Everyone has a story about Hawaii, if you start talking travel. Someone got engaged there, someone went to a wedding there, someone grew up going to their family's condo.
But despite my traveling 200-plus days a year, I had never been until last week, when I explored Maui's greatest hits. Since I was going for the first time, I wanted classic Hawaii: bright leis, ukelele music, fruity cocktails, sunsets, beaches, and luaus. I wanted to know why Maui is continually voted one of the best islands in the world.
My college-aged sister, exactly ten years younger than me, joined me for a sister trip. And we both found out why people love Maui. I found the sunsets I will dream about when New York City is covered in snow. If you are what you eat, I became an ahi tuna by the end of the week with the abundance of fresh seafood I ate.
We stayed at the grande dame of Maui's luxury hotels, the Four Seasons Resort Maui on Wailea. Maui has 10+ micro-climates but Wailea's year-round cheery sunshine is the Hawaii weather I wanted. There's an understated sophistication at the hotel with zero hints of Hawaiiana cheesiness that I saw at other properties. There are plush amenities, a great beach, spa treatments in huts overlooking the ocean, and some of the best food on Maui. I left my sister on the beach one day and explored the Serenity Pool, an adults-only escape that was recently photographed for Conde Nast Traveler's June cover. At the breakfast buffet, we overhead guests gushing about impeccable service and plans to return. In short, it has everything to be one of Maui's greatest hits.
The 10,000-ft high Haleakala volcano makes up 3/4 of the island, encompassing Haleakala National Park. Sunset on Haleakala is popular, but I recommend setting your alarm for 1:45 a.m. and joining a tour group or driving up yourself to watch a cinematic sunrise above the cloud line. There is no bike ride on Earth like the one down Haleakala, where you just cruise 28 miles down and feel the cool air and smell the flowers of Maui.
Mama's Fish House deserves every accolade it is is given, especially if you request a seat by the windows for an outrageous sunset view. Fish is caught twice a day and the menu is reprinted to reflect what will be served.
This certainly isn't an insider's pick, but I chose the Old Lahaina Luau as a great way to interact with people fighting to keep Hawaiian culture alive through hula dance, food and crafts. One of the best sunsets on Maui is in Lahaina and you have a front-row view as the luau gets started.
Forget farm-to-table, now it's dirt-to-mouth, or so said Chef Chris Kulis at Hotel Wailea's Capische when he showed me his garden. Every restaurant I tried is about dirt-to-mouth or ocean-to-mouth. One of the best meals of my life was at Spago, where Chef Cameron Lewark hosts field tips for his 80 staff members to local farms so they can pass information along to diners. Even the dishwashers and busboys go on these trips to learn if they want. Most travelers now expect local and sustainable food endeavors, but I still appreciate learning exactly what restaurants are doing to support it.
You're never too cold or too warm in Maui's calm, blue water, which is why conditions are nearly perfect for scuba diving, snorkeling, stand-up paddleboarding, and outrigger canoeing. I was impressed with the guides and options at Maui Undersea Adventures and tried them all. I proudly had the Hawaiian vacation battle scars of falling, flailing, salt water up my nose, and a dry throat from scuba and I'd do them all again. Outrigger canoeing was a free program at my resort, and I loved hearing about the pineapple history on Lanai as we paddled.
I was warned of the 600 hairpin turns on the 68-mile Road to Hana from Kahului. And it's not that bad. In fact, it was one of my favorite days of the trip, when I caught my breath because the vistas and waterfalls were so beautiful. Banana bread and shaved ice signs dot the road. In Hana, lunch at the upscale Travaasa Hana (formerly Hotel Hana Maui) is a relaxing break. Go 12 miles beyond Hana to see Charles Lindbergh's grave and the eco-focused Laulima Farms, where you can hop on a bike to power the blender to make a tropical smoothie.
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