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Maui Family Travel: Days 3 and 4 in the Glorious Upcountry and Beach Bums

Join us on our week-long journey to Maui! In case you missed it: Maui Family Travel–Your guide to 7 days in paradise Days 1 & 2.

Day 3—Maui’s Glorious Upcountry

Maui’s “upcountry” is a cluster of sites located 2,000+ feet up the slope of the famed crater Haleakala. What we expected: a welcome respite from our sunburned couple of days at the beach.  What we did: fell in love.

Parts of this region are referred to as the “Maui Alps.” With cooler temperatures, gorgeous bi-coastal views and a tropical forest, it was easy to see why so many locals live here. Watching the sunrise and sunset from atop 10,023-foot Haleakala is legendary (though finding parking is not).

We opted to drive to the summit in the mid-afternoon once the crowds cleared. Our guidebook assured us that, though a ring of clouds often shrouded the mountain it generally cleared at the summit.  As we wove around Haleakala National Park, I read the kids stories of ancient and modern Hawaiian culture that protected this land and its people. Lush rain forest gave way to pine, which evolved into shrub lands to volcanic landscape that was curiously similar to Colorado’s tundra.

Haeakala clouds

Haeakala clouds

 At the 17-mile mark, we hopped out of the car to hike a few minutes to the Leleiwi Lookout, which, at 8,800 feet, boasts stunning views across a 3,000-foot deep crater and all the way to Kihei on the coast. Allegedly. All we saw were clouds.

We kept driving the sinuous road until we reached the summit, prepared to be wowed. For a brief moment, the mists surrounding us cleared to reveal…more clouds below. No ocean views. No magnificent horizons. The kids were disappointed as Jamie wryly commented, “The beach got better reviews.”

 Our letdown didn’t keep us from hiking in the glorious temperatures (about 30 degrees cooler at the summit). There are a number of trails but we selected the Sliding Sands Trail, which descends 2,400 feet 4 miles into the enormous and otherworldly crater’s dizzying array of yellows, pinks and reds. There are cabins in the crater available for rent for a lucky lottery winner.

View from Kula Lodge

View from Kula Lodge

Kula Lodge. When you think of Maui, you don’t exactly think of a rustic retreat with a roaring fire but that’s you’ll find at Kula Lodge, which we nicknamed the “Garden of Eating.” Perched like a Swiss Chalet at 3,200 feet along the Haleakala Highway, the food is good and the drop-dead views of the Pacific Ocean and West Maui mountains are even better. The private tropical gardens are bursting with carnations, protea and other blossoms as the birds chirp wildly in the avocado and Jacaranda trees.  Try the macadamia nut baked brie, Country Chicken Curry or the Kiawe Smoked Pork Pizza topped with homemade pineapple salsa and mango BBO sauce.

Kula Country Farm. Be sure to stop at this quaint stand if you’re craving fresh fruits and vegetables or jams to take home as souvenirs. Run by a fourth generation local farming community, they’re renowned for their U-pick island strawberries, Kula Onions and sweet Kula corn.  The property is small but inviting with striking ocean views, a great place to picnic and a few animals (my daughter took about 100 pictures of the fat rabbit). I secretly inhaled the Macadamia Nut Magic Cookie Bar and I wish I could recommend the orange crème jam I bought but it was confiscated at airport security.

I demand a do-over.

 Day 4—Ka’anapali Beach Bums

North Ka'anapali Beach

North Ka’anapali Beach

If Maui has a signature beach, it is 3-mile long Ka’anapli Beach’s white sands and crystal clear water in West Maui. Ka’anapli was Hawaii’s first planned resort and five hotels and six condominium villages face this popular beach. Translation: The beach is beautiful and the snorkeling is incredible but in many places, you’ll have to navigate the crowds to enjoy it.

Beach Walk. We stayed at Honua Kai Resort and Spa’s luxurious condominiums on Ka’anapali North Beach. One of my most memorable mornings was watching the sunrise as I ran the  Ka’anapali Beach Trail, a mile-long trail that passed by high-end shopping at Whaler’s Village, restaurants and hotels with the Sheraton and Hyatt as bookends.

We dedicated an entire day to exploring the expansive beach. The middle sections of the beach are excellent for body surfing and the beach north of Black Rock, though not a secret, is much quieter without the crowds. My kids spent several hours at unspoiled palm-tree-lined Ka’anapali North Beach in front of Honua Kai Resort jumping waves and marveled as a mama whale taught her calf how to lob his tail before he was carried away in her  “slip stream,”  a type of hydrodynamic wake that develops as the mother swims.

Black Rock. If you ask anyone where to snorkel on Maui, they’ll almost universally reply, “Black Rock on Ka’anapali Beach.” Adjacent to the Sheraton, this rock (called Pu’u Keka’a) separates the two halves of Ka’anapali Beach. We parked and lunched at Hula Grill at Whaler’s Village (read: parking validation) and made the quick walk to Black Rock.

Black Rock

Black Rock

Despite threatening skies, big crowds and cliff divers soaring overheard, the marine life we discovered while snorkeling was, indeed the best we found on the island with natural underwater treasures that included sea turtles on steroids, urchins embedded between the black rocks and a kaleidoscope of fish.

Sheraton’s Cliff Diving Ceremony. One of the things we loved most about Maui is its flamboyant history. Black Rock is notorious for where Hawaiian spirits would leap to meet their ancestors when they died. Every night at dusk, a cliff diver reenacts the feat of Maui’s revered King Kahekili who bravely dove from the cliff at Black Rock into the churning sea a.k.a the neverworld.

It was an unapologetically touristy production but we couldn’t help but get swept away with the ancient pahu drums, the triton shell horns calling the hula dancers to the beachside as the tiki torches were lit to match the blazing sunset.

Photo: Sheraton Maui

Photo: Cliff Diver. Credit: Sheraton Maui

The public congregated on the beach to watch the ceremony but we had the best vantage point of all: the Sheraton’s Cliff Dive Grill. Try the flame-grilled chicken, beef and shrimp skewers with Maui onions, bell papers and mushrooms with signature dipping sauces cilantro-Lime Honey, Kimchee Miso Aioli & Spicy Hoisin. You’ll swear you, too have entered the afterlife.


Join us on our week-long journey to Maui! In case you missed them:
Maui Family Travel–Your guide to 7 days in paradise Days 1 & 2
Maui Family Travel: Days 3 and 4 in the Glorious Upcountry and Beach Bums
Maui Family Travel: Days 5 & 6 The Road to Hana and Maui’s Best-kept Secret
Maui Family Travel: Day 7′s “Sunny” Wailea and a Luau Farewell
4 kid-friendly Maui hotels and resorts your family will love