Shannon Wianecki | Photography by Cecilia Fernández | Jack Jeffrey
Jason Moore | Sara Smith
What makes Maui a shoo-in for the title of World’s Best Island year after year? Certainly its string of perfect beaches plays a part. Paired with brag-worthy resorts, top-class restaurants, and a multitude of recreational activities, Maui’s diverse and idyllic landscape probably makes it a slam-dunk. But for those of us who wake up every morning in paradise, the island’s most winning qualities are more subtle: an enchanting scent, a singular flavor, or an annual community gathering that recalls warm memories. Below we’ve revealed a few of these details-the sacred spots, sought-after tastes, and lucky scores that make life on Maui such a love affair.
The wild North Shore beach, whose name means “hospitality,” welcomes waveriders with open arms. One of the planet’s top spots for surfing, windsurfing and kiteboarding, Ho’okipa offers no fewer than five surf breaks to daring watermen and women who carve waves twenty feet and taller. Voyeurs are welcome as well; the cliff-top parking lot claims a bird’s-eye view of the action. Below the surface, Ho’okipa is a treasure trove of marine life: gentle garden eels wave from their sandy bed, turtles hunt for jellyfish, and a rare monk seal once dropped in to catch a local surf contest.
2) Median Temperature
85 degrees year-round. ‘Nuff said.
3) Sustainably caught seafood. Living on a rock in the middle of the ocean is good for at least one thing: seafood. While landlocked mainlanders eat farm-raised and frozen fish, we are free to enjoy wild, pole-caught ‘ahi, ono, ‘opakapaka, and mahi. Best restaurants to cast your hook: Mama’s Fish House, Pa’ia Fishmarket, the Waterfront, and the Plantation House.
4) Haleakala National Park. Sure, kids in New York City can take field trips to the fabled Museum of Natural History to learn about plants, animals, and fossils. But kids (of all ages) on Maui can experience vulcanology, geology, and biology lessons in the wild. Martian landscape pocked with lava bombs, rain forest spilling with waterfalls and charismatic birds-Haleakala has it all. Don’t wait till you have friends in town. Drive up the side of this sleeping volcano, hike down into the House of the Sun, and discover for yourself why Edward Abbey once said: “Wilderness is not a luxury but a necessity of the human spirit.”
5) Backyard fruit trees. Even the most humble Maui residences claim access to a backyard producer. Whether yours is a star-fruit tree whose branches break under the burden of its fruit, or a mango so sweet it earns you party invitations, you can live deliciously off the land here. (And let’s not forget the lychee, guava, mountain apple, fig, lemon, pomelo, orange, avocado and apple banana. . . .)
6) Hotel Hana-Maui’s infinity pool. Recipe for relaxation: float on your back in the resort’s idyllic pool. Count ‘iwa (frigate birds) soaring over Ka’uiki, the pu’u (hill) that juts into the sea. Watch squalls drift along the horizon. Spy on ranch horses sidling up to the fence for a nuzzle. Forget what day or even year it is. (If this doesn’t transport you to nirvana, proceed directly to the spa.)
7) Maui Girl & Company. Celebrating its thirtieth anniversary this year, the grass-skirt-fringed Pa’ia boutique is the spot for stylish swimwear. If you don’t believe us, check the February issue of Sports Illustrated. Whew! On an island where bikinis are the equivalent of the little black dress, shop owner and designer Debbie Kowalski Wilson has had our back for three sun-kissed decades. Her mix-and-match Maui Girl label allows ladies to look their very best at the beach. She was among the first to import Brazil’s teeniest briefs. (And if your ma worries that you’re showing too much cheek, you can always invest in one of Wilson’s adorable cover-ups.)
8) Gymnasium exhibits at the Maui County Fair. From the lavish orchid displays to the student art adorning the walls, the fair’s indoor exhibits are worth waiting the whole year for. Stroll down the aisles to view whimsical self-portraits, handcrafted quilts, lovingly cultivated bonsai trees, and enormous papayas competing for blue ribbons.
9) Biodiesel at the pumps. As Maui takes baby steps towards sustainability, Pacific Biodiesel’s recycled fryer oil frees us from fossil fuels. Put that in your pipe and smoke it.
10) Tasaka Guri-Guri. Stop by the family-run shop in the Maui Mall for a spoonful of sweet history. Two scoops of homemade sherbet sell for just a dollar. Jokichi Tasaka, the current proprietor’s grandfather, invented the frozen confection (originally called “Goodie-Goodie”) and sold it to plantation workers. Nearly 100 years later, Mauians still can’t seem to get enough of the secret recipe.
11) Ka’anapali Beach’s other half. Directly north of Pu’u Keka’a, you’ll stumble across hidden Kahekili Beach. The waters are just as sparkling blue; the sands just as warm and sunny, only it’s half as crowded as its neighbor.
12) Cliff diving off Keka’a (Black Rock). All day long, kids scramble up the steep, wet rocks on the far edge of Ka’anapali Beach to practice lele kawa (cliff diving). They’re following in the footsteps of Kahekili, Maui’s last chief, who claimed to have descended from the god of thunder. Kahekili earned renown for leaping from the sacred spot, recognized as a leina a ka ‘uhane or “leaping place of the soul” in ancient times. If you’re too shy to try it yourself, stick around for sunset, when a torch-bearing employee of the Sheraton Resort reenacts the king’s feat of bravery.
13) Kaunoa Senior Center activities. Since growing older isn’t optional, we might as well do it in paradise. Each month, Kaunoa Senior Center posts a calendar of truly appealing activities for folks fifty-five and up: ‘ukulele, painting, and ballroom dancing lessons, Tai Chi, yoga, and even interisland cruises. Sign me up!
14) The Masters of Hawaiian Slack-Key Guitar Concert Series. Every Tuesday since 2003, concert host George Kahumoku, Jr., has invited his friends-all slack-key stars-to join him in playing music and talking story about slack key. The casual, backyard-jamlike sessions have resulted in three Grammy Award-winning compilations, featuring the music of Cyril Pahinui, Ledward Ka’apana, Ozzie Kotani, and Daniel Ho, among others. Originally held at the Ritz-Carlton Kapalua, performances are currently hosted by the Napili Kai Resort. Hana hou!
15) Hawaiian Humpback Whales. While the massive marine mammals do visit the other islands, judging by the numbers seen here, we think they love Maui County best. The waters between Maui, Moloka’i and Lana’i form the bulk of the Hawaiian Islands Humpback Whale National Marine Sanctuary. Every year, mother whales come to give birth to one-ton calves here. Could they pay us a higher honor?
16) 100+ ancient Hawaiian names for “rain.” The ‘Olelo No’eau, a book of Hawaiian proverbs, recounts numerous lyrical names for rain, many with Maui roots. When was the last time you witnessed ka ua lani pa’ina o ‘Ulupalakua-the sky-crackling rain of ‘Ulupalakua, ka ua pe’e pohaku o Kaupo-the Kaupo rain that makes one hide behind a rock, or ‘ulalena o Pi’iholo-the reddish yellow rain of Pi’iholo?
17) Maui Polo tournaments. From August through November, tailgaters line up at the Oskie Rice Arena in Olinda to watch skilled paniolos (cowboys) swing mallets atop horses at full gallop. Spectators are treated to a rousing day of chivalrous sportsmanship, live music, and more food than you can shake a spur at.
18) Lahainaluna High School graduation. Of Hawai’i’s many festive commencements, Lahainaluna’s ceremony may be the most enchanting. Nearly everyone in town attends the event, held at dusk, to pile flower lei on the graduates and see the “L” on the hillside set aflame.
19) ‘Ope’ape’a. Pop quiz: name Hawai’i’s only native terrestrial mammal. Hint: it has wings. Catch a magical glimpse of our shy resident bat, hunting insects at twilight in the eucalyptus canopies Upcountry.
20) Maui Film Festival’s Celestial Cinema. Little compares to the luxury of watching blockbuster and independent films outdoors, on the Wailea Gold golf course’s sloping, manicured turf. Don’t miss this summer’s festival (June 11-15). Snuggle up under a blanket and watch the stars-both kinds.
21) Maui Dreams Dive Company’s Underwater Pumpkin Carving Contest. What did you do last Halloween? Carve a scary pumpkin? Uh-huh. Underwater? Didn’t think so. Only the coolest folks compete in the annual aquatic carving contest. So what are you waiting for? Strap on your BC and bubbles and start practicing! Maui Dreams hosts submarine egg hunts too.
22) Tako poke. When my sisters returned home from college every holiday (even when delayed flights left them bedraggled), our family’s first stop was Foodland for a pound of tako poke. Fighting over the first crunch of fresh octopus seasoned with limu (seaweed) and chili, the weary travelers knew they were home.
23) Sunset cocktails and pupu (appetizers). Every day the sun sets a little differently: sometimes with pink and panache, other times with a single golden ray piercing the cloud cover. Celebrate this miracle with a delicious tradition at many isle restaurants. Our top picks: the Humuhumunuku-nukuapua’a bar at the Grand Wailea Resort (where you can feast on Humu’s signature ‘ahi trap appetizer and the two-person “Blue Lagoon”) and Kimo’s (where mu shoo pork and mai tais are must-haves).
24) King’s Trail Triathlon. Once a year, nearly 500 athletes meet at dawn in M¯akena. At the sound of the conch, they’re off: swimming 1.5 kilometers, biking 40 kilometers, and running 10 kilometers through scorching black a’a (lava) fields to the finish. Pi’ilani, the king for whom the trail was originally built four centuries ago, must be proud.
25) Maui Girl, the honu. Perhaps no one has been a better advocate for local marine life than this fertile turtle (a.k.a “5690,” according to her satellite tag). Released from captivity as a yearling, she dug her first nest in 2000 on a very public stretch of beach in Lahaina. She’s since returned to lay as many as seven nests in a single year-winning the hearts of those lucky enough to witness her or her hatchlings. You go, girl!