Shortly after touching down at the Kahului, Maui airport, my 7-year-old son Bode squealed, “Pinch me. Is this a dream?”
It sure felt like one. A few months prior, I had won our trip to paradise through the Maui Convention and Visitor’s Bureau in what they deemed was “the best reaction we’ve ever received” (think: the next contestant on the Price is Right).
As the second largest in the Hawaiian Islands, Maui’s geography is a lesson in diversity. High-altitude mountains topping out at over 10,000 feet, dazzling white, black and red sand beaches, the gloriously remote Hana and the famous road to get there are a few reasons why Maui was voted the “Best Island” by the readers of Conde Nast Traveler for 19 years.
Upon arriving at our hotel Napili Kai Beach Resort at dusk, we hit the beach. The 3-hour time difference was wreaking havoc on sleepy Bode but he was reenergized when he launched into the water and watched the breaching whales in the distance (whale season is Dec.-April). As the coal-colored sun dipped behind nearby islands Lanai and Molokai, it set the sky and ocean on fire.
Bode marveled and queried, “What time is it in Denver, Dad?”
“Denver is dead to us, son.”
Maui Day 1—Settling in and West Maui
I crafted the following 7-day itinerary around four different lodging properties on various parts of Maui for the most optimal in family-fun.
First item of business: load up on food items at Costco, just 1.5 miles from the airport. Though prices are a bit higher than the Mainland, you won’t find better local deals. We brought a collapsible cooler and saved ourselves hundreds of dollars by eating two meals a day on-the-go. Related: I never want to see another apple or Honey Nut Cheerio again.
My seatmate on the airplane claimed to have a Shave Ice Ph.D., raving that Ululani’s Shave Ice was the most creamy and delicious in the world and we concurred. Get coconut ice cream on the bottom and tropical flavor combinations are the best (I loved guava, passion fruit and strawberry). Top it off with the snowcap (a sweet cream mixture) that is worth the extra 5,000 calories. Locations are in Lahaina or Kehei; make sure you stroll historic whaling town Lahaina’s charming Front Street for some of the most affordable souvenirs we found on the island.
West Maui. Once a retreat for Hawaiian royalty and the capitol of the Hawaiian Kingdom, West Maui is now home to fabulous beaches, shopping and dining. We spent a leisurely day paddleboarding, snorkeling and swimming Napili Bay. There is an ordinance here that bans high-rises and motorboats, making this an idyllic cove with gentle waters for families. The full service Sea House Restaurant sits oceanfront and we had one of more scenic and delicious dining experiences here (recommended: the Molokai Sweet Potato Egg Frittata and the Macadamia cinnamon roll).
It was my kids’ first time snorkeling and paddleboarding. My 9-year-old daughter Hadley’s snorkeling enthusiasm was adorable at first—until she grabbed me every time she saw a colorful fish or sea urchin. If my claw marks were any indication, my ravaged arm bore witness that snorkeling Napili Bay was a win.
We rented a stand-up paddleboard through Napili Kai’s activity concierge. I had SUPed only once before on a gentle canal and I had serious concerns about navigating the ocean so opted for the gentle waves on the north side of the beach. Before long, I was shocked to effortlessly glide around the bay but almost fell off my board when Crush himself swam right up to me. Like a Beatles groupie, I freaked out and squealed “A SEA TURTLE” but he ignored my uncoolness as he languidly bobbed beside me, ducking his head in and out of the water. I think I may have even heard him comment, “DUUUUDE.”
Day 2—Exploring the Top of West Maui
We had a splendid day exploring West Maui (which is actually northwest Maui but don’t try to convince a local to call it that). North of Napili you’ll find some of the island’s most jaw-dropping vistas, lava formations and tide pools. The complication is the drive along the top of Maui has a bad reputation for about 1.5-miles of highway on a very narrow paved one-lane road, which scares many people off.
Just before the 33 mile marker, Honolua Bay is famous for its awesome snorkeling in the summer and big waves in the winter and the lava-shaped Dragon’s Teeth at Makalua-puna Point are a site (and sight) to behold.
Our two favorite sites were the Nakalele Blowhole (an unmarked parking lot past the 28-mile marker) and the Olivine Pools (right before the 16-mile marker). After a steep, rocky descent (not recommended for really small kids), we reached a lava rock planet with the blowhole spurting out a stream of water every time the waves pounded to the shore. In the background, the black masses of three whales exhaled with a force so abrupt we could almost feel the mists.
Hiking down the cliffs to the Olivine Pools was no less impressive where a calm playground of natural swimming pools are nestled in an ancient lava shelf as the ocean pounded around us. As Hadley launched off the rocks into the pools, the rest of us watched a number of wildlife dramas unfold: six whales breaching, a suicidal crab clinging to the edge of a mini blowhole and a feeding frenzy of some Maui myna birds.
Once back on the road, Highway 30 turned into gnarly Highway 340 (temporarily one-lane next to a precipitous cliff) but we were determined to keep driving to picturesque Kahakuloa Village, the isolated tropical green home to about 100 people, a church and Julia’s Best Banana Bread stand. The bread was deliciously dark and carmelized and since it was lunchtime, we also bought a small tub of her sub-par coconut candy for $15.
I would have determined it was highway robbery if we were, indeed on a real highway.
We quickly devoured the banana bread and mere moments after we started driving, the candy got knocked over but we ate it anyway.
I later commented, “At least we didn’t scrimp on lunch,” to which my husband responded, “That’s because we ate off the floor in our rental car.”
Maui Friday Town Parties
If you want to experience Maui’s local vibe, be sure to check-out this street fair that rotates between four historic towns—Wailuku, Lahaina, Makawao and Kehei –every Friday. With free entertainment including live music, food booths, trucks and activities, Maui Friday is the pulse of the island. We planned to drive south to Keihi…until we arrived at the abandoned parking lot and it had been canceled due to rain. We hunkered down at nearby Coconut’s Fish Café, drowning our sorrows in their Zagat-rated fish tacos.
P.S. The Taco Mountain will make you pray for rain again.
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