Story by Shannon Wianecki | Photography by Bob Bangeter | Ron Dahlquist | Ed Robinson
The only thing that beats living in paradise is sharing it. When friends or relatives announce they’re visiting Maui for the first time, we lucky locals start lining up ways to wow them. We don’t have to try hard; Maui works its own magic. Watching our friends swim with their first sea turtle or puzzle over adzuki beans served with shave ice rekindles our passion, stokes our pride. It’s impossible to give a tour of the island without falling in love all over again.
This year’s Shaka List includes twenty-five Maui specialties worth bragging about. Whether you’re fresh-off-the-boat or born-and-raised, we invite you to take a fresh look at the island voted “Best in the World” year after year. Get your feet muddy. Dive in.
1. Back-wall dive at Molokini.
Take a giant stride off the dive boat bobbing alongside Molokini and descend into another world; the crater’s sheer back wall plummets 300-plus feet. Ogle sea urchins waving spiny fingers, shy sharks turning circles in caves, spotted boxfish, and marvelous nudibranchs—tiny sea slugs outfitted in fluorescent patterns bolder than Jimi Hendrix’s bellbottoms. Whale song serves as a soundtrack during the winter months. Megafauna fans, take note: Monk seals, manta rays, and whale sharks occasionally rise from the deep to say hello.
Excavations have begun at one of the most sacred sites in Hawai‘i. Beneath an abandoned ball field in Lahaina, a royal compound once surrounded by spring-fed fishponds waits to be unearthed. Called the piko, or navel, of the Hawaiian kingdom, Moku‘ula was home to the highest-ranking monarchs and a powerful lizard goddess, Kihawahine. Is she still there, anticipating the restoration of her waters? We’ll soon find out. Across from 505 Front Street, Lahaina. Maui Nei offers tours: (808) 661-9494.
3. Trade winds.
Kitesurfers, windsurfers, and sailors harness the winds for their pleasure. And with Pele exhaling great bursts of vog (volcanic smog) from an active vent on the Big Island, we all treasure the northeasterly breezes that sweep Maui’s air clean.
4. Hot malasadas.
We have the Portuguese to thank for these sweet, hot, doughy confections rolled in sugar. Traditionally served on Fat Tuesday (the day before all such goodies are given up for Lent), malasadas are enjoyed any day of the week in Hawai‘i. Get yours at Home Maid Bakery, 1005 Lower Main Street, Wailuku.
5. No dress code.
Tie? Pantyhose? What’re those? Most of us don’t even own a proper pair of shoes.
6. Outrigger canoes.
From six-man koa boats to lithe one-man rigs, outrigger canoes are an integral part of life on Maui. Whether racing against rival teams or just out having fun, paddlers are transported by the rhythmic digging of their blades in the water—forward along the ocean’s surface and backward in time, to an era when brave Polynesian voyagers traversed the Pacific.
7. Kamehameha butterfly.
Oblivious of its recent designation as the Hawai‘i State Insect, this burst of orange can be seen flitting about the mamaki bushes in Makawao Forest.
8. Multiple climates.
Maui owes part of its perfect charm to geology. As the second youngest island in the chain, Maui is in the pink of youth: an accommodating tropical paradise with a high, volcanic mountain capable of catching snow. Time will chisel ravines into Haleakala’s round shoulders and Maui will follow the older islands’ slow erosion, till each vanishes in the sea as a white ring of coral. But for now, this middle child is “just right”—small enough to navigate in a single day, and big enough to abound with diversity. The island’s steep rise in elevation, from sea level to 10,023 feet, creates countless microclimates. Sun-kissed coastline, waterfall-fed valley, verdant pastureland, misty cloud forest, ancient bog, or pull-your-coat-snug summit—take your pick.
9. One-lane bridges.
The island’s historic one-lane bridges force us to slow down, smell the white ginger, and feel the waterfall spray. As you travel safely across, salute the heroic engineers who clung on cliff-edges to build these marvels 100-plus years ago.
10. Swimming in waterfalls.
After a good rain, East Maui overflows with waterfalls. Some plummet seventy feet or more over fern-filled ledges, sending halos of mist rising from otherwise still pools. Tiptoe in, or cannonball with a holler. Your skin and hair will never feel softer.
11. Old Lahaina Lu‘au.
The owners and staff of this award-winning production are true ambassadors of aloha. Whether they’re onstage, telling the story of Hawai‘i in traditional song and dance, pounding poi for dinner, sponsoring canoe festivals, planting Arbor Day trees, cleaning up rubbish alongside Honoapi‘ilani Highway, or shivering in ti leaf skirts at the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade in New York City—these folks are all class. 1251 Front Street, Lahaina. www.oldlahainaluau.com
12. Ono Gelato’s liliko’i quark.
Three local superstars combine in one sweet treat: tangy Iiliko’i (passion fruit), creamy Surfing Goat Dairy quark (soft cheese), and pillow-soft gelato (Italian ice cream). At 115 Hana Highway, Pa‘ia, and 815 Front Street, Lahaina.
13. Bon dances.
The obon festival lasts just three days in Japan, where it originated; in Hawai‘i we celebrate it all summer long. Each weekend from June through August, a different Buddhist temple on Maui hosts a service and dance, welcoming the spirits of deceased relatives back for an evening. Paper lanterns swing in the warm night breeze, children snack on chow fun, and dancers wearing gorgeous kimonos and happi coats follow the beat of the taiko, the trill of the shakuhachi, around and around the yagura tower. Special treats: the Pa‘ia Rinzai Mission’s all-Okinawan dance and the Lahaina Jodo Mission’s lantern-floating ceremony.
14. The holiday house on Wakea Avenue.
The giant picture window at the corner of Wakea and Kamehameha Avenues changes with every holiday: St. Paddy’s Day streamers; shiny Valentines; red, white and blue bunting each Fourth of July. Mahalo, Aunty Lillian!
15. Maui Coastal Land Trust.
Ten years ago, a grassroots initiative to save open space on Maui took shape as the Maui Coastal Land Trust. The nonprofit organization now manages twelve sites, including Waihe’e Dairy, Pu‘u Hoku Ranch on Moloka‘i, and the most recent acquisition—a whopping 11,000 acres donated to permanent conservation by Ulupakalua Ranch. Thanks to the generosity of the land donors and the integrity of the MCLT staff and volunteers, these valuable lands will be enjoyed by many future generations.
16. Hawaiian spinner dolphins.
Scientists don’t why these graceful marine mammals leap from the water and spin. Our guess: pure joy.
17. Sam Sato’s dry mein.
Locals have been lining up for handmade noodles with broth on the side and crispy lima-bean manju (pastries) since 1933. Sit beneath the restaurant’s palaka (cowboy plaid) curtains and thank the heavens that some things never change. 1750 Wili Pa Loop, Wailuku.
The sweet symbol of hospitality has been a major Maui crop for more than a century. When Maui Land & Pineapple announced its final harvest last year, many island residents felt deep pangs of sadness. Luckily, a new company, Hali‘imaile Pineapple, rose to the challenge of farming the fruit; our drinks and fruit platters are still garnished with “Maui Gold.”
19. Serenity pool at the Four Seasons Resort Maui.
Perched on a hilltop overlooking Wailea Beach, this adults-only infinity pool regales guests with every conceivable amenity. Underwater music? Bubble jets that make you feel like you’re basking in champagne? Swim-up bar serving blueberry mojitos? Cabanas with high-definition TVs and laptop safes? Check. You have arrived. (Recent guest Jesse Tyler from Modern Family posted this on Twitter: “I just swam in a pool that had Hawaiian music playing under the water. It felt so decadent. I feel bad for pools that are silent now.”)
20. Wai‘anapanapa State Park.
Black sand. Blue ocean. White sea foam. Green naupaka leaves. The purity of the colors here is redemptive. Listen to the surf heave and polish stones, the acrobatic seabirds whirr past in their wild post, and your own voice echo from the depths of the cave pool. In the brilliant sun, you can almost watch ambitious vines grow an inch or two, spilling across the rocky coastline like mermaid’s tresses. Wai‘anapanapa Road, Hana.
21. Halemau‘u Trail.
Haleakala National Park’s impressive switchback trail zigzags 1,400 feet down into the crater’s interior. Each turn affords awe-inspiring views, but one spot tops them all: a narrow ledge almost exactly a mile from the trailhead, famous for its frequent rainbows. Dizzying vistas drop off in both directions. On one side, red and grey cinder cones rise from the crater’s moonscape. On the other, rain-forested Ko‘olau Gap tumbles unchecked to the ocean. To appreciate its full glory, plan to reach the ledge before the midday clouds roll in; on a clear day you might gaze all the way to the Hana Airport.
22. Kama‘ole I, II, & III Beaches.
Kihei’s democratic string of beaches has something for everyone: soft, golden sand for strolling and sunbathing, never-ending waves for body-surfing, deep azure water for swimming laps, light breezes for flying kites, sand pits for spiking volleyballs, and barbecues for grilling dinner at sunset. There’s plenty of grass at Kam III for celebrating keiki birthdays, but it’s BYOIC (bring your own inflatable castle).
23. Pa‘ia Youth Center.
Could there be a cooler place to hang? Beneath the coconut palms at Pa‘ia Bay, this combination skate park, radio station, media lab and cafe is dedicated to cultivating youthful creativity and confidence. 28 Hana Highway, Pa‘ia.
23. No paparazzi.
Greta Garbo, who just wanted to be alone, could have relaxed on Maui, where celebrities are welcomed with the same hang-loose aloha as regular folk. Many superstars call this serene haven home, but we’re not saying who, ‘cuz that’s not neighborly.