Perched on the 9,400-foot rim of Haleakala, you watch the sun rise majestically over the world's largest dormant volcano. The pre-dawn light has unraveled slowly into the dewy glow of morning, and you feel the sense of calm tingling in your chest spread slowly toward your fingers and toes. After hiking Haleakala's moon-like craters in the crisp, early-morning air, it is here, sitting on top of the world, that you feel you have finally arrived. Welcome to Maui.
Nicknamed the Valley Isle, the island of Maui is a "volcanic doublet," formed from two overlapping volcanoes with shallow-sloping sides. Whether or not the ancient Polynesian navigator Hawai'iloa knew of this when he named the island after the mythological demigod, Maui, one can only speculate. However, exploring this geographic gem for yourself awakens that child-like wonder that comes only from untapped discovery.
Home to over 120,000 residents and 180 square miles of tropical rainforest, Maui is a true dream destination that transforms unattainable paradise into a reachable reality. One day, you can set off along the Road to Hana, along which you'll find secluded beaches and lush jungle trails. The next day, kick back at Ho'okipa Beach, where you can watch world-class windsurfers ride the waves of Maui's North Shore. Then trek nearby to enjoy the authentically Hawaiian smells and tastes of Paia town, the last stop on the Hana Highway.
But the pleasures of Maui don't end there – in fact, not even close. Experience historic Maui in old Makawao town and Maui's Upcountry, where the paniolo, or cowboy, culture is still alive and thriving. Only a few hours' drive from Makawao, you can wander through the relaxing Ali'i Kula Lavender Farm or take a free tour of the Tedeschi Winery, both providing a glimpse into local country life in the lesser-known corners of the island. Also, each spring, Ka'anapali hosts a festival to celebrate the Kula sweet onion, one of Maui's best-kept secrets and a must-try for all island visitors.
If you're on the island between December and May, you may be surprised to find that you'll be sharing the Pacific with the 3,500 humpback whales that migrate to Maui's warm waters each winter. Alright, you may not be sharing the waters with whales per se, but jump on a charter boat from Ma'alaea or Lahaina, and you might just be lucky enough to see one of these graceful giants breech. Maui is known as the whale-watching capital of the world, so keep your eyes open and don't miss the opportunity to see one of the ocean's most stunning animals at play.
Alongside ample opportunity for adventure, Maui also offers some of the world's best creature comforts, at just about any degree you could wish for. Pack your tent and sleeping bag to make yourself at home at one of Maui's excellently equipped campgrounds, or head to one of the island's five-star resorts and spas for packages that include nightly cliff-diving shows and rooftop tours of the stars.
Lahaina, once the center of Hawai'i's whaling industry, is now known for its extravagant beach resorts. Historic Wailuku, settled at the mouth of the Tao Valley, is also home to excellent hotels, as well as an ancient religious temple that may warrant some exploring. Golf buff? Maui is famous for its world-class courses. The island also boasts some of the world's freshest seafood, including everything from spicy ahi poke to yummy coconut shrimp.
So put your day-to-day routine on hold and start planning. Get ready to abandon all fantasies of paradise, because you are about to experience the real thing. Maui is waiting.