The Island-and-Golf-Lover’s Destination of Choice
Who cannot agree with the local saying “Maui no ka oi”? Maui is the best. The “Valley Isle” is named after the Polynesian demigod who, after having plucked all the Hawaiian islands up out of the sea, decided to make this – the most beautiful one – his home. Nothing beats the views of and from the hulking mass of 10,023-foot Haleakala (House of the Sun), whose dormant volcanic crater is the largest in the world – so big that the island of Manhattan could fit inside.
Visitors follow a must-do tradition and make a 3 A.M. ascent through cool upcountry landscape to its lofty peak to watch the sunrise (which Mark Twain called “the sublimest spectacle I ever witnessed”), then bicycle down 38 miles of switchbacks along the Haleakala Crater Road, passing through three different climate zones along the way. On a clear day you’ll take in stirring views of the island’s lush sugarcane and pineapple plantations, some of its 42 famous miles of beach, and four of the Neighbor Islands – Molokai, Lanai, Kahoolawe, and Hawaii.
Off the island’s southwest coast you might also catch the shadow of some of the thousands of North Pacific humpback whales that come to these algae-rich waters to breed and calve after summering in Alaska – the largest such concentration anywhere.
Besides the Crater Road to Haleakala’s summit, the island’s other famous road show (and one of the Pacific’s most scenic) is the narrow, corkscrew Hana “Highway” on the lush, isolated northeastern coast. By unofficial count, there are 617 curves, 54 one-lane bridges, dozens of waterfalls, and distracting vistas aplenty.
Beginning at the laid-back former sugar-plantation town of Paia (which along with nearby Hookipa Beach has become world famous for windsurfing and kitesurfing), the 50-mile drive takes two to three hours as it climbs and drops before reaching the quiet, old-fashioned, eye-blink town of Hana, home to a high percentage of Hawaiians and a stronghold of the local culture.
There isn’t much to the town except the unique Hotel Hana-Maui, the island’s most exclusive hideaway, founded in 1946 by an American businessman and today affiliated with (and recently renovated by) California’s famous Post Ranch Inn. A cluster of cliffside cottages on 66 green acres that slope down to a rugged seacoast, it’s within walking distance of two other gorgeous beaches, the palm-fringed Hamoa Bay and Kaihalulu, the only volcanic red-sand beach in the Pacific.
From north to south on Maui’s beach-blessed western coast, you’ll find world-class golf courses. Kapalua encompasses five bays and is bordered by a working pineapple plantation, while Kaanapali is the oldest and largest and Wailea the showiest, with beautiful views of Maui’s sister islands. Makena is home to the Hawaii State Open. If the pros had to choose, they’d likely pick the Plantation, the newest of Kapalua’s three courses, and the palm-lined fairways of Wailea’s Gold Course, the showpiece of its three courses. You can play all the courses from a base at any of the area’s three best hotels.
The Grand Wailea Resort Hotel & Spa boasts 780 rooms, an opulent 50,000-square-foot spa, and an astounding water park with waterfalls, white-water rapids, slides, and nine pools – an ideal choice for spa lovers with kids. Only slightly smaller, the classically elegant Ritz-Carlton Kapalua has 548 rooms and impeccable service amid a setting of historic plantation splendor. The Four Seasons Resort Maui at Wailea boasts pampering service and top-ranked restaurants including Spago.
Maui’s western coast is also home to the picturesque 19th-century whaling village of Lahaina, which now concentrates on excursions to watch the whales the locals once tried to harpoon. Once the royal seat of the island, today it’s a delightfully walkable town, its restored Victorian buildings housing art galleries, trendy cafés and restaurants, and souvenir shops galore. At the town’s Old Lahaina Luau, traditional hula and authentic Hawaiian fare sets the experience apart from what you’ll catch in Waikiki.