Maui delivers great adventures while exploring off the golf course
LAHAINA, Maui, Hawaii -- The biggest temptation for golfers visiting Maui is the lure to play golf all day long. With fantastic weather from the moment you wake up until the sun dips under the horizon, it's easy to get trapped into this mindset.
By ditching the clubs, however, golfers can experience a whole new Maui. Some down time by the pool or on the beach is definitely high on the priority list for any visit to Maui, but exploring is always more fun than relaxing.
Maui offers ziplining, touring, sailing, whale watching, stand-up paddle boarding, hiking, kayaking, driving scenic roads and discovering interesting little towns such as Lahaina and Paia. My wife and I tried these off-the-course pursuits and found some true Maui adventures.
Ka'anapali Skyline Adventure
Never been ziplining? This is a great place to start. The eight ziplines cross valleys high above Ka'anapali, offering stunning views of the island and ocean, but they're not too scary or intimidating for first-timers.
The trip begins with a van ride up a remote mountain road to the first platform. This excursion takes about four hours and requires some hiking, so wear proper shoes and clothing. The local guides are great personalities and put on a show with their creative takeoffs and landings. Halfway through, lunch is served on a deck overlooking a deep jungle gorge. For more information, see www.skylinehawaii.com.
A night out in Lahaina
Okay, this isn't an adventure as much as it is an original Hawaiian experience. Maui's former capital is a great place to watch people, shop and soak up a sunset over the harbor.
There are a dozen or more restaurants to sample, probably none better than the Lahaina Grill. The menu and service is that of a five-star restaurant, yet the atmosphere never loses that casual vibe that makes Maui so cool. It doesn't matter what you order for dinner -- it's all good -- but my preference is always lobster bisque for an appetizer followed by seared scallops. Just save room for the dessert sampler. A walk about the town's colorful art galleries and souvenir shops helps the digestion process.
Ready for SUP?
Stand-up paddle boarding has taken Maui by storm the past few years for one reason: It's easy to learn. Maria Souza started Maui's first SUP school (www.standuppaddlesurfschool.com) in 2005. Souza, an elite ocean athlete, is friendly, informative and a great teacher.
After an introductory lesson in her backyard, I had no problem standing up and paddling about in the calm waters of Sugar Beach in south Maui with Souza as my guide.
Souza's take on SUP: "Jesus was the only one who could stand on water. Now we can, too."
Touring upcountry Maui
I admit to being a little skeptical -- and my wife totally geeked -- when a tour of a winery and lavender farm ended up among my vacation plans.
A 30-minute walking tour of the Ali'i Kula Lavender Farm (aliikulalavender.com) was quite an eye-opener. The gardens were full of unique plants and the panoramic upcountry views stretched for miles. Don't pass up the lavender scones, either.
Less than 15 minutes away, the Tedeschi Vineyards (mauiwine.com) in Ulupalakua is Maui's only vineyard, established in 1974. The Maui Splash! -- a pineapple wine available in the Kalakaua Cottage Tasting Room -- is worth the drive alone.
Snorkeling at Molokini
The snorkeling at Black Rock off of Ka'anapali Beach is fine, but the hottest spot to see marine wildlife is Molokini, a large rock and coral reef formation just a short sail from the island.
The Ali'i Nui (aliinuimaui.com) will get you there in style. This world-class sailing vessel is also available for whale watching, wedding cruises, private charters and sunset sails. We didn't see any sea turtles, but sightings of an octopus and eel made up for it. Fish are plentiful, too. After snorkeling, the crew serves up a mean meal and even better beer.
Hawaiian Canoe Experience at Fairmont Kea Lani Maui
It's hard to believe that this ocean outrigger canoe experience is free for guests, because it's a priceless adventure in open water. We had a huge sea turtle pop its head out of the water just feet from our canoe and then swim right under us. The guides spice up the tour by wave-surfing with the boat along the jagged coast.
Hiking the rim of a volcanic crater
Biking down the Haleakala volcano at sunrise is a popular Maui tourist trip. My wife and I chose instead to sleep in and save some money by exploring the Haleakala National Park (nps.gov/hale) on our own and hike the summit overlooking the crater -- and its 10,023-foot elevation.
The first thrill comes in driving through the clouds, a mystical experience. At the summit, the views are otherworldly with volcanic hues of brown, red and black inside the crater. Diehard backpackers take trails deep into this delicate ecological site.
Driving the Road to Hana
The Road to Hana gets mixed reviews because it is a full day's journey of one-lane bridges, narrow twisting curves and some white-knuckle driving. I found the driving to be more bark than bite. My wife and I delighted in the wonderful discoveries along the way.
We actually didn't even make it all the way to Hana and the "Seven Sacred Pools" in the Haleakala National Park. We left at 8 a.m. (don't bother leaving at 6 a.m. like some guidebooks say), took plenty of time to do as we pleased and still made it back to Paia, an eclectic hippie town, for dinner.
We followed the popular guidebook, "Maui Revealed," by indulging in a refreshing swim in the hidden Ching's Pond. Several waterfalls along the road made for good photo ops. We enjoyed a picnic lunch at the Waianapanapa State Park. The park, at exit 32 just short of Hana, turned out to be one of our favorite places on the island. The sea caves were spectacular and the black sand beach looking out onto a stone arch was idyllic.
The best way to see the humpback whales is to head out on a whale-watching boat tour, but there's a cheaper alternative. Since my April visit was outside of traditional whale season (December to March), my wife and I hiked along the coastal trails inside Kapalua Resort instead. Sure enough, one morning, we got lucky. Two whales were spouting water and thrashing their tales out in the channel. Even if we hadn't seen the whales, the Kapalua trails are breathtaking along the rocky coast. Staying at the Kapalua Villas affords these great views all day long.