There was a time when people would say that you could pick the island and decade you wanted to live in. Oahu was the ‘80s, Kauai was the ‘60s, and Maui was the ‘70s. That’s changed in the last ten years, Oahu is now the 2000s, Maui is the ‘90s, but Kauai is still the ‘60s, maybe ‘65.
Maui has been discovered; its laid-back lifestyle, white sand beaches, and peaceful villages have been replaced with new condo projects and luxury resorts, each one striving to outdo the others. Quaint Lahaina, the former whaling village, is now very touristy with every kind of food joint, bar, and souvenir shop you can imagine. Here you will find whale-watching ships, tour boats, and tour buses. Along with all these is an endless stream of traffic and some of the worst parking on the island. If you can find a municipal lot with space, park it and walk—you’ll thank me.
Just north of here is another area called Ka’anapali or Whaler’s Village. Where Lahaina is “shop till you drop,” Ka’anapali is where you actually drop. The coastline is one luxury resort after another, with a shopping/entertainment area dead center. We stayed in a condo here. It’s off the main drag, quiet, and with a great beach and excellent walkway—plus it’s only a mile or so to the local shopping center and grocery stores. Not to mention every resort has its own bar and restaurant with nightly entertainment, Mai Tai anyone?
Like a foil-wrapped chocolate, the real prize with Maui is at the center, or nugget. Once past the foil gilt of the resorts and golf clubs you have a remote/local area that will take your breath away, and the roads aren’t bad either. If you look at a map of Maui it kind of looks like a bust, the head being northwest Maui and the torso being southeast Maui. Unlike Oahu, there are no major freeways here; just two “wrap” roads, which follow the coastline on each side and several bisecting roads that lead to the major cities of Kahului and Wailuku.
In west Maui, take Highway 30 from Wailuku around all of the west side until it turns into Highway 340 and heads back to Wailuku. It’s about a two hour drive through some of the best scenery you ever laid eyes on. This roadway starts its “rural” change north of Ka’anapali and doesn’t get civilized again until Waihe’e. The road follows the coastline turn for turn, dip for dip, crawling along cliff edges. Many times it’s only one-way, and that one-way is for whoever gets there first. This makes a bike a very nice thing indeed. Did I mention the scenery is breathtaking? With the surf pounding the ragged coastline and tiny little villages clinging to the hillsides, it’s really like you’re on a different island. There are no condos here, only open grazing land and cattle grates to cross. There are no gas stations or stores here either, so bring what you need, or go without. The road surface is a patchwork quilt with rockslides from minor to major a reality. All in all, it’s a great ride; only make sure you’re out of there before dark.
As much fun as Highway 30 is, it’s only a primer for the granddaddy of them all, the Hanna Highway 36/360 from Kahului to Hana and back. This road follows the northeast and southern coastline, that whole torso area. Between Hana and the rest of Maui is the mountain known as Haleakala, which makes this the wet side, with numerous waterfalls, and washouts too. Again, this is a lightly settled area with the roadway winding and, at many bridge crossings, it’s just one lane. There are locals that drive this daily and it’s best to just pull over and let them pass. An entire story can be written about this roadway alone, but space does not allow. Quite frankly, it’s better to discover it yourself with no preconceived notions, only a sense of adventure. Please don’t let the stories about this road scare you; it’s challenging but not dangerous, unless, of course, you are.
If you still haven’t had enough, there is another “side trip” you may want to try. It’s heading up to the top of Haleakala Mountain for the sunrise, but figure on leaving your hotel by 3 a.m.! There’s one road leading both up and down, and with all the curves it can be a blast. But keep in mind that you’re not alone. Mountain biking down this road is big business, so please leave them enough shoulder to cling to—remember you have the better brakes.
It’s easy to see that Maui can be as wild or mild as you want it to be, depending on your personal sense of adventure and the trust you have in your abilities. I just can’t think of a better place to be tested. Ride on.