Kalaupapa National Historical Park is only accessible by foot, mule or air. // © 2014 HTA/Dana Edmunds
While a trip to Maui may be a bucket list item in itself, the island offers so many one-of-a-kind experiences that it’s necessary for visitors to come up with a vacation bucket list once they arrive. This is especially true when considering that Maui Nui, or “Big Maui,” includes the islands of Maui, Molokai and Lanai.
Terryl Vencl, executive director of the Maui Visitors and Convention Bureau, recognizes that each island can count as a “big check-off,” but she prefers to think of the many experiences across Maui as “bucket lists within a bucket list.”
“The beauty of Maui in particular is that the majority of our activities are all within short distances, making a number of achievements that much more accessible in a shorter period of time,” Vencl said.
Among her own top bucket-list experiences, Vencl’s favorites revolve around Hawaiian culture, music and hula.
“The only tangible element that separates Maui Nui and Hawaii from any other destination in the world is our native host culture,” she said.
For travelers making a shorter stay, here are some of the best experiences to check off of their Maui bucket list.
Sail to Molokini Island
About 2.5 miles off the south end of Maui, a partially submerged volcanic crater forms the small crescent moon-shaped island of Molokini. The island is home to an enclave of coral reefs and more than 250 species of tropical fish, making it an ideal place to explore by snorkeling or scuba diving. During the winter whale watching season, from December to May, visitors can also spot humpbacks on the voyage to Molokini.
Dine on Iron Chef Specialties
Masaharu Morimoto, the famed Japanese chef known for his appearances on the “Iron Chef” television programs and his many restaurants worldwide, opened the Morimoto Maui restaurant at Wailea’s newest hotel, Andaz Maui, in November 2013. Unlike the dishes on the show, the main ingredients featured at Morimoto Maui are no secret — the restaurant uses fresh, locally sourced fish to craft dishes that blend Japanese and Western cuisine, such as Morimoto Sashimi, a delicious terrine of tuna, salmon and eel served with five different sauces.
Celebrate Sunrise Atop Haleakala Volcano
A drive — or hike — to the summit of Haleakala Volcano in the wee hours of the morning will be well worth the effort, as the highest point on Maui provides spectacular views of the sunrise over the volcano’s otherworldly landscape and the rest of the island. Visitors can also traverse the slopes of the volcano on horseback or bike down the long, winding road from the summit.
Hike to a Secluded Waterfall in Hana
The 52-mile road to the town of Hana is famous for its hundreds of turns and gorgeous views of the rainforest and coastline. Just 10 miles south of Hana on the outskirts of Haleakala National Park, visitors can hike to the Pools of Oheo, see the beautiful waterfalls and take a dip in some of the tiered pools that lie between the falls in Maui’s lush bamboo forests.
Swim with Dolphins in Lanai’s Hulopoe Bay
On the south side of Lanai, Hulopoe Bay provides the best swimming and snorkeling on the island, as well as great opportunities for wildlife spotting. Tide pools carved out of volcanic rock and teeming with life lie on the eastern side of the bay. Humpback whales show up during the winter months, and spinner dolphins come close to the shore to play — they have even been known to swim alongside snorkelers.
Make a Mule Pilgrimage to Molokai’s Kalaupapa
Kalaupapa National Historical Park, a secluded area on the northern tip of Molokai, is accessible only by hiking, flying or mule riding. A three-mile trail leads down to the seaside town of Kalaupapa, where victims of Hansen’s disease were once exiled. It offers a serene ride by mule and breathtaking views of the Pacific from the top of sheer cliffs that rise 1,700 feet above sea level.
According to Vencl, the best way for travel agents to sell a bucket list vacation to Maui is to experience the destination firsthand.
“We want our agents to know our islands intimately so they can share Maui Nui with confidence,” she said. “We always recommend booking early, especially during busy times, to assure our guests experience Maui, Molokai and Lanai as they’ve always dreamed.”