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Checklist: Maui

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Checklist: Maui

Maui isn’t Oahu, and it doesn’t want to be Oahu with all its Waikiki surfers, crowded sidewalks and overpriced bistros. Maui—the only place in the world where you can go from sea level to 10,000 feet above in less than 40 miles of highway—is pretty content being what it is, and you’ll quickly realize that, with a satisfying blend of relaxation and adventure, it’s pretty well justified in its confidence. Here are seven activities that round out any trip to this beautiful Hawaiian island.

1. The Road to Hana

Road to Hana elevated.jpg Photo courtesy of Trent Modglin

Besides forgetting the sunscreen, one of the biggest mistakes you can make when visiting Maui is thinking you can drive the famous Road to Hana—and actually experience all it has to offer—in anything less than a full day. Many locals will suggest staying in Hana overnight and driving back the next day. Reason being, you want nothing to do with the 52-mile, cliff-clinging drive that includes some 600 curves and 59 bridges (many of which are only one lane wide) in the darkness.

Along the way, stop at the Ke’anae Peninsula for a stroll and photos near the stunning lava rock coastline and violently breaking surf. The only indicator is a small sign off the Hana Highway, so be on the lookout for it, and make sure to stop at Aunty Sandy’s at the bottom of the hill for a loaf of legendary homemade banana bread and a fresh fruit smoothie.

Don’t miss Wai’anapanapa State Park, located just before Hana (just past mile marker 32). The black-sand beach, blowhole, recreational area, hiking trails and magical hau forest (the kind they tell you about in fairy tales) could easily take up half the day.

On your way back, save enough time to explore the relaxed surfer town of Paia, technically the start of the Road to Hana and often referred to as Maui’s “hippie haven.”

2. Seven Sacred Pools

Go about nine hair-raising miles past the town of Hana to witness the Seven Sacred Pools (also known as the Ohe’o Gulch), where you can hike up to see several waterfalls (including a 400-foot monster if they’ve had enough rain), a bamboo forest, and multiple freshwater pools, a few of which are perfect for a dip.

3. Sunset Dinner Cruise With Whales

Dinner cruise Pacific Whale Foundation.JPG Photo courtesy of Trent Modglin

The Pacific Whale Foundation dinner cruises come with a side of whale (don’t worry, not literally) if you’re in town for Maui’s annual humpback migration (December-April). While enjoying grilled shrimp, steak and a frothy rum cocktail or glass of wine atop the smooth double-deck catamaran cruising between Maui, Molokai and Lanai at sunset, have your neck and camera at the ready because it’s not uncommon to see dozens of whale breaches and tail slaps on a single cruise during this stretch.

4. Volcano Sunrise

Maui Downhill.JPG Photo courtesy of Trent Modglin

Waking up at 3 a.m. to be shuttled up Mount Haleakala, the world’s largest resting volcano, may sound like hell, but the trek will lead you a little closer to heaven courtesy of the 10,023-foot peak. More precisely, the morning sky as the bright stars—and even brighter planets—give way to an impressive palette of colors and, eventually, a brilliant sunrise above the massive seven-mile wide crater in front of you. Companies like Maui Downhill take travelers and stargazers to the top, then guide you on a 16-mile bike ride down, offering bi-coastal views of Maui’s central valley and the West Maui mountains and a cruise through forests, flowered fields, and quaint neighborhoods.

5. Ziplining

Whether you choose to cruise through the West Maui mountains that rise above Ka’anapali or a dense eucalyptus forest, zipping 50 miles an hour over the untouched Hawaiian landscape will get your blood pumping. Skyline Eco Adventures, the first company to bring ziplining to the United States back in 2002, offers runs over sun-soaked valleys with sweeping panoramic views of the Pacific. They also offer quicker lines that glide through the thick tree canopy near the bottom of Mount Haleakala.

6. Snorkel or Scuba Diving at Molokini

maui main by Pride of Maui.jpg

Considered a world-class destination for observing a wide variety of marine life (sea turtles, monk seals and 250 species of fish included), this sunken volcanic crater’s crescent shape provides its inhabitants proper shelter from currents and waves. Most Molokini excursions require about a half-day commitment, departing either early in the morning or around lunchtime, and include meals, drinks, gear, and instruction for all ages.

7. The Lahaina Shopping District

It’s wise to drive through Lahaina’s shopping district first in order to properly assess what’s there because its size can be deceiving if you don’t know where to start. From national store brands and tourist T-shirt shops to quaint local boutiques and art galleries, there’s something for everyone looking to boost the local economy. And ambling down the trendy Front Street in search of that perfect something can provide a nice change of pace back to “civilization” for a few hours. Worth noting: Friday night is art night in Lahaina, where you can mingle with artists and watch them work at various galleries.

8. Dinner at Sea House

SeaHorse.jpg Photo courtesy of Trent Modglin

The west coast of Maui is blessed with more restaurants with pristine, postcard-worthy backdrops than you can count, and it can be a little overwhelming when it comes to dinner reservations. One consistent favorite among visitors and locals is Sea House on Napili Bay. Its beachfront patio, complete with umbrella-covered tables and tiki torches after the sun dips below the horizon, provides one of the best views anywhere on the island. And their prix-fixe seafood menu option is difficult to resist.

Trent Modglin is a born traveler and publisher of The Real Chicago, an entertainment magazine focused on how best to enjoy the greatest city on Earth.

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