Maui is essentially two volcanoes that merged into a single island. The eastern side of the island is formed by the massive Haleakala volcano, which stands a smidge over 10,000 feet tall. Geologists believe the western volcano, today imaginatively known as the West Maui Mountains, used to be over 13,000 feet tall, but time and erosion have inflicted their toll, and the highest remaining peak is now roughly 5100 feet.
Between the two upland areas is the Central Valley, which I guess is the origin of Maui’s nickname: the Valley Island. This is where much of the population of Maui lives, and also where a lot of its agriculture takes place.
Entering the ‘Iao Valley State Park in the West Maui Mountains is like driving into the crater of an extinct volcano. Although a lot of people might not realise that’s exactly what they’ve just done!
One of the ‘must do’ things to do on Maui is drive the Road to Hana. And who am I to argue? The beautiful, 64-mile-long Hana Highway hugs the coast of the northeast part of the island, where the slopes of Haleakala meet the sea. The entire route is one spectacular view after another, comprised alternately of rock promontories and lush forested valleys. I particularly enjoyed the black sand beach at Wai’anapanapa State Park and the Ke’anae Arboretum.
Unfortunately, with all our other stops, we got to ‘Ohe’o Gulch (part of the Haleakala National Park) too late to have more than a fleeting look around.
From ‘Ohe’o Gulch, we continued on around the deserted south side of Haleakala, not realising until afterwards that we shouldn’t have taken our hire car that way. Ooops! Despite what some maps still indicate, the road is now paved the whole way. Perhaps the rental companies have yet to catch up with this fact. This is the shame, since this stretch of road offers a landscape unlike any other I saw on Maui.
While all the guidebooks talk about the Road to Hana, which was undoubtedly stunning, we were actually even more impressed by the corresponding coast road around the north side of the West Maui Mountains: the Kahekili Highway. That said, we once again discovered (after the fact) that our rental company didn’t allow their vehicles on the middle part of the Kahekili Highway (double oops!), which I could understand less-confident drivers finding a little hairy.
Our excursion out to Molokini Crater provided us with undoubtedly the best snorkeling I’ve ever experienced. I mean, we were snorkeling inside an extinct volcanic vent, for goodness sake… how cool is that?! Even the views back to Maui and Haleakala were incredible. And swimming underwater with the turtles at Turtle Town on the way back was just brilliant!
We spent a pleasant couple of hours in the historic centre of Lahaina, where I was particularly impressed by the old Banyan tree and its noisy bird chorus. We were fascinated by the nearby Olowalu Petroglyphs. And the Old Lahaina Luau was the perfect way to spend an evening!
Between the Central Valley and the lofty heights of Haleakala is Upcountry Maui, where we visited a couple of fun agricultural locations. The first was Surfing Goat Dairy, where the goats were so cute (especially the babies!) and the cheese was delicious. Then there was the entertaining tour of the Hali’imaile (Maui Gold) Pineapple Plantation. And to taste a pineapple picked and peeled right in front of your eyes (with a machete!) was out of this world!
Yet for me, the highlight (pun intended) was watching the sunrise from the summit of Haleakala. There simply aren’t enough adjectives or superlatives to describe the experience. although I’d probably start with, “Surprisingly bloomin’ cold!”
To begin with, staring up at the stars through the unpolluted atmosphere (relatively speaking) at the top of a 10,000-foot-tall volcano was incredible.
If I had to describe Maui’s character, I’d say it takes the best aspects of all the other Hawaiian islands I visited and combines them in one place. Various parts of Maui reflect the green lushness of Kauai, the isolated solitude of Molokai, the metropolitan areas of O’ahu and the stark volcanic landscape of the Big Island. I loved it!
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