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Advice written summarizing three family vacations in the Wailea - Kihei area.
Related pages:  Maui Accomodations, Maui Beaches  and Photo Essay.

Maui Practical Tips and Travel Advice

Air travel.  We rely on American Airlines, which uses Hawaiian Airlines as its partner.  As of 2003, American allow Advantage Club members to reserve Advantage seats beginning 330 days before departure.  The Advantage seats for busy periods sometimes are gone the very first day.  Call early.  Then rent a car!  See below.

There are two schools of thought on whether or not you should seek out a direct flight to Hawaii, which is very long, or break it up with a stop.  We have done both, and both have disadvantages.  Changing in LA can be a hassle, especially when it involves leaving security to change terminals.  The general rule for travel is that every connection adds uncertainty and risk of baggage loss.  Do what makes sense for you. 

If you can fly directly from Maui to the mainland, that is an advantage over connecting through Honolulu.  Allow plenty of time on your way to the mainland for any connection through Honolulu.  We found that the schedules for the inter-island flights are rather casual and there are often delays and cancellations.

Rent-a-Car.  We learned this the hard way:  make your rental car reservations the minute that you get your airplane tickets.  Remember, this is an island, so there is no easy way to bring in extra cars for the busy weeks.  Be very careful opening your car door in the wind. The trade winds do a number on the car door hinges. If the car you rent has this very common problem, but sure to call the rent-a-car place and register it with them, so you won't be questioned when you turn the car in. We speak from experience; both front doors were damaged.

Planning Activities.  Before you go, take a look at the 101 Things to Do in Maui website.  It will give you some great ideas, and you may want to arrange a few things in advance.  When you arrive, look for free copies of "101 Things to Do in Maui" in magazine form, including coupons for each activity.

Accomodations.  In the area of Wailea and Kihei, you can choose between fine resorts and condos.  We prefer condos for the flexibility and the sense of independence.  Maui Accomodations.  Our personal choice is Grand Champions Wailea.

Beaches.  All the beaches in Maui are free and open to the public, no matter what buildings may adjoin the beach.  There generally is parking reserved for beach users.  The Kihei-Wailea-Makena coast of Maui has great beaches and it almost never rains. We found no need to go anywhere else on the island for swimming, because these beaches are superb.  See Maui Beaches.

Surfing. The kids took their surfing lessons from Nancy Emerson  Surfboarding School in Lahaina.  There is a quiet set of waves in controlled conditions in the harbor there. Make a reservation by phone, but expect to pay a lot. You park just before you reach the center of town and look for an umbrella on the beach south of the harbor with her name on it. (Ask for directions on where to park, you can't really get there from the main harbor without going back to the street.) Later on, we hired a beach guy named Steve Omar to give the kids lessons. He publishes a surfing magazine. He hangs out at this beach with a guy who is a few pineapples short of a luau, named "Tree." Steve did a great job, but we have no idea how to reach him.

After a lesson or two, you may want to rent a surfboard by the hour from one of the local places in Lahaina and carry it to the beach.  When we returned in 2003, we found that other surfing schools had sprung up, but we can't report on them.  You will find that a surfboard is much too big to take in a car.  You will need to rent within walking distance of the beach.

The surfing is not very active on the Kihei-Wailea-Makena part of the island, but it is possible to surf on a good day at Cove Park in Kihei.  There also is some surfing in front of the Renaissance Hotel in Wailea.

Don't go surfing by yourself as we did on the north side of the island near Paia. The kids almost didn't make it back. Stick to the controlled conditions of Lahaina Harbor unless you are an expert.

Equipment Rentals.  Hotels and condo complexes can arrange excursions and rental equipment.  We rented our equipment (snorkels, fins and boogie boards) from Snorkel Bob's and Boss Frog.  Look for coupons.  This will be at a fraction of the cost that the hotels charge.

Excursions. We experienced three absolutely outstanding excursions. The first was whale watching. Contact the Pacific Whale Foundation for a two-hour cruise from Maalaia Harbor. (On the road to Lahaina.) Phone 879-8811. Schedule this early in the trip because sometimes conditions are too windy or wavy and you may need to postpone. Also look for whales right on the coast of Kihei and Wailea. We have had good luck seeing whales from the Wailea Outrigger Resort and from Makena Big Beach from 7-8:00 am.

The second excursion was sailing to Molokini, including a stop for snorkeling. (The boat provides the equipment.) Call 244-2087. Again, this is from Maalea Harbor. Molokini is the semi-circular portion of a crater that is visible in the distance from the beaches in Kihei. The ride is pleasant, and the snorkeling great. (All you need is a face-mask; this is not scuba diving.) It would be perfectly pleasant even for someone who doesn't want to go snorkeling, but would rather just hang out on the deck. The boat passes through whale areas and while this is not a whale viewing trip as such, we saw quite a few whales along the way and got some great pictures.  This is the easiest way to get an experience off of the Island of Maui without going far afield.  There is a beautiful book on Molikini from naturalist and photographer Mike Severns and Pauline Fiene-Severns.

The third paid excursion was the Haleakala Volcano bike ride.   A van comes at some ungodly hour of 2:30 am, but you also can arrange rides for later in the day.  It drives to the highest point on the island, Haleakala in the National Park. There, the riders watch the sun rise, which often breaks dramatically through the cloud layer below the vantage point of 10,000 feet. Then they coast 38 miles down to the shore and are driven back. They returned at about 11:00 am. One trip made a stop for breakfast at a Mexican restaurant: Polli's in Makawao. See below.

The kids also tried the kayaking from Kelii's Kayaking. They have a kayak launch on the south shore of Maui for kayaking with sea turtles in the Makena-LaPerouse area. It leaves from Makena Landing. Call 874-7652.

Driving trips. You will want to drive to Lahaina, the old whaling port.  This will put you on the "head" of the island. (Look at a map; the island looks like a body with a head.) We never drove beyond Lahaina, but some of the most famous are beyond Lahaina in Kapalua and Kaanapali.

Haleakala Volcano is the tallest point on the island. Dress warmly for your excursion to 10,000 feet above sea level. Your drive will take you through literally dozens of ecological environments. Get an early start, but not too early, or it will be foggy for more of the trip. On the way down (or up), plan to stop at Polli's Restaurant, a Mexican place in Makawao. This area is called "up-country," because it is not on the coast. It rains there all the time. It actually has some interesting shops and galleries and seems very far from the world of the shore. Much as we liked Polli's, it is too far to go for dinner from Wailea, so plan to combine a stop there as part of a ride to that part of the island.

The road to Hana along the northern side of the island takes the better part of the day, but is well worth it. The road has hundreds of turns and many one-lane bridges. For that reason, many tourists pay exorbitant amounts of money for paid excursions to Hana, but there is no need for it. The road is manageable.  Allow a minimum of 2-1/2 hours in either direction.

The views are breath-taking. Take bathing suits and towels because there is a volcanic beach near Hana and natural pools to swim in along the way.  Our kids dove from the waterfall at about "mile 11" and enjoyed it very much.  (They were glad that they did this on the way home, because they found the water left a residue.)

Hana and beyond.  An early morning start on the road to Hana offers the reward of time in the area of Hana itself.   You can enjoy a fine lunch from the beautiful restaurant terrace of the Hana-Maui Hotel.  See Hotel Hana-Maui.  We have resolved to visit this lovely but expensive hotel as guests on our next trip to Maui.  We can't imagine a better spot for reading and relaxation in a quiet environment.

Our kids enjoyed a two-hour hike from the visitor's center at the Kipahulu area of Haleakala National Park.

Hana has always been the refuge of reclusive people. Charles Lindbergh lived there and is buried there, and his gravesite offers a beautiful view.  George Harrison had a place there reachable, only reachable from a long unpaved road.

Dining in Kihei-Wailea. Don't go there with fine dining in mind.  The restaurants are often understaffed and the service slow.  Here are some of our choices.

Aroma d'Italia Ristorante is far and away our favorite choice for the Kihei area.  It is ar 1881 S. Kihei Road, next to Foodland in Kihei Town Center.  The service was very friendly and efficient and the food excellent.  808-879-0133.

We also liked an Italian restaurant in Kihei called Antonio's Kitchen.

Sansei is a fine sushi restaurant, with other choices as well.  As of 2003, there were locations in Kihei and Kapalua.  (Kihei Town Center, 1881 South Kihei Road; phone 808-879-0004.)

Peggy Sue's is a 1950s diner.

Thai Chef is good Thai food with carry-outs.

(Polli's Mexican Restaurant in Makawao. Our favorite, but too far for a drive for dinner from Kihei.)

Barbeque.  Everyone gets Azeka's Ribs in Kihei.  This is a local institution.  Find it at 1280 S.Kihei Road in the Azeka Place Shopping Center, Kihei.  Azeka developed this whole area, and when the ribs were no longer available after his death, they were brought back by popular demand.  Take it home and barbeque the ribs and the marinated chicken at your condo.

Coffee. Yes, there is gourmet coffee. Every morning, I found places such as Kihei Cafe (opens at 5 am) and got good espresso.  Also try The Coffee Store at 1279 S. Kihei (and also at locations in Kahului and Lahaina).  Look around and you will find other places.  Yes, Starbucks has arrived, but Hawaii is our one coffee-growing state.  Why not get the Kona coffee at a local place?

Lu'au.  If you must.  Once per lifetime is plenty. We went to Old Lahaina Lu'au in Lahaina (reservations recommended).  This one is  supposed to be the most educational and the most authentic. It is show business, but the dances are interesting and the boat landing on the beach by torchlight reenacting the arrival from Polynesia is dramatic. This is where you will be able to get Poi and Kalua Pua'a (Imu roasted pig - from the pig that was ceremonially buried in the beach earlier in the day), and various fish, meat, fruit and vegetable dishes. Don't miss the cocktail hour for the Mai Tai drinks. If you want to find one closer to home, make sure you don't go to the ones run by big hotels that involve sitting in sports-event type amphitheaters.

Grocery Shopping. We did minimal cooking in our condos, but found that the Star Market grocery store in Kihei was well stocked.   It is open 24 hours.  As of January 2003, it also has a chef at the store making fine sushi.

Other shopping. We hesitate to recommend places to shop, because so much can change. The fact is that Hawaiian shirts are about the only distinctive thing to buy. We had fun looking for them. Try to find the most traditional designs, and see if you can imagine wearing them here.

Excursions outside of Maui. We are not experts on the other islands, but we managed to do the following during our second visit to Hawaii. Volcanoes on the Big Island. We used our American Airline miles for Hawaiian Air round trips to Hilo on the east side of the Big Island of Hawaii. (I think it takes fewer miles if you arrange this before you arrive in Hawaii.)  You also could arrange the same with a day-trip to Kona, the side of the big island that has the best resorts.

We rented a car for the day, driving on Route 11 to Kilauea Caldera and Crater Rim Drive, then down Chain of Craters Road to the shore, until the point where the burning lava flow wipes out the road. Then, we retraced our steps and went back to the airport - a good day's excursion. I am not recommending this for a first week in Maui, since there is so much to do there, but this was a fascinating trip.)

Pearl Harbor. It takes a half a day to see Pearl Harbor. We  managed to do this by renting a car from the Honolulu Airport and taking the short ride down the coast west to Pearl Harbor. (We did this between the arrival of our plane from Maui and the departure of our plane for the U.S.) It involves seeing a film and a museum and getting on a motorboat to visit the memorial. It was very moving, but probably less so for the kids than for the adults. We also made a brief attempt to see Honolulu itself, but found that it was just too hard to get there (east of the airport) and deal with the traffic in a short period of time. Look for Diamond Head and Waikiki Beach as you land and take off from Honolulu.

Finally, we know you will have a great time. We have listed a lot of things to do, but the main thing is to have fun. Don't overdo it; you will want to come back!

Gary and Susan Johnson,

Last edited January 5, 2003.