Ross, Kale and I recently returned home from an 8 day trip to Maui. It was a really great family vacation. I’ve been asked to recap the trip, so this is a pretty lengthy blog post but I’m adding in my recommendations where I can for those of you who asked. If you’d just like to see the pics, skip to the bottom, as I’ve added a gallery of all the photos!
Where We Were
We visited west Maui and spent a bit of time in upcountry Maui, and we landed and took off from Kahului, which is in central Maui.
We scheduled our flight to land fairly late at night on a Thursday. Kale flew well – he slept through much of it and although got a bit bored was easy to placate and keep occupied. We flew with Westjet and they were great both there and back with friendly staff and no hassles.
We were arriving the day before Ross’ parents (it was cheaper by a lot to fly that day), so I had booked a cheap room at the Maui Seaside Motel near the airport to crash in the first night. It was about $95USD for one night through Expedia. The reviews said it was “clean but dated and sparse and sometimes noisy” and it was rated as a 2 star hotel and that’s exactly what it was. The beds were really small but it was great for a late arrival and I have no complaints. The staff were incredibly friendly when we checked in and out, and we were given a free pretty decent breakfast I hadn’t known was part of the deal which was a nice surprise. We woke up fairly early, being still on Pacific Standard Time, (Hawaii Time is 2 hours earlier than here) and Ross snapped this great picture.
After breakfast, we spent about 30 minutes farting around on the beach immediately below the motel. It was warm with a lovely breeze, and Kale really enjoyed digging in the sand. Ross got directions to take the bus back to the airport to pick up our rental car. Maui has a public transportation system called Maui Bus and it’s a single buck to board. No luggage is allowed though.
Pretty much all visitors to Maui rent cars, and we were no exception. Ross’ folks had booked our stay in the full service condo we were renting, and part of the package included a car rental. Hat tip to Alamo for making the pick up totally smooth for Ross, and for comping us a decent quality car seat for Kale. Ross picked a Subaru Forrester. Not a bad mid sized SUV but next time we go as a group I think I’ll look for something with a roomier back seat. A car seat and two adults in the back was squishy on our longer excursions.
We stopped in Costco for supplies (hello giant bottle of rum and Pina Colada mix) and left Kahului for Kihei, about 15 miles and 45 minutes with the traffic. We made a mistake and drove all the way through Kihei on the busy and slow moving main strip looking for our condo, not realizing we were supposed to check in at an offsite office until we arrived and started reading through our documents. Whoops. We had time to kill anyway so it was no big deal, and it was nice to drive through town to get a feel for where things were.
The condo folks were really nice and let us drop off our groceries to the condo even though it was still getting cleaned from the previous occupants, and we dropped our luggage before heading off to check things out and find some lunch. The nice woman at the condo office suggested a place back in Kihei called Pita Paradise and pointed it out on the map. The owner apparently is the fisher who provides the fresh catch for the fish tacos. Pita Paradise was good – fresh and tasty with nice staff (the friendliness of the staff wherever we went will become a running theme in this post) but pricey (also a running theme). Two “fresh catch” pitas for Ross and I (amazing ahi tuna!) and a single chicken skewer with rice for Kale plus two beer and a juice rang in at $50 not including tip. Seemed high for a place you order at the counter with a questionable decor. But! we were starving and it fit the bill.
Ross’ parents were arriving that day so after a quick dip in the pool, Ross dropped Kale and I off in town to forage for some food while he headed back to Kahului to pick them up. Seems we’d gone to Costco without thinking about small meals so Kale and I went in search of a grocery store and we settled on a box of mac and cheese.
Our condo had all sorts of goodies packed away in the cupboards to make it easier to stay – cooking gear, pots, pans, dishes, dish soap… you name it. They also provided snorkel gear, beach chairs, beach towels, etc. It was well stocked. We stayed at a place called Hale Kamaole and each unit is individually owned so the furnishings are the responsibility of the owner. Our unit was only so-so and I doubt I’d recommend that specific one although the condo management company was great. It was right across the street from Kamaole Beach III (really great for kids) and toward the end of the line of resorts, so a bit of a quieter place to stay.
The big complaints I have were that the beds were only moderately comfy, the shower head in both bathrooms was awful, and the whole unit seemed in need of an overall facelift – the art, paint, and finishing were kind of tired. Also: no wifi. I run on a Macbook Air so the “complementary wired internet connection” was of no use to me. I managed to pilfer a signal enough to log in every few days, but I was disappointed. And, although this has nothing to do with the owners or the property managers, we had obnoxious neighbours who let their even more obnoxious 5 or 6 kids run totally wild.
But the thing is, the condo is only there for eating and sleeping and a mid afternoon break out of the sun so these weren’t deal breakers for me, I’d just try somewhere different next time. The condo grounds were well manicured and maintained and again, the staff were totally friendly and helpful. They had a tennis court, two pools (open 7am-9pm), a concierge (more on that in a minute), and huge communal briquette barbeques (you supply the bricks). Most people there seemed to be either young families like us or retirees, with very little 40-50s folks. People (outside of the obnoxious huge party there for a wedding) were really pleasant.
We had hoped to alternate busy excursion days with days on the beach and we definitely accomplished that. Kamaole III and II were the preferred ones (because they are across the street) but we tried other beaches as well and the pool saw us regularly.
We had three big excursions during our 8 days there. We went snorkelling to Molokini, spent a day upcountry doing some agri-tourism, and spent a day seeing the more tourist-y Lahaina. The first we booked using the concierge at the condo, who gets a cut of the price we pay and gets to charge us a “ticketing fee”. We didn’t learn this till later, but it is apparently quite common. It was useful to have someone with a wealth of info, but the person we booked with was kind of scattered and didn’t even know about some of the places I had pre-researched before we left. My tip: if you’re comfortable with a guidebook and Google, book your own activities. Just be mindful that if it seems like too good of a deal, it is likely a trap into a timeshare pitch. We also had a quick afternoon drive to Makena Beach and checked out a lava field. Definitely cool.
Ross and I had a kid free day early on in our trip and we decided to try a snorkelling trip. I’ve snorkelled before when on my dad’s boat growing up, but Ross hadn’t. Molokini seemed like the best place to go. It’s a teeny islet off the coast of Maui that used to be a volcano. Half of it is submerged into the sea and now it is a protected marine area. You can’t go ashore to Molokini, but the snorkelling is amazing.
We booked this one through the concierge/activity planner at the condo. She had provided us with the info on a number of outfits, and we selected the Four Winds II and I am really glad we did. What she didn’t tell us is that the significantly less expensive afternoon excursion isn’t guaranteed to go to Molokini (it’s windier and it is less time so sometimes they go to a coral garden closer to the harbour), but we when we showed up at the dock in Ma’alaea (where there is a massive amount of confusing construction going on) there was general celebration and merriment when the affable man-at-the-dock-counter announced that Molokini was the destination.
Most outfits offer the same sort of thing – food, beverages, gear, instruction, and one or two stops. Four Winds II offered an optional add-on lunch (served after you get out of the water) consisting of your choice of hot dog, cheeseburger, or chicken on a bun with chips, an open beer and wine bar that they were definitely not stingy with, high quality well fitted gear, and incredible (truly, incredible) staff. They were friendly, laid back, helpful, and were definitely out to make sure you had a good time. We paid about $120 for the two of us and felt it was good value.
The boat itself is a huge glassbottom catamaran and can hold up to 130 people. The day we went there was only about 25 so we really got a great experience. After the requisite safety talk, they told us to enjoy the boat like it was our own, coming by regularly to see if you needed a new drink, to fit you with flippers and a mask and snorkel, and to generally see if you had any questions. It was choppy on the water, so for those without experience on a boat (and even those with experience) it was tough to move around when you were on the top deck. The captain was a nice chap as well, stopping to observe and talk about the many humpbacks we saw over the loudspeaker.
The snorkelling was amazing and we got a good 45 minutes in with no other boats. I found this video online of someone else’s trip and it’s pretty much what we saw, although I missed the white tip reef shark (it swam away before I could spot it) and it was Ross that enjoyed diving to the bottom. I was still struggling with the tail end of my cold so I wasn’t really keen to push my luck.
We returned to the dock happy, relaxed, and bubbling with excitement from our outing. Kale went to the Maui Ocean Center with his Gran and Grandpa, and reports it was fun but dark. His Gran reports he liked it but wasn’t thrilled as some of the stuff was likely beyond his comprehension level. We’ll go again next time.
Upcountry: Surfing Goat Dairy and Ali’i Kula Lavender Farm
Being really interested in local food and small agricultural producers, I had wanted to spend a day doing some farm tours and getting a sense of the foods grown in Hawaii. We all known about pineapples from Maui, and sugar cane fields are everywhere you go. After learning how they harvest sugar (they turn off the irrigation for two weeks, then burn the field and harvest what’s left), I wanted to visit the Sugar Museum. We didn’t have enough time for it, so it’s on the “next time” list. Ross is also a big coffee fan, and we spent a lot of our trip eyeing “deals” on 100% Kona Coffee (most of it roasted months, if not years ago) and ultimately purchased fresh-roasted Maui-grown coffee from Maui Coffee Roasters on our way to the airport.
Some pre-research before our trip turned up two destinations we made out way to, both in Upcountry Maui at the base of Haleakala, the volcano everyone hears all about. (We didn’t go there either, but will next time.) We hit the Surfing Goat Dairy first and paid $10 each adult for a “casual and informal tour” on a working goat dairy producing award winning feta and chevre cheeses as well as some spin off items like truffles, goat milk soap, and other goodies. I really wanted to like this place but I was disappointed in the “tour”. We were given a lunch bag full of hay, walked 50 yards to a goat pen, were allowed to feed the goats through a fence while given a few facts about the farm and its owners, and then walked back to the main area to see the milking equipment and cheese making area. The whole tour lasted less than 20 minutes, and I suspect it was longer than most because Kale and I doled out the hay very slowly to the goats. Aside from that, I wanted to support them and bought a shirt and some other items from their gift shop, and I think they could do very well with a few improvements to their tour. The goats were adorable, the staff were friendly, and Kale really liked it (he said the goats were the best part of that day), but I was expecting a bit more for a $10 per adult fee. They could do better but it wasn’t bad.
We proceeded to the Ali’i Kula Lavender Farm and it was great. They offer a guided tour option ($12), but the woman at the gift shop / info centre recommended we just take the map and wander at our own pace for no cost. They offered a “treasure hunt” for kids, where 10 stampers were hidden at various points on the property, and a completed card would get the child a reward. This gave us some direction to our tour of the farm and was a very nice touch. We wandered around and looked at some of the amazing flowers and types of lavender being grown and met a people loving rooster (there are wild chickens everywhere in Maui) and two chameleons lazing in a tree. It was a nice and beautiful smelling place to be. The reward for the treasure hunt turned out to be lavender shortbread cookies! YUM.
We stopped in Makawao for lunch (decent enough food but overall kind of meh) and headed home by way of Pukalani and Paia, with a stop a Baldwin Beach Park.
West Maui: Lahaina, Kaanapali, and Kapalua
The west side of Maui is where the resort industry really started. Lahaina is an old whaling port and has some neat stuff to offer, like the world’s largest Banyan tree and some cool historical buildings, but it’s also become one of the shopping districts. It felt like a town out to grab tourist money. Every second shop was a jewelry store and I didn’t like the vibe. There were two standouts, though: Tub n Scrub Bath Salt Company where the service was so great I spent almost 30 minutes making my purchases, and Ulu Lani’s Shave Ice, where the man serving us was top notch and the shave ice was great. We had a fun family vacation moment when we returned to the car to discover that the breadfruit tree we had parked under had decided to splat a large and ripe fruit all over the hood and window of the car, and Kale thought it was the funniest thing ever.
We had lunch at a great place called the Cane and Taro restaurant, and moved on to Kaanapali, which was a stark contrast to the old whaling town of Lahaina. Kaanapali was the first master planned resort town in Maui and it shows. Row upon row of tidy and neat hotels. I felt poor. We ended the day at DT Fleming Beach Park at Kapalua which was a nice place and probably the beach Kale enjoyed the most.
We really enjoyed our trip to Maui. Everyone was friendly, the weather was awesome, and it was easy to navigate. It was more expensive than I was hoping, though I’d been warned it was pricey so there wasn’t much sticker shock. If organized pay-activities or eating out are your thing, Maui might not be a best bet unless you have a deep wallet. If chilling out, spending time on the beach or at the pool, and cooking your own meals, with a few pay-activities thrown in here and there are more your style, then Maui is a definite best bet. We’re hoping to go again, and have a small list of to-do’s including drive the Hana Highway, check out the Sugar Museum, and see Haleakala. I’d pick another place to stay and plan my food a bit better, but I have no real complaints about our trip. It was just what I wanted and needed and we all had a great time.