Paradise Found: The Best of Maui

By Laura Goldstein

Whether you’ve dreamed of doing the downward dog at a secluded tropical yoga retreat; swimming with Mermaids; exploring secret caves and black sand beaches or eating gourmet Ahi popsicleswhile watching films with celebs under celestial skies, The best of Maui has got it all – and more!

Known as TheValley Isle, Maui is the second largest of the Hawaiian islands and  has been attracting ‘seekers’ to its enchanting healing energy since the hippie days of the 60s (but more recently, tech millionaires to its stunning architectural hideaways.) If you’re planning a visit for the first time or Maui is your annual go-to paradise, here’s some of the best off the beaten track things to experience.

Star Gazing While Food Grazing

Imagine picnicking on the grass with 2,000 cinephiles at the largest drive-in (aka golf course,) watching films under the Milky Way with the likes of Clint Eastwood, Viola Davis, Bryan Cranston and Pierce Brosnan.

If it sounds like cinema heaven, it is,” says founder and director of The Maui Film Festival at Wailea, Barry Rivers. It’s celebrating its 19th iteration this year from June 13th to 17th. “Every June we bring in a great mix of stars and films from indie to big names, docs and island culture. It’s so casual and fun and everyone from the public to the celebrities just mingle at the spectacular outdoor Celestial Cinemaat the Wailea Golf Academy,” Rivers explains.

It’s no surprise that it coincides with Maui’s biggest food festival of the year, the Taste of Wailea.

“The chefs from all the top restaurants and hotels in Wailea come together to show-off our signature dishes even though it’s not really a competition,” laughs Executive Chef Tylun Pang from the Fairmont Kea Lani. Born on the island of O’ahu, Hawaii, Chef Pang has been tantalizing taste buds at Maui’s only all-suite and villas luxury ocean resort for twenty-one years, overseeing four unique restaurants including the award-winning Ko Restaurant.

“Last year my team prepared over 1,500 portions for the Taste of Wailea during the Maui Film Festival and this year I’ll probably do my signature Ahi Tuna On a Stick (think fish popsicles,) because they’re easy to grab and go,” says Chef Pang. “Cubes of locally caught tuna are dipped in macadamia nut oil and seasoned with our special Hawaiian spices and black sesame seeds then seared on a heated stone right there on site.”

Executive Chef Pang’s Kona Coffee Macadamia Nut Ice Creamwas a huge hit with nightly film-goers as the sun went down and he wants to create something equally as decadent this year.

“It’s such a fabulous set-up because guests or visitors of Fairmont Kea Lani can have a unique dinner at the hotel and then we shuttle them directly to the Film Festival and bring them home later,” he says.

At the end of the festivities the Maui Film Festival makes a contribution to the Maui Food Bank on behalf of Taste of Wailea.

ULALENA at the Maui Theatre, Lahaina

The old seaport of Lahaina, once an infamously rowdy whaling village in the 1800’s is now a touristy port-of-call for massive cruise liners and a boisterous nightlife. It’s also the home of a spectacular live show at the Maui Theatre that’s not to be missed. ULALENA is part acrobatics, part Broadway musical, depicting the rich history of Maui culture through traditional hula and modern dance, lighting projections and authentic music – 100 instruments are played live. ULALENA is the perfect overview of the fascinating Hawaiian culture and really puts Maui life in perspective as you explore the island yourself.

Swimming With Mermaids

The Fairmont Kea Lani offers guest Mermaids (and Mermen) an opportunity to take classes at Mermaid University! Mermaid 101, (ages 5-7) and 201, (ages 8-12,) teach the art of swimming with a fishtail, glam dress-up and followed by photo sessions. All classes are taught in the pool by qualified Mermaids.

Rainbow Trees, Secret Caves and Black Sand Beaches

Winding along 600 curves on the road to Hana is like careening through the Monaco Grand Prix with your foot on the brake! Located off the Hana Highway it was built by Chinese workers in the 1920s. It’s a 3-hour day trip (don’t forget to bring a bathing suit and bottled water,) leading to the tiny town in East Maui where the grave of historical aviator, Charles Lindbergh lies. But like many of life’s destinations, it’s the journey that’s most memorable. Between cascading waterfalls at the Pools of Oheo don’t miss the spectacular Rainbow Eucalyptus Rainforest around Marker 7; a dense jungle of what appears to be monstrous paint-splattered tree trunks and branches. Vivid streaks of lime green, blue, orange and red beneath peeling bark resembling a child’s plasticine forest, are a species of eucalyptus introduced from Australia in the 1930s to stop soil erosion and absorb water in Maui due to over-logging.

Then continue past Mile Marker 32 to explore two underground caves formed by an ancient volcano and take a dip in the freshwater pool at Wai’anapanapa State Park. Hidden blow-holes surround Maui’s only black lava sand beach nearby. Keep in mind that black sand is hotter than that of other beaches. It’s a location of cultural significance for Hawaiians as legend has it that a heartbroken Queen took refuge in one of the caves here and sometimes you can hear her crying.

Downward Dog Amid the Palm Trees

Halfway between the funky town of Paia and Makawao on Maui’s North Shore, is the luxurious, Lumeria Yoga Retreat. Built on six acres of a former plantation, Lumeria offers daily classes in yoga, meditation and wellness treatments and is particularly popular as a group retreat. Their activity planners are also happy to help you organize zip-lining, cycling, hiking and even winery tours.

Be A Cowboy or Cowgirl for a Day

If you’ve always thought that cowboys only roamed the wild west, you may be surprised to learn that Makawao, in UpCountry, Maui is the home of the Panioloor Hawaiian cowboy. Located in the region known as UpCounty, on the mid-slopes of the Haleakala volcano, the Paniolo have been wrangling cattle since the 19th century. Every year on the Fourth of July the town holds the largest rodeo competitions in Hawaii. And, several ranches like Piiholo Ranch offer cattle roundup experiences in a safe and exciting setting so you too can play paniolofor the day.