Maui Natural Adventures

Branch out while you're in Maui; do something you wouldn't normally do--after all, you're on vacation. Below is a list of adventures we highly recommend. Some are a bit pricey, but these splurges are worth every penny.

Scuba Diving: You're in love with snorkeling and the chance to view the underwater world, but it's just not enough--you want to get closer and see even more. Take an introductory scuba dive; after a brief lesson on how to use the diving equipment, you'll plunge into the deep to swim with the tropical fish and go eyeball to eyeball with other marine critters.

Skimming over the Ocean in a Kayak: Glide silently over the water, hearing only the sound of your paddle dipping beneath the surface. This is the way the early Hawaiians traveled along the coastline. You'll be eye level and up close and personal with the ocean and the coastline, exploring areas you can't get to any other way. Venture out on your own, or go with an experienced guide--either way, you won't be sorry.

Exploring a Lava Tube: Most people come to Maui to get outdoors and soak up some Hawaiian sunshine, but don't miss the opportunity to see firsthand how volcanic islands were formed. With Maui Cave Adventures (tel. 808/248-7308), you can hike into the subterranean passages of a huge, extinct lava tube with 40-foot (12m) ceilings--an offbeat adventure and a geology lesson you won't soon forget.

Seeing the Stars from Inside a Volcanic Crater: Driving up to see the sunrise is a trip you'll never forget, but to really experience Haleakala, plan to hike in and spend the night. To get a feel for why the ancient Hawaiians considered this one of the most sacred places on the island, you simply have to wander into the heart of the dormant volcano, where you'll find some 27 miles (43km) of hiking trails, two camping sites, and three cabins.

Hiking to a Waterfall: There are waterfalls and there are waterfalls; the magnificent 400-foot (120m) Waimoku Falls, in Oheo Gulch outside of Hana, are worth the long drive and the uphill hike you have to take to get there. The falls are surrounded by lush green ferns and wild orchids, and you can even stop to take a dip in the pool at the top of Makahiku Falls on the way.

Flying over the Remote West Maui Mountains: Your helicopter streaks low over razor-thin cliffs, then flutters past sparkling waterfalls and down into the canyons and valleys of the inaccessible West Maui Mountains. There's so much beauty to absorb that it all goes by in a rush. You'll never want to stop flying over this spectacular, surreal landscape--and it's the only way to see the dazzling beauty of the prehistoric area of Maui.

Taking a Drive on the Wild Side: Mother Nature's wild side, that is--on the Kahekili Highway on Maui's northeast coast. This back-to-nature experience will take you past ancient Hawaiian heiau (temples); along steep ravines; and by rolling pastures, tumbling waterfalls, exploding blowholes, crashing surf, and jagged lava coastlines. You'll wander through the tiny Hawaiian village of Kahakuloa and around the "head" of Maui to the Marine Life Conservation Area of Honolua-Mokuleia and on to the resort of Kapalua. You'll remember this adventure for years.

Riding a Mule to Kalaupapa: Even if you have only 1 day to spend on Molokai, spend it on a mule. The Molokai Mule Ride (tel. 800/567-7550) trek from "topside" Molokai to the Kalaupapa National Historic Park (Father Damien's world-famous leper colony) is a once-in-a-lifetime adventure. The cliffs are taller than 300-story skyscrapers, and the narrow 3-mile (4km) trail includes 26 dizzying switchbacks, but Buzzy Sproat has never lost one of his trustworthy mules (or any riders) on the difficult trail. The mules make the trek daily, rain or shine.

Taking the Plunge: Don mask, fins, and snorkel, and explore the magical world beneath the surface of the ocean, where kaleidoscopic clouds of tropical fish flutter by exotic corals; a sea turtle might even come over to check you out. Molokini is everyone's favorite snorkeling destination, but the shores of Maui are lined with magical spots as well. Can't swim? No problem: Hop on the Atlantis Submarine (tel. 800/548-6262) for a plunge beneath the waves without getting wet.

Hunting for Whales on Land: No need to shell out megabucks to go out to sea in search of humpback whales--you can watch these majestic mammals breach and spy hop from shore. We recommend scenic McGregor Point, at mile marker 9 along Honoapiilani Highway, just outside Maalaea in South Maui. The humpbacks arrive as early as November, but the majority travel through Maui's waters from mid-December to mid-April.

Watching the Windsurfers: Sit on a grassy bluff or stretch out on the sandy beach at Hookipa, on the north shore, and watch the world's top-ranked windsurfers twirling and dancing on the wind and waves like colorful butterflies. World championship contests are held at Hookipa, one of the greatest windsurfing spots on the planet.

Experiencing Maui's History: Wander the historic streets of the old whaling town of Lahaina, where the 1800s are alive and well thanks to the efforts of the Lahaina Restoration Society. Drive the scenic Kahekili Highway, where the preserved village of Kahakuloa looks much as it did a century ago. Stand in awe at Piilanihale, Hawaii's largest heiau (temple), located just outside Hana.

Greeting the Rising Sun from Haleakala's Summit: Bundle up in warm clothing, fill a thermos full of hot java, and drive up to the summit to watch the sky turn from inky black to muted charcoal as a small sliver of orange forms on the horizon. Standing at 10,000 feet (3,048m), breathing in the rarefied air, and watching the first rays of light streak across the sky is a mystical experience of the first magnitude.

Exploring a Different Hawaii--Upcountry Maui: On the slopes of Haleakala, cowboys, farmers, ranchers, and other country people make their homes in serene, neighborly communities like Makawao, Kula, and Ulupalakua--worlds away from the bustling beach resorts. Acres of onions, lettuce, tomatoes, carrots, cabbage, and flowers cover the hillsides. Maui's only winery is located here, offering the perfect place for a picnic and a chance to sample the tropical varieties of paradise.

Driving Through a Tropical Rain Forest: The Hana Highway is not just a "drive" but an adventure: Stop along the way to plunge into icy mountain ponds filled by cascading waterfalls; gaze upon vistas of waves pummeling soaring ocean cliffs; inhale the sweet aroma of blooming ginger; and take a walk back in time, catching a glimpse of what Hawaii looked like before concrete condos and fast-food joints washed ashore.

Taking a Day Trip to Lanai: From Lahaina, join Trilogy Excursions' snorkel cruise to Lanai (tel. 800/874-2666), or take the Expeditions Lahaina/Lanai Passenger Ferry over and rent a four-wheel-drive Jeep on your own. It's a two-for-one island experience: Board in Lahaina Harbor and admire Maui from offshore, then get off at Lanai and go snorkeling in the clear waters, tour the tiny former plantation island, and catch the last ferry home