Maui's natural attractions are many and impressive. There are lush, green mountain valleys, beautiful gardens, lovely beaches and waterfalls, and a stunning national park. There is also a world-class aquarium and sea-life center.
Maui Ocean Center 192 Ma'alaea Rd. 270-7000 www.mauioceancenter.com
The Maui Ocean Center, located on the coast between Lahaina and Kihea, is an educational attraction showcasing Pacific marine life and ocean environments. Exhibits include reefs, sea turtles, stingrays, and a spectacular aquarium surrounding an acrylic tunnel which gives visitors a 220-degree view of the sea life swimming around them. There is also an informative whale discovery exhibit.
The center is open every day from 9 A.M.-5 P.M. (until 6 P.M. in July and August). Admission is $19 for adults and $13 for kids ages 3–12. Special discounts for seniors and military.
Hawaii Nature Center 875 'Iao Valley Rd., Wailuku 244-6500 1-888-244-6503 www.hawaiinaturecenter.org
The Hawaii Nature Center features interactive nature exhibits and guided rainforest walks. It is open daily from 10 A.M.-4 P.M. Admission is $6 for adults and $4 for children.
The Top Three Destinations
There are at least three natural attractions that are on almost every Maui visitor's list of things to do: a trip up 'Iao Valley, a visit to Haleakala National Park, and a journey along the harrowing but scenic road to Hana.
The 'Iao Valley is green and steep-sided, and the road there (Highway 320) culminates at the towering 'Iao Needle. The valley was a burial place for Hawaiian chiefs and the scene of a famous battle between the forces of Maui and Hawaii in 1790. At road's end, the state park offers views of the 'Iao Needle, which is actually the narrow end of a mountainous ridge.
Haleakala National Park
The Haleakala National Park protects the fragile landscape of the mountain, along with the Kiahulu Valley found on the south coast, and is the home of Maui's great dormant volcano with its massive crater. The scenery is amazing any time of day, but many visitors get up very early in the morning to drive to the crater's rim to witness the incredible sunrise. After all, the mountain's name means “house of the sun.” It no doubt impressed the old Hawaiians with its beauty, as it does us today.
The drive up the mountain takes about 1½ hours from down below. The visitor's center at the edge of the crater is open from 6 A.M. (6:30 in the winter) until 3 P.M.. daily. Entering the park costs $10 per vehicle (with admission good for 7 days) or $5 for individuals on foot, bicycle, or motorbike. For visitor information, call 572-4400 or visit the Web at www.nps.gov.
Here are a few tips for visiting the Haleakala National Park:
The crater rim is located at an elevation of around 10,000 feet. Be prepared for possible cold conditions and perhaps wind and rain.
The National Park Service suggests that due to reduced oxygen levels at high elevation, pregnant women and those with heart or respiratory problems should consult their physician before venturing high up the mountain.
There are no gas stations in the National Park, so make sure you've got plenty before starting up. Some water and snacks would also be a good idea.
The National Park Service sells passes that allow unlimited visits to your favorite parks. An annual pass for Hawaii will get you into Haleakala, along with Volcanoes National Park and Pu'uhonua o Honaunau National Historical Park on the Big Island. It costs $20. For $50, a National Parks Pass will get you into all American parks for a year. A special pass for folks age 62 years and over is available for a one-time $10 fee.
For the adventurous, there are some great hikes, some of which take more than one day, across the volcanic terrain. There are also companies that will set you up on bicycles for the long coast down the road from the top.
The drive to Hana is one of Maui's more memorable experiences. The goal is to traverse the island's north coast, driving east to the little town. The route, Hwy. 36, is a dramatic and curvy two-lane road that in places seems to just cling to the sides of cliffs. It's quite the experience, with scenic ocean views and waterfalls. There are more than 600 curves and dozens of one-lane bridges.
Although it's really not that difficult a journey, drivers need to stay alert, and for those who have never driven such a road, it's a real eye-opener. Some are relieved to reach Hana, and those who successfully make it back again are entitled to buy the T-shirts that read “I survived the road to Hana.”
The drive to Hana should be considered an all-day trip. It's best to take your time, drive carefully, and enjoy the views. Highway 36 can be reached from the resort areas by driving to Kahului and then connecting to the coastal highway running east. A few of the highlights include:
The Ke'anae peninsula, where traditional Hawaiian agriculture is still practiced.
Kahanu Tropical Gardens and the adjacent Pi'ilanihale Heiau.
Wai'anapanapa black-sand beach.
The town of Hana itself is fun to explore, and there is a cultural center with a museum. Spend a little time in Hana and maybe drive a bit further to 'Ohe'o Gulch or to the end of the main road near Kipahulu. The 'Ohe'o Gulch is part of the Haleakala National Park. It is often referred to by the more mystical and intriguing name “the Seven Sacred Pools,” but that's a bit of a misnomer. There are at least twenty pools to be found there, and there's nothing particularly sacred about them. The pools are located in the Kipahulu portion of Haleakala National Park, whose visitor's center is open from 9 A.M.-5 P.M. daily. If you've been up to Haleakala Crater within the week, your entrance fee should apply here or vice versa. The visitor's center phone number is 248-7375.
If you visit the pools, be aware that there are slippery rocks and edges and that you swim at your own risk. There is also the possibility of flash floods rolling through the pools during periods of rain. Be careful!
Maui Tropical Plantation and Country Store 244-7643 www.mauitropicalplantation.com
Take a narrated agricultural tour on the Tropical Tram. The plantation and store are located between mile markers 2 and 3 on Hwy. 30 and are open from 9 A.M.-5 P.M. daily. There is a small fee for the tram ride.
Kepaniwai Heritage Gardens 'Iao Valley Rd., Wailuku
The Kepaniwai Heritage Gardens is located off of Hwy. 320, going to 'Iao Valley. The site has various gardens and structures representing Hawaii's ethnic diversity. Admission is free.
Kula Botanical Gardens 878-1715
Take walking tours through Hawaii's native flora in these beautiful gardens found in upcountry Maui. The Kula Botanical Gardens are located off Hwy. 377 near its juncture with Hwy. 37. Open every day but Sunday, 9 A.M.-4 P.M. Admission is $5 for adults and $1 for children.
Kahanu Garden 248-8912 www.ntbg.org
One of the five National Tropical Botanical Gardens, the Kahanu Garden features many Pacific plants, including a noteworthy breadfruit collection. The garden is located off 'Ula'ino near Mile Marker 31 on the Hana Highway. Open 10 A.M.-2 P.M., Monday through Friday. Admission is $5. Call to find out more about tours.
The silversword, or ahinahina, is a rare indigenous Hawaiian plant related to the sunflower that grows on the upper slopes of Haleakala. The plant has distinct silvery leaves and only blooms once.