The largest stretch of (relatively) flat land on Maui is the valley between the two volcanoes, Haleakala and the West Maui Mountains. This area is commonly called “Central Maui” and it’s here most locals live. “Upcountry Maui” refers to those communities that lie within a thousand meters or so of sea level on the lower slopes of Haleakala abutting Central Maui, an area that tends to be cooler and greener and that’s popular with cowboys and ranchers. “South Maui” refers to the stretch of coast on Haleakala’s southwestern rain-shadow, just south of Central Maui. South Maui is a very dry and popular tourist area with great beaches, upscale resorts and lots of golf.
Besides its thousands of homes, Central Maui is mostly used to cultivate sugarcane. You’ll become accustomed to the sight of the 2 meter tall grass-like cane swaying in the strong trade-winds, there being some 37,000 acres of cane on Maui — all owned by HC&S. And there are frequent rain showers that blow through this valley; it’s because of these showers that everything is so lush and green, and why you’ll see so many rainbows here. In one afternoon, I counted 12 different rainbow sightings, most very vibrantly colored and a full semi-circle. The only other place I’ve ever visited that comes even close to being this rainbow rich is Iceland.
The largest city in Maui, Kahului, is where the airport is situated. Besides some restaurants and shopping malls — and the all important Costco (now with fuel island, the lowest price gas on the island!) — there’s not a lot for tourists to do here. But there are a few places in this area we enjoyed visiting.
This to do and see in Central Maui…
1) Iao Valley State Park: Pronounced “Yeow!” valley, this small (6 acre) park is worth seeing not just for its physical beauty but because of it’s historic importance. While the Iao Valley is really in West Maui, in the heart of the eroded West Maui Volcano, it can only be approached from Central Valley so I think it’s best considered here. A several mile road winds its way up the Iao Valley from Wailuku, a lovely drive through lush rain-forest.
Iao Valley gets its name from Iao Needle, a rock pinnacle stretching to 2250′ (just under 700 M) above sea level. The adjoining small Iao Stream gently tumbles down the Valley, in no way betraying that at one time it was the site of Maui’s bloodiest battle (Battle of Kepaniwai in 1790), when King Kamehameha fought to gain control of Maui in his effort to unify the Hawaiian Islands. Many warriors were killed, their bodies damming the creek and their blood causing it to flow red.
The park has a short but lovely hike through rain-forest with assorted lush tropical plants, and takes you past a small recreated Hawaiian village to a closer view of the famous Iao Needle.
2) Wailuku is the gateway to Iao Valley and is an old Hawaiian plantation town, very quaint and nice to walk around in for an hour. The Bailey House Museum is situated here, though it was closed when we visited.
3) Makawao is an old cowboy town in Upcountry Maui, now a trendy place with interesting boutiques and restaurants. We really enjoyed walking around this town for a few hours and visiting it’s many interesting shops. I’d highly recommend the beautiful artwork of Sherri Reeve, whose bright colors and tropical themes we fell in love with.
Haliimaile General Store is a bustling restaurant situated in, as the name implies, an old general store. It sits alone in the middle of old pineapple fields, away from any town, and is a good place to have dinner in Upcountry Maui when coming from viewing a Haleakala sunset.
4) Ma’Alaea Harbor. The windiest place in Maui, and that’s not an easily earned title. A small town sitting on the southern part of Central Maui, it’s best known as a port from which to go whale watching and snorkeling. It’s here you’ll find the small but interesting Maui Ocean Center. Spread over five acres, this is the largest aquarium in Hawaii but still small by most standards. The Ocean Center highlights local fish and sea-life It has a huge walk-thru shark tank and an assortment of smaller exhibits. There is an unusually interesting gift shop, better than most in Maui, that you might want to consider visiting as you exit.
5) South Maui: Situated in the rain-shadow of the great Haleakala volcano, this is a very dry part of the island (often no rain for months at a time). We visited South Maui for an afternoon, and found it to be a nice drive, but we enjoyed the feel of West Maui better.
The most upscale community here is Wailea, with large numbers high rise luxury facilities, the premier resort area on the island. In Wailea you’ll find Maui’s most expensive properties and a long list of celebrities who own (mostly vacation) homes here.
There are a large number of great quality swimming and snorkeling beaches along South Maui and many popular golf courses. The southern most part of the island consists of rugged black lava and sand beaches that are popular with snorkelers.
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