View the striking waterfalls of Pipiwai Trail just 20 minutes past Hana. // © 2016 Lindsay Kamikawa
Feature image (above): On the road to Hana, visitors can walk the lava pebbles of Pailoa Beach in Waianapanapa Park. // © 2016 Valley Isle Excursions
Summer after summer, my family returns to our favorite meeting place: Maui, a precious dot in the heart of the Pacific Ocean and home to some of our most special vacationing memories. When I think of the island, I can see snippets from across a decade — from my first surf lesson to luau feasts to swimming with massive sea turtles while my parents chomped on fresh pineapple nearby.
Maui is the kind of destination that families can grow with, with draws for young kids just as much as for college students and parents. With a perfect balance of hikeable forests and sunny beaches, it’s possible for all ages to find their niche and discover new gems together.
When you’re not snoozing at the pool or exploring local eateries, here are five family friendly-activities that will bring the whole crew together.
Groups of all sizes can experience friendly, hands-on guidance with the experts at Hawaiian Paddle Sports. This makes it an ideal choice for beginners and veterans alike, with options for kayaking, paddleboarding and whale watching. My family’s preferred activity is outrigger canoe paddling, which allows guests to enjoy the water without necessarily getting wet (a perk for clients who desire a less physically demanding experience). Two marine-certified instructors accompany each tour, with one seated at the bow and the other at rear of the canoe. Once they have coasted through tranquil waters, swimmers can jump in and search for sea turtles, which can be spotted surprisingly close to shore. Note that guests from different parties are combined to fill all seats in the canoe. Expect to walk away feeling awake, refreshed and connected with Maui’s pristine waters.
Road to Hana
The Road to Hana, as its name implies, is as much about the journey as it is about the destination. Whether clients opt to travel via their own vehicle or on a guided tour, this 68-mile path will take them through the lush foliage of eastern Maui, with plenty of natural wonders along the way. As many of the Road to Hana landmarks have historic significance (and some are associated with island legends), it is important for guests to do research ahead of time, especially if traveling without a guide. Note that the tropical rainforest shelters some 600 curves and more than 50 one-lane bridges along the way, so taking breaks can ease the long wind.
Tours with Roberts Hawaii and Valley Isle Excursions include complimentary breakfast and lunch, as well stops at the top waterfalls, lookouts and parks for visitors to explore. If you wish to experience a great variety of landscapes, take the family down Pipiwai Trail (12 miles past the town of Hana), which begins at the Haleakala National Park Visitor Center. During the 4-mile roundtrip hike, you will experience several waterfalls, a dense bamboo forest and, eventually, the striking 400-foot Waimoku Falls.
Just off the shores of Maui, guests can explore the partially submerged crater of Molokini, a vibrant home to more than 250 species of fish. There is an abundance of snorkeling tours here that allow clients to spend a full morning at sea with the accompaniment of an expert crew. The highly rated tours from Maui Snorkel Charters and Pride of Maui offer complimentary breakfast and lunch and snorkel equipment. Tours will not depart unless ideal weather conditions permit, making this a reliable excursion for children and first-time snorkelers. Additionally, should guests need a break from the water, they can always return to the ship to enjoy a snack or a drink. If you’re lucky, on the way back to shore, you may spot giant manta rays, dolphins or whales, depending on the season.
I was 10 years old when I took my first surf lesson, alongside my brother and my two closest family friends. Weary of any experience that even slightly resembled the surf competitions I had seen on television, I put all my faith in my instructor, who gave us a comprehensive demonstration on the beach. Thanks to her watchful eye and calming spirit, we quickly began catching waves, none of which exceeded a couple feet. Throughout the years, we have continued to come together at our favorite beaches in Lahaina and Kaanapali, where we embrace the sport that seems unapproachable anywhere other than Maui, thanks to the destination’s warm, shallow waters and unbeatable visibility. Group lessons are ideal for kids and parents alike, regardless of experience level. At Royal Hawaiian Surf Academy, those in private or group lessons will be provided with surfboards, rash guards and reef shoes.
What better way to experience Maui’s sprawling forests than to soar directly through them? Depending on which course you take, it’s possible to glide over valleys, hills and rugged mountain terrain, all with the assurance that you will land safely on firm ground. With Kapalua Ziplines, clients can choose a Four Line or Seven Line Tour, which both offer panoramic views of the island from high above the exotic foliage. Starting in summer of next year, guests can also select from three limited-space tours beneath the Maui moon. Expect to make a climb in some form or another, whether that be in a jeep to a high hilltop or even from one course to the next, which may involve ladders, bridges or brief hikes.