Maui on My Mind

I've lost count of the number of times I've taken the quick hop to Maui—the flight time, even on a commuter aircraft, is generally briefer than the drive between home and the airport. After a nightly torchlighting ceremony at the Sheraton Maui, a cliff diver readies himself for the ritual of lele kawa (cliff-diving)

And yet every time I sit at the departure gate at bustling Kahului (OGG) or quiet Kapalua (JHM) or Hana (HNM), I'm jotting notes to myself about the next spot to visit, the next adventure to anticipate and of course the next meal to try.

At its heart, you see, Maui is an island of possibility. You can explore to your heart's content, which is usually my style. In most cases, your wandering, whether guided or independent, will be an effortless mingling of natural beauty, culture and history. There are wonderful hikes that take you deep into the rainforest or to ancient taro loi (terraces), while others hug the craggy coastline with the surf booming below.

Saddling up would be a dream if it weren't so real. One of my favorite rides was with a ranch executive (his family's been in the business for generations) who now owns a stable with some of the most responsive horses it's been my privilege to have met. Even if you're just a notch or two above tenderfoot status, I'd urge you to book a ride—two, if you can. Perhaps one that heads inland and another that's more coastal.

Hiking on Maui is also excellent, with trails suited for all fitness levels. You can take some of the simpler trails independently—follow the usual precautions of carrying water, supplies and a cell phone, and advising someone of your destination and return time. For the most intense experience, I'd advise that you head out on a guided trek with one of the island's knowledgeable outfitters. They'll handle logistics, pack in the food and explain in a low-key manner the significance of what you're seeing. Equally important, they'll get you behind the padlocks to private land where some of the best hiking and views are to be found.

While I wouldn't encourage any but the hardiest visitors to backpack into and across Haleakala, both because of endurance and logistics, it's an amazing trek and one that's still vivid in my mind some three decades on. You can get a sense of what it's like to camp in the crater absent the peeling lips and the need for moleskin by heading to the summit before dawn. Bundle up and ask your concierge for suggestions on departure time to allow you ample travel time to make the sunrise. Zipline tours and guided all-terrain vehicle rides are other high-energy options.

Of course, your time on Maui isn't complete until you've taken to the ocean. Whalewatching season is generally December through April, but pleasure craft ply the waters daily, whether your taste leans more toward snorkeling or a more relaxed cruise.

These suggestions would round out a week quite nicely, and I haven't even touched on Maui's championship-caliber golf or its excellent spas. I guess that proves my point about the island's bounty of choices. After you visit, you'll empathize with the drivers who've lovingly put "Here Today, Gone To Maui" stickers on their bumpers.

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