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The Valley Isle: A Beginner's Maui Guide

by BrianBerusch December - last edited January

Stand up paddle boarders | A Beginner's Maui Guide

 
Perhaps Maui's official tagline 'The Valley Isle' draws the more adventuresome visitors here, along with the towering waterfalls, lush forests and thick canopy of trees that cover the uninhabited terrain. Yet Maui cannot be summed up by any single moniker: this island has no shortage of cowboys and ranchers; Europeans who flock to some of the best windswell (for kiteboarding and windsurfing) in the world; Californians who return annually for a respite beyond their congested communities; ocean sciences types who come to study humpback whales or other sea life, and of course, honeymooning couples (in droves) searching for a balance between 'sun and sand' relaxation and a dizzying array of outdoor activities.
 

Kaanapali Beach | A Beginner's Maui Guide

Kaanapali Beach © Ron Dahlquist Photography
 

The isle has four distinct areas where people congregate. Those seeking a little adventure and nightlife, variety in dining options, art galleries and the conveniences of urban offerings head to the former whaling village of Lahaina. The nearby Kaanapali Resort area is replete with all the family-branded hotels – Hyatt, Westin, Sheraton, etc. – and Kapalua features a swank Ritz Carlton and a soon-to-open Montage resort.

The well-heeled who consider 'risk taking' to be ordering a local-style (li hing) poolside mai tai head to Wailea, a 30-minute drive down the coastline, where brands like Fairmont, Four Seasons and Andaz spot the well-planned resort community.  

Kaanapali Beach | A Beginner's Maui Guide

Aerial view of Kaanapali Beach, Sheraton Maui Resort & Black Rock © Ron Dahlquist Photography
 

Gen Xers and younger, those with a desire to immerse themselves in surf culture or anyone that prefers a more creative stay option heads to Paia, Makawao or Haiku – cowboy/rancher towns that have transformed into hippie-artist-surfer enclaves.

Finally, the adventurers who prefer plucking every fruit for their morning smoothie, riding horseback on a cliffside trail and getting a taste for Hawaii-of-old head straight to the hard-to-reach but otherworldly bucolic Hana, on the isle’s northern shore. (Note: there’s nothing straight about the infamous road that leads there.)

In healthy supply here are snorkel, whale watching (from Nov. to April only) and sunset catamaran cruise outfits as well as hike-guide companies.

Maui waters | A Beginner's Maui Guide

Snorkeling Maui's waters © Ron Dahlquist Photography
 

Maui touts some of the best restaurants across the island chain; it has the bounty of innovative and dedicated farmers, ranchers and fishermen to thank for it. Exquisite experiences here include a menu at Mama’s Fish House that prints the name of the vessel and fisherman that caught each item served – updated daily. There’s the 'early plantation days' concept at Ko Restaurant inside the Fairmont Kea Lani, which melds the dishes found in lunchboxes during the 19th century sugarcane farm boon (Filipino, Chinese, Japanese, Thai, Portuguese and Hawaiian fare) with the harvest of modern day, upcountry farmers. Or there’s Star Noodle, the funky noodle shop hidden in a mountainside, industrial office park in Lahaina that recently garnered a James Beard Award nod. It’s safe to say with a little know-how, you won’t go hungry here.

Mauna Haleakala Crater | A Beginner's Maui Guide

Mauna Haleakala Crater, Maui © Ron Dahlquist Photography
 

Maui contains the widest array of dwellings, from fancy resorts to timeshares aplenty; townhomes that hang over epic snorkel spots (Napili) or a treehouse hostel (Hana) and campgrounds in a lunar-like crater (Kula).

Locals say Maui is responsible for more unused outbound plane tickets than any other isle. It’s no wonder.

Header photo: Stand up paddle boarders in Maui's waters © Ron Dahlquist Photography

Written by Brian Berusch

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Have you visited any of these top spots in our Maui guide? Where do you spend your days when you’re on the island? Share your experiences with us below.


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About the author: BrianBerusch

Brian Berusch

Brian Berusch traded in his Manhattan gym membership for a quiver of surfboards, trail running shoes and a one-way ticket to Honolulu more than a decade ago. Since then, he’s interviewed dozens of celebrities and covered the destination for more than 25 travel and lifestyle magazines. He’s an award-winning Editorial Director, a Today Show correspondent and most recently the publisher of two new magazines. He has yet to “get barreled” in the perfect wave.