If you’re used to vacationing on the mainland, you may unthinkingly plan out your Maui vacation by looking at a map of places to visit. And for sure, there are plenty of worthwhile land destinations and things to do on Maui, including hiking the extinct volcanic crater of Haleakala, touring the historic whaling seaport of Lahaina, surviving the twisted road to Hana and enjoying world-class beaches.
With Maui’s location smack in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, however, you’re missing some of the best attractions if you concentrate your attention only on land. Here are 10 ways to explore and experience what Maui’s surrounding ocean has to offer – some of them not available in other tropical ocean locations.
1. Sunsets. Find a spot on or above a beach facing west to experience the glory of Maui’s sunsets. You probably won’t be alone, because Maui’s gorgeous sunsets are legendary. Watch the sun turn yellow, then spread a yellow sparkle onto the blue water and then melt into the ocean horizon, turning the skies orange and pink for a quarter hour afterwards. At some locations in Maui, people blow a conch shell and bow to the four directions of the compass to mark the setting of the sun.
2. Snorkel. Gear up with a mask, a breathing tube and flippers to glide around on top of the water, watching colorful fish, coral and marine animals below the surface. A favorite snorkeling spot for Maui visitors is Molokini, a sanctuary where you can mingle with giant sea turtles, multicolored fish and gentle stingrays. Also recommended for snorkeling is Ulua Beach in Wailea.
3. Whalewatch. During the winter months, you can often see the spouting and jumping of humpback whales with the naked eye from shore. Thousands of whales migrate from Alaska to the warm waters between the west shore of Maui and the islands of Lanai and Kahaoolawe. Use binoculars for a better view. Get even closer to the whales in a kayak, excursion boat or a standup paddle board.
4. Parasailing. More thrilling than waterskiing, imagine taking off from the water into the air as a speedboat tows you. This sport begins in May each year, after Maui’s whales have made their annual return to Alaska. You’ll find the most popular parasail operators at or near Kaanapali Beach.
5. Windsurfing. If you’re afraid to ride the waves with a board and sail, enjoy it as a spectator sport on the North Shore, particularly at Hookipa Beach in Paia and Kanaha Beach near the airport in Kahalui. It’s exhilarating even to watch.
6. Ocean caves. Raft tours to the Kanaio Sea Caves beyond Makena take you around a jagged coastline that is inaccessible by road. Experience lava arches and grottoes where spinner dolphins like to play. The tour of Ka’eleku Caverns (also known as the Hana Lava Tube) near Hana is far spookier, as it lets you walk through ocean-sculpted volcanic tunnels made safe for visitors with flashlights, stairs and grab bars.
7. Surfing. Invented in Hawaii and exported to beaches around the world, surfing is definitely tame enough for beginners at Kalama Park in Kihei. Rent a surfboard for a couple of hours and get tips from experienced, friendly instructors on riding your first waves.
8. Standup paddling. This may look like surfing for sissies, but it may be better to think of it as a contemplative way to be out on the water on your own. It doesn’t take most people long to learn to balance on a specially designed board with a long paddle for locomotion, especially when Maui waters are generally calmest, before 10:30 a.m. You can rent equipment for this by the hour, day or week.
9. Go fish. Most sportfishing tours leave from Lahaina. If you’re lucky, you might catch such local favorites as mahi-mahi, ono, ahi, ulua or kawa kawa. Throughout Hawaii, you do not need a license for this.
10. Moon on the water. Either look up what phase the moon will be in during your visit to Maui or just remember to observe this on the island after dark, because if you’re visiting near the full moon, you’re in for a soul-stirring treat. Take a romantic stroll along the beach hand in hand after dinner. Wake up early and watch the moon set into the ocean, a sight that can look subtly silvery or bright yellow-orange.