Crafting a Maui Itinerary
Any length of time in Maui doesn't seem like it would be enough. They say, "Maui nō ka ʻoi," Maui is the best [sic] island. It definitely is an American gem that should rank high on any bucket list. Maui has six climate zones, and the Hawaiian Islands, in general, have ten of fourteen of the world climate zones making the islands pretty spectacular (Shute, 2016). You will find deserts, jungles, and mountain micro-climates on Maui, making it a fascinating place to visit (Skyline Hawaii, n.d.). When I told a friend from Oahu I was spending seven days on Maui, she said that I "wouldn't need that much time to see the island." I am glad we didn't listen. Our trip was ten days long, which happened to be the perfect length to see almost everything on our list. Here are our Top Ten Must-See Places.
The map, generated using Polarsteps, shows our island travels. We journeyed 1,000 miles throughout our stay, driving all major roads and even some unimproved ones. To give perspective, Maui is 727 square miles. So we hit a fair share of the island in our brief stay.
A 7-10 day stay on Maui should provide a real sense of the island's spirit, and you will not miss anything on the list. You may even be able to catch a luau if that is your thing. First and foremost, over any other travel guide or book, we recommend the GyPSy Guide app for the island of Maui. It discusses 465+ points and attractions, hitting all of the highlights. It is linked to a phone GPS, and as the car reaches a coordinate, the app provides facts and directions with plenty of advanced warning. It makes also makes suggestions for meals and places to stretch your legs. We became very fond of Chuck. That is what we named our guide. Our son called him comforting as we wound our way along the many hairpin turns on the Road to Hana. The app is worth the $9.99 price tag, and we will use these for all of our future trips. Most of the time, we took Chuck's advice. The times we didn't, we wish we had.
With seven days on Maui, Chuck the GyPSy Guides guidance, and following the list above, you shouldn't miss a thing. Your days will be jam-packed, but you will have plenty of time to rest if you follow a schedule similar to the samples below. A three-day trip, not including flight days, should be the bare minimum for a Maui Trip. Spend any less time, and your liable to be exhausted, and you will miss a lot.
To start a 3-Day trip in Maui, we suggest starting on the west side. Hit the 'Iao Valley State Park early in the morning; it opens at 7 am and see the sunrise fall on the 'Iao Needle. Or, you may choose to start on the Southside catching the sunrise over Maalaea Bay at Whale Lookout Point. During December and January, this is a great place to see the Humpbacks and their babies which, incidentally, weigh in at 1.5 tons. . Many of the resort areas are in the Wailea-Makena area, so this will possibly be a more direct route to travel without missing anything. Suppose you do take the southerly route around to the west. In that case, you will pass by Lahaina, Ka'anapali Beach, Black Rock, Kapalua (place of the famous Sentry Tour of Champions in Golf), and onward to the Nakalele Blowhole and Olivine Pools. GyPSy Guide does not take you past the Nakalele Blowhole and in fact, suggests you turn around. The roads become twisty, but they are not in bad shape on this side of the island. There are many tight blind curves, so always go slow and be safe. End Day One at the 'Iao Needle or head over to Paia Town or Lahaina for dinner, depending on which direction you traveled. Check our Memorable Meals page for restaurant suggestions in Maui.
Day 2 is a tough choice. You cannot possibly do both. I have a preference, but both choices are in the top 3 things I recommend for Maui, all-star being snorkeling at Molokini. You need reservations in advance for the Haleakala sunrise; they only let 80 cars in each morning, so if you don't score tickets, it makes your decision easy. You are on your way to Hana for a fantastic experience but a tiring all-day affair with multiple side trips. We will discuss in another post.
To get tickets for the Haleakala sunrise, visit The US Park Service site. The sunrise is a great experience. Please give yourself at least 2 hours to get to the Haleakala summit. We left at 3 am and arrived just before 5 am. Our early arrival gave us lots of time to set up. The facilities are open at the Visitor's Center near the top of the mountain, so you may want to hit them before going to the summit. When that cold mountain air hits you, you will need to go to the restroom. You might as well be proactive. An alternate viewing station, maybe even better than the summit, is located behind the Visitor's Center. Below are two pictures that give you an idea of the different shots you can get at each spot. There was a crowd at the summit, and the warming huts are were closed when we were there. It was brutally windy. We donned hats, mittens, winter coats, and long sleeves.
There are all sorts of trails and hikes around Haleakala, ranging from 20 minutes to all-day excursions. Plan accordingly for the weather and bring provisions as there is not anywhere convenient to buy food. If you decide you want to catch the sunset and then breakfast, head over to Kula to begin your tour of the Up Country. We had some delicious crepes at La Provence in Kula and then headed over to Maui Wine or the Ali'i Kula Lavender Garden. It is quite different on this side of the island, and I think you will be glad if you make a short trip down the Piilani Highway going east. If you were to follow this road around, it would lead to Hana. The road gets very, very, let me stress the last one, VERY rugged. Do not drive anything with a low profile, such as a convertible Camero. You will probably regret it.
Day 3 will be spectacular, so make sure you try and make it home as early as possible. I like Haleakala before snorkeling day because since you got up early for sunrise, you will be able to go home a bit early. You are more likely to still be on a different time zone's sleep schedule, so you will crash when you hit the bed and be ready for a great day, refreshed in the morning.
If you like to swim, even if you aren't a strong swimmer, you will love a snorkel trip to Molokini Crater. This excursion was the highlight of the whole family's vacation. We took the Maui Magic charter and saw whales, fish, and turtles. The Maui Magic ferries passengers to two separate locations giving people a completely different experience at each spot. Molokini waters are crystal clear, and swimming in a cinder cone volcano is out of this world. Equally impressive is having a humungous Hawaiian Green Sea Turtle swim right up underneath you. We couldn't have dreamed of a better day. The weather was beautiful, the food served on the boat was simple but made us happy, and the weather was perfect.
The tour is over at noon, so you have plenty of time to grab a bit to eat in Lahaina or end your trip with a luau. If you are staying longer, well, then you are the luckiest person on the planet.
5-Days in Maui provides ample time to see a Haleakala sunrise and take the Road to Hana.
As stated before, our top three things to do on Maui are the Road to Hana, Haleakala, and the snorkeling. You can also take your time in West Maui and enjoy Black Rock Beach, grab a bite at the Gazebo Restaurant in Napili, and check out the Kapalua labyrinth. When you venture to the 'Iao Valley, you can also see the Kepaniwai Park, with beautiful themed gardens, great for picture taking. Five days will give you a pretty good feel of the Island, but you will probably not get to see everything in on the Road to Hana that you would like. Our recommendation is to spend at least 7-days on the island.
A 9-Day adventure will leave you feeling like you saw everything you wanted and more. You will most definitely not want to go home, but you will feel like you got a great immersion into Maui life.
In the extra days, you will be able to drive to Hana twice. There is no way you can see all of the cool things on this journey in one day. Even if you leave early in the morning and drive home in the dark, which we do not recommend, you will miss something cool. We drove home in the dark twice, and may have had better luck squeezing more in during the long days of summer. Spending extra time in Maui provides a chance to hike the Pipiwai Trail and see the bamboo forests. This part of Haleakala National Park makes our top ten list. Take time to do both the Waimoku Falls and the pools of the Pools at 'Ohe'o hikes so you can also see the Seven Sacred Pools. Depending on our arrival you may only have time for one. The first day we drove to Hana, the park closed before we reached it. Plan accordingly and check the park hours before you set out. It is good to pick up snacks in Hana before you get to the park for your journey. Park Passes last 72 hours, so plan your visit accordingly if you don't have an annual pass. A 3-day pass is $30. A yearly pass is $80, and ours has been well worth the price.
Extra time on Maui will also allow you to explore Paia. Paia is a cute little town and the home of our favorite restaurant, probably of all time, Mama's Fish House. Micah calls the place something like, "a love factory". If you watch the people leaving, they are all holding hands, and you can tell someone's getting lucky. It is about the most romantic dinner, and the food is out of this world. Make reservations early, and by early, I mean months. Yes, it is that good. It is pricy, so save your pennies and splurge. This restaurant is the one you are going to remember. It is a beautiful dining experience that will leave no doubt in your mind that you have indeed found paradise on earth.
For your last day, wind down, grab some breakfast. Do some last-minute souvenir shopping and enjoy the beach or the hotel pool that you have been missing because you are so exhausted from your adventures. Relish in the last day on the Valley Island. Maui is magical. There is a spirit to the place, and it is a palpable force. It will forever keep a piece of your heart.