Ah Maui, it’s a wonderful place. It is known as the “valley isle” as it has a prominent valley with Haleakala on one side and the West Maui Mountains on the other side.
When one flies into Maui, Haleakala is perhaps the most prominent feature, an extinct volcano that rises above the Pacific Ocean. Once you land, the sights and the sounds of the island take over and you know that you have arrived in paradise.
OK, let’s get real! Maui is a great island, but it is a really expensive island to live and play on – as you well know from the cost of your own hotel reservations if you are spending any significant time here. And the cost of food, well there is at least a 20%-30% premium from what food would cost on the mainland.
But you do get beaches – lots of beaches! And you get mountains – lots of mountains! So what is there to see and do on such a beautiful but expensive island?
If you are a photographer – which I assume you might be, or if not a photographer, at least someone who wants to get some nice shots, there are at least three places you need to check out while on the Valley Isle.
You will need to go to the summit of Haleakala for sunrise, you will want to drive the famous road to Hana, and visit the huge number of beaches around Lahaina and Kihei.
This last option, the beaches, one was a tough one. There is so much to see on Maui, from a visit to ‘Io Valley, or driving around the northwest shore of Maui. All of these would be great options for a third place to visit. But if you are in Maui, the beaches and the surfers who call this island home are definitely a place to check out while there!
Haleakala National Park
Haleakala National Park is a perfect location for early sunrise photography. Sunrise here is not like any sunrise you most likely have experienced.
Checking in at over 10,000 feet (10,023 to be exact), it is called the ‘House of the Sun’ for a good reason. You are above the clouds, and the sun rises through the cloud deck and – if you are really lucky – will light up the clouds as it rises. And the views from the summit are simply breathtaking. And you can see most of the Hawai’ian islands from the summit, from the big island of Hawai’i to Maui’s neighbors of Lanai, Kaho’olawe and Moloka’i.
To be there during sunrise, you will need to get a ticket from the National Park Service, at the website reservation.gov. This ticket only allows you to go past the entrance gate.
You will still need to pay to enter the National Park, and no, you won’t be able to walk up as you will have over 4000 feet to ascend to reach the summit!
The ticket is one dollar payable at the time you make your reservation, and there are a limited number of tickets per day. The tickets go quickly, and you can try around 30 days before your visit, but I couldn’t get a ticket in that time frame.
They do have a second drawing of tickets the day before your visit, I believe it around 30 tickets and it is first come first serve. It is difficult, but on my second try I was able to snag a ticket.
And yes, you really need the reservation, as I saw about three cars before me had to turn around and head back down the mountain because they did not have a reservation, so they are very serious about the reservations!
If you are staying in Lahaina, you will have to leave around 3AM to get there in time to watch sunrise. It takes a while to drive up the mountain as you go higher and higher via a series of switchbacks that seemingly go on forever! But the drive is well worth the visit.
Road to Hana
This is what I love Maui for, the road to Hana. If you love waterfalls – what landscape photographer doesn’t love waterfalls! – this is the drive for you!
The road to Hana is essentially the road on the eastern flank of Haleakala that follows the coastline from Pi’ia to Hana. Being the eastern flank, it is a rainforest in the truest sense of the word. In the mornings it rains heavily and it is this rain that feeds the over 15-20 waterfalls that one can find on the way to Hana.
Many of the falls are dependent on the rainfall from the wet season and tend to be dry if the water has been diverted by the East Maui Water District, which controls the flow of water (the water is used for agricultural as well as commercial use).
And the views of the coastline are simply wonderful. And if you do go, you need to head to down to Ke’anae for lunch and some wonderful banana bread at Aunty Sandy’s(perhaps the best on the island). This is one of only a few communities along this section of coastline.
Another great place to stop for some food is at Nahiku Roadside, a wonderful and colorful collection of ‘popup’ places to eat along with a few stores to purchase souvenirs. It is a great place to stretch your legs and get some quick and inexpensive food before entering into Hana.
At this point, even if you haven’t stopped at every single waterfall, you will find that you have been driving a windy and twisting road that hugs the sheer cliffs and you will be in need of a much needed break. Take it, you deserve it.
If you are staying in Hana, it is just a few miles down the road, but you wouldn’t want to miss this little bit of Hawai’ian hospitality!
You can make it back to the other side of the island if you started out early enough. It is easily a 4-5 hour drive one way without too many stops. But if you like to take photographs, you may find that it is more like a 6-8 hour drive one way.
I would make plans to spend the night in Hana, I wouldn’t want to drive back in the dark. It is difficult enough in daylight, can’t imagine what it is like the in dark!
There are two great areas for beaches, from Wailea-Makena area north to Kihei, and from around Olowalu to north of Ka’anapali.
I really found myself loving the road from Ka’anapali to Olowalu the best as the road hugs the coastline and you go from beach to beach to beach. They all seem to bleed into one another. You will find that many are occupied by surfers who head there at daybreak to catch some waves.
And Lahaina is a great little town with a vibrant downtown area full of restaurants and shops. Even Peter Lik has a studio there where you can see some of his photography!
An interesting place to eat while in Lahaina is Cheeseburger in Paradise (not the Jimmy Buffet chain). You can eat your burger while overlooking the shoreline and watch the sailboats as they cruise by.
And if you are in the Olowalu area for lunch or breakfast, make sure you take some sustenance at Leoda’s Kitchen and Pie Shop. The sandwiches are awesome, and the pie, well how can you go wrong with pie? Yea, it is that good, and the beach is nearly across the street.
Ahh, Maui does deliver great food and great beaches!
The area around Kihei and Wailea is more populated and brimming tourist. Kihei is a great hub of tourist activity, but still has some great beaches. In addition, if you want to see some turtles, head down towards the Wailea-Makena end of the beaches. Here there are a number of rocky outcrops, which the Hawai’ian sea turtle love to gather around and feed.
The Valley Isle
There is so much to see in Maui, from the mountains to the beaches. There is so much to do in Maui, from hiking to snorkeling. There is something for everyone.
And if you are a photographer, you will find that there are so many possibilities for some great photographs, that you will find yourself embarrassed by the riches you will find!
So go, have fun and enjoy your family time. And happy shooting!