Wander Off in Maui

1. Where to Stay

Book a cottage on Hana-Maui's grassy knoll, overlooking the ocean.Photo: Courtesy of Hotel Hana-Maui

Get a private cottage or your own room at the four-diamond Hotel Hana-Maui (from $295). The town’s main street crisscrosses the grounds, but you can find isolation by soaking in outdoor whirlpools or swimming in the infinity pool overlooking Hana meadow.

Sleep in a tricked-out yurt—kitchenette, propane barbecue, view of the bay—at Luana Spa (from $150) on Kauiki Hill. Grab a sandwich at the on-site, open-air café and eat it while looking out at the bay.

The island strictly regulates hotels in East Maui, so accommodations can be difficult to come by. Search for weekend rentals online at Hana’s Finest Rentals to find quiet locations with kitchens, views, and occasionally, surf equipment.

2. Where to Eat

Pick up homemade jams and hand-painted coconuts, as well the award-winning banana bread, at Hana Farms.Photo: Courtesy of Hana Farms

Sample the day’s catch from local fishermen at the romantic Mama’s Fish House and Inn. The large restaurant in Kuau Cove, just off the beach on the road between Paia and Haiku, is pretty much the only place on the north shore of Maui that nods to tropical conventions like mai tais with paper umbrellas.

Watch a bicycle-powered blender whip your smoothie at Laulima Farms (HC 170 Kipahulu; 808-248-8664) in Kipahulu,about twenty miles from Hana. Arrive promptly at 2 p.m. on Saturday to take a tour of the farm.

Dress down in the bar area of the Hotel Hana-Maui, where you can dine on the same menu of fresh fish and organically grown vegetables served in the Ka’uiki restaurant but sans suit jackets and collared shirts.

Snack along the Hana Highway, the largest road in East Maui, where locals make a living easier than anyone else on the planet: They just set up food stands with lunches and fresh fruit at the bottom of their driveways. Between mile markers 27 and 28, Glen Simkins (a.k.a. “Coconut Glen”) serves an island variation of Cracker Jacks (strips of candied coconut replace the popcorn) and vegan coconut-milk ice cream. The Hana Farms stand, at mile marker 31, won the town’s blind banana-bread taste test.

3. What to Do

Find the (slightly) treacherous dirt path that leads to the stunning Red Sand Beach.Photo: bradleypjohnson

There’s no shortage of beaches in Hana and its vicinity, but you’ll have to ask directions for most of them. Take a slightly treacherous dirt path to the dramatic Red Sand Beach for private nude sunbathing. Get the traditional white-sand, palm-frond-waving experience at Hamoa, a few miles out of Hana town. View the stunning volcanic black sand at the end of Wai’anapanapa Road, with a state park beach that includes showers and camping during summer months.

If you’re set on seeing the seven-tiered waterfall at Oheo Gulch, the Big Kahuna of attractions here, make the drive early in the morning. At any other time, too many tourists from the “other side” of the island dilute the power of this very special spot. First, walk along the short path to the main waterfall, then spend the rest of the day hiking through bamboo forest.

Find Studio Maui, the world-class yoga studio buried in a Haiku mini-mall. Several classes in various styles are offered daily, as well as a healthy schedule of guest lectures and teachers. Sign up for a seminar with the great Ram Dass, the spiritual teacher and former Timothy Leary associate, who is spending his last years on the island lecturing about death and dying.

Take a day off from nature-loving to shop in Paia, a hippie town with a surprising array of exciting stores. Begin at Lunaroma Aromatic Apothecary, an aromatherapy shop that attracts celebrity clients like Alanis Morisette and Hilary Duff. A few doors down, find local designer Lisa Letarte Cabrinha’s bikini shop, Letarte Swimwear, with barely there styles that are also a favorite in South Beach and St. Barts, then head over to Argentine ex-pat Tamara Catz’s boutique for floaty daytime beach looks that easily morph into sexy going-out styles.

4. Insider’s Tip

Get an earful of country music, and maybe a star sighting, at Charley's.Photo: dnorman

East Maui’s not much for nightlife, but every once in a while Willie Nelson comes down from his place up the hill to play a few tunes at Charley’s, the honky-tonk spot frequented by his sons. The other spot to hear live music is Casanova, a bustling restaurant in the tiny town of Makawao, where favorites like dub-step D.J. Bassnectar draw a large local crowd.

5. Oddball Day

Traverse several microclimates on a trek inside the Haleakala volcano.Photo: ndanger

Hike way above the clouds in the dormant Haleakala volcano, Maui’s highest peak. Stop beforehand for provisions at Mana Foods, an excellent health-food store in Paia; camping gear can be picked up at the Sports Authority in a mini-mall in Kahului town (nothing is sold on the mountain). There are campsites within the volcano, and the Park Service maintains a few bare-bones redwood cabins (Monday to Friday between 1 and 3 p.m. (808-572-4400; $75) as well—they’re usually booked out months in advance, but many tourists cancel when they realize that there’s some hassle involved with reaching the head of the trails. Everything is well marked, but there is a steep descent in and out. You can usually grab a spot late in the game by calling the hotline, as explained on the Park’s website.

6. Links

Check out Fodor’s guide to the beaches of East Maui, with helpful maps.

Beautiful pictures of Maui East’s hidden treasures can be found at Patrick Smith’s photography site.

A full listing of the culinary options of Paia can be found here, and the same for upcountry villages like Makawao and Kula here.

Wander Off in Maui