Nowhere says postcard-perfect Hawaii quite like Maui, where world-famous beaches, lush rainforests and black-lava landscapes are the name of the game. Great for families and first-timers, it’s an easy 45-minute flight from Honolulu International Airport. There’s no shortage of next-level resorts (Binge’s The White Lotus was filmed at the Four Seasons here) but if you want to go a little off-script you’ll also find under-the-radar eateries and breezy surf towns. From spotting playful humpback whales aboard a luxe catamaran to sipping a fruity concoction at toes-in-the-sand tiki bars, here are the best things to do in Maui.
The best things to do in Maui
Look out for humpback whales
Between December and May, thousands of kohola (humpback whales) make the journey down to the Hawaiian islands to mate and rear their young. Though they can often be seen from dry land – McGregor Point lookout is a good bet – sailing the coral reef with pros like Trilogy lets you get up close and personal.
Scuba dive in a colourful coral reef
World-class scuba diving and snorkelling awaits just off the shore of Maui at Molokini Crater, where the kaleidoscopic coral reef is home to more than 250 species of tropical fish. Tour operators like Maui Dive Shop can be found in nearby Maalaea Harbour; many will also jet you off to the reef-filled coast of Maluʻaka Beach, known as Turtle Beach.
See a sunset salute at Black Rock beach
Located on the northern end of picturesque Ka’anapali Beach, Pu’u Keka’a (Black Rock) is a snorkelling hotspot. It’s also the site of a nightly torch lighting and cliff-diving ceremony held by Sheraton Maui Resort & Spa to honour Kahekili, the last of Maui’s ancient chiefs. Watch from the sand or the resort’s laid-back waterfront restaurant.
Hit the waves
No trip to Hawaii is complete without a surfing lesson, and Lahaina’s gentle breaks are perfectly suited to newbies wanting to get a taste of the action. Book a two-hour session with Maui Surfer Girls or family-owned and operated Maui Wave Riders, both beloved for their private and small group classes.
Watch the sunrise over Haleakala Crater
Dormant shield volcano Haleakala takes up almost three-quarters of the island and, according to local legends, the crater at the summit was the traditional home of the demigod Maui. Reaching just over 3000 metres above sea level, Haleakala’s peak is one of the most spectacular places to catch the sunrise in the world. Organise a hiking tour through Haleakala National Park to reach the summit or, for the adventurous, opt to be driven to the peak and, after sunrise, embark on a 40-kilometre bike ride down the volcano’s slopes, finishing up at Paia Bay Beach Park.
Take the Road to Hana
One of the most spectacular drives in the world, the 103-kilometre Road to Hana is well worth renting a car for. The winding highway passes small towns, red-sand beaches, rainforests, waterfalls, lava tubes and plenty of thrilling one-lane bridges, plus local institution Aunty Sandy’s banana bread roadside stall.
Where to eat in Maui
With plenty of fresh produce and myriad cultural influences, Maui has way more to offer than just Hawaii’s beloved shave ice (though that’s pretty great, too). The bustling Paia Fish Market serves up straight-from-the-ocean sashimi, mahi mahi burgers and fish tacos, while unassuming grocery store Foodland is a local go-to for ahi tuna and tako (octopus) poke bowls.
For something a little more refined, head to Lineage in Wailea. A farm-to-table eatery with Korean and Chinese influences, expect made-to-share dishes like Korean fried chicken and Cantonese lobster noodles topped with XO butter. If you’ve got room for a sweet snack after dinner, there’s a slice of delightfully tart Olowalu lime pie with your name on it over at Leoda’s Kitchen and Pie Shop.
You’ll find the best beachside bars for taking in the sunset in Ka’anapali on the western coast. Order a Mai Tai or mango slushie at Duke’s, a classic beachside joint complete with swaying palm trees, tiki torches, thatched-roof huts and kitschy Hawaiian decor.
Where to stay in Maui
Brimming with sprawling, five star resorts, Maui has a well-earned reputation as Hawaii’s most luxurious island. You’ll find most of the heavy-hitters on the western coast in plum position for cocktails come golden hour. Case in point: Andaz Maui at Wailea Resort, where the sleek fire pits at Lehua Lounge promise stellar views over Mokapu Beach.
One of Maui’s more modern stays, this beachfront hotel has a chic, contemporary feel: all earthy furnishings and reflection ponds with a huge open-air lobby sure to make you swoon. The 321 rooms, suites and villas are done up in a soothing palette of greys, sandy beiges and warm timbers – not that you’ll be spending much time inside when five infinity pools and an apothecary-style spa beckon. Outrigger canoe tours, yoga classes, stand-up paddle tours and cultural lessons like coconut husking are also covered in your daily resort fee (about $70AU). Don’t skip Morimoto Maui, the resort's swish sushi destination, for fancy California rolls and ishi yaki buri bop (yellowtail on rice) cooked at your table in a hot stone bowl.
Bringing the kids? The beach cottages at Royal Lahaina Resort in Ka'anapali cater to families that need some extra space but still want waterfront access. Overlooking gorgeous tropical gardens, the two-bedroom Deluxe Garden Suite bungalows sleep up to eight and come equipped with a full-sized kitchen, comfortable living area and private lanai, or verandah. Take a dip in one of the three sparkling pools, unwind with a traditional lomi lomi massage at Alana Spa and feast on mouth-watering pua’a kalua (roast pork cooked in an underground steam oven) at the resort’s nightly luau showcasing dances from Hawaii, Tahiti, Samoa and New Zealand.