Segway Maui keeps its guide-to-glider ratio low.// © 2012 Segway Maui
Guided tours last from one hour to 2½ hours, including a 30-minute orientation. Commissionable rates range from $89-$199 per person. Participants must be at least 14 years old and weigh between 100 and 260 pounds.
The newest commissionable tour to roll into Lahaina has wheels spinning and heads turning. Called Segway Maui, it’s a must-try excursion for repeat island visitors as well as clients who simply want a fresh approach to exploring the destination.
The big selling point is the Segway itself, a sleek, self-balancing two-wheeled personal transporter that goes just about anywhere a pedestrian can go, only faster. And while its maximum speed is just 12 mph, a Segway provides a wind-in-your-hair freedom that clients simply can’t get from four-wheel tours.
The first firm of its kind on the island, Segway Maui started in April and, according to tour guide Mark Liebich, business keeps improving month by month. The company insists on a low guide-to-glider ratio to guarantee personalized explorations of Lahaina, the former capital of Hawaii and one-time whaling hub.
I recently tested out the new venture, which starts at Segway Maui’s headquarters with a safety video accompanied by pastries, juice and coffee. Liebich handed out our helmets and brightly-colored keepsake Segway Maui T-shirts, then conducted a 30-minute training session in the parking lot.
I found the Segway simple to operate; when I leaned forward, it moved forward, and when I shifted my weight back, it slowed down. Turning right or left was as simple as tilting the handlebars one way or the other. By the time we finished the session, I was navigating Liebich’s makeshift slalom course like a pro.
While Segway Maui offers several tours throughout the day, I chose the Early Bird option from 7:30-9:30 a.m., and I highly recommend it. The normally bustling streets of Lahaina — a popular tourist town brimming with history, galleries, boutiques and eateries — were almost empty, and the tropical air felt refreshingly cool under sunny skies. As we breezed ahead single-file, the people we did encounter were intrigued by our unusual mode of transportation, sometimes asking questions about the Segway and how it works.
Liebich first led us to the Jodo Mission, founded in 1912 to honor Hawaii’s earliest Japanese immigrants. A handsome Buddhist temple presides over the peaceful garden-like setting, as does a 12-foot-tall statue of Buddha, the largest of its kind outside Japan.
We whirled past Seaman’s Hospital, built in 1843 to care for sick whalers and lovingly renovated by the Lahaina Restoration Foundation. Liebich then spun us along Front Street — pointing out shops and restaurants of note — and stopped at the 1901 Pioneer Inn, still welcoming guests with its whaling and plantation-era decor. We saw the ruins of King Kamehameha I’s brick palace, built around 1800 and Hawaii’s first Western structure; and we marveled at the distinctive Lahaina waterfront and spectacular views across the channel to Lanai.
As we buzzed around and under Lahaina’s famous banyan tree, planted in 1873 and now more than 60 feet high, artisans were setting up stands and booths under its 200-foot expanse, preparing to showcase their wares throughout the day. Stepping off our Segways for a short break, we headed into the Lahaina Courthouse, an 1859 gem and now the site of the Lahaina Heritage Museum. Liebich also pointed out the remains of a fort harking back to the early 1830s.
After cruising past Waiola Church, which dates back to 1823 and is the burial site of several of Hawaii’s royal family members, we made our last stop at the town’s reconstructed 19th-century prison, another Lahaina Restoration Foundation gem.
Like all of Segway Maui’s tour guides, Liebich was well-versed in the area’s culture, history and contemporary life, and along the way he snapped photos of participants for souvenirs. He also made a point of emphasizing his firm’s eco-friendliness.
“We want to protect Maui’s environment,” said Liebich. “Not only are Segways the coolest machines in the world, they have zero emissions, they’re easy to park and they can take people to hard-to-reach places.”
Along with its regular tours, the company can customize outings for couples and small groups, and it can even bring the Segways to where the clients are staying. With its eye on the future and its heart in the right place, Segway Maui promises a one-of-a-kind path toward free-wheeling vacation memories.