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Article Source: Copyright © 2012 by Fodor’s Travel, a division of Random House Inc. All rights reserved.
When Maui's cash crop declined in importance, a group of visionaries opened an agricultural theme park on the site of this former sugarcane field. The 60-acre preserve offers a 30-minute tram ride with an informative narration covering the growing process and plant types. Children will enjoy such hands-on activities as coconut husking. Also here are an art gallery, a restaurant, and a store specializing in "Made in Maui" products. www.mauitropicalplantation.com. COST: Free; $15 for tram ride. OPEN: Daily 9--5.
You'll feel as though you're walking from the seashore down to the bottom of the reef at this aquarium, which focuses on creatures of the Pacific. Vibrant exhibits let you get close to turtles, rays, sharks, and the unusual creatures of the tide pools; allow two hours or so to explore it all. It's not an enormous facility, but it does provide an excellent (though pricey) introduction to the sea life that makes Hawaii special. The center is part of a complex of retail shops and restaurants overlooking the harbor. Enter from Honoapiilani Highway as it curves past Maalaea Harbor. www.mauioceancenter.com. COST: $25.50. OPEN: Sept.--June, daily 9--5; July and Aug., daily 9--6.
Hawaiian and Polynesian species are cultivated at this fascinating 7-acre garden, including Hawaiian bananas, local varieties of sweet potatoes and sugarcane, native poppies, hibiscus, and anapanapa, a plant that makes a natural shampoo when rubbed between your hands. Reserve ahead for the ethnobotany tours that are offered four times a week. Self-guided tour booklets cost $4. www.mnbg.org. COST: Free. OPEN: Mon.--Sat. 8--4.
Although it's commonly known as Big Beach, this part of the shoreline is correctly called Oneloa, meaning "long sand." That's exactly what it is—a huge stretch of heavenly golden powder without a house or hotel in sight. More than a decade ago, Maui citizens campaigned successfully to preserve this beloved beach from development. It's still wild, lacking in modern amenities (such as plumbing) but frequented by dolphins and turtles; sunsets are glorious. At the end of the beach farthest from Wailea, skim boarders catch air. On the opposite end rises the beautiful hill called Puu Olai, a perfect cinder cone. A climb over the steep rocks at this end leads to Little Beach, which, although technically illegal, is clothing-optional. On Sunday, it's a mecca for drummers and island gypsies. On any day of the week watch out for the mean shore break—those crisp, aquamarine waves are responsible for more than one broken arm. www.hawaiistateparks.org. COST: Free. OPEN: Weekdays 6--6.
This well-kept garden has assimilated itself naturally into its craggy 8-acre habitat. There are 2,500 species of plants and trees here including native koa (prized by woodworkers) and kukui (the state tree, a symbol of enlightenment). There is also a good selection of proteas, the flowering shrubs that have become a signature flower crop of Upcountry Maui. A flowing stream feeds into a koi pond; nene and ducks roam; and a paved pathway dotted with benches meanders throughout the grounds. www.kulabotanicalgarden.com. COST: $10. OPEN: Daily 9--4.
Picnic facilities dot the landscape of this county park, a memorial to Maui's cultural roots. Among the interesting displays are an early-Hawaiian hale (house), a New England-style saltbox, a Portuguese-style villa with gardens, and dwellings from such other cultures as China and the Philippines. Next door, the Hawaii Nature Center has excellent interactive exhibits and hikes easy enough for children.
Originally named Maui Central Park, Keopuolani Park got its name after schoolchildren argued before the county council that it be named for Hawaii's most revered queen, who was born near here and was forced to flee across the mountains before the arrival of Kamehameha the Great's army. This 101-acre park includes seven playing fields and a running path, gym, pool, skate park, and grass amphitheater. OPEN: Daily 7--7.
Natural wetlands have become rare in the Islands, and the 700 acres of this reserve attract migratory birds and other wildlife. Long-legged stilts casually dip their beaks into the shallow waters as traffic shuttles by. Sharp-eyed birders may catch sight of migratory visitors such as osprey. Interpretive signs on the boardwalk explain how the endangered hawksbill turtles return to the sandy dunes year after year. The boardwalk stretches along the coast by North Kihei Road; the main entrance to the reserve is on Mokulele Highway. A new visitor center with the reserve headquarters and exhibits provides a good introduction. www.fws.gov/kealiapond. COST: Free. OPEN: Weekdays 7:30--4.
When Mark Twain saw this park, he dubbed it the Yosemite of the Pacific.Yosemite it's not, but it is a lovely deep valley with the curious "Iao Needle," a spire that rises more than 2,000 feet from the valley floor. You can walk from the parking lot across Iao Stream and explore the thick, junglelike topography. This park has some lovely short strolls on paved paths, where you can stop and meditate by the edge of a stream or marvel at the native plants. Locals come to jump from the rocks or bridge into the stream—this isn't recommended. Mist often rises if there has been a rain, which makes being here even more magical. Parking is $5. www.hawaiistateparks.org. COST: Free. OPEN: Daily 7--7.
Nowhere else on Earth can you drive from sea level to 10,023 feet in only 38 miles. And what's more shocking—in that short vertical ascent to the summit of the volcano Haleakala you'll journey from lush, tropical-island landscape to the stark, moonlike basin of the volcano's enormous, otherworldly crater.