Traveling to Maui on a budget? Here's how to have an amazing first day.
It’s no secret that Hawaii is a favourite destination of mine and I've been thinking back fondly about our recent trip to Maui, in February 2012. I wish we were going back sooner as opposed to later! Getting to Maui is no small feat – it required about 20 hours of travel: Arriving a few hours early at the airport, two 6 hour flights, a 4 hour break in between, an hour plus drive when landed. But despite travel fatigue and general jet leg, I think we did a great job of managing our first 24 hours in Maui.
We arrived in Lahaina just as the sun was setting. While it was only 7pm or so there, we felt like it was 3am our time! We found our lovely rental apartment easily and took a few minutes to check it out. A previous guest had left behind some local coffee and we brewed it up to get us going.
I had researched in advance a number of local restaurants so we could make an easy decision about supper. We enjoyed a 10 minute walk through the town, along the waterfront to the Cool Cat Cafe. It was a great choice for us – relaxed atmosphere, familiar food with a local twist, hot and hearty. And I had my first pina colada of the trip! I also learned the first of many Maui budget lessons – the burgers were a great deal, but the side dishes were not! (And, really, what burger joint charges extra for fries?)
We spent an extra 20 minutes or so walking through the main part of town, as it was the monthly Friday Arts Night. We picked up a few essentials for the next morning and went back to our new home to enjoy some solid sleep.
The next morning we were up before 4am local time. fortunately for us, it felt like sleeping in back home! We had a light breakfast with the provisions we picked up the night before, and prepped our car with thermos of hot coffee and chocolate, extra sweaters, and blankets. We were on route to Haleakala National Park! Going to see the sunrise at Haleakala is a highlight of the Maui experience – an incredible display of the beauty of nature and for many it’s a spiritual experience as well.
The ride to Haleakala may look short on a map, but don’t be deceived. A considerable portion of the drive involves a never-ending series of hairpin switchbacks that are unnerving to say the least. Before entering the park gates, we saw a number of roadside coffee and breakfast stands, which would allow travelers to stock up on hot drinks for the ride – Haleakala can be freezing cold in the morning! We had purchased an American National Parks Pass the previous summer, so we were happy to enjoy free admission.
After watching the incredible sunrise, we enjoyed a leisurely drive back down the mountain, stopping at scenic lookouts and admiring the nene birds. We also did a short nature walk on one of the many trails – and in “touristy” Maui, we were the only people there, enjoying views of exotic trees from around the world.
When we finally exited the park, it wasn't even 9:00 am. We drove – with a few wrong turns – to Grandma’s Coffeehouse in southern Maui. We had a huge breakfast on the balcony, enjoying coffee harvested just feet away, and relaxed as a local guitar player entertained us and the coffeehouse cat slunk around, searching for dropped tidbits. Grabbing some banana nut bread for the road (the first of many loaves), we made our way to our next stop.
All alone in Maui on our nature walk.
The Surfing Goat Dairy is a really unique experience. In the heart of central Maui’s farmland, it’s a cheerful oasis of chevre production. We visited with adorable kids (baby goats, that is, not children) who were sweet and affectionate with us, and did their best to be aggressive with each other – producing hilarious results. We picked up cheese, of course, and goat’s milk soap before making our next stop – the beach!
We weren't really planning a beach stop just yet, but when we got to the coast, we couldn't resist pulling over and walking out into the scorching sand and dipping our feet into the Pacific. It seems that with each stop we removed a layer of clothing and now finally we were down to bare legs! We could have stayed there forever, but at this point it wasn't even noon and jet leg was starting to take its toll.
We made a final stop on the way home in Maalaea to check out the offerings of the Pacific Whale Foundation and get some famous local ice-cream by Roselani (pineapple and chocolate macadamia, for those curious). Once back in Lahaina, we took a well deserved nap – jetlag was hitting me hard! Part of me felt guilty, wasting beautiful Hawaiian sunshine on a 2 hour nap. But, hey, it’s vacation!
Once recovered, we got our act together and set off in search of a beach. A few that were well recommended to us were a bit of a bust – no parking to be had. But we persevered and were thrilled with the Fleming Beach Park. There were just enough waves to have fun with and it felt great to really be in the ocean again. We enjoyed several hours of frolicking before tiring out, heading home to BBQ and relax on the lanai.
After all this, our day wasn't over! As luck would have it, long-lost university friends were in town and we made plans to meet up at Betty’s Beach Cafe – and we were in for such a treat! Not only was it happy hour, with huge double mai tais for $5, but our table also overlooked an outdoor Polynesian restaurant and we got to see some fire-dancing while we reunited with friends. We had a great time at Betty’s and returned several times afterwards. It was one of Lahaina's best kept secrets in my opinion.
Our first day 24 hours in Maui may seem hectic on paper, but it also included a lot of napping, so it didn't feel too rushed. We were wise to take advantage of the jetlag, making the early trip to Haleakala an easy one. We made the best of Haleakala’s location to visit nearby, but more isolated gems. We stopped to take advantage of nice things we saw, and were flexible when things didn't go as planned. We pushed through fatigue to meet with friends – and probably helped kill off some jetlag in the process. We got to experience natural beauty, outdoor fitness, local cuisine, coffee, music – goats! - swimming, socializing, music, culture, and delicious mai-tais in less than 24 hours – a perfect start to a great vacation and a great introduction to life on Maui.
As always, I welcome and encourage your comments. Have you ever experienced a dream first day when you've traveled?
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