Maui, the second largest island of the Hawaiian Islands and known as the Valley Isle, has been on our bucket list for a very long time and we eventually got to explore it in 2022 after the Covid restrictions were lifted by the US government. We went as a family of course so there was no time to sit on a sun lounger and catch those rays or take romantic quiet strolls along the beach at sunset, the kids needed entertaining…right! This is our blog post on what families with young children can do. Whether you’re going in the winter months or summer months, there is always something to see and do all year round. Let's crack on with it, if you’re planning a trip to Maui, here are the top places which families (or any type of visitor to be honest) must visit.
The Road to Hana
The actual road isn’t called ‘The Road to Hana’, it’s just a nickname. It’s just route 36 and 360 which goes from the biggest city on the island, Kahului and then drags itself on the rugged coastline through Paia to Hana on the east coast and then beyond that into the Haleakalā National Park. We did this quite early on in the trip as we were suffering with jetlag (eleven time zones between Maui and our home in the United Kingdom), so the morning we left, we were out of condo by 6am in Maalaea Harbor and went straight to the the far end of the Road to Hana. This is our first tip, don’t hit the road and do the first stop off points straight away like Twin Falls, it can be crowded at first thing, visitors fighting for car parking spaces etc, it is just not fun. Also the actual road itself can be a very slow drive if there are lots of cars on the road. The average speed is usually 25mph, there are hundreds of tight corners and narrow passing points, so don’t expect to be putting your foot down and treating it like a Formula One race circuit. Another tip is if there is a local driving behind you, then let them pass at the first point available, don’t park where there are signs saying NOT to park (especially at narrow bridges which have waterfalls next to them), and don’t have your cellphone in your hands trying to take photos or videos whilst you are driving. The amount of idiots we saw on our two days on this road was unbelievable.
We just said we did two days on the Road to Hana. A lot of visitors will try and cram everything into one day and there are a lot of things to do and see. Why? We don’t get this. Try and do it over two. The places en route are amazing. Hawaii is a very laid back attitude kind of an island, so why rush. And when there are children involved, seeing things will take that little bit longer. Now we are going to tell you how we did the Road to Hana. We are not saying you should do it our way but the way we did was foremost the enjoyable way to do this trip. We planned our route in advance, wrote down the places we wanted to see and not what the guide books were telling us. There are some things we didn’t see and we will explain why shortly.
As mentioned, we drove all the way to the eastern end of the Road to Hana and started off in the Haleakalā National Park (about twenty minute drive south of Hana) at the visitor centre. Here we had to pay $30 to enter the park and to use the facilities - all details can be found here. Another good tip is that the pass for $30 (that’s $30 for a car with all passengers inside and not per person) is valid for three days, so visitors can go back into the national park to visit other areas, to which we did and will mention more in a bit). This part of the National Park is the start of one of the most common trail paths on the island, the Pīpīwai Trail. This trail path goes up a mountainside for two miles (3.2km) and takes visitors through a bamboo forest as well as taking in a huge banyan tree, views of the surrounding rainforest and waterfalls until the end of the path where we found ourselves so close to the bottom of the Waimoku Falls.
The whole experience of walking through a Bamboo forest (this is the best we have come across on our travels so far, we have done some in Asia but compared to Maui, nope, we love this one better), a rainforest and seeing the waterfalls was breathtaking. It was challenging with children but it was so worth the hard work. We put Isabella, our youngest, into a backpack designed to carry toddlers, so I had her on my back for the whole three hours (thankfully no toilet breaks were needed en route) and Amelie hiked the whole trail path up and down the mountain. The only advice I would say is use the toilets at the visitor centre, take water and sensible walking shoes. We did have light raincoats in our bag but we didn’t need to use them on the day we visited.
This part of the trip took us three hours and with the toilet break and rest, we were at the National Park for nearly four hours. Now this is one reason why we broke up our itinerary over two days for the Road to Hana. Try cramping everything else on the road as well as driving before the sunset, no one wants to drive this road when it is dark.
The second part of our day was checking out some of the waterfalls on the eastern end of the road like Pua'a Ka'a Falls, a cute waterfall surrounded by some beautiful plants and trees. There is a small car park nearby with toilet facilities and is worth stopping off. We also stopped off briefly in Hana but that was mostly to get a snack and we also stopped off at Nahiku Cafe (halfway between Pua’a Ka’a Falls and Hana) for smoothies and our first taste of banana bread which was delicious. Then we drove back to our condo in the late afternoon as the jetlag was setting in as well.
What we didn’t see on the eastern end of the road was the Black Sand beach at Waiʻānapanapa State Park. We did our research but the thing we didn’t like about this was that there was a fee to pay and a timeslot needed with the reservation. I can understand why this system is in place as it can be very busy here. We have seen a black sand beach before so we weren’t going to pay just to see another one. The views we are sure look pretty amazing and we might have missed something amazing, but there are some other things to do and see on the Road to Hana which took our fancy more. For more information on the Black Sand Beach and to make reservations, click here.
Nearby is the Hana Lava tube, again another place we didn’t see as we didn’t think it was suitable for anyone under the age of five. It looks awesome, don’t get us wrong. Who knows, next time. And also there were a lot of waterfalls next to the roadside we wanted to check out but due to the road being crazy full of visitors and lots of idiots parking in places where they shouldn't have been or the lack of spaces nearby, we missed quite a few out, like the ‘Three Bears’, Hanawi Falls and Upper Waikani Falls. We weren't too downbeat as most of these waterfalls are quite small and we have seen hundreds on our travels around the world. The main waterfall as we mentioned is Waimoku Falls and we were so glad to get this one in. Research has to be done before taking on the road (unless paying a tour guide to take you and then just leave the work to them), that is what we did and these were the places we missed on the first day.
Now back to the positives and what we did for our second day on the Road to Hana. We left a little later, so we had breakfast in our condo so we were on the road by 9am and drove all the way to Ke’Anae which is near the halfway point on the road. This coastal village is worth a visit, just to walk on solid hardened lava by the ocean, seeing the waves battered into them and getting water sprayed all over us. There is also a toilet block here as well (gotta plan those toilet breaks as well along the road, as we think there were five toilet blocks to choose from). However, another reason to come here is to buy banana bread at Aunty Sandy’s. It gets stupidly busy here and we can understand why. The bread is fantastic however they also sell coconut chew cookies, oh my god, they just melted in our mouths. We loved these more than the banana bread.
Heading back westwards we stopped at various points on the road to get scenic shots of the rugged coastline and a few waterfalls. There is the Garden of Eden Arboretum where visitors can pay and drive into the grounds to see lots of plants and a mini bamboo forest, however we didn’t do this as we saw most of these plants elsewhere on the island (quite a lot of these can be found in Twin Falls) and the bamboo, well, we walked through a massive bamboo forest as mentioned earlier. So we didn’t pay to go inside. Also it is very popular and the queue of cars to get into the grounds was clogging up the main road.
The last place was Twin Falls. We wanted to see what the fuss was all about, so after paying $10 to park the car in the grounds (the land is owned by a private landlord but allows visitors to come inside), we saw lots of amazing plants, bamboo and trees. The waterfalls itself (there are two of them) are a little bit disappointing but visitors can jump and swim in the pools next to them to cool off so that was ok. Personally we would recommend seeing the plant life here and walk the short trail paths inside the grounds.
That was our experience of the Road to Hana. We really enjoyed our experience. As we said, don’t rush it, plan it, do it over two days to enjoy it and really appreciate it.
Seeing the sunset at Haleakalā National Park
One item which is a must is to take in the sunset or sunrise (and maybe a spot of stargazing) at Haleakalā National Park. The best place to do this is at the summit of the dormant volcano, at an area called Red Hill (Pu’u ‘Ula’ ula) which stands at 3,055m above sea level (10,023ft). We did the sunset and it was truly amazing. As we had a car, we drove to the top where there are two parking lots. However, allow enough time to find a space as it does get extremely busy up there. Another tip is to wrap up warm. It doesn’t matter what time of year it is, visitors will notice it is a lot cooler up there above the clouds and the air is thinner. Be prepared.
The view we had when we went up ‘the house of the sun’, the nickname for Haleakalā, is breathtaking. There were a lot of clouds down below us but the views were still spectacular. We stayed here for quite a while (and had a crazy picnic as Amelie calls it), just eating and drinking away while the sun dipped under the clouds and disappeared beyond the horizon. There is a visitor centre up here but is closed during sunset and sunrise but it is open during the day for anyone who is visiting or hiking. There is a toilet block but there is no shop or cafe.
Another thing to check out whilst up here, we got to see into a massive depression which is several miles across and two miles wide but 2600 feet deep (800m). There is a scattering of volcanic cones whilst the surrounding walls of the depression are very steep. The view from the visitor centre into the depression could have been taken from the planet Mars and dumped on top of Haleakalā.
Just another tip we want to chuck in there, for sunrise, visitors need a reservation. This can be found here. However for any other times of the day, reservations are not needed but visitors arriving by car will still need to pay $30 to enter the Haleakalā National Park and the pass is valid for three days.
Old Lahaina Luau
One touristy thing which has to be done and all the family can enjoy is attend a Luau. We went to Lahaina on Maui’s west coast to attend a luau at the Old Lahaina Luau for my 40th birthday. As we knew we wanted to do the luau and when we were going to be on Maui, we booked this evening nearly nine months previous. It doesn’t matter which luau visitors want to attend, booking early is a must. On arrival we were all greeted with a gift of fresh orchid lei (a flower necklace) and was escorted to our table. There is also an option to sit on a traditional mat on the floor but as we had children, we eat at a raised table.
The whole event lasted three hours. While eating and drinking, we saw a lot of dancing, storytelling, musicians playing the ukulele, a lot of bright clothing and learnt a lot about Hawaiian culture. As mentioned, Lahaina is on Maui’s west coast and a great place to get shoreline photos and sunset photos is from the grounds here. The views of the sunset are truly amazing as it sinks into the ocean and whilst the tiki torches are all lit up around the area. With all the Luau’s to attend, Old Lahaina does not disappoint. Another tip, arrive hungry, there is a lot of food. We left very happy. For more information visit their page here.
Maui Tropical Plantation
Taking children to a plantation, isn't that boring? No way, they have a road train, ziplines and great food to eat. Maui tropical plantation is a great place to discover Maui’s precious commodities like pineapples, coconuts and mangos. This sixty acre working plantation has a road train tour (also known as a tram to the locals) which has the driver narrating what is on the site as well as a twenty minute coconut husking demonstration. The site is also home to the Mill House Roasting Company which is perfect for coffee drinkers. The coffee beans are grown on the island and roasted in small batches. To try this, there is also a coffee house where visitors can enjoy the taste of the coffee as well as learning about the beans used. Our kids enjoyed this place to the southwest of Kalului and it deserves a visit. Book tours in advance here.
Maui Ocean Center, The Aquarium of Hawaii
This is one of the best aquariums we have come across on our travels. The largest tropical reef aquarium in the Western Hemisphere can be found in southwestern Maui and is easy to reach by car as it is on the main road between Lahaina and Kalului. Open 365 days a year, the aquarium is dedicated to fostering, respecting and understanding marine life around the Hawaiian Islands. We managed to get up close to green sea turtles, stingrays and sharks as well as walking through an impressive fifty-four foot tunnel which goes through the main tank. Also to check out is the Marine Mammal Discovery Center where there are over sixty exhibits (a lot of them interactive). After checking out the Aquarium, we ate some food here where there are two restaurants as well as checking out one amazing gift shop where we spent quite a few dollars. More information can be found here.
Kealia Coastal Boardwalk
Located in the southwest of Maui (and five minute drive from our condo) is the Kealia Coastal Boardwalk in the heart of the Kealia Pond National Wildlife Refuge and this is where we went for a lunchtime stroll one lunchtime through wetlands. Here we got to enjoy the sights and sounds of local birds but have to admit, we didn’t see many birds. We were hoping to see the largest bird of the island, the Hawaiian Stilt (Aeo) but did not see any. Instead we got to see much smaller birds. Maybe it was the wrong time of day for us. The broadwalk itself is about half a mile long and is very well maintained. There is access to the local beach here and also the views of the mountains to the west and south-east are stunning from here.
The beaches on Maui are well, what can we say?, some of the best beaches we have come across in the world. We visited many (but didn’t visit them all, there are just hundreds of them) but here are our favourite ones.
Kaanapali Beach: This was our first taste of beachlife on the island and we fell in love with the three miles of white sand and crystal clear water on the west coast. Once named America’s best beach, the resort used to be the base as a retreat for the royalty of Maui but now has a lot of hotels and resorts and is a very popular vacation destination. One of the most famous attractions is the daily cliff diving ceremony on the northernmost cliffs of Puu Kekaa (otherwise known as Black Rock). This is held at sunset, a cliff diver lights up all the torches along the cliff and then dives off Black Rock in a reenactment of a feat by Maul’s King Kahekii.
Kama’ole Beach Park III: Located in the resort of Kihei in South Maui, the beaches here are just truly amazing and get overlooked by other beaches which are mentioned in guide books etc. There are three beaches in the Kama’ole Beach park and are often referred to by their nicknames, Kam I, Kam II and Kam III. We checked out Kam III as it’s more flung away from the main road so it is peaceful. A lot of time was spent here and well, this beach is not to be missed. White sand, beautiful ocean views, sea life to be seen, with a lot of waves. The children had a blast playing on the beach or taking a stroll in the warm water of the Pacific whilst feeling the sun on our backs. The reason why there are three areas at Kama’ole Beach Park is because there are a series of jagged rock formations which split the beach up. Kam III is the best we feel as its small, more suitable for children, lifeguards on duty and there is a large grassy park next to the beach which has shower and toilet facilities (as well as a car park) as well as being suitable for chilling out and having a picnic. Snorkelling, which we don’t do, is great here also, a lot of people go to the rocky places to get in with the beautiful sea life which can be found here. You'll find the best snorkeling at the rockiest points. As one of the best snorkeling in Kihei, you’ll likely see the best marine life by the rocky coves. The one tip we can give is that Kam III is popular with the locals and we found that weekends can get especially busy here.
Po‘olenalena Beach: Another one of our favourites is Po’olenalena located in South Maui. There weren't a lot of people here and the beach was quite wide and sandy which really surprised us. Po’olenalena is great for swimming in the ocean as its sandy shores slope gently into the water as well as great for snorkeling as there are lava rocks at both ends of the beach. However, remember no to touch or step on the coral or feed the fish and take extra care as there is no lifeguard here. There are parking lots at the two entrances to the beach. We spent quite a bit of time here and just took in the blissful views of the ocean. This was paradise.
The things we missed
We did miss a few things. We explained earlier why we only did certain things on the Road to Hana. The one thing we truly disappointed about missing out on was the ʻĪao Valley State Monument. The department of land and natural resources decided to close this off to the public just three days before we landed in Maui and would be closed for at least four months as they are in the final phases of slope stabilisations and parking lot improvements. We were gutted. Hopefully if we ever return to Maui, then we will be back for this for sure.
There were a few other things we missed but they were items like checking out blowholes, going on a boat or checking out another beach. This was because in the second week of our stay, we all got ill and caught a bug (not Covid-19) and that knocked us out for a few days. We weren't ill, like dying ill, but we all just felt run down so we decided to take it easy (it could have been heatstroke or just the common cold, god knows). As there was no one checking out the beach and swimming pool in our condo we spent our days lazing around there and it seemed to perk us a bit.
How long do you need to visit Maui?
Now, as we came all the way from the United Kingdom via San Francisco, we didn’t come all this way for a long weekend break. We had a full fourteen nights here. If we did everything we wanted to do, I think ten days maximum would be enough to get a great feel for Maui, but if visitors also like to chill out and potter around the beach, then fourteen is great. If island hopping, we would say do one week here and one week on another island (just remember to hire a car to get around the islands, this makes life easier). Things to consider are the accommodation costs, the car hire costs, if planning to eat out all the time or do self-catering. Depending on your decisions, this will also affect the budget. We spent thousands of dollars on this trip as Maui was part of a sixteen day trip (yes, just one night each way in San Francisco! Doing eleven time zones in eleven hours killed us but we got through it).
Do you need a car in Maui?
Yes! No doubt about it. You absolutely need a car, not just on Maui but all Hawaiian islands. Maui is very rural, the public transport is not great and is definitely not walkable. Rent a car and visitors will see a lot more of the island and of course, a car is needed to do the Road to Hana. What we noticed when booking up the trip is that car rental prices are really expensive here so we decided to give Turo a chance which is a popular local car-share service and we found this to be a cheaper option.
Eating out or eating in?
As we had a condo, we decided to eat in to save on costs. We are so glad we did. With the exchange rate between the US Dollar and the British Pound being shocking at the moment (Summer 2022), we did not get good value for money. I think we only ate out twice in our fourteen night stay and did a couple of lunchies at the Costco food court near OGG airport. For a meal and a drink for four of us would usually cost about $80 - $100 minimum at a bog standard restaurant or somewhere like IHOP (International House of Pancakes). We did a Wendy’s also and this cost us around $38 for four of us. It was crazy.
We did go to Walmart and Safeway to get our groceries and even then, the standard food shop would cost us double compared to back home. Milk is so damn expensive in Maui! One big tip we would say is that anyone who has got a Costco membership card, use it. There are some goods in there which will save visitors money if self-catering (especially wine). Overall, it worked out a lot cheaper to go to supermarkets and we probably saved $$$ just by doing this for a two week stay.
When is the Best Time to Visit Maui and other tips?
Hawaii has the ideal climate, there is no bad time to visit the Hawaiian islands. In general when thinking about booking a trip, peak season for Hawaii travel is in the summer and around the festive holidays.
Currency: Hawaii uses the US Dollar (USD) and credit cards are mostly used everywhere on the islands, even at a lot of food trucks.
Language: Hawaii is the only state with two official languages: English and Hawaiian. The only time we heard Hawaiian was at the Luau’s and nowhere else. Wished we heard a lot more as the only two words we learnt were Aloha and Mahalo. Compared to our visits to other countries where we would pick up the language, we did get lazy here and English led the way. Next time we promise to pick up more on the language and culture.
We had a blast! We totally loved Maui and if we ever get the cash/chance, we would come back, just for the beaches. Everything else on the island is an added bonus like the wonderful landscapes, excursions, food and meeting the local people. This was truly paradise and one of the best islands we have come across on our travels. If anyone wants to come here, book it! Just plan ahead, some places like Luau's book up early, so do some research also. Maui will always hold a special place in our hearts.
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