bombed into an uninhabitable wasteland. This was one of the most important of the inhabited islands to the Hawaiian people’s culture and yet somehow, some military genius decided that using it as a bombing range was a good idea – thankfully, Kaho’olawe is making a slow recovery thanks to the hard work and bravery of activists and preservationists.
Our 7-year-old loved the Turtle Lagoon, the touching tide pool, and the living reef exhibit. Of course, seeing the sharks and rays and walking through the shark tunnel was a thrill for all of us. The 3-D whale encounter in the sphere was good but felt like it was a little bit short, which is probably a sign that we enjoyed it. 3-D technology is catching up quickly and I’m not sure how long this will still be amazing to anyone – but at the moment, it’s still well worth doing.
The Maui Ocean Center is open every day from 9am to 5pm. Admission is $35 for adults and $25 for kids ($34.95 and $24.95 +tax, so who are we trying to kid here?) It’s a bit steep in my opinion, but then admission to everything is expensive these days and the value here is quite good. Military and kama’aina get a 35% discount with valid ID.
The Maui Ocean Center is located at Ma’alaea Harbor on the West Side of Maui. From the airport it’s an easy 15-20 minute drive.
When I first came to Maui, sometime in the early 2000’s – I was in awe. I’d grown up hearing about Maui – mostly in terms of Maui Wowee – but also about the beauty, how it was place the stars gathered, and one of the most spiritual places on the planet.
My first time here (because I’m here again as I write this) was a budget trip just to see the place. I stayed in hostels, hitchhiked around, swam, drank, smoked my first Maui Wowee and seriously felt the vibe. I don’t have pictures from that trip because I didn’t have a camera and in those days, there were no cameras on phones – but in fact, I didn’t have a phone at that point either.
However, it pretty much felt like this picture. It was awesome.
The next trip was totally different. Troubled relationship, four star resort, great food and wine, luxury experience but with personal and money issues. It felt more like this picture:
Then, there was a trip where I was working as a driver – taking PGA golfers on tours and to their tee times. I was a servant and I hated it – though there were moments like when one of them generously bought me a $150 Kobe Beef hamburger at the end of the Road to Hana. That one felt more like this picture:
After that, I had one trip where I stayed a couple of nights in Lahaina before going to Lanai. That one was a little bit like the first trip but without the carefree – more like I was looking for the carefree but still carrying all my cares. That trip felt like this:
Now, back again and I have to admit – Maui is a great reflector of what you are feeling in your life. It’s a bit like a magic mirror. I’ll be writing about Maui and the adventures and experiences I find here this time around – I’ll try to keep it to the facts and try to understand that what I experience here is still likely a reflection of my own inner experience – at the moment – it feels a bit like this picture – So far, so good!
Maui is one of those places it would be easy to stay forever – ust rip up your return ticket and never look back. Maui is slightly larger than Oahu but still quite a bit smaller than the Big Island – which makes it the second largest of the Hawaiian Islands. It is a wonderland of outdoor activities, tourist stops, and has plenty of family friendly accomodations, events, and tours.
If you are looking for luxury, you don’t have to look far on Maui. Luxury resorts by Fairmont, Four Seasons, Hilton and other hoteliers abound in all the islands most desirable areas. Mid-range hotels fill up fast and budget options are extremely limited. Your best option is to book a vacation rental, but be warned, they fill up quickly and sometimes must be booked a year or more in advance – especially during the peak seasons – which generally coincide with the times kids are out of school (think Christmas, spring break, summer break, and Thanksgiving)
Road to Hana
Two pieces of advice regarding the Road to Hana. First, if you want to see it – hire a driver because it is a winding and twisty road and as the driver you need to keep your eyes on the road and will miss most of the beauty. Second, make sure to take the time to stop and hike away from the road in a few places. Not only does this keep you and the occumpants of your vehicle from getting car sick, but also you come across some amazing waterfalls, beaches, and tropical wonders just steps from the road that you will never see if you don’t stop and stretch your legs.
If you want to delve into the whaling history of Hawai’i, there is no place better to do that than magical Maui. Lahaina is one of the few places on the planet where you find a fusion of nautical, missionary, and Native Hawaiian cultures – along with plenty of tourism. The block sized Banyan tree, the whaling museum, and the adorable old time boardwalk all offer instagram worthy shots and hours of idle enjoyment.
See Turtles and Whales
While some might argue that the best place to see turtles and whales is on the Big Island of Hawaii, it’s a hard arguement to win when the Valley Isle enters the conversation. In addition to snorkeling cruises to Molokini and the absolutely epic diving that Maui offers – there are a great variety of whale watching, dolphin watching and turtle tours available. Whales in particular love the waters around Maui during the January to March months and it’s not uncommon to see both mothers and calves on a whale cruise.
Goats, Gardens and Fish
Surfing Goat Dairy is a real dairy farm where you can sample delicious gourmet cheeses and if you are traveling with children, they can feed goats and watch them get milked. It used to be that the kids could even try their hand at milking the goats, but health and safetly concerns have taken that option off the table.
Maui also offers a world class aquarium at the Maui Ocean Center Hawaiian Aqaurium. Exotic ocean animals, more than seventy exhibits and even a huge under tank tunnel where visitors can watch sharks swimming all around them!
On the island there are lots of opportunities to visit farms and ranches. One long time favorite is the nose and eye overwhelmimg Ali’i Kula Lavender farm, while the lavendar fields are the big attraction here, the farm also has other herb gardens, an small bakery and a gift shop. Don’t forget to try the lavendar scones!
Maui looks like a small island on a map but it’s not so tiny after all! Make sure that you bring reef safe sunscreen, swimming gear, and a huge sense of adventure. Don’t be surprised if you see famous movie stars, Buddhist monks, or world leaders walking around in flip flops!