Whether you crave adventure, culture, or a serene retreat, Maui’s got you covered. Spot rare birds along a forested trail or find your own perch beneath the branches of Lāhainā’s nearly two-acre-wide banyan canopy. Pay pilgrimage to an ancient lava rock temple and a modern architectural wonder in the same day. Learn Hawaiian navigational constellations from your hotel rooftop or set sail aboard a luxurious sunset cruise.
One of the world’s most remote inhabited archipelagos, Hawaii hosts weird and wonderful endemic wildlife. To observe at least four species of curve-billed Hawaiian honeycreepers in their natural habitat, Laura Berthold, ornithological research technician with the Maui Forest Bird Recovery Project, recommends visiting Hosmer Grove in Haleakalā National Park. “There’s a short bird-loop trail there that overlooks some native trees like ʻōhiʻa. The campground area there often has blooming māmane, and the birds like those plants too.” To up your chances of spotting Maui’s rarest birds—the kiwikiu and the ʻakohekohe—join the Nature Conservancy’s twice-monthly guided forest hikes through the nearly 9,000-acre Waikamoi Preserve.
Two miles off the coast of Wailea, Molokini’s caldera arc, visible above the sea, serves as a sanctuary for seabird species like Bulwer’s petrels and wedge-tailed shearwaters. Take a snorkel or scuba diving charter to explore the protected cove inside the sunken crater and find yellow tang, Hawaiian boxfish, and the state fish: humuhumunukunukuāpuaʻa (or reef triggerfish to you and me). Facing the sea, the outer slopes attract larger creatures, including white-tip and gray reef sharks.
Enjoying a designation older than Hawaii’s statehood, Haleakalā National Park celebrated its centennial in 2016. Explore the more than 30 miles of trails that snake the moonlike summit crater to find the world’s only clusters of Haleakalā silverswords—the spiky plants live up to 90 years but only bloom once. Thrill seekers can join an adventure tour to zoom down the mountain’s steep slopes on a bike. The park’s greener Kīpahulu Region boasts towering cascades, including 400-foot Waimoku Falls.
Pi’ilanihale Heiau looms large inside a tropical botanical park in Hana. Built in stages beginning in the 13th century, it’s the largest of the early Hawaiian temple sites on Maui and one of the best preserved in all of Hawaii. The heiau once served as a ceremonial space for the ali’i (chiefs) to worship the gods Lono, Kane, Kanaloa, and Ku, but today the series of lava rock platforms and terraces lack the grass and wood huts that likely blanketed the 341-foot-by-415-foot structure.
On the northern edge of the Kāʻanapali beachfront strip, an ancient lava flow forms a small cliff above the sand. It’s said that early Hawaiians used this site as a portal to the spirit world, leaping from this life to meet their ancestors. Now Pu'u Keka'a, more commonly called Black Rock, is a popular cliff-jumping site; the adjacent Sheraton Maui Resort and Spa hosts nightly sunset torch lighting and jumping ceremonies.
Snag an empty bench in Lāhainā’s Banyan Tree Park and watch the bustle of this charming former whaling city turned tourist town from beneath the branches. The behemoth tree stretches 60 vertical feet and encompasses an area a quarter-mile wide. A beloved gathering place, it’s often the spot for hula performances and artisans selling locally made wares. Each April the tree’s 1873 planting is honored with cake and bands during a two-day-long birthday bash.
Even if you don’t know birdies from bogies, the King Kamehameha Golf Club is worth visiting. The course’s curvaceous, pink clubhouse was designed by Frank Lloyd Wright. Head inside for sweeping bicoastal views and Hawaiian art, including an original Herb Kawainui Kāne mural and a depiction of Maui’s chiefly lineage spanning 11 kapa (bark cloth) panels.
Off the Beaten Path
Away from the beaches in the rolling, higher elevation Haleakalā foothills, upcountry Maui is the island’s agricultural heart. Explore modern and trendy boutiques housed in the frontier-style saloon buildings along Baldwin Avenue, then visit the Makawao History Museum on the northern edge of the strip. There, wagon parts used in pulling pineapple loads, branding irons, saddles, and handwritten letters detail the region’s paniolo (Hawaiian cowboy) and ranching heritage. Couple a visit with a hike through an unexpected pine forest at nearby Waihou Spring Forest Reserve.
- Nat Geo Expeditions
Some of the island’s most authentic hula and Polynesian fare—including perfectly steam-roasted pua'a kalua (pork)—are on display nightly at the seaside Old Lāhainā Luau. On clear nights, the ninth-floor rooftop of the Hyatt Regency Maui Resort hosts telescope-assisted tours of traditional Hawaiian voyaging constellations with the hotel’s staff astronomer. For a cultural experience of a different sort, head to Little Beach near Makena on Sundays at sunset to join hippies and fire dancers for a seaside bongo drumming session (clothing is optional).
Neighborhood to Explore
Head to either side of Kahului, the island’s main hub, for only-in-Maui experiences. Follow Main Street west through Wailuku to the lush gorge of ‘Iao Valley State Monument. There, spindly Kuka 'emoku (the 'Iao Needle) juts 1,200 feet above the 'Iao Stream. Follow hiking trails past a botanical garden into a spiritually significant valley to the site where Kamehameha I conquered the Maui army in 1790. To the east, the former sugar plantation town of Pāʻia is now a windsurfing hot spot where barefoot locals bearing surfboards navigate its garden cafés and yoga studios.