Maui: Top Attractions
Maui is popular with first-time visitors to Hawaii, especially families with teens, for its wealth of things to do and see, from bombing bike descents down volcanoes to stunning sea life. The major resort regions are Kihei/Wailea, Kaanapali and north to Kapalua, and the less populated and more difficult to reach Hana on the island's far eastern tip.
Haleakala National Park
Haleakala means "house of the sun," an apt name for this formidable 10,000-foot dormant volcano. You explore the mountain by driving, hiking, biking, or horseback riding. At the summit, the mountain is a moonscape of ashy earth surrounding the world's largest dormant volcano crater. To arrive in time for sunrise, allow two hours for the drive to the top. On the way down, stop at the visitor's center for books and to find out about ranger-led hikesÂ—some require reservations.
Haleakala National Park: 808.572.4400, www.nps.gov/hale
Bike Down Haleakala
Bicycle down Haleakala's winding roads and you'll never forget the experience. That's because the mountain features 29 hairpin turns plus, of course, spectacular views. Near the halfway point the mountain morphs into a green and gold landscape of koa trees and grasses that roll down the slopes to the sea. Guides ride with you and it's okay to rest in the support van. Minimum age is 12 and height four feet ten inches.
Maui Downhill: 800.535.BIKE, www.mauidownhill.com
Maui Mountain Cruisers: 800.232.MAUI, www.mauimountaincruisers.com
Even if you're not staying at a hotel on Wailea, come here to use the beach and its one-and-a-half miles of golden sands. The surf's modest waves are just enough to keep grade-schoolers interested yet safe. Nearby, Mokapu Beach has relatively calm surf in summer. Locals like Kamaole's trio of beach parks in KiheiÂ—Kamaole III has a kids' playground. Budding windsurfers may want to watch the action at Hookipa Beach Park.
Additional Info: 800.525.MAUI, www.visitmaui.com
Molokini, a half-submerged volcanic crater, offers great snorkeling for first-timers. Since it's a preserve and the fish are acclimated to humans, they get practically nose-to-mask with swimmers who sometimes feed the rainbow-colored beauties swirling around them. You are sure to hear a chorus of "wows" from your kids once they surface from all that undersea ogling. Because Molokini is popular, it can get crowded with boats. Go in the morning to avoid the afternoon's rougher currents.
Pride of Maui: 877.TO.PRIDE, www.prideofmaui.com
Pacific Whale Foundation: 800.942.5311, www.pacificwhale.org
Goofy Foot Surf School This school guarantees that at the end of a two-hour lesson you'll be riding the waves or pocketing a refund. Along with private and group lessons, Goofy Foot hosts a daily surf camp open to kids and adults. At the full- or half-day sessions, practice your balance and get a lesson on how tides, swells, currents, and reefs affect your ride.
Goofy Foot Surf School: 808.244.WAVE, www.goofyfootsurfschool.com
Old Lahaina Luau
Luau's usually are tourist trapsÂ—overpriced buffet lines of mediocre food packaged with modestly talented singers and dancers. But Old Lahaina Luau is the exception to the rule. This experience is a mix of traditional and contemporary food and dancing in a pleasing outdoor waterside setting. The show's chants and dances detail the Polynesian migration, the ancient hula, the legend of Pele the fire god, and tales of Hawaiian warriors and lovers.
Old Lahaina Luau: 800.248.5828, www.oldlahainaluau.com
Maui Ocean Center
Green sea turtles, rays, sharks, tuna, and thousands of colorful reef fish star at the Maui Ocean Center, an aquarium devoted to marine life indigenous to the Hawaiian Islands. Kids can examine sea urchins and starfish, learn about the humpback whales' migration from Alaska to Hawaii, and walk through a tunnel cut into the Open Ocean Tank. Certified divers, age 15 and over, can literally immerse themselves in this 750,000-gallon exhibit to swim with sharks and other deep water creatures.
Maui Ocean Center: 808.270.7000, www.mauioceancenter.com
From the portholes of the Atlantis submarine, the family can observe schools of colorful reef fish as the sub dives to depths over 100 feet below the Pacific surface. This attraction made itself even more spectacular by sinking the Carthaginian II in 2005. This former Lahaina Harbor attraction, acting as an artificial reef, will attract even more fish and coral to the area. Kids must be at least three feet tall for the ride.
Atlantis Submarines: 800.548.6262, www.atlantisadvntures.com
Maui Eco-Adventures takes visitors to off-the-beaten-path places, showcasing a bit of the true Hawaii. Take the Rainforest and Waterfall hike, the company's most popular adventure, as it winds you through the West Maui Mountains. Roam past guava and mango trees, bamboo stands and ferns, and across rope bridges and streams. Take advantage of the freshwater swimming hole and cool off on this five-mile journey.
Maui Eco-Adventures: 808.661.7720. www.ecomaui.com
At Ho'okipa Beach, one of Maui's prime windsurfing spots, scores of aficionados and their red, blue, orange, and yellow sails zip effortlessly across the sea. Because of the strong winds and currents, this is a place for experts only. But watching is almost as much fun. If the family is well-trained, rent equipment at shops in Pa`ia and Kahului and practice surfing the wind in Kanaha and Kihei. Hotels offer lessons for those that want to learn, and numerous other beaches provide smoother winds.
Maui Tourism Office: 800.525.MAUI, www.visitmaui.com
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication