Maui October 2023 - Revisiting My Happy Place

AHHH - Maui.
We didn't have the money to really travel until the kids were grown and the house was paid off. I find that drives me to choose holidays in places I haven't been before - anywhere overseas for sure and South America (still on the bucket list). On those trips we walk and explore, try to stay in rentals off the beaten path and eat in places the locals are at, preferably where they don't speak English

The exception to this is Hawaii. From our first visit to Maui I nine years ago, I fell in love. This is my happy place.  When there we do get out, but only during the day. Or pace is slower, the things we do are mostly relaxing, and we come home unstressed and ready to face the world again. It's my happy place.  I have since visited Kauai and love it too.  It offers a different experience.  But Maui is my first Hawaiian love.
In October 2023,
 we took our third trip to Maui. Several years of trips to Europe and Australia followed by the pandemic shutdown meant it had been seven long years since we were there.  It was time. We got up to watch sunrise from our balcony while sipping coffee, eyed the trail of scuba boats heading to Molokini, and listened to the bird calls and the sound of waves from the beach not far away. After we tried to do a little self-care - yoga, meditation tapes, positive reading, breakfast. It varied each morning, whatever called us in that moment. Nothing was set in stone.  Then it was time to head out on either a snorkeling adventure, a long walk, or a drive. Every day but two ended with us sitting in beach chairs enjoying the sunset until well after dark, followed by a late supper.

Where to stay
-  Choose wisely. Some I know like to be where there is nightlife. Others like luxury - resorts or hotels. For us, we like the Kihei Akahi Condos in Kihei.  It's an older condo building where the owners rent out their units. I particularly like building C as it faces south, so you get a view of sunrise and sunset form your balcony (pick floors 4-6 for the view). It is non-smoking and has a quiet from 10 p.m. - 8 a,m. policy. There are two pools with BBQ's and you are literally across the street from three beaches - Kamaole I, II and III.  Kamala Beach where beginning surfers go is only about a 10 - 15 minute walk away. There's not much around to do after sunset which is just the way we like it. We enjoy the balcony, read, play cribbage and just relax. In the past we have booked directly with owners through AirBNB which I prefer. Most now book through VRBO where you deal with a management company.  Have a few more dollars and want to not walk across the street? Check out the condo rentals at the Hale Pau Hana, Kamaole Naky and Royal Mauian.

Rental car - On our previous two trips we did the traditional rental at the airport. Then a friend let us know about a locally owned company called Kihei Rent-A-Car. As we were staying in Kihei, we decided to check them out and are so glad we did. We got an amazing deal on an older 2016 car that suited our needs perfectly. They picked us up from the airport and took us to the lot. Everyone we dealt with was super friendly and the service impeccable. We had to leave to go home before they opened, so they even made arrangements for us to leave the car at the airport. We will definitely be using them again. 

Sunscreen - This note is oh so important. Regular sunscreens that people wear are poisoning the reefs. The County of Maui recently passed a historic law that bans the sale, distribution and/or use of non-mineral sunscreen starting on October 1, 2022. This means only mineral-based sunscreens will be allowed and there is $1000 fine to back it up. You are banned from even bringing the other sunscreens with you. They take a bit of getting used to, but it's not about you and I. It's about the health of the reef so that we can enjoy them for years to come. I love the sign below, similar to one I saw at the parking for Ahihi. 

Food - Like all vacations, food is one part of the experience. I am not a serious foodie and we don't eat out a lot.  We stock our fridge with grab and go items for breakfast and lunch. For supper I make a couple big salads that sit in the fridge and Glen BBQ's something to finish the meal. Easy. Howevver, there are a couple local things that you might like trying. 
  • Poke is a Hawaiian creation that has become a favourite in North America. I am not a raw fish person, but there are tons of opportunities to try it here.  You can buy just the marinated poke in the many store deli departments.  To get a poke bowl you need a food truck or restaurant. 
  • Loco Moco is another - rice, hamburger patty (sometimes pulled pork) smothered in gravy and topped by an egg. 
  • Shaved ice - It's very, very fine shaved ice with toppings and the place I go tucks a bit of ice cream in the very bottom. My favourite was the Coconut Mud Pie - Coconut syrup with Macadamia Nut Ice Cream with a drizzle of Chocolate and Haupia (coconut pudding) - from Beach Street Maui. Glen went with a tropical syrup version.
  • Fish tacos - Not an original Hawaiian food, but with tons of very fresh fish available you can get some great ones here. 

Restaurants - I am not an expert nor as I said above a serious foodie. I just like good food. We ate a few places and enjoyed every meal, but there are tons of options. I leave that to someone else to review.  I do want to mention two that liked. 
  • Hali’imaile General Store is on our list every visit.  It's farm to table restaurant, featuring fresh, local products.  It's a lovely drive to the base of the Haleakalā volcano. I would define it as mid-price. The service is great and the food is fresh and delicious. We try to book at 11 a.m. when the restaurant opens for lunch as that time is relaxed and the venue stays fairly empty for the first half hour. We haven't tried their supper menu. 
  • Paia Fish Market - They have three locations now, but it's worth going to the original in Paia. This market has been featured in many places including Diners, Drive-ins and Dives. The food is simple and most options include fish. You can order exactly the type of fish you like. The seating area is small and basic. You order and pay at the counter, then find a place to sit - sometimes you share a table with strangers - and they bbring the food to you. The fish is very fresh and the food comes quickly.  I had a Mahi-Mahi burger that was to die for. I'm going to have to try making them at home. I left with a bottle of their in-house made Magic Sauce to try out back home. 

Snorkeling -  We love to snorkel each morning. It starts the day off right - a little exercise with a dash of the magic of watching tropical fish underwater. There are so many reefs we haven't yet visited that I know we will be back. The first week the snorkeling was pretty good. The second week they had a lot of difficult tides. Two days we couldn't go in snorkeling at all and two days we were nervous in the water or the visibility was poor so we had to quit.  This was a big disappointment as it had never happened before, but that is just life.  Here are a few places we went. 
  • Ahihi - This is and will always be our top snorkeling spot. It's a protected area that is difficult to enter and exit, just a rocky small shore, so limited people go. From about  a depth of about 3 feet on out you see fish everywhere, and a bigger variety than you'll see at most reefs we've tried out. The deeper you go the larger the fish get. I've even seen an octopus and a large turtle (but they are rare).
Left Ahihi - Right Ulua
  • Ulua - An easy to walk on, regular beach to visit. We went to the north end to snorkel as there is lots of coral there. Visibility can really vary by day.  Glen goes deeper and even saw a manta ray once. This time my highlights were a 50 plus grouping of goat fish and a big large ball of minnow size translucent white fish called Silversides. They were diving, swimming, turning, rising- all in brilliant sync. 
  • Kamaole Beach 1 - There are 3 beaches across from us you can swim or snorkel in, but what you see snorkeling as well as the visibility is limited. That said, my best turtle encounters have been here. On beach II on a previous trip I saw the largest turtle I have ever seen. We gazed in each others eyes. This time it was beach I.  There was a reef at the south end of the beach where baby and mid-size turtles came to eat the algae.  I watched three medium size ones feed, and then managed to float and commune with two of them and swim along side them. Love when they just hang for a minute and stare at you.
Kamaole Beach 1 - large turtle, and an idea of the visibility we had. 
  • Other - There are so many others we are dying to try including the reefs on the island of Molokai (ferry ride from Lahaina). One we wouldn't recommend that has good reviews is Black Rock. It's at the far end of Kaanapali Beach which is lined with resorts.  The reef area is filled with swimmers, floaters and kids jumping off the rock. Absolutely CRAZY! Just a no for us. The surf issues really put a snag in our plans to try new ones, but we will be back. There are also commercial offerings (very pricy) to take you by boat to places like Turtle Town and Molokini. 

Scuba Diving - Not my thing, so I'm going to share with you what my husband and daughter have said.  The most popular seems to be the boat trip to Molokini by boat. The down side is you have to be up very early to catch the boat around 6 a.m. and a lot of your time is spent getting there and coming home. They take you for one dive there and then boat to a new location for a second dive. Both my husband and my daughter have done shore dives the liked. The one my husband did at Ulua Beach wasn't that exciting, but they both had great experiences with shore dives in Lahaina. My daughter loved the two dives she did with Sammy's Scuba. My husband was going to book with him, but the divemaster was away on holiday.  He recommended Banyan Tree Divers (Lahaina), so my husband gave them a try. He had two great dives at Mala Wharf where they there was a great variety of sea life. One thing he saw that was new to him was a turtle cleaning station. Turns out large turtles settle into an area and set up a cleaning station where fish come and eat the algae growing on their shells. Who knew?

Nature - While you are there, slow down. There are amazing flowers, unique shrubbery with multicolor leaves, and cool shade trees everywhere. You just have to keep your eyes open. I even had my husband pull over at once as I saw what looked like an abandoned grove of prickly pear cactus  There is a website called  All Trails which has information on most of the hiking trails available on Maui.  There are several up on the Haleakala Volcano that took too long to get to, or were too difficult for my fitness level. There were also several around Hana that were a tough drive from where we were.  Quite a few of them are simply paved boardwalks along the beach in resort areas. While an easy walk, I just didn't feel like I was getting out into nature. If you're a serious hiker, you need to head up the Volcano. 

The two that really popped for me are - 
  • Nakalele Blowhole Trail - This is billed as a 1.9-km out-and-back trail near Wailuku. However, you could get a great view from the top which was just a short walk from the parking without climbing down the steep path to the blowhole at the waterline, then climbing back up that same steep incline. If you want to go all the way down, take your time, and make sure you can climb back out. It's very uphill. 
  • Honolua Bay - It is always a great surprise when we stumble across a new treasure. When we drove to the blowhole we passed an area where everyone was trying to find parking. It was a lush tropical looking area by the roadside, but we couldn't figure it out.  At the blowhole someone told us it was Hoholua Bay and that there was great snorkeling. Although we didn't have our snorkeling gear, we thought we would check it out.  There was a easy trail from the road to a small bay lined with rocks - no sand - that was was magical. Tropical trees and plants, hanging moss and more. Walking through its shade offered a respite from the heat and humidity.  The beach was only rocks and we can't speak to whether the snorkeling is good, but we loved the trail. No services there except some port-a-potties by the parking.

Tourist sites - While traditional tourism is not a major focus for us, there are tons of choices available from a Pineapple tour to skydiving. We tend more towards outdoor nature oriented things. These three are favs of ours.
  • Ho'okipa Beach is just past Paia.  You can look at it from viewing parking lot above, but it's worth walking down to the beach. This is where the serious waves and serious surfers are. The beach is really coarse, pebbly sand and slanted, so it is hard to walk on.  I love the sound and constant crash of the waves. There is a little reef in one area that creates a Keiki pond for smaller ones.  I am always surprised to see so many families here. It's really all about the surfing and the beach is not the easiest to carry kids and gear across, nor is it very wide.  At the far end, they have cordoned off an area where the turtles come ashore to rest and avoid the sharks. So worth the walk if you love turtles. Note - on busy days the beach parking is absolutely insane. Go early or park on the road and walk down to the beach.
  • Ioa Valley State Park is a fav we always visit.  To our utter disappointment it was closed this time for stabilization of the hillsides. You start in a parking lot usually in the sun and go up the trail until suddenly you are in mist and light rain. The trail is lined with local vegetation and at top of the trail you are at the Īao Needle. This ridge-top lookout can offer great views of the valley depending on the weather. We climb to the top first to enjoy the mist and the view, then we walk down slowly noticing all the local tropical plants and the beauty of this lush site.
  • Kula Botanical Garden is only a 15 minutes drive from the Hali’imaile General Store, so we pair the two together. After stuffing ourselves, this small oasis offers a chance to walk off our meal.  It is located a little way up the volcano, so there is the odd chance for a view of the valley and shore line along the drive. The variety of flowers and shrubs are lovely and it offers a great break from getting right back in the car after eating and driving home.  I snagged a few treasures from their gift shop where most is Hawaiian made and all proceeds go to support the garden.
  • Lahaina - While not as fun this time as it was far to hot and humid to enjoy walking the city streets, we always make time to wander Lahaina.  It has lots of eating areas and the streets are lined with not only stores, but quite a few art galleries. Then there is the huge Banyan tree that fills one whole city block with lots of benches underneath.  It's the perfect place to take a break out of the sun. 
  • Maui Ocean Centre (aquarium) - Our last day the heat and humidity just made it tough to get out in the afternoon, so we decided for the first time ever to visit the aquarium.  While it ended up being a mix of inside and outside exhibits, it was perfect to fill our last day.  I loved the lighted tanks underground where I could see some of the same fish I had seen snorkeling better and even get pics of them (I don't own an underwater camera). We loved the focus on local species and how it took us from outside viewing, to walking down ramps underground that at each level offered tanks of what we would see at if we dove deeper.  They have a wonderful restaurant there I hope to eat at in the future - covered but open air sides.  We simply had a Mai Tai drink special to cool off, but the food arriving around us looked and smelled great. One display on the history of the island Kaho’olawe hit me emotionally. The island was used as a bomb testing place until 1990. It took over a decade to clean up the island. Ownership was finally returned to the state of Hawaii in 2003. You can read more HERE!
  • Molokai Ferry - We haven't managed to work this trip in yet, but it's on the list.  You take a ferry from Lahania to Molkai. A short walk from the ferry is a beach in a park reserve that is supposed to be great to snorkel at, but there are others that are driving distance. That would be the biggest draw for us. It is known for not having a lot of tourist things to do, but there are some activities as well as places to stay and restaurants to eat at. You can read more HERE. 

Shopping - When shopping I start with the aim of buying local. Sometimes you have to really look. In our visit to Paia there are two shops I always start in - Maui Hands and Wings Hawaii.  I also shop in local gift stores such as the one at the Botanical Gardens. When in stores I look for made in Hawaii products and we also try to hit at least one roadside stand with local goods (they often offer home picked fresh fruit, dried fruit and banana bread).
  • Julia's Banana Bread - This roadside stand offered fresh banana bread and the best dried mango slices I have ever had. In Hawaii they dust them with li hing mui (a red pickled plum powder). If interested, you should look up how they make the powder as it's complicated.  They had two other things I can't remember but something like a sweet fruit butter and some sort of nut brittle.  We bought the first two and were blown away.  This was simply a stand we drove by on our way to the blowhole.  I would buy from it again in an instant. The young, local man staffing it was also super friendly and helpful as he gave us directions to the parking space for the blowhole. 
  • Village Gift and Fine Art - This small store in Lahaina, right next to the Baldwin Home Museum, is full of locally made crafts and artwork. I stop in every time I am in town. I already own two wall hangings by local artists I purchased there and am always looking for a something new. This trip I didn't get to snag a new treasure, but I am sure I will next time. I find the prices very affordable for hand made art work and craft goods.  
  • Wings Hawaii - Located on the main strip and close to the Paia Fish Market, this boutique has a mix of clothing, jewelry, accessories and home goods. What I snagged in this store were several bottles of locally made hot sauces. I have a son-in-law and a good friend who are hot sauce aficionados, so it's fun to have a new, quality small batch option to try when they visit. 
  • Maui Hands - This is first and foremost an art store with paintings, sculpture, prints, wood, photography and more. They also feature some textile items from Hawaiian Bark Cloth and jewelry created by several artisans. I bought a large, casual print bark cloth bag, a pair of hand made earrings and some bark cloth Hawaiian print kitchen hand towels. I used that large cloth tote a lot the rest of the holiday.
  • Higher end shopping - Two malls I walked through that offered a mix of designer and lux goods were Whalers Village in Lahaina and The Shops At Wailea. Of these two I liked the second the best as it offered free events 5 days a week from hula shows coconut frond weaving, and it had a wonderful art store full of hand made pieces called Martin and McArthur. I really loved their inlaid wood bowls and wall hangings. 
Left Whalers Village - Right The Shops at Wailea
  • Kihei Kamala Village - After you done as much of your shopping as you can at stores featuring made in Hawaii or local artists, then it's time to hit the market style areas.  Kihei Kamala Village is across the street from the north end of Kamala Beach.  It has a couple sections. There is a row of little cafes on the main street with two better boutiques.  I purchased a couple nicer quality pieces at Chez Fifi Boutique. There is a parking lot shrouded in shade trees - welcome on a hot day - that has some small shops and quite a few eating places.  Then there are two long buildings separated by a court yard that are packed tight with stall style shops featuring lots of tees and tropical garments as well as souvenir shops, art shops, jewelry and more. The walkways are narrow and claustrophobic, and you have to really look. But there are treasures to be found such as a cool roomy jumpsuit in tropical colors I found at Maui Diane's Boutique

While these are the things we saw and experienced, remember to make your holiday about you.  If you want to be busier and have lots of nightlife, chose an island and/or location that offers the experience you want. If you want to be more out in nature, check out places a bit away from the tourist chaos that are surrounded with options. Each island is different, and all offer everything from simply condo stays out of the hubbub to resorts for luxury living and hotels of all levels. And remember, always be open to a change of direction. Snags happen.

This was our chance to relax, explore and enjoy a beautiful island. It was just what we needed and more.


  1. Such great travel writing. I will consult this for sure when we go. Thanks. Loved the botanical garden info as we go to them wherever we travel

    1. I also adore botanical gardens, especially small local ones like this one. The walk through the tropical forest was also a highlight. And that really isn't on any tourist sites.


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