Exploring Maui Hawaii
From the green of the Iao Valley State Park to the desolate landscape of Haleakala Volcano, Maui is an island of contrasts. Whether you want to explore the road to Hana, or watch the sun set from the vantage of a sandy beach, Maui has something for everyone, including the largest banyan tree in Hawaii.
Maui was named after the mythic demi-god who is said to have pulled the Hawaiian Islands from the sea and lassoed the sun atop Haleakala. Its history never got much calmer. King Piilani united Maui in the early 15th century, and the family ruled until 1790. But the famous King Kamehameha was intent on uniting the islands, and after a terrible battle in the green Iao Valley, Maui’s last king was defeated. King Kamehameha took control of Maui and made Lahaina the new capital of his Hawaiian Kingdom. Today Maui is a tourist magnet with hotels, condos, shopping, particularly on the west and southern parts of the island. But it also offers incomparable diversity of scenery from wild and green to volcanic ash and some just plain arid areas as well.
Iao Valley State MonumentPerhaps one of the greenest (and rainiest) places on the island, the Iao Valley is famed for both its bloody history and the iconic Iao Needle that rises 1200 feet straight up from the valley floor. A short paved walk brings visitors to viewing points for both the needle and the valley below. There are also signs describing the famous battle that decided the future of the island. Take one of the walking trails, explore the botanic garden but the real lure is the sight of the needle. There is no charge to visit the park.
Haleakala National ParkHaleakala National Park is actually in two parts, and unfortunately only four-wheel drive vehicles can go from one part to the other. You can visit both parts on separate trips, but for sheer drama nothing matches Haleakala volcano – Maui's highest peak reaching up 10,023 feet. The drive up is breathtaking, leading you higher and higher until you stand in brilliant sunshine looking down through the clouds on the island below. The landscape at the top is unearthly beautiful with huge tracts of red, green, grey, and brown sculpted cinder desert. It provides not only spectacular scenery rarely found anywhere else in the country, it is also home to the endangered and beautiful silversword which is found only on the island of Maui at an elevation of 6,900 to 9,800 feet on the Haleakala summit. While there is great controversy over whether the trip to Hana is worth the time -- some sing its praises others have concluded it was a waste of time, everyone agrees that the volcano was worth the trip. The summit of Haleakala with its absence of light pollution, and clear air is one of the best places to observe the night sky. It is also a favorite place to watch the sunrise. The trip up in the dark of pre-dawn would be challenging and it might be wise to opt instead for one of the many commercial tours. Consistent with the contrasts of Maui, the other part of the park is lush, and green complete with waterfalls.
LahainaLahaina, the old historic capital with its city-block huge banyan tree, is now heavily commercialized. It is however the departure point for a number of tours and ferries. If you plan to take a tour out of Lahaina, come early and do a bit of exploring. Pick up a walking guide at the Lahaina Visitor Center which highlights 62 historic sites. There is genuine history here, but it can be overlooked in the press of souvenir shops, galleries, and the usual assortment of stores playing to tourists. The Lahaina Visitor Center is located at the Old Lahaina Courthouse, between thefamous Banyan Tree and Lahaina Harbor. Don't miss that tree, planted in 1873. Banyans are native to India but are beloved in Hawaii for their unusual growth pattern, growing huge major trunks that look like individual trees. It's now over 60 feet high and is about the size of a city block. It has 12 major trunks in addition to a huge core, sprawling along Front Street.
PaiaThe town of Paia on Maui's north coast is a better choice for fun exploration and inexpensive seafood. It boasts colorful storefronts, local art galleries, and the popular Paia Fishmarket – possibly the best place to get fresh and inexpensive seafood. Don’t expect atmosphere, just great food. Down the road is Hookipa Beach, the "windsurfing capital of the world." Stand out on the bluff and watch the surfers. The town is also one of the last places to stock up on supplies before you hit the road to Hana.
Beaches: Makena Beach State Park and Kama’ole BeachesIf you stay on the southwest part of the island, you’ll be treated to some perfect beaches -- probably one of these lovely sprawling beaches -- as your playground. But the Kama’ole area also offers the South Maui Coastal Heritage Corridor Trail. Running along Kamaole Beach parks and resorts, it hugs the shoreline rather than the roadway and is a lovely trail for strolling.