We have been to Maui many, many times and have taken advantage of all of the primary, and many of the secondary attractions. This trip, we stayed in and spent most of our time in West Maui, within about a 30 minute drive of Kaanapoli Beach, an area of which we have been but wanted to explore more in-depth.Among the things we most enjoyed were:
West Maui Snorkeling
After asking a number of people, it sounds like our traditional snorkeling spot, around the Black Rock lava head at the Maui Sheraton, continue to be one of the best snorkeling spots on this side of the island. And it was easy to get to also since we were staying not too far from the spot. So off we went. Once again we enjoyed this snorkel…seeing a number of types of coral (cauliflower, lobe, finger, etc.) and tropical fish (including surgeonfish, sergeant majors, hawkfish, damselfish, trumpet fish, blue and yellow angel fish) around the southern end of the head. Our big surprises, however, came straight off the head, where we found ourselves swimming above a huge school—thousands, and possibly tens of thousands–of roughly one-foot long pelagic fish that appeared to be just hanging out. More interesting still, we heard something that we have never heard before–even in winter breeding and birthing grounds—the unmistakable songs of whales, somewhere out in the unseen distance. Awesome.
We also snorkeled one area, just straight off the end of a lava head, where the normally clear view down to the bottom (roughly 30 feet below) is distorted—like you are looking through lens that are much more powerful than you need. Although we don’t know exactly what caused this, my guess is that it is at the interstation of currents from different directions, where the heavier cold water flows beneath the lighter warm water from another direction. Whatever the reason, it was fascinating to see how distorted the views became—not at all murky, just a bit disorienting.
We also wanted to snorkel at Honolua Bay, a lovely, rugged, Northshore bay that is lined with cliffs, pocked by a few beaches. It is supposed to have some of the best snorkeling on the island, with one rock-strewn beach in particular, having different types of coral (including an unusual yellow coral), goatfish, tangs, damselfish, sea urchins and sea cucumbers and, if you’re good or lucky, spiny lobster and green turtles. But, although the bay is supposed to be snorkelable in the summer, winter snorkeling is only safe around a couple beaches and in particularly calm sea conditions. Unfortunately, we didn’t have those conditions. Perhaps on our next trip.
West Maui Walks and Hikes
Most of our walks, formal and informal, were in historic downtown Lahaina, on the beach and along wood-paved beachfront walkways. Some of these were quite long and incredibly scenic, especially at sunset. We did, however, also take a number of other, moderately more challenging walks.
Lahaina Pali Trail, a five-mile, one-way (10 mile return) hike of which we did slightly more than half only about half of the trail–about 3 miles up from the eastern end of the trail past the ridge lined with wind turbines, and then back down the same way. The trail was dry and had little shade. Luckily the sun was behind clouds during our 1,565 foot ascent. The scenery consisted primarily of Harbor to the ocean and the small islands of Molakini and Kaho’olawe. The line of turbines was a scene in itself, with their 111-foot blades turning slowly in the soft breeze.
Ioa Valley and Needle. A beautiful spot that we stop at on every trip to Maui. Although the valley has only a short, 0.6 mile walk, the views of the 2,100-foot needle are incredible. The site, in addition to being beautiful, is also mythical (the home of the Ocean God) and historical (site of the 1790 battle that was instrumental in allowing King Kamehameha unify the islands).
Kapalua Village Trails consists of a number of trails created around golf cart paths (complete with embedded yardage markers). The golf course has since been abandoned and is now overgrown. We took the longer, moderately steep, 3.5-mile Lake Loop. Although it was nice moderate exercise that topped out at an artificial pond (former water hazard) that has been adopted by a family of ducks, it was not especially scenic. Not an especially memorable trail.
Kapalua Coastal Trail, is a generally level trail that is primarily over lava, at the southern end of Kaplua Bay. It is pretty, especially in those areas where powerful swells broke on the rocks and crashed over the steep, black lava cliffs. It was a pretty, roughly two mile round-trip walk over jagged lava rocks.
We would have also liked to hike a few of the trails through and around Kapalua’s Mauinalei Arboretum, especially the Upper Arboretums Trail and the 2.5-mile (one way) Honulua Ridge Trail. Unfortunately, the shuttle bus, which is the only way for non-residents can get to the arboretum and its trails, has been suspended due to funding shortages. Hopefully next trip.
Sansei Seafood Restaurant and Sushi Bar has a wonderful selection of fresh fish and dishes with a generally Asian flair. It just happened to offer 25 percent off food (50 percent for Hawaii residents) on the Monday evening (until 6:00) for which we had made previous later reservations. We decided to move up our dinner time to take advantage. We shared a bottle of Sake (Seitoku Trapeza Jumai Ginjo) with wonderful dishes: Tempura shrimp tossed in garlic masago aioli; Ahi carpaccio with cilantro and chopped peanuts in a mild thai chili vinaigrette; sweet onion tempura rings with tentsuyu sauce; and one pretty good, but less inspired dessert (tempura-fried vanilla ice cream wrapped in pound cake with macadamia nuts and drizzles of chocolate and caramel sauces). And considering that the popularity of the restaurant and the discount offer resulted in a full-house from the minute the place opened, the staff did a very good job seamlessly servicing and promptly delivering high-quality food to more than 100 people.
Merriman’s, also in Kapalua, is a popular restaurant with interesting dishes from primarily local sources. We began with wild mushroom bisque with chevre, all from the Big Island. Joyce then had a wonderful broiled onaga with white Kauai prawns, baby bok choy and a mixture of julienned local vegetables and a butter miso reduction sauce. Tom’s entree was equally impressive—two double grilled Colorado (they had no locally sourced lamb the day we were there) lamb chops with sautéed baby spinach and Maui Gold pineapple relish. We had an entry-level Ken Wright Willamette Valley Pinot with these dishes.
Pacific’O, in Lahaina. We visit this place every time we go to Maui. We had lunch there on our first afternoon (see beloe), and decided to return to sample the interesting dinner menu. After enjoying the tempura-fried oysters (with wakame seaweed salad, sprouts and sesame aioli so much for lunch, we had another order for dinner. And since the oysters were so large, the appetizer was large enough to serve as an entrée (and we weren’t disappointed). For our other meal, we had panko-crusted onaga with wonderful whipped Molokai purple potatoes, lobster coconut sauce with wilted O’O farm broccolini and carrots with balsamic reduction (quite good although we would have preferred the fish had been somewhat more rare). Wine was a pinot noir—Soena Grand Cuvee Pinot 2012.
Castaways, at the Kaanapalli Sheraton. Besides being the most interesting dinner restaurant within easy nighttime walking distance of our hotel, this restaurant has an amazing, very reasonably priced wine list—a list like you would never, ever expect at a beach resort. Although we found few dishes on the menu that really appealed to us, we moderately enjoyed the fried calamari with garlic aioli appetizer, and were very, very pleased with the fresh-off-the-boat seared seven-spice coated rare ahi with an okay papaya wasabi sauce which was served with jasmine rice and absolutely perfectly al dente haricots vert, carrots and cauliflower. As for the wine, how about a 2006 Brewer Clifton, Santa Rita Hills Rio Vista Pinot Noir for $55? We especially enjoyed sitting at the bar, where we listened to nice music, got into some interesting conversations, and had some nice after dinner drinks. A restaurant of which we entered with little enthusiasm but ended up thoroughly enjoying.
Kemo’s, in downtown Lahaina, where we began with two appetizers: lobster sliders with butter lettuce, tomato and too much mayo, and a bowl of manila clams steamed in delicious cilantro coconut broth. We then shared one entrée, coconut-crusted striped marlin with spicy Thai peanut sauce (which overpowered the fish) and pineapple salsa. Wine was a 2014 Cade Sauvignon Blanc.
As mentioned above, our first lunch shortly after we arrived on the island, was at Pacific’O. It consisted of four, huge, very good tempura-fried oysters with wakame seaweed salad with sprouts and sesame aioli; and a grilled ono sandwich with mizumi greens, srirache aioli and nicely crisped French fries. All this, sitting on a beach with a bottle of 2013 Morgan Metallica unoaked chardonnay. Not a bad way to begin a Maui vacation.
Duke’s Beachside on Kannapoli Beach, were we had two dishes: an herb-crusted swordfish sandwich with island greens, tomato and onion on a Hawaiian sweetbread roll, with salad on the side; (Delicious and an almost as enjoyable was the fish and chips with striped marlin fried in fire rock pale ale batter.
Seascape, in Maalaca Harbor, where we split the special entree (broiled, herbed ahi steak with ginger-lemon cream sauce, sautéed vegetables and jasmine fried rice, along with an order of crispy onion rings. Good and a nice view over the harbor, but not our most memorable meal.
Mill House, at the Plantation visitor site, is located at, and utilizes many of the features of a sugar cane mill in a beautifully landscaped garden: features including giant gears, a cane roller, a giant claw used to lift the cane and even a refurbished version of the train that used to operate at the plantation. Although the setting is beautiful, the food was adequate. True, the Mahi Mahi sandwich on sweet roll with garlic aioli and homemade pickles and Molakai purple potato chips were very good. However, the more complex dish, beef ragu with handcut pasta, gremolata and thyme sauce was too salty and lacked taste.
Fish Market Maui, in Kapalua, where we braved the long lines to order two wonderful fish sandwiches—one ahi and one spearfish (whiter and milder than swordfish). The sandwiches were on wheat buns with grilled onions, coleslaw and locally-made potato chips. We liked it so much that we returned. Our next trip consisted of macadamia-crusted spearfish with mango salsa, served with rice and macaroni salad; along with fried coconut shrimp with French fries. The spearfish, without the previous day’s bun and slaw, was okay, but a bit oily for our taste. The shrimp’s coconut herbed breading, meanwhile, although a bit more heavy than we would have preferred, but was very good.
Additional restaurants we would have liked to explore include Cane & Canoe and Mill House. We also plan to return to Mama’s.
Other Island Discover
- Coconut Caboose. We also discovered a food truck that sells coconuts, and most interestingly, very rich and very concentrated homemade coconut ice cream from local coconuts. Yum. This is a fairly new business and the owner was talking about expanding.
- The Wine Palette (Kapalua), was a very nice wine bar with a nice, reasonably nice selection of wines by the glass or bottle and some interesting food selections that we did not have a chance to sample.
This trip was built around an offer we received from the Westin Vacation Club on Maui–a reasonably priced room for 4 nights with no strings attached. But us being us, did end up attending a timeshare presentation. While we didn’t buy in, we were very impressed with this resort. It is huge, but the way they broke up the buildings created smaller areas that didn’t seem so overwhelming. Understandably, our room was not one of the prime rooms. It was ground floor, had no view and was rather dark. But for what we paid, it was fine. It was fairly large, was comfortable and included a washer/dryer and small kitchen area. The property in right on the beach and not far from Black Rock (see snorkeling above). In fact, we enjoyed it so much, we agreed to prepay a reasonable price for a future week (which we will do in 2018).