If you can stay in only one place on Maui, we recommend west Maui in either Ka’anapali or Kapalua Bay. West Maui has a little bit of the best from all areas of the island including a very tropical, rain forest environment as well as activities, beautiful beaches and pools. Ka’anapali tends to have more hotels and Kapalua is a bit further and more secluded.
For our trip, we left Wailea and our first stop in west Maui was in Ka’anapali at Duke’s Beach House. It is located in the Honua Kai Resort and has expansive views of the ocean. Typically you can’t check into a hotel until later in the day, so spending your first day in the area with a lava flow (including virgin lava flows for the kids) as well as Hula Pie is a great way to let yourself know you are in Hawaii. Hula Pie per Duke’s website is “macadamia nut ice cream piled high on a chocolate cookie crust and topped with chocolate fudge, whipped cream, and more macadamia nuts”. More important is it is huge and will be a nice reward for any kids who have traveled a long way to get there.
We chose to stay at the Montage Kapalua but have heard great things about any of the resorts in either town. It’s really a matter of your personal preferences. After checking in, we wanted to relax in the pool and enjoy room service with a movie to wind down from the first half of our trip, as well as prepare for an early morning the next day. We knew we wanted to go snorkeling and after reading a lot of reviews the top choice appeared to be Molokini Crater. This is a half crater in the ocean and still seems very interesting. However, it’s so interesting we heard from friends there are often numbers of boats lined up and as one friend told us “it was so busy he was getting hit in the face with flippers”. So after some more research, we found the Trilogy Discover Lanai tour out of Lahaina.
Lahaina was once the capital of the Hawaiian islands and is where the cruise ships come to dock and let passengers off for the day. This is why most excursions leave from this port. We chose the early morning trip to enjoy the sunrise as well as breakfast on the sailboat. The trip starts at 6:15 for check in and serves cinnamon rolls, breakfast sandwiches and drinks as you head out. You then sail around the Southern tip of Lanai passing an impressive blow hole (water being forced into the air by the crashing waves) and finally into port. This gives you a nice hour or so of sailing time before you land. Upon landing you can either ride or walk the short trail to a secluded beach where there are chairs, volleyball nets and snorkeling and snuba gear. The guides were great at getting everyone outfitted and you can spend as much time as you like snorkeling the beach with relatively no one else around.
After snorkeling for over an hour, guests have the choice of relaxing on the beach or taking a van tour of a sugar plantation. We opted for the beach and ended up playing volleyball with the guides – very badly I might add. Around noon, you make your way back to the pavilion for a prepared lunch of chicken, stir fried noodles and corn on the cob. After being on the boat and swimming all day in the ocean, the meal will seem like a five-star dinner. Back on the boat, the crew serves desserts and drinks (all included) for adults. And if the wind is blowing, they will put the sails up to sail back to Lahaina. All in all, it’s about an eight hour trip and well worth the time.
After arriving back at the hotel to clean up, we made reservations at Merriman’s. Merriman’s is as well-known as Mama’s Fish House (see Paia) so reservations are recommended. And, being from Texas we are normally very hesitant about ordering steaks. However, the waiter assured us they were good and he was right. Splitting Mahi Mahi and a steak while watching the sun set over the bay and behind the island of Molokai is a perfect setting. If you are waiting to have a Mai Tai, this is the place to do it. Instead of a mixed drink they add Honey-Lilikoi Foam. And for dessert, the Pineapple Perdu may have been the best we had on the island. It was described as a bread pudding (which we do not like) but was anything but.
The next day we woke early and walked the Kapalua Coastal Trail (remember you’ll still be waking up early with the time change) which goes from Merriman’s all the way over the Ritz Carlton crossing over black rock jetties, plant-enclosed board walks and crashing waves. Right before you enter the property for the Ritz on the trail, walk to the left a bit and there is a marker for the Honokahua Burial Site. The ancient burial site is marked by the hedges to protect the area within the Ritz property.
Afterwards, breakfast at the Plantation House up on the hill above the Ritz has some sweeping views of the area. We wanted to enjoy our hotel, so we spent the rest of the day and dinner at the resort.
The next day we had planned a trip into Lahaina. From the first time we visited Maui, Kimo’s has held a special place for us. Lahaina is filled with passengers from the cruise ships, as well as art galleries, henna tattoo artists, hair braiding, souvenir shops, etc. When you see the sign for Kimo’s it looks like a small dark hallway but upon second glance it opens up to a patio right on the ocean. We recommend waiting for a table by the water as you can watch the waves hitting against the deck while looking out upon both Lanai and Molokai in the distance as ships pass in and out of the harbor. Our preference is kalua pork sandwiches and calamari sticks while enjoying a few drinks.
Afterwards, you can spend some time strolling the town looking at the art galleries and walking around the Banyan Court Park with it’s block wide Banyan tree. Being the former capital, there is a lot of history in Lahaina and once you’ve been walking long enough everyone likes to make a stop at Ululani’s Shave Ice for a snack. In the evening, Fleetwood’s (owned by Mick Fleetwood of Fleetwood Mac) opens their rooftop patio at 5:00 which is nice for a drink. We also recommend making reservations at the Old Lahaina Luau for dinner which starts around 6. This was our last night in Maui and what better way to end your trip than with a luau.
A few notes on luaus. There are a number on the island from which to pick. They range from hotel-run luaus to traditional luaus to those with fire sticks and acrobatics (which are really not true to Hawaiian culture). We wanted a traditional Hawaiian luau and if that is your choice, the Old Lahaina Luau is your best option. When booking you have a choice of whether to sit on the ground on pillows or up higher at the tables. Sitting on pillows can be slightly uncomfortable (but really weren’t bad) and make for the best seats for the show. One bit of advice, the earlier you book the luau, the better the seats you will have as they fill up based upon bookings. The entire event provides photo opportunities and is all inclusive for food and drinks.
On our last day, we had a red-eye flight home as do most travelers so we checked our bags and kept dry clothes to change into later in the day. In Kapalua Bay, there is a small rental shop which rents glass-bottom kayaks and snorkeling equipment. After trying both, we definitely preferred snorkeling where you could dive down to see massive sea turtles and varieties of oddly shaped fish.
Then it was back to the airport. Be sure to give yourself a lot of time as there is only one road from west Maui to the airport and if there is an accident or brush fire, you could miss your flight. We made it back early so we headed a few miles further back to Paia to have one last Kalua Pork pizza at Flatbread Company (the Paia Inn was nice enough to let us park in their lot again several days later) and then to the airport and the long flight home.
LINKS – kapalua
- Trilogy – Discover Lanai
- Hiking Trails
- The Plantation House
- Old Lahaina Luau
- Banyan Court Park
- Duke’s Maui