As I was walking down Kameole Two Beach on Maui’s placid leeward shore one day I overheard a conversation between two ladies. One was saying, “This is what I thought heaven would like like when I pass.” This place brings out that type of emotion. The scenic beauty is simply breathtaking. Over the years many purist traveler friends have gagged when I brought up the subject of Maui. “Too commercialized,” they say. “Over run with tourists”. From a purely routard perspective I can agree to an extent. I know people who would sleep in a ditch on the side of a highway before they would set foot in a five star hotel, on principal alone. I used to be one of them, at times mayor of the community, a proud veteran of many a ‘ditch party’. But, I remind them time and again, “You can do both on Maui”.
I have spent a lot of time on ‘The Islands’ and love each and every one from intimate personal experience. I lived there for three years between the ages of thirteen and sixteen. I’ve been a Oahu North Shore surf punk, slept in the Makaha sand, camped the stunning national parks, circumnavigated mellow Maui and jungle scented Kauai on a bicycle returning as a blissed out tourist to marry my wife on the cliffs above Kaanapali on Maui’s windward shore.
Patricia and I travel back on a regular basis to share what we know about the islands with our son. It’s a great place to vacation with a family, safe and peaceful. Our family spent months long summer holidays on Maui to refresh, refering to those times as ‘The Perfect Summers’. It that sounds like a fantasy come true, it was. It’s as easy as closing up the house and going.
There are pronounced and recognizable divisions between the tourist and local populations on Maui. In the tourist heavy areas of Kihei and Lahaina there are also diverse and hidden beauties. These are what attracted the tourists in the first place. In the regions the locals call ‘upcountry’ , Makawao and Kula, nature has been left unspoiled by aggressive development. There are no ‘dead zones’ on Maui where commercialization has despoiled the environment to the point where it has become wasteland. The ocean is the great equalizer between the disparate groups. Like a religion, we all meet at the water in peace.
Hawaiians respect their homeland and fight for the environment. This is almost entirely respected by the tourist industry who realize their future lies on the preservation of natures bounty. There is something about being on the islands, even for a short time, that brings out the eco-warrior in everyone. Your soul tells you that this place is special. Purists and nationalists may have room to argue to this point, but I respectfully disagree. A drive around the one road that circles Maui, the Hana Highway’, will prove my point. A few minutes past Kahalui towards scenic Paia and development is replaced by waving sugar cane fields, the heavenly Haleakala volcano on one side of the road and a dreamy coastline of blue water breaking on the other.
People come to Maui for the perfect beaches and perfect weather. It’s sunny year round. The sun sets at 6:30PM, every day of the year. The sand and water are in pristine condition. There are very strict laws against the discharge of any pollutants . There is no beach hawking. Littering is forbidden , enforced rigorously by beach patrols, lifeguards, police and the general public. Locals use the beaches as an extension of their backyards. After work and weekends are family time on Maui County beaches. The absence of pollution keeps the water crystal clear. It’s common to snorkel right off the beach.
“It’s all old people”, the purists continue to rebuke me. “It’s too expensive.” That is not true. There is an established community of retiree’s from the mainland living in Kihei. The upside to this is that it has provided many conveniences to the casual visitor like fully stocked supermarkets , shops, medical clinics, restaurants and dive rentals. Whale watching from Kihei Beach is free.
Like anywhere one can always pay too much if they’re unprepared. I stick to a budget on the islands and find it easy to hold the line against costs by being schooled in the local scene. Information about Maui is easily accessible on the internet.
One of my favorite Maui ‘things’ is a visit to Longs Drugs on S.Kihei Road. It is the only place like it where smooth Polynesians ladies with tropical flowers in their long black hair can shop in their moo-moos to the lilting sounds of heavenly Hawaiian music being piped into this unique slice of paradise. It’s other worldly, especially if you’ve been to other South Pacific destinations where no such affluence exists. I let the simplest things entertain and delight me.
The older residents have invested in rental condominiums, and make them available as holiday condo’s at reasonable rates if you prefer to stay in a condo over a hotel, which I do, hands down. One site, VRBO, puts you in direct touch with the individual owners and many will negotiate rates depending on the season and individual availability. The condo complexes are fully equipped with swimming pools, tennis courts, bar-b-que pits , internet, cable TV, telephones and great free parking for the rental car in which you’ll want to ‘get the wind in your hair’.
In order to fully appreciate the simple beauty of Maui you have to look beyond the grey forest and tourist infrastructure, which by the way disappears if you choose not to look. I can rent a trick water view one bedroom condo meters from the beautiful beaches in Kihei , on a monthly rate, for as little as $35 USD per day including all utilities and charges, net of state taxes. Having established a home base we’re ready to ‘Go Hawaiian’. The first thing we like to do is get a tan started.
ABC stores, are like 7-11 only tropical. I bring nothing with me when I come to the islands except the clothes on my back and my electronic gear. I can buy everything I need at the ABC. The flights from Vancouver usually land in Maui at 9 PM, I’m at my Kihei local ABC before they close at 11PM and out with everything I need. My checklist of island essentials includes delicious Kona coffee , and a few breakfast items, because we cook most meals while in Maui.
I load up on 70 SPF sunblock . T-shirts and shorts are under $5 dollars on sale. Flip flops, cheap sunglasses and a big brimmed hat are next to go into the basket. Beach mats and towels are generously supplied by the condo owner in most cases.That’s it, we’re ready. I think my garish rig has a ‘Hunter Thompsonesque’ look about it as I bash away at my laptop while sitting in the sand.
There are three of the most beautiful beaches in the world are across the street from everyone’s house or condo in Kihei. The Kamaeole Beaches 1 , 2 and 3 are like a string of pearls along the strip. Crossing the street loaded down with folding chairs and beach mats is not a problem, drivers have time to stop for tourists as the speed limit through town is set at 20 miles per hour. Choosing between the three perfect beaches is personal , they’re all unique, take your time, the scene in front of you hasn’t changed for thousands of years.
The beaches are classic post card visions, lifeguards staffing lookout yellow towers are a fixture. The guards are a goldmine of information about the ocean and beach generally. They can tell you where on the island the conditions are exactly right for whatever you what do. Between Kamaeole 3 and Makenna Beach there is a small beach for nudists called ‘Little Beach’ easily accessed from the same road to Big Beach, which is the locals name for Makenna famous for the big pounding surf and long curve of golden sand .
There are tourists on these beaches, yada yada, the numbers depend on the season but never so many as Waikiki during high season. 90% of Maui tourists in the summer come from California and Texas looking to beat the heat. By mid afternoon 90% of tourists have fled the beach and have headed indoors, you have the whole place to yourself, it’s freaky and wonderful.
There are no Euro style beach chairs stacked side by side. You can still find a little space to call your own and most people respect that. After a week on Kamaeole getting bronzed up with coffee laced Maui Babe and Hawaiian Tropic lotions I’m ready for the out laying beaches that in all honesty are among the best you’ll find anywhere in the world. I speak as an opinionated beach connoisseur but please hear me out.
A few miles North and East of Kihei , after a right turn off North Kihei Road and left on Highway 31, take the shortcut by-passing Kahalui through Puunene , past the plantation style post office behind the sugar plant, you’ll find yourself on the ‘Highway to Heaven’ , also known as the Hana Highway. By the way, when they’re making sugar you’ll know it, the whole island smells like sweet brown molasses. It makes for pleasant dreams when the trade winds bring it through the bedroom windows .
Driving the snaking Hana Highway should be listed as one of the worlds great driving experiences. We’ll only navigate a few miles of it before we get to our destination. Let me set this up, I have been to some of the most beautiful beaches in the world, many before development and experienced them wild and raw as nature intended. But one of the most beautiful beaches I have ever visited is right here on Maui in the Baldwin Beach Park, halfway between Kahalui and Paia . It’s absolutely stunning ! The perfect curving white sand beach has been a protected site from the time of the first plantation colonialist Governor Baldwin set foot on the island and proclaimed Maui County as a holding of the United States.
In all that time there has never been development allowed. There are no high rise towers to block the view of the jagged volcanic peaks in the background, again, stunning, out of a movie. It’s all natural, not even saintly coconut palms were planted to enhance ‘the look’ where they didn’t grow themselves. There are only the wild Kaavi tree’s that grow in the dry soils of Maui’s windward side. Baldwin Beach is as it was found by the Polynesians when they landed in Hawaii thousands of years ago, untouched and incredibly beautiful.
Looking out into the ocean, a fringing reef wall formed by the lava flow from the omnipresent Haleakala volcano kicks up constant sets of big waves that can be surfed all year round. The consistent east to west current makes drift diving and shoreline swimming some of the best and safest anywhere. The inner reef is a wonderland for snorkelers. Natural breaks in the reef have formed up perfect sheltered swimming pools for little kids to play safely at the west end of the beach. Unbelievably or fortunately, whichever stand you take, the beach park is largely ignored by mainstream tourists.They get in their rental cars and step on the gas as they head to distant Hana some 52 miles west and don’t see what they’re missing in their haste.
Baldwin Beach remains a mainly ‘locals’ beach. Mauians come to picnic and spend family time around the Polynesian style community building. The sweeping roof line is reminiscent of the prow of the historical sailing canoes. This one public area is surrounded by swaying coconut palms planted in deference to the ‘tropical dream’ of some past parks board. There is a big open field for sports and recreation, all under the watchful eye of the massive volcano that dominates the inland skyline. As with all serviced public beaches there is a prominent day glow yellow lifeguard tower with on guard life saving services from 8 AM until 4:30 PM.The body surfing is excellent in the shore breaks.
Once I’ve made Baldwin Beach my home on the islands I’ll come back every day. With a deepening tan the locals start accepting you as a longer term resident ‘Kamaena’ and are eager to spark up friendships inviting all comers into the never ending game of horse shoes that has played out on the beach for generations. The picturesque village of Paia is only a few hundred yards further up the highway.
There are quaint full service restaurants and shops for everything from more suntan lotion to box lunches to take back to the beach, you won’t be their first customer to ask, so don’t be shy to ask. This part of Hawaii has been largely overlooked by mass tourism. If you want the Hawaii experience without the tourist feel , come to heaven. I find it on Maui any time I drop in for a visit.