My wife and I went to Kauai two years ago, loved it, and have been wanting to explore another island ever since. Of course, COVID has made that difficult, but with vaccines rolling out and Hawaii travel restrictions easing, we finally made a 4-day, 5-night trip to Maui. This isn’t necessarily an ideal itinerary, just what we were able to put together given available reservations:
Day 1: Road to Hana
Highway 360 is a notoriously narrow and windy but beautiful road trip that wraps around the southeastern part of the island. There are a number of highlights along the way, though we chose to drive straight to Aunt Sandy’s for a banana bread breakfast, then on to Wai’anapanapa State Park. This park does require making reservations ahead of time but is well worth the visit. While the famous black sand beach is a little underwhelming, the lava rock coast is absolutely amazing to walk along.
Wai’anapanapa is probably the best turnaround point, though many people (ourselves included) choose to drive on to the Kipahulu District of Haleakala National Park. There are only two trails to hike in this section of the park, though: a small loop that takes you past the Pools of ‘Ohe’o and a longer hike to Waimoku Falls. We were pressed for time and only hiked the Pipiwai Trail to the first Makahiku Falls overlook:
In retrospect, I think the Kipahulu District is only worth visiting if you’ll be in the area for two days. If the plan is to drive the road to Hana and back in one day, going out that far is just too much to take on.
Day 2: Southwest Snorkeling
Maui has a ton of snorkeling, so we split this up into two days, with the first day being in the southwest near Kihei. We went to Ulua Beach first and then to Maluaka Beach. Maluaka is touted as the unofficial “Turtle Town,” though we didn’t actually see any turtles there. Part of the problem is that Maui gets really windy in the afternoon. If you get to the beach too late, conditions aren’t going to be good for snorkeling anymore.
To round out the day, we also visited Makena State Park. As a state park, entry isn’t free for non-residents. Makena has three beaches, though: Big Beach (pictured below), Little Beach (where nudists hang out!), and a more isolated black sand beach. The black sand beach isn’t as pronounced as the one in Wai’anapanapa, but it’s still fun to watch the crabs digging holes along the shore.
Day 3: Northwest Snorkeling
For our second day of snorkeling, we headed northwest. Black Rock Beach behind the Sheraton Hotel ended up being our favorite spot of the entire trip. We saw four separate turtles and a huge school of fish there. We’d been told that Honolua Bay farther north was actually the best place to snorkel, though, so we hurried there next.
Unfortunately, water conditions at Honolua Bay were terrible. The water was really murky. Only later did I find out that the city had issued a brown water advisory three days earlier. This makes resources like The Snorkel Report somewhat misleading, because they don’t take into account unsafe bacteria levels, only unsafe weather. So, yeah, I don’t feel particularly great about having jumped into semi-brown water…
Day 4: Haleakala Summit
Watching the sunrise at the top of Haleakala National Park is another popular activity that also requires a reservation. That’s why this ended up being our last day instead of the more preferable first day, when we were still jet-lagged and already awake at 3:00am.
Honestly, the sunrise on its own isn’t actually worth getting up that early for (the road up to the summit is kind of scary in the dark), but you want to be in the park early, anyway. Clouds will roll in by noon and cover up a lot of the overlooks. Check out the difference between our first stop and fourth stop:
For what it’s worth, we basically followed Shaka Guide’s advice on what to do after watching the sunrise. There are several overlooks that offer different viewing angles into the crater and a couple of hikes you only need to go partway into.
Bonus: ‘Iao Valley
Our flight back home didn’t leave until the afternoon, so we used that morning to visit the ‘Iao Valley State Monument near Wailuku. Like Makena, entry isn’t free, and there’s only about 30 minutes worth of walking to do there. But the iconic “Iao Needle” is fun to see, and the surrounding area is beautiful. It’s a great way to round out just how naturally diverse Maui is.