Amanda Jones
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Maui's Wild Side - Hawaii

Written by Amanda Jones for Vogue Entertaining and Travels

How’s this for a statistic: 95% of visitors to the Hawaiian island of Maui stay on the southwestern side of the island— namely in Kapalua, Kaanapali, Lahaina, and Wailea beaches. That makes 2.2 million tourists who annually crowd onto eight miles of high-rise-ified beach. If your mission is solely to cop a tan while ordering up umbrella drinks, I’m afraid you’ll have to join the fray. There’s a reason everyone congregates here—it’s sunny.

But for those whose idea of tropical paradise involves more than just sidling up to bars in coconut oil and lycra, Maui has another side, a wild side, one which offers isolation, stupendous beauty and activity. The northern and eastern coasts are the Hawaii extolled in Michener tales—waterfalls, rainforests, jagged cliffs and staggering views. So what’s the downside? The roads are calamitous and the weather can be wet. Precipitation reaches up to 90 inches a year on the northern shores (most falling at night), and temperatures can plummet to an unthinkable 15 degrees celsius in winter.

To get there it’s advisable to rent a four-wheel drive vehicle then head east, away from the tour buses, umbrella drink bars and shopping malls.  A mere fifteen minutes out of Kahului, you’ll hit Pa`ia, Maui’s genuine hippie haven. By the time you’ve finished your ahi burger at the Pa`ia Fish Market, you’ll possibly consider chucking your day job, sprouting dreadlocks and dropping into the zone with the surf-sadhus. Settle instead for a “Slow Down—This Ain’t The Mainland” t-shirt and continue heading east.

A strong wind tends to blow offshore in the north in late winter (February/March), making it one of the world’s “gnarliest” windsurfing hangouts. And gnarly it is. Fifteen-foot swells crash onto a ragged volcanic shoreline at Hookipa Beach, a spot worth stopping at to witness a few “radical air” maneuvers off the colossal waves.

About 14 miles down the Hana Highway from Pa`ia is an unmarked dirt road leading to one of Maui’s covert Utopias—Huelo Point. A tiny peninsula beside Waipio Bay, Huelo roosts high above a roiling ocean, so remote it’s a favored place for humpback whales to give birth.

There are a number of places to stay in Huelo. The Gazebo room at Huelo Point Flower Farm is tiny but the view is stupendous. The acid test of a true hideaway has to be the nudity radius. Exactly how far can one wander around in the buff. The only things likely to catch you en flagrant in the Gazebo are the humpbacks below and the tourist helicopters above which swoop in to show beach tourists how the “Other Siders” live.

Another secluded place to stay is Pali Uli Estate, which has three elegant walled compounds for rent. Balinese in style, one includes a pool, private garden with aviary and hot tub, a kitchen and two alternative bedrooms, the idea being that you can sleep where the mood strikes, either in a glass octagon by the pool or a sunken pit in the living room.

The next stop after Huelo is Hamoa, a rural area two miles outside Hana. The closer you get to Hana, the denser the rainforest and more dramatic the scenery. The sweeping panoramas from the road exacerbate an already treacherous drive. It’s not uncommon to round a blind corner and there’s a tourist, flabbergasted by the view, stopped mid-road.

When asked where his favorite places were, James Michener reported Hamoa Bay as one of them, “...a beach so perfectly formed that I wonder at its comparative obscurity. Formed in the shape of a half moon, it is rimmed by boulders of lava and guarded by tall, volcanic needles. Pandanus trees line the shore, which offers a crescent of blank-and-silver sand...”

Do what you must to book into Hamoa Bay House and Bungalow. There are two self-contained, Balinese-influenced houses set in an exuberant garden. The bungalow is on stilts, filled with bamboo and teakwood furniture, with a double hammock in the open-air living room and a hot tub on a screened porch. The fabulous rentable main house has all the fixings of a designer home—gourmet kitchen, Indonesian antiques, Japanese steeping tub, daybeds on a screened porch, and an outdoor shower.

The Heavenly Hana Inn is also a gem, a three-suite boutique hotel with Japanese ryokan overtones. Although right in Hana, its meandering garden and exquisitely serene Asian decor deems it a tranquil hideaway.

To experience old Maui, walk out to the Venus Pools, a series of flowing rock ponds that spill onto a hidden beach. The pools were the bath of Queen Kaahumanu, who was born in a Hana cave and became the most influential women in Hawaiian history.

Hana has an exhausting list of areas to be hiked, biked, canoed, and swum. Hike up Oheo Gulch (Seven Pools) in nearby Kipahulu, with its massive emerald bamboo forest and Waimoku falls, an imposing 400-foot deluge of water.

Leaving Hamoa, you quickly enter the desolate southeastern end of the island with blackened lava fields covering the stark flanks of Haleakala. There are seven different climate zones along the slopes of the extinct volcano, the crater of which is 25 miles square. With minor reconfiguring, the entire city of Manhattan would fit inside it. The road up to the crater (from Kula) is a recommended detour, the yawning abyss being a remarkable sight. 

The drive around the southern end of Maui goes quickly, with not much to look at but dried lava. Then you’re heading north again and into lush rolling pasture and the manicured grapevines of Tedeschi winery. In the hazy distance are the turquoise waters of Makena and Wailea and the dense developments ringing their creamy sands. Stop at Grandma’s Coffee House in Ulupalakua for the best sandwich on Maui and your last taste of the “Wild Side”.

Travel Notes:

Huelo Point Flower Farm:
phone (808) 572-1850
Price: Ranging from $150-$425 per night, double occupancy

A’apali Ocean Outlook at Pali Uli Estate:
phone (800) 861-9566 or (808) 573-0693
Price: $295-475 per night, double occupancy

Where to Eat near Huelo:

All these accommodations have a kitchen in them, but a string of great restaurants are about 20 minutes away:

Pa`ia Fish Market serves basic fish dishes and burgers. 808-579-8030

Haliimaile General Store is one of the best-known restaurants on Maui, serving gourmet fusion cuisine. 808-572-2666

Mama’s Fish House is a more casual place, serving fusion Hawaiian food, things like purple sweet potatoes and fish. 808-579-8488

Head upcountry through rainforest to Cassanova’s for wood-fired pizza or coconut swordfish. They also have live music and dancing, so if you want to make a night of it, this is the place: 808-572-0220.

Hamoa Bay House and Bungalow
phone (808) 248-7884
Price: $195-350 USD/ night

Heavenly Hana Inn
phone (808) 248-8442
Price: $185-$250
(Three suites in total)

Where to Eat:

Hana is currently cuisine-challenged to say the least. Hotel Hana Maui is the only decent place to eat, and the word “decent” is somewhat of a stretch. However, it has recently been bought by a very upscale hotel management company, so there is hope for improvement shortly. 808-248-8211

The Ranch Restaurant in Hana is adequate for lack of anything better, serving typical American food, fish, steak, ribs, and pizza. 808-248-8255

Fortunately guests at the Hamoa Bay Bungalow have the marvellous option of ordering a private cook (and masseuse) to come and prepare meals. There is also a kitchen where guests can prepare their own food.

Try Hawaii’s Best Bed and Breakfasts as an alternative source for finding accommodations on Maui. They pride themselves in representing Hawaii’s “finest hidden gems.” (800) 262-9912 or (808) 885-4550., email

Things to consider: The Nahiku Pi Gallery near Hana has local arts and sculpture, and the store in the Hotel Hana Maui sells the Flax line of hip linen clothing. There is also a Flax Outback outlet store on the southeastern end of the island in Kaupo. 808-248-8054.