Part 1: Maui’s Do’s and Dont’s
With over 2 million visitors per year the island of Maui is one of the most popular tropical vacation destinations in the world. With that being said, this means there are over 2 million people every year arriving to a place which is different than their home, and there are certain logistical and cultural differences that all Maui travelers should be aware of. Sure, there’s a good chance that if you’re visiting Maui you’re going to have a memorable vacation regardless, but these few tips will help you fit in better, keep you safe, and maximize the overall experience of your trip.
1. Do: Keep your eyes on the road
Of all the statistically unreasonable things to be afraid of when visiting Maui—being eaten by a shark, experiencing a volcanic eruption, angering Hawaiian spirits, etc.—the most dangerous thing on Maui for visitors is something that most of them do every day: simply driving down the road.
Granted, car accidents are statistically the highest way to hurt yourself in the majority of places in America, but in Maui there are constantly so many beautiful distractions off the side of the highway that many drivers find themselves looking anywhere but the road. True, the whales, the surfers, the sunsets, and the expansive views are undoubtedly photo-worthy, but just remember to pull over before attempting to take that photo. You’ll be much safer and actually be able to enjoy what you’re looking at.
2. Don’t: Honk
Other than roadside distractions such as breaching humpbacks and barreling surf, there are some other reasons why driving on Maui is a little bit different than back on the mainland. There are no freeways, and the maximum speed limit you’ll find on any road is 55 mph, although most are only 45. That doesn’t mean that the flow of traffic is cruising at 70 though. If anything, drivers in Maui are more apt to drive 10 mph under the speed limit as opposed to over it, because quite frankly, people are on island time. Not only are Maui drivers slow, but they’re also friendly. People let each other into traffic, drivers stop for pedestrians, and most importantly, they never, ever, honk. The only time you will hear a local person honking their horn on Maui is if they’re saying hi to their friend or passing through the tunnel on the way to Lahaina. Using your horn as a means to convey your annoyance is a surefire way to brand yourself as a tourist, and is an action guaranteed to be met with scornful “stink-eye” from everyone else on the road.
3. Do: Take a day to explore Upcountry
While most people’s image of Maui involves swaying palm-trees and sipping mai-tais at sunset, one of Maui’s least heralded regions has nothing to do with the beach at all. In fact, in Maui’s “Upcountry” region, surfing is replaced by ranching, and the fruity tropical drinks are replaced by Maui’s own wine. Set between 1,500-4,000 feet in elevation on the slopes of Haleakala, Upcountry is a laidback, peaceful corner of the island where two-lane roads meander their way past protea farms, farmers markets, and mom-and pop coffee stores where most of the customers are on a first name basis. Ulupalakua is home to Tedeschi Winery, and in the old paniolo (cowboy) town of Makawao you’re more apt to see someone riding a horse past an art gallery than some kiosk slinging timeshare. Upcountry is a true local’s hangout where there are no hotels, hardly any chain stores, and only a smattering of stoplights. Take a morning to enjoy a coffee from Grandma’s Coffee House in Keokea, take a stroll on Thompson Road, stop and pick up some locally grown Kula produce, and poke your head into the galleries of funky Makawao town. The beaches of Paia may be only ten minutes away, but from the jacaranda-lined pastures of this rural farm country they may as well be on a separate island entirely.
4. Don’t: Step on the coral
While many visitors to Maui leave the island with a snorkeling experience to remember, the sad reality is that many of Maui’s reefs are in a rapid state of decline, much of which is attributable to people standing on the coral. Although coral may just look like a really colorful rock, coral reefs are actually living creatures which are hyper-sensitive to the pressure of human touch. Even just resting your hand on living coral can cause irreversible damage from which that part of the reef may never recover. Seeing as these reefs support myriad species of marine life such as eels, reef fish, and legions of Hawaiian green sea turtles, protecting the island’s coral reefs is vital to the future of the entire marine ecosystem.
5. Do: Make an effort to visit Lana’i or Moloka’i
Even though the islands of Lana’i and Moloka’i are close enough to form the backdrop for Maui’s famous sunsets, only the smallest percentage of visitors ever take the time to visit the neighboring islands. With a population of only 3,300 people Lana’i has gone from being the world’s largest pineapple plantation to an adventure and luxury vacation destination where you can either play championship golf overlooking the Pacific or 4-wheel drive to deserted white sand beaches. Meanwhile, on Moloka’i, visitors can either take a mule ride down the world’s tallest sea cliffs to the former leper colony at Kalaupapa, or spend an entire day exploring the island’s lush valleys and windswept, empty shorelines. While staying a night or two on each island is preferable, both Lana’i and Moloka’i are doable as day-trips from Maui via ferries which depart out of Lahaina Harbor.
Kyle Ellison is a freelance writer based in Maui, Hawaii who frequently finds himself in obscure international destinations. Over the course of traveling through 60 different countries, he has taken part in everything from climbing mountains in Borneo to eating clams while scuba diving in an underwater Vietnamese cave. Despite his penchant for novelty and adventure, the beautiful island of Maui will always be the corner of the world where he calls home. All of Kyle’s writing and adventures can be found by visiting his website, kylethevagabond.com. Kyle is also an ambassador and contributor to VacationRoost.