Guide to Maui for beginners

Getting to know the Valley Isle before your first trip

I already had traveled to the other Hawaiian Islands a dozen times before I finally made it to Maui. This struck me as strange, considering the number of direct flights from my hometown of Seattle and the fact that many of my friends and fellow travel colleagues make this their go-to island.

But earlier this year, when our group of Expedia Viewfinder bloggers had our annual summit on-island, I finally got to experience the Valley Isle for myself.

Much of the week was planned expertly by the fabulous Maui Visitors Bureau. Jon and I, however, spent a few extra days after the summit exploring on our own, which meant we had time to investigate on our own.

This exploration was the best part of our trip. I love trying to wrap my head around a new destination, crowd-sourcing friends for suggestions and faves, and simply starting from square one. If you are making your first time to Maui, hopefully some of these pointers will help you in planning your trip.

Before you go

I started researching this trip months in advance using the Maui Revealed guidebook. This series has done me well for other islands and it was great for Maui, too. It’s thorough, has a website that’s kept up-to-date, and explains the layout of the island in an easy-to-digest way.

Spectacular flowers for lei-making

But sometimes you can read a guidebook, ask all your sources for information, and still not really know what you’re getting into until you’ve got boots (or slippers, in this case) on the ground. I tend to read, make my plans, and then read some more once I’m at my destination. This was invaluable as we planned our drive on the Road to Hana, gathering tips in advance but also reading the nearly mile-by-mile descriptions once on the road.

Rent a car

You definitely can go to Maui and enjoy yourself simply sitting by the pool or beach. No one would blame you if your visit comprised only warm weather, an infinity pool, and staring up at palm trees from your reclining beach chair.

But as beautiful as that view can be, Maui really shines when you can enjoy her coastline and mountains, both of which really require a car to get there. Having your own vehicle means you also can save money by grocery-shopping for necessities and treats and eating off-property to expand your experience of Maui’s food culture. (Personally, I recommend living solely off of shave ice.)

The island

It’s easiest to think of Maui as two connected islands, each with a volcano commanding attention (when the peaks are not obscured by clouds, that is). Maui’s population of about 150,000 lives mostly along the coast and at the base of the mountains.

Dramatic coastline near Hana

Maui rocks in terms of water activities because it has more accessible coastline than all of the other islands. And wind! Oh, the wind makes for some of the best windsurfing and kiteboarding in the world. We spent some time at a lookout point just north of Pa’ia, where windsurfers were flying and turning tricks like nobody’s braddah (that’s Hawaiian pidgin English for “brother”).

From Kihei to Wailea and Kapalu to Lahaina, you’ll find the sunniest parts of the island. That’s also where the resorts and other tourists will (understandably) be. Still, if you’re looking for warmth and sunshine, this area can’t be beat. Just make sure you take the rental car and head for the hills or to Hana at some point.

Water sports

I had the chance to take a surf lesson with Hawaiian Paddle Sports at Ukumehame Beach Park just south of Lahaina. The breaks here are pretty gentle and excellent for beginners. Others in our group went SUPing or canoeing, and most everyone hit the beach at some point.

In short, Maui truly is a paradise for those who love the water. There’s no comparison to the other islands when it comes to having access to water sports.

Highlights

One morning Jon and I departed from the Fairmont Kea Lani at 3:30 a.m. to witness sunrise at the island’s tallest volcanic crater, Haleakala. It took us about 90 minutes to get there and even at that early hour, we got one of the last spots in the main parking lot. 

Viewfinder Tip: The Maui police are notorious for writing tickets for speeding. When you’re driving around town, slow down!

The sunrise, which occurred just before 6 a.m., was well worth the drive. We watched the ball of fire come up from behind the clouds and crater. The show was short, which was OK because the weather at that altitude (about 10,000 feet) was 45 degrees and windy. We wore hooded sweatshirts and puffy coats but were still cold. If you do this, bring warm clothes, even if you only wear them for those few hours during your entire stay.

On another early morning we left before 6 a.m. to avoid the crowds on the Road to Hana. This road hugs the coastline on the northern part of the island and wraps around to the east where you’ll find the small “town” of Hana. We drove it mid-week and early enough that we encountered little traffic on the road. The many waterfalls and Seven Sacred Pools (a must-stop just past Hana) were also devoid of tourists, making us feel as if we had these places all to ourselves.

How do you research a new destination?

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Beth Whitman

Beth Whitman finished her tenure as an Expedia Viewfinder blogger at the end of 2015. She is the founder and CEO of Wanderlust and Lipstick and WanderTours. With 25+ years of solo travel, she writes for the women's travel market to encourage women to travel and live out their dream journeys.

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