Home to some of the most opulent beach resorts in the world, Hawaii’s second-largest island, Maui, has a well-deserved reputation for finery. This is a storybook destination for a romantic getaway, or even a gay wedding, now that the state has legalized same-sex marriage. Maui’s many upscale resorts also offer plenty in the way of golfing, beach fun and spa treatments, but without the crowds and sometimes off-putting high-rise infrastructure of Honolulu. The island is, indeed, far less populated than Oahu (home to Honolulu). It’s a good bet for couples, small groups of friends and families — and less appealing if you’re seeking a conspicuous gay scene (there are no gay bars, although the vibe throughout Maui is completely LGBT-welcoming).
Here’s a look at Maui’s key regions and what each is best known for:
Kaanapali and Lahaina
You’ll find the lion’s share of Maui’s major hotels and resorts on the island’s western shore, which is home to the original master-planned resort, Kaanapali. It opened in the early 1960s and has become a prototype for similar developments elsewhere in the state. This sunny 16-square-kilometre patch of beaches set against dramatic mountains is home to a wealth of name-brand shops, open-air restaurants, renowned golf courses, rental condominiums and five upscale chain hotel resorts. The Hyatt Regency and Westin Maui are especially inviting, with nearby Honua Kai Resort & Spa — featuring large rooms, fully equipped kitchens and expansive sitting areas — a lovely choice as well. Kaanapali is especially popular with families and younger visitors; it’s a bit less pricey than Wailea or the nearby Kapalua resort, which is a short drive north and home to another well-recommended beach retreat, the cushy Ritz-Carlton. This part of the island is perfect if you want to be near gorgeous beaches and have access to every conceivable kind of water sport and recreational endeavour, from sailing to tennis, but it can feel a little crowded.
Kaanapali has another big drawing card: it’s just up the road from historic Lahaina Town, a quaint if somewhat touristy former whaling port whose vintage Hawaiian colonial-style buildings now house upscale restaurants, fine art galleries, snazzy boutiques and a few smaller hotels, including the gay-friendly Plantation Inn. It’s a great little town for watching the sunset, and from the town’s bustling harbour, you can catch ferryboats to Maui’s beautiful and less-crowded neighbour islands, Lanai and Molokai.
Wailea and Kihei
Also facing west, enjoying Maui’s sunniest weather and best sunset views, the elegant Wailea resort, along with its neighbour Makena, is newer, larger and less intensely developed than Kaanapali, and its opportunities for chic shopping, fine dining and luxury spa-going are far more opulent — and expensive. In addition to swank condos, Wailea is home to five top-of-the-line resorts, with the Four Seasons Maui, Grand Wailea and the stylish new Andaz Maui among the most spectacular; all are very popular with well-heeled LGBT travellers. Nearby, gay-friendly Makena Beach & Golf Resort is a somewhat underrated gem that’s a bit more reasonably priced than the Wailea properties and is just a short drive from one of Hawaii’s most celebrated stretches of sand, Makena State Park, a favourite of gay men and lesbians. For the ultimate special-occasion getaway, the Wailea area has few rivals.
Just down the road, the large beachfront town of Kihei has a similarly stunning setting but much more selection in the way of mid-priced restaurants and hotels. This friendly, laid-back town is also home to the state’s largest GLBT property, Maui Sunseeker, a recently renovated boutique resort with a clothing-optional sundeck and nearly 30 rooms, ranging from standards to rangy suites.
The Road to Hana and Maui’s upcountry
Although most visitors to Maui stay and spend much of their time in the Kaanapali/Lahaina and Wailea/Kihei regions, the island has huge tracts of cloud-scraping mountains, lush rain forests and sweeping arid grasslands with little or no commercial development. From the big resort areas, you can easily make day excursions to naturally scenic places like West Maui Forest Reserve, the dramatic Iao Valley and the soaring heights of Haleakala National Park, in which you can drive all the way to the island’s highest peak, Mt Haleakala (elevation 3,055 metres). Along the mountain’s slopes, at less lofty elevations of 600 to 1,200 metres, funky towns like Kula and Makawao are home to relaxing cafés, galleries and agricultural-based attractions like Surfing Goat Dairy (which produces amazing goat cheese), Tedeschi Vineyards winery and Alii Kula Lavender Farm.
It takes a full day to explore what’s arguably Maui’s most stunning region via the “Road to Hana,” an 88-kilometre drive that winds around the island’s verdant and secluded southeast coast. You start in the cool little surfing town of Paia, which is home to several quirky little restaurants and galleries, then drive along a wildly winding road that passes trailheads for cascading waterfalls and fern-shaded picnic grottos, before reaching the sleepy town of Hana, home to what may be the island’s best hideaway for tranquil relaxation, Travaasa Hana. Spending a night or two here is a good way to break up the long drive, and the restaurant and spa at Travaasa are both amazing. You can drive back to central Maui by returning the way you came or by continuing along a patchy, narrow road that passes several isolated beaches before leading into Maui’s upcountry, where you can access the Surfing Goat, Tedeschi and Alii Lula Lavender before returning to the island’s main resort areas. If you’d prefer some local knowledge and camaraderie while exploring Hana, consider booking a guided trip with gay-owned No Ka Oi Adventures, which offers full-day and overnight trips to Hana as well as treks to other parts of Maui.
For more on getting to know the Aloha state, check out the feature Hawaii 101.