“A vacation is having nothing to do, and all day to do it” – Robert Orben
I’m due a monthly goal check-in, but let’s save that for next Monday because I’m super excited to tell you guys all about Maui!
If you’ve been following along for a while now, you’ll probably know that Hawaii has been at the top of my must-see list for years. One of my big goals for 2017 was to make this happen on a solo trip, and I can now very confidently check that goal off the list! It was an unbelievably restorative and long-overdue break from my day-to-day life. An unforgettable adventure to a destination I will most certainly be returning to.
As someone who’s very into holistic wellness, one of the things that really lights me up is discovering all of the fun activities and delicious healthy food available in the places I visit. Maui’s gorgeous beaches, breathtaking hikes and super fresh cuisine all made it a perfect island to explore. While I feel like there’s still so many more places I would have liked to check out, I know there are plenty of chances to do so in the future. For now, I’ll tell you all about the discoveries, recommendations and learnings from this trip.
Where to stay
When I was researching the best places to stay in Maui way back in February, I learned that most people either stay in Lahaina (west coast) or Wailea (central.) The resorts in Wailea tend to be super expensive (think Four Seasons, Hotel Wailea, Grand Wailea and the Andaz), whereas ones in Lahaina are a little more on the affordable side.
I opted for the Hyatt Regency Maui Resort + Spa in Lahaina on the west coast, which shares a beach path with the Hyatt Maui Residences, Marriott, and Westin. There are more resorts and condo-style accommodations along the coast, and tons to do at each one.
My entire trip (minus excursions) was planned through Expedia, including a car rental. (This isn’t a sponsored post, but I had a great experience booking my Seattle trip via Expedia in April and it was the first site that came to mind for Hawaii.) I was advised by friends that Maui is a BIG island, and the best way to maximize time there is to get a rental car. Public transit is very, very infrequent on the island and I didn’t have time to waste! I’d definitely recommend getting a car if you’re planning to visit, and plotting out a loose itinerary so that you don’t spend the majority of each day driving.
Making my reservations through Expedia was awesome because I ended up saving a lot of money on airfare + accommodations by bundling. There were also a ton of reviews for each hotel, and advice from fellow travellers is always appreciated – especially when traveling alone.
Where to eat
One of the most common remarks I read about Hawaii prior to leaving was that it’s expensive – way more than Vancouver! My plan was to buy most of my food from grocery stores and prepare meals in my hotel. Groceries were still really spendy since the majority are imported, and locally grown produce wasn’t much cheaper. I spotted a jar of Justin’s peanut butter for $17 US! If that’s what PB costs, I can’t imagine what almond butter would be!
I think I saved a bit by doing the mostly-grocery plan, but also ate at some killer restaurants too. Here’s a rundown of my recommendations:
Whole Foods, Costco and Mana Foods
These 3 stores are all located near the Kahului airport, which is on Maui’s north shore. They’re very convenient to hit up en route from the airport to hotels, which is exactly what I did. (I didn’t stop at Costco because it was getting dark the night I arrived, but wish I had.)
Mana Foods is in Paia Town, and it’s like a slightly smaller, Hawaiian version of Whole Foods. If you’ve got any sort of dietary restrictions, it’s definitely a good place to go. The produce assortment isn’t as large as Whole Foods, which is closer to the airport, but it’s worth checking out if you’re a foodie and love grocery shopping like I do. Expect to discover some massive avocados and foreign tropical fruits you’ve never seen before!
Whole Foods had all the things you’d expect at Whole Foods, with a bunch of locally sourced products too. The prepared food, salad bar and hot bar sections were really good, and the staff there were super friendly. I stocked up here on organic greens, kimchi, gluten-free oats, canned tuna and salmon, and a few other bits of produce for my hotel room stash.
Choice Health Bar
If you have just one açai bowl during a trip to Maui, this is the place to do it. Two of my friends recommended Choice Health Bar and it certainly didn’t disappoint. They’ve got a really great assortment of vegan + vegetarian food, juices, smoothies and salads. Several Maui locals I spoke to who claimed to be açai bowl connoisseurs also said these ones are the best on the island.
I loved that they didn’t skimp on quality ingredients (think bee pollen, hemp seeds, cacao nibs, spirulina etc), and the menu items are all based on what’s in season. The location I visited is in Lahaina, a short drive from my hotel, but there’s another one about to open in the Kaanapali Whalers Village which is about a 10 minute walk up the beach from the Hyatt. (If you happen to stay at the Westin, it’s literally next door, as is lululemon!)
This is a grocery chain, and I read prior to the trip that they have the BEST poke in Maui. Obviously being a seafood lover, I had to check it out. There were 2 Foodland locations in Lahaina and not surprisingly, they didn’t disappoint. Each had between 8-10 varieties of poke (mostly ahi) and made daily trips to get it for either lunch or dinner! Many were seasoned with shoyu (which, like soy sauce, contains wheat) but the Hawaiian style one was a simple mixture of poke, chili water, onions and herbs. It was my favourite of them all and at a cost of about $6.50USD for half a pound, no restaurant could beat it. I’d take it back to my hotel along with some other ingredients for a poke bowl and feast like a queen. It was lovely! 😍
Hot tip on Foodland: If you don’t have this chain where you like (which I do not), I highly recommend signing up for a free Maika’i Card which is a loyalty card that allows you to save money on pretty much everything in the store. On purchases that came to ~$50, I was saving around $10 which certainly adds up! You can download their app on your phone which generates a barcode that I used as my card. Even if you never have intentions of visiting Maui again (although I don’t think that will be the case!) signing up is totally worth it.
Oh, and one more Foodland tip: The assortment is better at lunch time. By the end of the day, one of the locations was running very low on most flavours so the earlier you can get there, the better.
Mama’s Fish House
Located on Maui’s North shore in Paia Town, Mama’s Fish House has earned a reputation for being the best restaurant on the island. It’s expensive, but 100% worth it and since it’s so close to the airport, a great spot to stop for dinner on your last day in Maui. The menu changes depending on what’s in season and the dishes are presented beautifully. It gets dark really early in Maui at this time of year (like 6pm) so sadly I didn’t get a blog-worthy shot of my meal, but I had wild caught macadamia-crusted mahi mahi, stuffed with crab. It was absolutely divine and I think I’ll remember this meal forever!
Local BBQ and fruit stands
These are absolutely everywhere, especially along the earlier part of the road to Hana (but more on that in a second). If there’s one thing you can get cheap and in abundance in Maui, it’s tropical fruit and fresh coconut! I’m not a huge drinker of coconut water in a carton, but drinking it out of a real coconut is a completely different experience. At many stands, you can watch the owners husking the coconuts right there, serving them up with straws to anyone who stops by. There’s also a ton of pineapple, guava, starfruit, rambutans, papaya, dragonfruit, and some of the biggest avocados I’ve ever seen. Oh, and coconut ice cream!
I assumed poke would be the most common dish on restaurant menus, but it turns out the traditional Hawaiian ‘plate lunch’ was a lot more popular. Yes, this is lunch served on a plate, but it’s also the term used to describe a meal consisting of a scoop of white rice, mayo-covered macaroni salad and an entree – typically an Asian-inspired meat dish covered in gravy. In a nutshell, carbs on carbs on protein on carbs. I’m not necessarily recommending you try this because I can’t say I felt inclined to do so, but I suppose if you really wanted to immerse yourself in the full Hawaiian cultural experience, plate lunch would be a must.
Other places I planned to eat but ran out of time:
Where to sweat
Maui’s a pretty hot place, so you’ll probably sweat EVERYWHERE you go. But as far as intentional fitness efforts go, I didn’t plan to do any super intense workouts because I wanted the trip to feel as restorative as possible. I did some strength training sessions in the Hyatt’s gym, a few easy runs and lots of walking along the beach (beautiful!), and participated in morning beachfront yoga classes. The classes were SO good and free for Hyatt guests, so if you ever stay there, be sure to attend at least one!
Outside of those activities, it was still a very active trip. The difference from my day-to-day was that these were experiences I wouldn’t have had at home. For example…
Snorkel tour to Molokini and Turtle Town
I did this tour with an organization called Pride of Maui, and I’d highly recommend them whether you’re traveling solo or with others. There were about 60 of us (I think) on the boat and from start to finish, the tour was 6 hours long. We boarded at 7:30am, left by 8, and returned by 1pm. Molokini is a crater off of Maui’s southern coast, and the water around it is nice and shallow, perfect for snorkelling.
This was my first-ever snorkelling trip and I couldn’t believe how clear the water was. I took a bunch of photos with my GoPro, but they don’t come close to doing it justice. Even though I started to get cold after a while, I could have floated around for hours watching these guys!
The other stop on the tour was Turtle Town, an area of the ocean off the coast of Wailea and Kihei quite close to Molokini. Here we saw (funnily enough) a ton of turtles. They’re referred to as honu in Hawaii, and as a protected species, it’s illegal to hunt, capture or even get too close to them. Our group took a bunch of underwater photos as they swam by, some little and some much older, bigger and slower.
There was also the opportunity to SCUBA dive and SNUBA on this trip. I originally intended to try SNUBA, which is a cross between snorkelling and SCUBA that allows you to go deeper than a snorkel, without requiring the certification that SCUBA does. It came with an added cost though, and I decided I’d be content with snorkelling and putting the saved cash towards my next excursion, which was…
A surfing lesson
My first, in fact! There are heaps of surf schools in Maui, especially in Lahaina and down the west coast. I chose Goofy Foot Surf School which offers a 2-hour small group lesson for $65. The first part was an on-land lesson where myself and the 2 other ladies in the class learned the basics of getting from the lying position up to standing on the board. We paddled out with our instructor and took turns putting our skills to the test with the waves that were coming in. It was a really mild day so we had to wait quite a while between waves, but this was fine by me because 2 hours allowed us each to try about 8-10 times.
I’m pleased to report that I was able to successfully stand and ride about 4 of the 10 waves I attempted, which may not sound like a lot but it was better than I anticipated! I also drank about half the ocean in the process, which I suppose is par for the course for beginners. Prior to the lesson I was actually starting to reconsider whether I really wanted to do it and nearly bailed, but I’m so glad I didn’t. This was so much fun and I’d totally do it again!
Hiking the Pipiwai Trail in Haleakala National Park
The Pipiwai Trail is an out-and-back route that covers 3.6 miles in total. It’s located on the south east coast of the island, just south of Hana. At the end is Waimoku Falls, a 400 foot waterfall that I was keen to see for myself. Along the hike were a ton of guava trees (the smell was lovely!), smaller waterfalls, some amazing tropical plants and a bamboo forest.
I couldn’t believe how loud the bamboo got when the wind picked up and the stalks started clanking against each other. In the really dense areas, it almost felt like night time because the bamboo blocked out so much light.
While the Maui Guidebook says the trail is often overcrowded, this wasn’t the case for my hike. There were others on the trail, but plenty of space between everyone. I felt totally safe on my own and saw several other solo adventurers as I went out and back.
At the bottom of the trail are 2 half-mile loops around pools (an area known as the Oheo Gulch or 7 Sacred Pools, even though there are more than seven). You can swim in them at some times of the year, but they were only open for viewing when I visited.
The hike was really manageable and shaded in most parts, so even if you or a travel buddy aren’t up for anything intense, it’s a great choice. Getting there is the more challenging part, which I’ll tell you about next!
Other fun things to see + do
Road to Hana
You can’t visit Maui without someone telling you about the road to Hana. It’s a city on the far east coast as I mentioned above, and to get there you have to take 1 of 2 roads: the top route which is entirely paved and more popular, or the bottom route which is partially unpaved. Any car drama that happens along the southern route isn’t covered by car rental companies, so while it would have been a shorter drive for me to get to the Pipiwai trail via the southern road, I opted for the top just in case my little Nissan Sentra rental decided to call it quits.
I don’t regret taking the northern road at all because there were SO many breathtaking lookout points and mini hikes along the way. With that said, it was an INTENSE drive. Think single lane roads with 2-way traffic, hairpin turns and cliff-side guardrails. I’m the type that gets carsick easily if I’m not the driver, so I’m not sure I would have had the same positive experience a passenger.
It takes about 3 hours to get to Hana and every single one of my senses was on high alert the entire time, but it was such a cool drive. The best way I can describe it is like a scene out of Jurassic Park: rainforest and exotic vegetation covering the mountain on one side, and the ocean waves crashing against cliffs hundreds of feet below on the other.
Along the way I broke up the drive by stopping at Twin Falls, fruit stands, and scenic lookout points. There are a few restaurants and B&Bs in Hana, but I didn’t spend much time there because I wanted to ensure I had plenty of time to do my Pipiwai Trail hike and drive home in the daylight.
By the time I finished the hike it was around 3:30pm and I really wasn’t in much of a mood for driving. Taking back my earlier decision to return on the northern paved road, I just continued along the southern route. To my delight, it wasn’t nearly as treacherous as it’s made out to be. There was far less oncoming traffic, and the views completely changed from rainforest and waterfalls to dry, grassy mountains.
If you’re considering doing this trip, I’d say it’s definitely a unique experience and one you probably won’t find anywhere else. My recommendations would be to:
- dedicate a full day to the adventure
- bring snacks + plenty of water
- make sure you have an almost-full tank of gas, and if not, fill up in Paia Town which is the last main town along the northern route. Gas is more expensive in Hana.
- leave early in the morning (like 7am) to avoid traffic
- plan to relax that evening, and maybe plan to spend the next day lounging on the beach because you probably won’t want to drive anywhere!
There are some really cute beachfront shops, cafes and restaurants in Lahaina, and they’re just a short drive south of the west coast hotels. This is also where the surf school was that I had my lesson with. You’ll feel like you’re in more of a small village than a tourist spot when you’re in this area because there are more local people, schools and homes.
Rent a snorkel set + fins
These are available from all the hotel beach desks, as well as local gear shops along the coasts. Alternatively, you can buy your own at Costco when you arrive, save a bit of money, and be confident about cleanliness. There are some amazing spots right along the resort beaches, and plenty of fish and turtles to see! The morning is the best time to snorkel because the water is more calm, so keep that in mind when you’re scheduling your days.
This was one of my sightseeing activities on my last day because it’s near Paia Town and the airport on the north shore. It’s not a very big beach and the strip of sand isn’t that long, but what’s very cool about it is the turtles that come to rest up on the shore. More of them accumulate later in the afternoon and they just sunbathe in a corner together like they own the spot. You can get quite close to take photos of them, but there are signs that require you to keep a distance of about 10 feet.
Two things I ran out of time to do but would check off on my next trip:
This is Maui’s inactive volcano, and from what I’ve heard and seen on Youtube, the sunrises from the top are incredible. You’ll find several companies offering tour bus rides there, as well as mountain biking excursions for the route down. Apparently sunsets are impressive too, and there are plenty of trails to hike in the park during the day.
Hot tip about Haleakala National Park: You have to pay $15 to enter, which is what I did to hike the Pipiwai Trail. That entry is good for 3 days, so if you want to do the trail one day and Haleakala the next day, you wouldn’t have to pay twice.
Attend a luau
This is a traditional Hawaiian party, complete with a buffet feast of local dishes and lots of entertainment. The Hyatt hosts one of the island’s most famous ones called the Drums of the Pacific Luau every night, but I’ve read that the Old Lahaina Luau is fantastic, super authentic and recommended by lots of locals. While I didn’t actually attend, I was able to watch some of the Drums of the Pacific entertainment, and see/smell the buffet as I passed by the outdoor venue on most nights. As you may imagine, there were plenty of leis, hula dancing, Mai Tais and tonnnnnns of food.
Everything in one spot
In case any of you happen to be planning trips in the near future, I’ve put all the spots mentioned above, plus a few more on the interactive Google map below. My original map had many more places pinned, but I’ve kept it for next time and am 100% confident I won’t be waiting another 29 years for that time to come!
Know before you go
A few bits of advice that might be useful if you’re already dreaming up your next vacation….
- Don’t underestimate how strong the sun is! I made the mistake of not generously applying sunscreen on my 2nd day, which was the snorkel tour. My forehead and nose got verrrrrrry red, and I’m currently dealing with that classic peely scalp look. (Soooooo attractive.) Luckily this made me very aware at an early stage that I needed to be diligent with sunscreen, and you should do the same!
- If you plan to go to the top of Haleakala (the island’s inactive volcano), bring a warm jacket. I didn’t manage to fit this into my schedule, but the temperature at the top of Haleakala is way cooler than the rest of the island so you’ll want to bundle up. I’m told it’s also extremely windy.
- Don’t get to the Kahului airport super early on your last day because you will be bored… and hot. Check-in desks open 3 hours prior to flight departure and the area in front of them is not air conditioned. There are a few benches to sit on, but they’re outside and not comfy. Once you pass security there are a few shops before the gates, but if you’re a gum chewer on flights, make sure you buy some beforehand as none of the airport shops sell it.
- Front-load your must-see activities in case of weather issues. Luckily it was sunny and gorgeous the whole week of my visit, but I still planned my snorkel tour, surf lesson, and trek to Hana and the Pipiwai Trail for earlier in the trip just in case they needed to be rescheduled.
Phew – that was a LOT of typing! I’d love to hear from you guys now…. Have you ever been to Maui, or another part of Hawaii? What were some of the highlights for you? Anything in Maui that I missed and need to see next time?