Although we were married in October we waited until I was off from school in December to go on our honeymoon. I’m sure it would have been nice to go away immediately after the wedding, but it was also great to have something to look forward to. I have to admit I was not on board at first with Hawaii as our destination, but the fear of Zika (pause for an eye roll) kept us from traveling anywhere in the Caribbean and December can be a tricky time of year for many other locations. After planning our wedding I also had no desire to put a honeymoon itinerary together. So, after we picked Hawaii we decided to do only one island so that we could relax and explore at our own pace. We chose Maui because it seemed to offer a diverse experience.
New York to Maui is a long flight so we broke it up by stopping to stay with my very generous aunt and uncle outside of San Francisco. We spent two days in Napa wine tasting and can’t wait to go back. (We may or may not have had several cases of wine waiting for us at home when we returned from our honeymoon.
We took an early morning direct flight to Maui on Hawaiian Airlines, which I highly recommend for the experience if you are traveling to Hawaii for the first time. After arriving we picked up our Jeep Wrangler from Avis at the airport. I would never do Maui any other way than to have our own rental car and especially something with 4WD. There wasn’t a single day on our trip that we didn’t drive somewhere and we loved being able to take the top down on the Jeep while exploring.
We drove straight from the airport to our hotel, the Wailea Beach Resort. NOTHING on Maui (or Hawaii in general) is cheap or all-inclusive. It was important to us to stay somewhere nice, but we also knew we would be spending the majority of the time off of the resort. Also keep in mind that the resorts in Wailea are all very close together sharing the same beaches and view. The Wailea Beach Resort recently underwent a full renovation and we were so happy with the property and our ocean-view room.
Road to Hana
This was number one on our to do list for Maui and the number one reason to rent a 4WD vehicle. We were jet-lagged and awake early after our first night so we decided to pack up the Jeep and go for it. I had already done some research on where we wanted to stop along the way and what the mile markers were for each destination. You really have to play it by ear and kind of decide as you go on where you want to stop. I won’t list every stop because that would have to be another post itself and because there are a few really great apps (that we found out about afterwards) that act as your own personal tour guide during the drive. Here are links to two of them:
My biggest advice for the road to Hana is to leave early because many of the stops have limited parking. We stopped and got gas and water before starting the trip. There are so many little stands to stop at along the way. We were ambitious early on and stopped for some fresh pineapple juice and banana bread, but quickly realized we couldn’t stop at every single one.
The town of Hana itself is not the attraction. We met people who basically said they drove straight to Hana not realizing and were clearly disappointed. Enjoy the drive and taking in the sites!
Don’t turn around in Hana!! The tours and most of the guides tell you to drive to Hana and then turn back from there. (Your rental car company will probably tell you the same.) We are so happy that we did not take their advice and decided to continue on driving all the way around the South East side of the island. It was breathtaking and a complete change of scenery from the North East coast. Just past Hana is Koki Beach, known for it’s red sand. We stopped there to have “Huli huli” chicken for lunch and were very impressed.
The rest of the drive was stunning and desolate. You could stop and have a beach all to yourself. Just make sure to keep an eye on the time depending on the season because you want to be sure to make it back around before sunset.
Haleakala National Park
Watching the sunrise from the crater summit is another must-do when on Maui. Plan to do this early on in your trip so that you are still jet-lagged and waking up fairly early. Plan ahead for how long it will take you to drive up. It is a VERY steep and winding road. Also don’t underestimate how cold and windy it can be at the top like we did. This depends on the time of the year, but expect it to be about 30-40 degrees cooler at the top than sea level. They now limit the number of vehicles allowed in each morning for sunrise so you will need to make a reservation online ahead of time: Haleakala Summit Sunrise Reservation. The reservation costs $1.50 and can be made up to two months in advance. We didn’t know this until we were there, but luckily they release another batch of tickets for reservation two days in advance, at 4:00 p.m. HST (Hawaii Standard Time) the day before arrival. There is also a $25 vehicle park entrance fee when you arrive. This pass is good for three days so plan to do Haleakala Summit within three days of the Road to Hana so that your pass covers any stops at the park during that as well.
Stop at the Kula Lodge for breakfast after the sunrise! It is about halfway down on your journey back and has great food and an amazing view.
I suppose the Hawaiin experience would not be complete without a traditional luau. Our hotel hosts one of the largest luaus on the island, Te Au Moana, so we decided to check it out. We enjoyed ourselves and the food was delicious, but I would say this is a first time only kind of thing.
We had breakfast at the Humble Market Kitchin at our hotel on most mornings and I think we ordered the Kalua Pork Eggs Benedict every single time.
This was our “off” day. I really like activities, but we were tired by day four and spent most of the day at the resort pools and beach.
We decided to take a drive up the West Coast of the island and do the entire loop. This was the most underrated thing to do on the island. We loved this drive just as much if not more than the Road to Hana. I’m not sure why they don’t advertise this drive to tourists, but I’m thinking because it doesn’t offer as many money-making stops for the locals and is more narrow and winding than the Road to Hana.
Nakalele Point at mile marker 38.5 on the northern shore of this loop was a beautiful stop. You can climb down to the Nakalele Blowhole, which is a natural geyser caused by seawater trapped in a lava tube. When the blowhole is to your left turn around and look to the right to see Maui’s heart shaped rock.
Our dinner at Humuhumu was a short walk from our hotel and definitely our favorite dining experience on the island. Get there early so that you can get a table closest to the water or request specific seating when making your reservation. I would still recommend going early before sunest and hanging out at the bar area before dinner!
Snorkeling at Molokini was another top activity of Maui that lived up to the hype. Molokini is a partially submerged volcanic crater, one of only three in the world, that houses a lush reef and crystal clear waters. We chose Kai Kanani for our catamaran snorkeling tour because they offered a smaller group, picked guests up from a beach close to Wailea, and included food, water and alcoholic beverages.
Mama’s was the one place that everyone told us we HAD to try. It is on the pricier side, but was worth it. Again, I would suggest arriving early and before sunset to enjoy the view before dinner. You will need to make reservations here well in advance. It is the most popular restaurant on the island.
We went to lunch at the Mill House on our last day and were so glad that we made it there. It is part of the Maui Tropical Plantation, which could be a day trip by itself. They offer zip lining, tours of the grounds, shopping, and other activities. It’s a great place to get any last minute souvenirs. The restaurant has a stunning view of the West Maui mountains on a clear day and a great farm to table menu.
After lunch we still had plenty of time before our flight so we drove to Paia, which is just past the airport and the last town before starting the road to Hana. Paia is a historic laidback town with a lot of amazing shops and boutiques. You can also drive just past Paia to Ho’okipa , a world renowned wind and board surfing location, to watch some of the locals and professionals.
In conclusion.. choose Maui! I am so glad my husband pushed for this trip and would love to go back someday. The island and the people that we met were unlike anywhere else we have been. I loved that there was a lot to do on the island, but that it was still small enough that we felt like we were able to see everything.
Other Maui tips:
- Plan some meals ahead of time to get reservations at some of the more popular restaurants, but don’t plan ALL of them. In addition to the restaurants I listed there were so many amazing food trucks and stands all over the island. Allow for some flexibility in your dining.
- Don’t stress about the weather. Maui has several different sub climates and the weather on the island can vary drastically depending on location. Kihei/Wailea tends to be the driest area, which makes it a great resort spot. If it looks like rain just check the weather somewhere else on the island. Definitely keep a light rain jacket in your car though!