The Valley Isle
Reading time 13 min
Probably many people are not familiar enough with Maui as a destination. But if we tell you aloha or Honolulu, there will be associations, and you will recall Hawaii or the Hawaiian Islands. But when we mention Hawaii, it most often refers to the island of Oahu, where is located Honolulu, the capital of the State of Hawaii. The Hawaiian archipelago consists of the eight biggest islands and about 130 islets or cliffs. The Maui is the second-largest island among them.
All islands are of volcanic origin. From the volcanoes Mauna Kea and Mauna Loa, located on the Hawaii island – nicknamed The Big Island, hot lava continually flows into the Pacific Ocean. That considerably reduces the risk of mighty eruptions in the area. Maui covers an area of 1883 km2. It was formed by lava that erupted from two volcanoes, which are now inactive and entirely harmless to the islanders.
Why is Hawaii famous around the world? What makes this place so particular that almost everyone wishes to travel there for at least a few weeks? It is no coincidence that Hawaii is among the most attractive world destinations, but that does not mean (as many think) that such trips are pretty expensive as they once were. Namely, the cost of living in Maui is similar to that in Europe. With 20-27 euros a day, you can afford breakfast in one of the many beautiful bars, buy a sandwich or something similar for lunch while you are on the beach, and finally dinner in a restaurant.
If you stay longer than three weeks, we would recommend booking some accommodation with a small kitchen, where, regardless of the slightly higher price, you will still save a bit if you prepare the food yourself. The most expensive thing is the accommodation. It is difficult to find cheaper accommodation because people who often come to these places book apartments/rooms a year in advance. If you engage in independent research online, you will hardly find a good address for such renters unless someone you already know recommends it to you. Public transport on the island is not very efficient, but it is helpful for shorter distances.
Hawaii is among the most attractive world destinations, but that does not mean (as many think) that such trips are pretty expensive as they once were. Namely, the cost of living on Maui is similar to that in Europe.
Eager for an adventure, we rented a vehicle on the first day. The ten-year-old Mazda station wagon, rented to us by Frank, served its purpose. With such a car, we fit in well with the locals and reduced the possibility of stealing our surf from the roof or breaking into the vehicle itself. Since the car was already somewhat smashed and scratched, nothing terrible will happen if we add some new scratches. The most important thing for us was that it was in running order and it had air conditioning and a radio. Rental prices for such a car (economy class) range from $18 to $70 per day for those in top condition. Higher prices are at airports and with branded renters.
We were located in the northern part of the island, which is the most popular for surfing and windsurfing. The small village Paia is an attractive place for vacation, which is not primarily a tourist resort, but a small residential area that has adapted to the requirements of many tourists who come here. For this reason, there are no hotels or large tourist resorts, but only private accommodations and restaurants, bars, surf shops, art galleries, and similar. The buildings are often single storey made of timber and very colorful. You will rarely come across high-rise buildings. After traveling the whole island, you will love this place even more, because you will feel almost home.
As our trip to Maui was in December, Christmas and New Year passed without even notice because although they are celebrated in Hawaii, it is not as lavish as back at home. Hosts for the holidays decorate their homes very colorful with a thousand lights, but life flows without pre-Christmas euphoria accompanied by the purchase of gifts. Instead of plentiful Christmas lunch, they surf and barbecue on the beach. Although the customs are different, the locals will kindly wish you a Merry Christmas no matter if they do not know you. New Year’s Eve is also casual, with some fireworks and firecrackers.
West of Paia, a ten-minute drive, is the capital of Kahului, which has over 20,000 inhabitants. There you will find everything from needles to the most prestigious car brands from around the world. A dozen shopping malls offer a wide selection for everyone who enjoys shopping. On the north coast, mainly everything happens in these two cities, while the rest are smaller residential areas. The villas of wealthy people or expensive accommodation for tourists most often occupy the first row along the coast. The more modest residential areas are withdrawn slightly towards the inner part of the island.
The beaches are diverse, from beautiful sandy with palm trees (which we most often see in commercials or on postcards) to rocky volcanic ones where it is almost impossible to access the water due to the sharp and uneven terrain. Sandy beaches are, of course, much more attractive to tourists because they can walk, run, jump over the waves or relax. But volcanic beaches, black and at first glance unattractive, hide in their underwater part, very lush vegetation. The water is crystal clear, and the bottom, in contrast to the black rocks outside the water, intensifies the color of the sea to turquoise.
The Maui island has two volcanoes that are 3000 m above sea level, and this is why this island has six different climate zones. The warm air from the ocean in the early morning hours under the influence of light wind climbs the rocks of the mountains and cools abruptly. The temperature of 20° C (68° F) falls to 0° C (32° F). At 8 a.m., you can see the top of the volcano, which will already be wrapped in the clouds around 10 a.m., and this is the result of mixing warm and cold air. Thus, a warm northeast wind will blow on the north coast, and at about 1000-1500 meters of height will probably rain. Above that height will shine the sun, while on the southern shore will be quietly with a light mist. It usually looks like that when the weather is stable, but the weather forecasts for that area regularly fail. If you plan to travel to Maui, do not rely on the statistical climate data you can find on the Internet because the actual situation is quite different.
In December, the air temperature varies from 18° C in the morning to 30° C during the day, while the ocean measures comfortable at 21° C. The differences between the seasons are very slight, so everything comes down to just two seasons, rainy winters and dry summers. Town Paia, our starting point, was somewhere in the middle of the island’s northern coast, so we have divided the trip into four stages – the Haleakala volcano, eastern Hana Road, the western part of the island, and the south coast. For each part of the trip, you need one day, and we have repeated it three times every trip because it has a lot to see.
Volcano Haleakala, with its 3000 m height, is popular because of the beautiful sunrise. To enjoy the dawn, you must wake up at 4 a.m. because the road to the top takes about an hour and a half. The temperature at the top is 0° C, so it is advisable to dress in warmer clothes to protect yourself from the cold. After ten minutes, when the sun peeped above the cloud, the air temperature rises and reaches around noon relatively high 20° C. Since the sun is quite hot, it is not advisable to stay longer than an hour, especially without sun protection with a protective factor 20. We certainly recommend visiting and sightseeing at least one of the seven craters that are here.
Road to Hana or official name Hana Highway starts in Kahului and ends in Hana on the eastern part of the island. It is the most famous road on the island, which passes above high cliffs that characterize this part of the coast. Of the 109 km that the road is long, almost 70% are sharp bends that stretch through the pluvial rainforest over small bridges and to the settlement of Hana. Because of the abundant rain, vegetation is very lush, and through Hana, you will encounter several waterfalls and small lakes where it is possible to bathe.
After four hours drive, we arrive at Hana, a settlement of 800 inhabitants we imagined as a beautiful settlement, but it was not. We went through the community center, saw the beach of black volcanic sand, and continued towards the other end of the island. The next stage was Seven Pools. It is seven small lakes with waterfalls that float in the ocean. Unfortunately, because of too much water and strong current, we have not been able to bathe.
The coming part of the journey was a real drama. When signing the car rental contract, we noticed that the insurance does not cover breakdowns in that part. It became clear to us why this was so only when we got there. One section of the road was unpaved. When we passed that part, we thought that is it. The asphalt is finally waiting for us, but we did not assume that can be worse than the macadam. The frequent rains have created holes in the road, the workers filled the new asphalt, but there is almost no smooth part of the asphalt left from the patches.
In some parts, the road goes along the edge of the cliff, and it is so narrow that only one vehicle can pass, so at that moment, you only hope that no one will come across from the opposite direction. Finally, after 25 km of driving, we returned to a decently paved road. On the way to our apartment, a beautiful sunset was waiting for us. In opposite to the north coast, here, can be seen in full.
You must visit
- Haleakala Crater
- Maui Ocean Center
- Hana Highway – Road to Hana
- Wailua Falls
- Big Beach (Oneloa or Makena)
- Sliding Sands Trail – Keoneheehee
- Pipiwai Trail
- Nakalele Blowhole
The western part of the island prevails high cliffs and large pastures. Mount Kahalawai, which rises from the coast, is an old extinct volcano that has been shaped by erosion and resembles an ordinary mountain overgrown with lush vegetation. Kahakuloa is the only town on this part of the island. There are only about twenty houses in it, which look like cottages and one church. In passing, we stumbled upon Lorain, an elderly lady who sells homemade cakes in her backyard. As we ate her banana pie in the garden, in half an hour, she told us so many things about the island that we probably would not have found out otherwise. She also directed us to visit The Olivine pools and The Blow Hole not far from the village. The Olivine pool is a natural pool in a volcanic rock about 7 m wide and about 5 m deep. It is an exceptional experience to swim in the blue pool while a few steps away, enormous ocean waves hit the shore but cannot get through due to the structure of the coast.
A few kilometers away is the Blow Hole, a hole in the rock through which water, under high pressure of waves, pours out of the rocky ground, like a geyser, vertically towards the sky to a height of 8 m. Driving on, we reach Kapalua, an immense tourist resort made up of hotels and apartments. Everything is arranged here down to the smallest detail. Beautiful golf courses overlooking the nearby island of Lanai make this resort one of the most elite destinations in the entire Hawaii Islands.
Not far from Kapalua, we come across Lahaina. Although the two towns are only 15 km apart, the difference is immediately noticeable. Lahaina is for mass tourism, where cheaper accommodation attracts many tourists who cannot afford overpriced ones in resorts like Kapalua. Lahaina is by no means a worse place for vacation. It is just less attractive compared to what has been seen on Maui so far. The beaches are sandy but not particularly attractive. In the main street, a little less than a kilometer long, you can find shops, galleries, and restaurants. It is a paradise for shopaholics. The south coast of the island starts from Lahaina and is not particularly attractive in terms of beaches, but it is suitable for those who want to learn to surf because the waves are more appropriate than those on the north coast.
Due to the constant waves and inaccessible coast of the island, Kahului in the north is the only port on the island where large passenger and cargo ships dock. Fishermen and smaller boats use the port of Maalaea located in this southern part of the island. All organized excursions on the island also start from it.
Not far from Maalaea, at the foot of Haleakala volcano, we come across Kihei, a city of 17,000 inhabitants. An interesting fact is that Kihei has only 250 mm of rainfall per year. That is very little considering that on the other side of the volcano, which is only 40 km away, the precipitation reaches as much as 7600 mm. Although the island is rich in freshwater springs, this does not prevent significant summer droughts in that southern part. Kihei is a relatively large settlement, and the principal source of income is tourism. Only in this part of the island are hotels with three or more floors. Since the offer is large, the prices of apartments and hotels vary, so everyone can find the cost and quality of accommodation that suits them.
The last settlement on the south coast is Wailea-Makena. Luxury hotels and villas dominate there. So, it is the right place for those who want to spend a vacation in nature, peace, yet luxury accommodation. If you continue for another 15 km, you will end up in the Ahihi Kinau Nature Park. The appropriate term to describe the landscape is a post-eruption volcanic scenario. Vegetation is almost non-existent. Sharp rocks make it difficult to walk, so it is not recommended to walk in light summer sandals. The unique atmosphere that reigns here is worthy of attention. If you come here, it is advisable to have a mask and fins with you, because no matter how much the mainland part of the coast looks like still life, there is an explosion of life under the water, a completely different world.
Contrary to popular belief, Maui does not live only from tourism. Sugar cane and sugar production played a significant role in the development of the island. Coffee, pineapple, papaya, and macadamia nuts are just some of the most important export products of the island. Of course, sugar cane plantations and all other agriculture are in the northeastern part of the island, at the foot of the volcano, where there is the most water.
Although Maui is not an overly large island, the curiosities and stories do not end here. There are also many sports and attractions you can meet in this paradise.
TEXT & PHOTO – Lovro Barbalich