Just Back: Maui

National Geographic’s Andy Coleman (on Instagram @awc007) and his wife have a tradition of traveling to Maui once a year. “It’s the one vacation destination where we don’t have anything planned, except for a place to stay,” he says. “We wake up each morning in a tropical paradise and let the day play out.”

Here are some of the high points of Andy’s trip, in his own words:

Authentic souvenir: Adobo Loco hot sauce is the perfect way to bring a taste of the islands home with you. The ingredients are locally grown and all natural.

Standout culinary experience: Head to Coconut’s Fish Cafe in Kihei for the ultimate fish taco featuring a heaping portion of wahoo (known on the islands as ono, Hawaiian for “delicious”) and mahimahi with spices, coconut milk, mango salsa, and a whole lot more. The lines can get a bit long during lunch hours, but they move quickly. Their coconut shrimp is also excellent.

Must-do: See the sunrise at the top of the Haleakalā volcano. You need to get up terribly early to make it to the top in time to catch the action, but the view of the island bathed in the day’s first rays makes it all worth it. Make sure to dress warmly; it’s cold and often windy at the top. Tip: If you’ll be adjusting from an earlier time zone to a later one when you arrive, prioritize this experience for the beginning of your trip.

Twin Falls is just one of the stopovers of note along Maui's Hana Highway. (Photograph by Andrew Coleman)
Twin Falls is just one of the stopovers of note along Maui’s Hana Highway. (Photograph by Andrew Coleman)

Outdoor adventure: Maui offers great near-shore snorkeling opportunities, especially off its southern and western coasts. My favorite spot, on the island’s south shore and located within the Ahihi-Kina’u Natural Area Reserve, is Moanakala, known locally as “Dumps” (owing to the fact that a trash dump once occupied the area). The quantity and diversity of marine life found among the reefs there is tremendous—look for colorful coral fish, eels, octopuses, and even the occasional sea turtle. The water can get a bit rough as the day wears on, so morning sessions are recommended, especially for novices.

Doable day trip: No trip to Maui is complete without experiencing the Hana Highway, a ribbon of road that snakes along the island’s northeastern edge. The drive itself is stunning, with waterfalls, black-sand beaches, and botanical gardens visible along the way. Stop at Paia in the morning to get a picnic lunch that you can enjoy at one of the many worthy stopovers or when you arrive in the pristine hamlet of Hāna itself.

Catching a ferry to Lānaʻi from hip Lahaina is a great way to get out on the water, particularly during whale-watching season. Once you get there, you can snorkel or explore the island—Hawaii’s sixth largest—which was once a pineapple plantation.

Practical tip: Once you know your travel dates, don’t lose time when it comes to reserving a rental car. There are a finite number of rentals on Maui, and demand can exceed supply during peak travel times—especially during holidays and winter whale-watching season. You can check back to see if rates change (I always rebook at least once), but it’s good to have some form of transportation locked in.

Should have brought: Sunscreen. You can get it on the island, but everything is more expensive there. Didn’t need: Dressy clothes. Even the high-end restaurants skew casual.

What’s your favorite thing about Maui? Share your recommendations by leaving a comment below.

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Comments

  1. lorraine de rensis
    rowayton, ct
    May 24, 2015, 7:17 pm

    for snorkeling and whale watching, i recommend blue water rafting. they have been in business since 1985 and will provide a fast, fun and entertaining ride out to molokini, la perouse bay or kanaio. the captains are very knowlegeable about all the colorful sea life and will take good care of you. see bluewaterrafting.com or the facebook page

    for private charters, esp. if you enjoy fishing, wailea boating is the best! guarantee you will enjoy captain mark, he will take you wherever you want to go, including ferrying over to lanai. he has been navigating the waters of maui since the early ’80’s, and he is especially entertaining, will definitely make you laugh!

  2. Jim Page
    Hypoluxo, Florida
    May 6, 2015, 6:54 pm

    Love Maui. We snorkel the Black Rocks (Kaanapali Beach) in early morning and Molokini crater later in the morning. We always go to Maui during whale season for the added dimension of Great Kaholas. We drive to the top of Haleakula in early afternoon, stop for a late wine lunch at the Kula Lodge on the way, and get to the Summit at dusk. The sunsets are spectacular, the view is free, and the mana plentiful. Aloha Kai…Aloha Aina.

  3. Deb McGauley
    Santa Rosa, CA
    May 6, 2015, 5:06 pm

    Great article! Love reading about Maui. We go every year. I’d add Three’s Bar & Grill in Kihei to the stand out restaurants. So so yummy! Happy hour is half off, pretty much every restaurant has happy hour between 3:00-6:00. Eat dinner early, save money for the drinks later! Aloha!

  4. B. Vernon
    May 5, 2015, 12:59 am

    Don Burns has great boat trips out of Kihei.

  5. Mike Phillips
    Maui
    May 5, 2015, 12:02 am

    Aloha
    As the owner of Coconuts Fish Cafe in Maui . Thank you so much for highlighting my restaurant. My family and I really appreciate the shout out.
    And for a loyal customers in Northern California will be opening your way soon ….

  6. Kim Turner
    Rocklin, CA
    May 4, 2015, 2:28 pm

    I think you hit all the nails on the head in this one. Our favorite place for a bite to eat is Coconuts Fish Café– they’re awesome. For snorkeling, environmentally friendly sunscreen is highly recommended these days because chemicals are affecting the marine life and reefs. If planning to spend the night in Hana, try the cabins at Wainapanapa State Park. Very rustic, but clean and great for overnights. They have real bathrooms…flush toilets and showers!

    Thanks for the great article.