Waterfalls, Craters, and Beaches Galore: Ethical Travel on Maui

My family recently began a tradition where we flock from various coasts for a vacation during the winter months. For this year’s trip, we decided on Maui. In my formative years we spent a few winter breaks there, but since moving to the east coast I had not made the journey back. Visiting Maui as an adult, I could more fully appreciate the complexity of the island and its people through their fascinating history and steadfast dedication to the unique landscape.

As the planner of the family, my research began as soon as we reserved our flights. I reached out to anyone who might know anyone who frequently travelled to or lived on Maui. Luckily, I had some insider info from friends. Maui offers much more than one could experience in a week, so these are the highlights!

For the eco-conscious traveler, Maui is ideal. A desire to preserve the island’s beaches, mountains and rainforests is evident; most restaurants rely on local farms; adventure companies insist on eco-friendly tours; and resorts like the Fairmont Kea Lani (where we stayed, shown above) are committed to responsible and sustainable tourism practices.

Some planning beforehand is smart—as is staying open to changing plans based on the weather. Maui’s climate can quickly and drastically shift between seemingly short distances. Northwest Maui tends towards the rainy (as can be deduced by the lush greenery) while southern Maui enjoys a generally warmer, sunnier and drier climate.

Some quick words of advice:

+Restaurants on Maui can be pricy and not necessarily always worth the high price, so consider renting a home where you’ll have your own kitchen. You can stock up on groceries at conscious stores such as Mana Foods in Paia.

+Most activities can be done on your own or with the help of a tour company.

+In an effort to minimize fuel consumption on Maui, renting an electric car is highly recommended.

+Driving can sometimes be deceiving on Maui as distances may look short on a map, but because of road access, may be more roundabout than they seem.

+For more nomadic travelers, you can change accommodations as you make your way around the island.

Day One: Walk on Lava Walk and Get to the Big Beach

Of course, an ideal way to commence your Hawaiian vacation starts with a beach day. To begin with a bit of exploration, head towards Makena Beach State Park (Big Beach) and drive past the beach until you hit the Lava Fields. You can get out and walk (about a half hour) along the lava rocks before going back to the beach. Accessible from Big Beach lies Little Beach, Maui’s famous nudist beach which offers a sunset drum-circle and fire dancing on Sundays. For beer fans thirsty after a long day in the sun, check out Maui Brewing Company’s tasting room in Kihei.

Day Two: Explore Colorful Haleakala Crater and Hike the Clouds! 

For those experiencing jetlag, I recommend this excursion towards the beginning of your trip, especially if you decide to watch the sunrise from the nearly 10,000 foot summit. If an amazing sunrise does not outweigh crowds and/or very early mornings, you can take the route we did.

Upon entering the park, drive towards the visitor center, past the 8,000’ (Halemau’u) trailhead and stop at Lelewai overlook for a short walk. Keep driving to the furthest summit parking lot near the observatory, get out and enjoy the stunning view and crisp air (you’ll be over 10,000 feet above sea level—that’s us up in that rarefied air below!)

Head back down the mountain, stop at the Kalahaku overlook, then drive to the 8,000’ trailhead where you will begin an awesome hike and hopefully see a Nene. Follow the path as long as you wish, keeping in mind you will need to retrace your steps on the way back. To complete the entire Halemau’u Trailhead or the longer, more strenuous Keonehe’ehe’e (Sliding Sands) path, you will need to camp in one of the park’s Wilderness Campgrounds or reserve one of the historic cabins.

If you need a massage after a long day of hiking, but don’t want to pay hotel prices, Wailea Massage offers tranquil, outdoor body treatments. For a yummy, post-hike dinner, I recommend Paia Fish House South Side for local fresh fish in a casual setting.

Day 3 – Snorkel or SNUBA the Gorgeous Blue-Green Seas 

January to March is whale-watching season on Maui. We combined whale watching with a snorkel/snuba trip though outfitter Sail Trilogy. I decided on this company given their commitment to preserving the ocean and island environment. Fair warning, this activity is about as touristy as you can get, but I found the Snuba experience to be worth it—it’s basically snorkeling, but instead of breathing through the snorkel tube, you are using a tank of air, like scuba diving; you can swim underwater but can’t get too deep.

If you wish to avoid the boat ride, most beaches (especially hotel beaches) offer snorkel gear for rent and with a good pair of binoculars, you can spot whales from the shore.

If kayaking is more up your alley, Maui Kayak Adventures provides tours focusing on the environment and ocean awareness. To watch the sunset, take part in a sunset yoga class (they were free at our hotel) or stroll down the Wailea Beach Path which leads to The Shops at Wailea and various restaurants. For a sweet treat, try Lappert’s Ice Cream.

Day 4 – Lahaina, Nakaele Blowhole & Merriman’s

Of all the restaurants we went to on Maui, I would insist anyone traveling to the island try Merriman’s (above). You’ll want to arrive in time to see the absolutely stunning view and watch the sunset from their outdoor patio/ bar. The menu offers almost exclusively locally sourced ingredients highlighting the island’s fresh seafood, meat and produce. A reservation for dinner proves necessary and because it takes a bit of time to get to from Wailea, consider seeing some sights along the way.

Start by exploring the town of Lahaina. There are lots of lunch options in Lahaina such as Pacifc’o (who owns O’o Farm) or Leoda’s Kitchen and Pie Shop. After lunch, start making your way towards Nakalele Blowhole. You’ll want to bring some comfortable shoes to change into to walk on the rocks as it is a bit rugged.

Another note, we learned the hard way that there are no restrooms near Nakalele Blowhole so make sure to stop somewhere along the way. When driving towards Merriman’s, you can stop at Lipoa Point for a great view of Honolua Bay and/or walk a short Rain Forest path noticeable from the road.

Day 5-6 – Drive and Explore the Famous Road To Hana

While you can complete the entire Road to Hana in a single day, I advise staying over night in Hana to fully explore every mile marker along the way. If you prefer not to drive yourself, Valley Isle Excursions offers an eco-friendly guide along the Road to Hana. Due to its isolation and lack of development, the town of Hana (dubbed Maui’s “last Hawaiian place”) proves a beautiful and rare place to visit. Your journey begins in Paia, a historic town along Maui’s northern coast.

If you got a late start, have lunch here or save it for the end of your trip and experience Paia’s nightlife with live music at Charley’s. Many websites will recommend Mama’s Fish House which enjoys a lovely view, but mediocre food and large crowds. Save the views for later (they are spectacular) and eat at Flatbread. You will find a few favored places for snacks along the drive. They tend to have more sweet than savory options such as Auntie Sandy’s Banana Bread stand near the dramatic Keanae Lookout (above)—which makes a great breakfast the next morning—or Coconut Glen’s Vegan Ice Cream.

Once you get to the town of Hana, stop and save the rest of your journey for tomorrow. Try to arrive early enough to check out Hamoa Beach (or if you’re more of a surfer, Koki Beach). You will be hard pressed to find a restaurant open past 7pm in Hana. I suggest AE’s Food Truck for an early dinner.

To experience a more remote, yet also breathtaking landscape, take the Back Side of Hana for the return drive. To begin, head towards Kipahulu, Haleakala National Park where you can explore the Seven Sacred Pools, the Pipiwai Trail and Waimoku Falls (above).

Depending on how much time you spend swimming, this can take at least a half day so you’ll want to time your drive as to not be on this particular road post-sunset. After working up an appetite, stop at Laulima Farm Fruit Stand, Ono Organic Farms and/ or Ulupalakua Ranch for burgers and souvenirs. Next door to Ulupalakua sits Maui Wine offering the unusual (though I cannot admit I was a fan!) Pineapple wine.

Day 7 – Hiking or More Beach Time

You should spend your final day on Maui doing whatever you feel you haven’t done enough of yet. For those interested in more hiking, I recommend Lahaina Pali Trail and Waihee Ridge Trail. To taste more of what Maui has to give, visit one of the island’s many farms. Oo Farm/ Aina Coffee offers a gourmet lunch tour on their beautiful sustainably maintained and biodynamically cultivated land. Nearby lies Ali’i Kula Lavender Farm, a delight for the senses.

For an educational tour in sustainable farming and green manufacturing, stop by Ocean Organic Vodka. For those seeking a bit more adventure, try Skyline Eco-Adventures who provides various zip-line tours. We spent our last day soaking up as much Hawaiian sun as we could get before enjoying a final mesmerizing sunset with drinks at the Restaurant at Hotel Wailea.

All images by Lucy Schanzer, except the Fairmont and Merriman’s shots, which are courtesy of each respectively.

About Lucy Schanzer
Lucy Schanzer is a writer, volunteer educator and artist (www.lucillepack.com). In addition to traveling, she enjoys cooking, yoga and comedy. She currently resides in Brooklyn, NY with her husband, Kyle and their tuxedo cat, Seymour.

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