While all the Hawaiian islands are famous for their innate natural beauty, Maui has a reputation all its own. Boasting such natural attractions as the Road to Hana, a rugged western coast, and the infamous Haleakalā National Park, it is no wonder that Maui is a dream trip for many people.
Before taking my first trip to Maui, I had a romanticized view of what the island must be like. I imagined being surrounded by beautiful, sandy beaches and lush tropical forests. While all of this is true, I also discovered an island full of tradition, with a diverse landscape and many fun small towns to explore. Maui awakened my senses and kept me wanting more. I fell in love with it.
With that in mind, let’s explore my list of can’t-miss experiences on your first trip to Maui.
1. Haleakalā National Park
Haleakalā National Park is home to Haleakalā, Maui’s highest peak. While people flock to Haleakalā to watch the sunrise, watching the sunset at Haleakalā National Park is just as spectacular (and way less crowded). When you consider the fantastic night sky view that follows the sunset, you know you are in for a treat.
Of course, you can enjoy this magnificent experience with the naked eye or partake in one of Haleakalā National Park’s many Stars Over Haleakalā programs. These programs run every few weeks and include full moon hikes, star talks, meteor shower gazing, and telescope parties. Visit the national park’s website for the most up-to-date information about the Stars Over Haleakalā programs.
Pro Tips: To reach the summit of Haleakalā, you will drive 10 miles after entering the gates of the national park. There is a parking lot near the summit, so no hiking is required. There is a short walk from the parking area to the viewing point. This walk is on natural terrain, so there are some uneven surfaces.
It is also important to note that you will need a reservation if you want to visit the park at sunrise. A reservation is optional if you take my advice to watch a Maui sunset.
2. Ka’Eleku Cavern
While on the Road to Hana, stop and explore the Hana Lava Tube (Ka’Eleku Cavern). This incredible natural wonder was formed by molten lava that flowed thousands of years ago. Once inside, you’ll find a clear cinder trail that is easy to navigate, allowing you a view of the stalactites and stalagmites that formed inside this unique ecosystem. The tour of this Maui hidden gem is self-guided and takes approximately 40 minutes to complete.
Pro Tip: It is important to note that you have to go up and down stairs to enter the lava tube. Suppose you are not able to manipulate the stairs; in that case, the property also has a beautifully landscaped garden that you can enjoy. For complete details, please visit the Hana Lava Tube’s website.
3. Pa’iloa Beach
Pa’iloa Beach is another must-see on the Road to Hana. This picturesque black sand beach is located in the Wai’anapanapa State Park. The name Wai’anapanapa means “glistening water.” When you look at the water over the gorgeous black sand, it is easy to see why the park was given this name.
Take time to swim in the ocean or relax and view this fantastic beach before exploring the rest of the park. In addition to Pa’iloa Beach, Wai’anapanapa also features blowholes, a natural stone arch, freshwater caves, lava tubes, and seabirds.
Pro Tip: To explore the majority of the park, you will be on natural terrain, which can be uneven. In addition, you have to manipulate quite a few stairs to access the black sand beach. If you want to avoid going up and down the stairs, a lookout area allows you to see the beach from above.
Be sure to make reservations at least 24 hours in advance if you plan to visit the state park. There are no same-day reservations, and reservations are required. You can find more information on the park’s website.
4. PacWhale Eco-Adventures
The humpback whales’ unique breeding and migration patterns bring them to the waters of Maui every year, making the island an incredible place to do some whale watching! The whales generally start appearing in the Maui area in December and tend to stay through April.
One of the best ways to see the whales is by joining one of the many available whale-watching cruises. I chose to do a tour with PacWhale Eco-Adventures and loved it. The tour departed from the Lahaina harbor and lasted about 3 hours. The certified marine naturalists onboard taught us about whales and their habits during the tour.
In addition to seeing several whales, we also saw spinner dolphins and sea turtles. It was indeed a fantastic adventure.
Pro Tip: Bring or rent binoculars if participating in a whale-watching cruise; you will need them.
5. Sea Turtles
If you love sea turtles, you will be in heaven while visiting Maui. Maui is home to five species of sea turtle, the most common being the green sea turtle. You can spot sea turtles in Hawaii most any time of day; often, you will see them swimming just offshore or sunning themselves on one of the local beaches. Maui’s south and west coasts are great for spotting sea turtles.
While the sea turtles could be anywhere, they tend to frequent Maluaka Beach, Wailea Beach, Black Rock Beach, Slaughterhouse Beach, and Ho’okipa Beach. You can visit the Maui beaches to see the turtles, or you can get into the water and snorkel with them. Always be respectful of the wildlife and stay at least 20 feet away.
Pro Tip: Sea turtles are known to go to Ho’okipa Beach daily. We found that if you visit in the afternoon, numerous sea turtles are sunning on the beach. You might also see a monk seal, as we did!
6. Old Lāhainā Lūʻau
Lū‘aus are an essential part of Hawaiian culture and are a great evening out! If you want a truly authentic Hawaiian luau, consider booking with Old Lāhainā Lūʻau. Located oceanfront right in the heart of Lahaina town, Old Lāhainā Lūʻau offers guests the opportunity to become immersed in Hawaiian culture. Not only are you greeted with a traditional orchid lei upon arrival, but you also have an incredible oceanside sunset view to enjoy the show and food.
When native Hawaiians attend lū‘aus, they strive to further their connection with the earth by sitting on lauhala mats on the ground. Old Lāhainā Lūʻau honors this tradition by allowing guests to choose between enjoying the lū‘au on lauhala mats or tables. They also strive to preserve the traditional lū‘au by presenting authentic Hawaiian storytelling through spoken word, song, and dance. Because they offer an authentic Hawaiian lū‘au, you will not see any fire dancing at Old Lāhainā, but trust me when I tell you that you won’t miss it.
Be sure and come hungry, though, as Old Lāhainā Lūʻau serves up loads of incredible food. Recently, Old Lāhainā Lūʻau discontinued the buffet service and served all guests a tasting of everything on the menu. While the food was delicious, I especially loved the traditional Hawaiian course. In addition to the food and show, your ticket price includes beer, wine, and cocktails.
Pro Tip: Be sure to book your Old Lāhainā Lūʻau as soon as possible, as they sell out quickly.
7. Road To Hana
The Road to Hana is one of the most famous drives in the world and is a can’t-miss experience on your trip to Maui. The 64-mile drive winds along the Maui coastline, taking visitors through lush tropical rainforests. Along the way, you catch glimpses of a gorgeous turquoise ocean battering against rocky cliffsides and cascading waterfalls that appear out of nowhere.
I loved all of the great stops located on the Road to Hana. Stopping at the Garden of Eden Arboretum allows you to walk in a beautiful tropical arboretum and see the incredible rainbow eucalyptus trees.
If waterfalls are what you are looking for, then the Road to Hana won’t disappoint. You can see Upper Waikani Falls (also known as Three Bears Falls), Hanawi Falls, Wailua Falls, and many more on your drive. During your drive, take advantage of the opportunity to stop at the roadside stands selling banana bread. It is a true treat!
Pro Tip: If you want to visit Pa’iloa Beach, as well, consider making a reservation in the morning — this allows you to get up early to be at the state park, and then you can drive the Road to Hana in reverse.
Need more to fill up your first (or seventh) trip to Maui? Read: