How to Explore Maui
Lavender, leisure, and sparkling wine.
“What is there to do in the Valley Isle?” There are countless answers to that question of Maui, the second-largest island in the Hawaiian chain, so when you’ve only got a few days, it’s key to plan it out. Read on for our hot-list of Maui must-dos, from spa menus to fragrant lavender fields to a Top Chef–winner’s restaurant.
Lavender isn’t native to Hawaii, but that’s no reason to skip Ali’i Kula Lavender Farm, a 13.5-acre haven that rewards all who drive up its winding dirt road with a riot of violet, pink, and white lavender blooms. Located 1,200 metres above sea level in the island’s upcountry region, the farm was started by the late Ali’i Chang, an agricultural artist whose passion for proteas first led him to plant upon this hillside patch. These days, there are macadamia nut and avocado trees, gargantuan proteas, and countless succulents and flowers to discover in addition to the lavender—so many so that it’s wise to enlist a farm guide for an educational stroll throughout the lush hillside garden (they’ll even pick you a take-home bouquet of lavender along the way). End at the gift shop, where everything has been touched by Lavandula: body creams, honey, and even lavender scones, baked using the stem and flower of the French varietal.
Maui’s takeout lunch hot spot is Hilo-born Top Chef–winner Sheldon Simeon’s Tin Roof, which he opened in 2016 with his wife, Janice. The eatery is renowned for its mochiko chicken—marinated in ginger sake shoyu, battered, then twice-fried—served with rice, homemade miso sauce, and gochujang aioli. Pro tip: eat like a local by topping it with a six-minute egg and adding a side of breadfruit macaroni salad. Back at the Fairmont Kea Lani, Kō’s multicultural menu acts as an ode to the plantation era—Hawaiian, Chinese, Filipino, Portuguese, Korean, and Japanese cuisine is all represented—with addictive starters such as Ahi On The Rock: tuna that guests can self-sear on hot stones. For sophisticated farm-driven fare with a mountain view patio, book into the Mill House restaurant, built upon the Maui Tropical Plantation. Executive chef Jeff Scheer uses vegetables harvested mere steps away and an on-property butchery—the bone marrow served with taro leaf risotto is a must-try. And to while away an afternoon with a glass in hand, head for a tasting at MauiWine—the sparkling pineapple wine is made from handpicked Maui Golds.
The area of Wailea is named after the Hawaiian goddess of canoe builders, Lea (thus, “waters of Lea”) but these days the name is synonymous with a paradisaical resort community of high-end hotels and condos. The coastline remains stunning in the face of developments, so book into the Fairmont Kea Lani to enjoy it in luxury; the hotel completed a $70-million renovation three years ago and the result is a palatial ode to old Hawaii with contemporary polish. All the rooms are spacious suites, but the pinnacle are called Kilohana, the top floor corner suites with vast views, and the double-story beachfront villas, private paradises that open up onto manicured lawns, tropical-palm gardens, and ocean beyond. The excellent Willow Stream Spa has been crowned best spa in Hawaii by Travel + Leisure magazine, and the ultimate in post-surf pampering could well be the Hawaiian Pa‘akai treatment: a full-body sea salt exfoliation salt with coconut oil and green papaya, paired with a massage and a Vichy shower. In Wailea, it is common practice for resort guests to exercise on the 2.5-kilometre beachfront path that weaves in front of the hotel strip but be warned: power-walker rush hour hits during peak hours, so best to hop in a car and explore elsewhere.
If chic outdoor malls laden with Louis Vuitton, Hawaiian shave ice, and handmade ukuleles are your type of heaven, carve out half a day for retail therapy at the Shops at Wailea. With over 70 boutiques, all the usual top-shelf brands are here along with a sleek National Geographic Fine Art Gallery showcasing large-scale, limited edition photos from the iconic publication. If a bohemian beach town shopping vibe is more your pace, drive to Paia Town, the unofficial capital of the North Shore and the starting point of the Road to Hana. Its strollable fine art shops and independent boutiques are housed inside pastel façades and sell just about everything–linen garments, driftwood carvings, elaborate tattoos, and more. Organic cafés share the street with a few notorious bars, one of which is Charley’s Restaurant & Saloon, which dates back to ’69 and is a favourite of island resident Willie Nelson (he sometimes stops by to play unannounced). Paia has an inherent Zen-ness all its own, and not only is it a stone’s throw away from the windsurfing mecca of Ho’okipa Beach Park, but some claim the town has more yoga studios per square mile than anywhere else in the world.
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