One place I had been dying to visit for as long as I can remember has always been Hawaii. My parents had been multiple times already and I have been following photographers and bloggers from there for years. Everything about the islands of Hawaii is absolutely beautiful to me - they are not only gorgeous beaches, but full of tropical forests and gorgeous mountain landscapes, they truly have everything (well except snow, duh). So you can imagine my excitement when I was finally invited to join my family on a trip there last summer. Not only was it a trip to Hawaii, but virtually an all expenses paid trip to Hawaii… even better!
While I would have loved to see all of the Hawaiian islands, our trip was solely on Maui. I do love to hop around to different places and experience different things, but being able to spend a full 10 days in a place like Maui was honestly one of the best experiences of my life thus far. I highly recommend picking an island and sticking with it if you are taking a trip to Hawaii. Each island has so much to offer and there was never a day on Maui that I felt like I didn’t have something to do.
When flying into Maui, you will not be disappointed with the views, they are incredible. It doesn’t matter what side of the plane you’re on because you circle nearly the whole island while coming around to the airport. It’s a beautiful first glimpse at the vast landscape the island and everything it has to offer. Now one thing I will warn you about that I was completely unaware of when I arrived in Maui… it is WINDY. I’m not talking your typical beach breeze throwing some hair in your face, I’m talking constant 20 mph crosswinds that will take your hat right off your head the second you step out of the airport (trust me, it happened). Aside from that, getting out of the airport is a pretty pleasant experience. It is super easy to navigate and it didn’t ever seem very crowded driving both in and out. You’ll see quite a few chickens running around outside the airport, all over the island actually. It’s like Maui’s own little welcoming party, which I found quite funny.
There are numerous parts of the island frequented by visitors, and each has their own look and feel. We stayed on Ka’anapali Beach, which is on the Western side of the island near Lahaina. While it is a pretty popular area for visitors and tourists, the majority of the hotels and condos are fairly low rise and they all have a very beautiful Hawaiian feel to them so it doesn’t feel like you’ve just walked into a tourist trap. Every accommodation along Ka’anapali Beach has its own distinct feel and personality, but the island’s most authentic Hawaiian hotel is the Ka’anapali Beach Hotel (https://www.kbhmaui.com/) (let’s just call it KBH). Don’t just take my word for it either, the people of the island actually recognize it as such, and it was also rated the number 1 top hotel in all of Hawaii by the Conde Nast Traveler Readers Choice Awards, so yea… it’s a great hotel. Now of course after I just hyped the KBH up so much, we didn’t actually stay there this trip. My parents typically always stay at Ka’anapali Beach Hotel, but since I was with them we actually stayed at the condos right next door for some extra space and the privacy of multiple rooms in one rental. We did however spend many nights next door at KBH watching shows and eating dinner which I will touch on a bit later. The condo we stayed at was called The Whaler at Ka’anapali Beach (https://www.thewhaler.com/), and we had the most amazing stay there. I can’t rave about the views and the service enough, it was absolutely incredible. We had a beachfront condo on the seventh floor and we were able to watch both the sun rise and set from our balcony. Honestly, it was magical. The western side of the island faces two smaller islands, Moloka’i and Lanai, and every evening I could sit outside and watch the sun set over the islands. Talk about living.
As I said earlier, Kaanapali Beach is full of activities and things to do. Staying at The Whaler we were just a few minutes walk to Whalers Village which is full of beachfront restaurants and shops and a couple Maui staples like Lailani’s on the Beach and Hula Grill. Multiple evenings were spent at both places enjoying their happy hour and listening to live music. One afternoon I actually spent about 3 hours at the bar at Leilani’s for happy hour just mingling with the bartenders and meeting some locals, while also having one too many mai tai’s (whoops), and it was honestly one of my favorite memories from my trip. The people of the island are absolutely wonderful. But back to the good stuff… Hula Grill had an amazing happy hour and the live Hawaiian music was incredible, they even have hula dancers alongside the musicians, which was such a fun addition. Leilani’s has an incredible dinner menu and you HAVE to try the hula pie if you go, it’s become somewhat of a staple around there. Now if you want some good night time entertainment but aren’t ready for the full blown luau experience, head back over the Ka’anapali Beach Hotel for some amazing performances by some of the local hula school students. It is so authentically Hawaiian and they put on such a beautiful performance, not to mention the little kids are so cute! You can sit on the patio up close and sip on some drinks or sit further back at the restaurant to watch while you eat, but either way you will enjoy every minute. They host different performances throughout the week, so you have so many opportunities to see shows of all kinds while you’re there.
Along with great shopping and eating around Ka’anapali Beach, there’s also loads of fun activities. As you make your way down the beach, there is stand after stand and umbrella after umbrella of parasailing, surfing, paddle boarding, and more. Being the adventurous soul that I am, I of course tried them all. I can’t say I am a natural born surfer, but the instructors at Island Style Adventures were so amazing and never let me quit (even after I busted my lip, yes I have battle scars). I managed to get on my feet a whopping one time throughout my lesson, but for a lanky noodle like myself, I was pretty darn pleased. The company I went parasailing with was West Maui Parasail (https://westmauiparasail.com/) and they were absolutely wonderful. The guys on the boat were so fun and engaging and not to mention the parasail was a giant smiley face, I mean who can’t have fun with that!
As wonderful as the area around Kaanapali Beach is, there is so much more to the island so make sure you have plenty of time to venture out and see it all. Every area of the island has its own unique personality, and I promise you will want to experience them all. If you are looking for more of a local feel while still being able to wander around to shops and pop in beachfront restaurants throughout the day amongst some other visitors, then head over to Lahaina. It is full of locals and vacationers alike and has the cutest strip of shops along the beach to spend your day. We were actually lucky enough to be in Maui during their high school graduation and got to watch the seniors from Lahainaluna High School begin their traditional hike up the side of the West Maui Mountains to light a giant “L” on the southwest side of the mountain on fire. We had been wondering what the giant “L” was for and one night when we were walking around Lahaina, one of the locals told us we picked the perfect night to come as it was the night of this traditional ceremony for the seniors. We set out on a dinner cruise that night and got to watch them light the “L” from the boat. It was truly such a cool moment to share that piece of Maui with some of the locals.
Speaking of dinner cruises, I have to brag on the company we went with. We actually used them for both a dinner cruise as well as our snorkeling excursion later in the trip. The Pacific Whale Foundation (https://www.pacificwhale.org/) is a non-governmental organization that works as both a research and rescue group as well as a boating activity group. While you are on your snorkeling adventures you actually learn a bit about the wildlife in the ocean around you and the important role we have in helping save it. They work so hard to save our oceans and its wildlife all while showing each visitor a fun time on the boat. I honestly can’t brag on them enough, every crew member during both of our trips were incredible and they really are doing amazing work for our oceans. They have a wide variety of boating trips you can go on from snorkeling and dolphin watching to dinner cruises and cocktail hours. I highly recommend checking them out if you’re looking for a boating tour in Maui.
Now if you really want to dive into the local scene, head over to Paia. Many of the people we met working in stores and on snorkeling or dinner cruises live in that area of the island and it has a very chill, surfer vibe to it. It’s very “artsy” (if you like art and photography like me you will love this area) and has some great little places to eat - you really feel like you live on the island when you walk around Paia. If you are into surfing at all, there are also a couple great spots to watch some amazing surfers right outside of Paia on Ho’okipa Lookout and Honolua Bay. They have some of the largest waves in the world and bring out some of the world’s greatest surfers.
If you are looking for a more all-inclusive resort area, definitely head over to Wailea. This area has some of the most luxurious hotels in all of Hawaii and it’s apparent the second you drive into the region. You are met with beautiful tree lined streets and lush flowers all around while you make your way into the resort areas. Since we weren’t staying on that side of the island, we drove over to the shopping center between the Marriot Wailea and the Grand Wailea and parked our car so we could walk around freely through the open air resorts and along the beach walkway that connects each one. We walked through the Grand Wailea (WOW), the Four Seasons and the Fairmont and talk about luxury. Each place is so unique and incorporates traditional Hawaiian culture in its own way. Grand Wailea (https://www.grandwailea.com/) seemed to be the most family friendly and had the most impressive pool area (the Fairmont was a very close second), while the Four Seasons (https://www.fourseasons.com/maui/) and the Fairmont (https://m.fairmont.com/kea-lani-maui) shouted luxury while we walked through. The staff was so courteous and the views were incredible, it is no wonder that people opt to spend their whole vacation within the resort walls.
After wandering around the grandeur of Wailea for a few hours, we made our way over to the lava fields and Perouse Bay on the southeast side of the island. Maui is actually home to 2 separate volcanoes, an extinct volcano on the west side of the island and Haleakala on the eastern side. Haleakala is classified as dormant but doesn’t pose much of a threat as they don’t expect it to erupt again any time soon, if ever. Its last eruption was around 400 years ago and that stream of lava is what makes up the incredible fields of lava that you can actually walk through today. It definitely makes for the world’s most intense game of “the floor is lava”.
Another natural beauty that I can’t forget to mention is the famous Road to Hana. First let me start by saying this road is LONG, it is not a quick trip and you will need all day to do it. But, it is definitely worth it. We weren’t able to drive the whole thing because we started the drive mid afternoon, but we made it about half way up, stopped and grabbed some fresh banana bread from the side of the road (another Hawaiian staple) and headed back down. Even if you don’t have a full day to make the whole trek, make sure you at least venture out on some of it. It truly is as beautiful as everyone says and the views from the cliffs are spectacular. Beware though, it’s a narrow drive, so stay vigilant - but take the time to soak it all in.
Lastly, I have to mention our Memorial Day experience on the island. Our trip fell at the end of May, so we were lucky enough to be there to celebrate Memorial Day with so many of the veterans who went through such a unique and traumatic experience being a part of the forefront of America’s role in WWII. Many of these veterans were either already stationed at Pearl Harbor or were moved there after the attack and it was such an incredible experience to see how these men and women, along with so many others from so many other horrendous wars were honored. I truly think the Maui Veterans Cemetery has the most beautiful Memorial Day service in the country and I am again moved to tears just reminiscing on it. When we arrived we were greeted by volunteers working the ceremony directing us to join in on food and coffee before everything began which was so kind of them considering we were clearly visitors. My dad and I spent much of the time prior to the ceremony taking photos of the beautiful flower arrangements and flags placed on the graves of the fallen soldiers and that alone was a sobering experience. The beauty these people brought to rows of simple white gravestones was just unreal. Once the ceremony began, there was a traditional Hawaiian song and speeches given by veterans and members of the Maui government. After everyone spoke we were directed to walk into the cemetery to watch something so special and moving, it is hard to describe in words. As we stood around the cemetery, a helicopter flew overhead and dropped hundreds of thousands of rose petals on the graves of the soldiers. As the petals fell, children would pick them up and place them atop each grave that hadn’t held onto a fallen petal. It was hands down one of the most beautiful things I have ever experienced. If I could spend every Memorial Day back in Maui, trust me I would. If you ever have the chance to visit during the end of May, make sure you carve out time to go to this ceremony, you wont regret it.
I wish I had more time in the day (and more room in this post) to talk about how amazing Maui is, but unfortunately we all have to get back to reality now. Hopefully this gives you a little insight into all of the wonderful experiences Maui has to offer and maybe even help you in planning your next Hawaiian vacation!