Published March/April 2013

Lei of the Land

Go beyond the beach in Maui, Hawaii

BYBob Cooper
Our past trips to Maui — one, a family vacation where the kids learned to snorkel, and the second, a romantic getaway once they were off to college — were confined to the Hawaiian island’s west shore resorts. Each time my wife and I pondered leaving to visit pineapple plantations, drive to Haleakala Crater, or brave the road to Hana, the beach sand acted like a powerful glue, freezing us in our flip-flops. Why seek out paradise, we shrugged, when we’re already there? But this time we vowed to see the rest of Maui, which proved to be as exhilarating as the beaches are calming. By sandwiching adventurous outings between respites at a beach resort, it felt like we’d truly earned our mai tais.
 
Life’s a Beach
But before we stepped out of our comfort zone and into “the real Maui,” we stuck with what we knew and spent our first couple of days at a West Maui resort. 
 
It’s simply too hard to resist when beach activities, restaurants, and bars are all within strolling distance of the hotel room. West Maui’s Kaanapali Beach and the quieter and more posh Wailea in South Maui each offer all you could want for a relaxing time: sand, surf, swimming pools, and umbrella drinks.

Compared to the bedlam of Honolulu’s Waikiki Beach, Kaanapali is a big step up and Wailea is an additional step beyond that. Kaanapali impresses with sprawling resorts like the Hyatt Regency, Sheraton, and Westin; Wailea surpasses it with the Wailea Beach Villas, the Fairmont, and the AAA Five Diamond Four Seasons. Still, you can find hotel and condo rooms in the spring and fall for under $150 per night in both resort areas. Each area has a paved beach path popular with morning walkers and runners that threads the line between the resorts and the public beach for miles, and each has opportunities to snorkel, kayak, try outrigger canoeing, or watch for whales.
 
When you tire of the resort scene, you can head to town — Lahaina for Kaanapali visitors and Kihei for Wailea visitors. We splurged one night on dinner at the Lahaina Grill, a fine-dining jewel surrounded by beach promenade restaurants, bars, galleries, shaved-ice stands, and a gelateria (Ono Gelato), where bits of tropical fruit are embedded in the scoops. In Kihei, we chose Sarento’s on the Beach, which proved ideal for feasting our eyes on the sunset and our appetites on Maui’s superior stand-in for pizza and beer: grilled ahi and mai tais.

Maui-caught mahi-mahi is a staple at most luaus, too. Like seeing the Grand Canyon, a sunset luau at a Maui beach resort is something you must experience at least once, especially if you’re traveling with kids. Sure it’s corny, but the pulsating Hawaiian and South Pacific music and dances performed by locals in traditional garb are authentic and fun. We chose the Polynesian Luau at the Westin Maui, one of seven luaus at Maui resorts. Upon arrival, we admired the resort’s $2 million Asian art collection and maze of pools, including a koi pond with five flamingos and a black swan. “Hello,” we greet a macaw at the pond’s edge. “Ha-wo,” he parroted back, barely audible over the less-articulate mynahs in the ficus tree above.
 
Heading Up To Upcountry
Upcountry is a swath of Maui highlands blessed with abundant sunshine, rain, and fertile volcanic soil perfect for farming and ranching. Everything from asparagus to zucchinis are grown there, but because it’s Hawaii, the Maui Pineapple Tour caught our eye. As tour guide Steve Potter was quick to point out, we were about to tour the farm that grows the gold standard of pineapples — Maui Golds — on one of America’s last pineapple farms (Costa Rica has replaced it as the hemisphere’s pineapple king).

Following a tour of the long sheds where the pineapples are sorted, acidity-tested, and boxed, we took a ride in a pineapple-colored minibus onto the fields. They are green and gold with ripening fruit — 31,000 per acre — and Potter regales us with juicy tidbits about pineapples, such as how they earned their name (“looks like a pinecone, tastes like an apple”) and how they can only be planted and picked by hand. The tour concludes with a group tasting in the fields, then he sends us off with two boxed pineapples and a lunch voucher to redeem next-door at Hali’imaile General Store.

Another stop, the Surfing Goat Dairy, turned out to be as whimsical as its name  — from the goofy grins on the goats’ bearded faces to the surfboards used around the farm as fences and milking platforms. Yet it’s also serious business, as milk from the dairy’s 103 goats is turned into award-winning cheeses. On the half-hourly tour, we’re given hay to feed the “kids” and treated to a cheese tasting.

Heading further into Upcountry, we reached Maui’s only winery, Tedeschi, to enjoy a free tasting of sweet pineapple wines. An adjacent museum tells the story of the land where the grapes are grown, a nearby 18,000-acre Ulupalakua cattle ranch.

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Maui's coast
Maui's coast
Silversword plant
Silversword plant
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