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Maui, HI

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DescriptionIn Hawai‘i, appetizers are called pūpū. If Maui were on a menu, it would surely be the ultimate pūpū sampler platter. Each Hawaiian island has its specialties, but people who know Maui know “The Valley Isle” has it all.

For starters, the beaches are some of the most beautiful in the state and are often ranked among the best on the planet. Looking for rain forest and waterfalls? The famous Hāna Highway is hands down the ultimate jungle adventure drive in Hawai‘i. Volcano? Maui has one of those, too. Sure, it hasn’t oozed lava in more than 200 years, but watching the sunrise from atop 10,023-foot-high Haleakalā is an ethereal experience you won’t soon forget.

Sunsets are best viewed from Maui’s leeward shore, where you’ll find the bulk of the island’s lodgings. Resorts and condos line west Maui’s palm-fringed coast from the old whaling port of Lahaina north to Kapalua. Just beyond it, sea life teems beneath the surface of Honolua Bay, a snorkeling favorite and a magnet for surfers during big winter swells. West Maui also claims Kā‘anapali Beach, a resort-backed strand that caters to sun-and-fun seekers with lively restaurants, bars and shops.

Lahaina, once the capital of Kamehameha the Great’s Hawaiian kingdom, is now the west side’s go-to town for tourist-geared dining, shopping and nightlife. While some gripe Lahaina has become a tacky tourist trap, naysayers are outnumbered by those who champion Lahaina’s intriguing art galleries, top-flight restaurants and wonderful old wooden buildings with fascinating histories to match.

West Maui’s dramatic backdrop, Mauna Kahalewai (the summit is 5,788-foot Pu‘u Kukui), is the older of the two volcanoes that formed the island. The 7-mile-wide isthmus that links it to Haleakalā in the south usually is credited with giving Maui the nickname “The Valley Isle.”

At the western foot of hulking Haleakalā lies south Maui, the leeward shore’s other resort area. With affordable condos and hotels in the town of Kīhei and swank digs (think Fairmont and Four Seasons) in Wailea, the area attracts a mix of middle-class travelers, high-income honeymooners and moneyed duffers who tee off at some of the country’s finest golf courses. The swimming and sunbathing along this coast are outstanding. And the snorkeling rarely disappoints, especially at the off-shore sunken crater of Molokini, where visibility averages 150 eye-popping feet.

Six miles off Maui’s southwest coast is the 45-square-mile island of Kaho‘olawe. Between the early 1940s and 1990 it was used as a U.S. Navy bombing range. A restoration and revegetation process is expected to take 200 years to complete. Ownership of the island was returned to the state of Hawai‘i in 2003, but the site is not open to the general public at this time.

Hawaiian trade winds cool Maui’s windward east coast and the north shore of the isthmus, where many of the island’s 145,000 residents dwell in the towns of Wailuku and Kahului. Just southwest, mammoth Haleakalā rises from the central flatlands, its summit typically crowned with a halo of clouds.

The volcano’s vast northern slope is called Upcountry. A land of rolling hills, grassy ranches, yuppie enclaves and old paniolo (Hawaiian cowboy) towns, Upcountry is Maui’s high-altitude answer to the tropical beach stereotypes of tourist brochures. On the opposite side of Haleakalā, where the southeastern flank meets the sea, rain forest greenery abounds in the form of Hāna and the lush ‘Ohe‘o Gulch.

On paper Maui is flawless, but in reality the island faces the inevitable problems that come with a steady stream of more than 2 million visitors a year. Traffic in west Maui can slow to a maddening crawl during commute hours. And finding parking at popular beaches can sometimes result in a frustrating, fruitless search, especially in peak summer months.

Island residents take it all in stride, though, and so should you. The people of Maui are friendly and low-key and move at a laid-back “Hawai‘i time” pace. If you’ve come to truly relax, it’s wise to follow their lead. Locals often say “Maui nō ka ‘oi,” which means “Maui is the best.” Is it? Considering the beauty found throughout the Hawaiian Islands, that’s a tough call. But one thing is certain: Arriving at your conclusion is a fine way to spend a vacation.

Gray Line offers sightseeing tours; phone (808) 833-3000 or (888) 206-4531.

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Maui, HI

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