Maui is the activity hub of the islands. Think of something to do in Hawai‘i, chances are you can do it here. Jet skiing, horseback riding and snorkeling are only a few of the guided tours offered, and there are an endless number of things you can do on your own. This is where personal responsibility comes in. We describe places to go that can give you incredible experiences, but there are several factors that limit what you should do or when you can do them. There is no substitute for using your own observations and common sense to decide if you feel comfortable going up a trail, wading into the surf or paddling out past a reef. There are, however, some suggestions that we have compiled after 20 years of exploring these islands to consider before embarking on your own adventure.
First things first
- Besides jet lag, the hazard that by far affects the most people is the sun. Maui, at 20° latitude, receives sunlight more directly than anywhere on the mainland. (The more overhead the sunlight is, the less atmosphere it filters through.) Unless you want to spend your vacation hiding from the sun in a dark hotel room, make sure that you wear a strong sunscreen, and re-apply often.
- Weather—It’s important to check the weather conditions in the morning, before you go out. Keep in mind that things can, and do change quickly and tropical weather is not to be underestimated. For current weather forecasts, call the NWS weather report at 866-944-5025 or check out their website.
- Hydrate! We can’t emphasize this enough. Bring and drink lots of water when you are out and about, especially when hiking. By the time you feel thirst, you’re already dehydrated.
- Know your limits. The guys usually have the hardest time with this one (especially after some liquid aloha). Ocean currents, steep and slippery trails as well as changing weather are conditions that can humble even the most able bodied athletes.
The ocean is one the biggest draws of Maui. Most everything is centered around the plethora (we love that word) of activities that you can do on or in the water. Unfortunately, Hawai‘i is also the drowning capital of the U.S. Most folks don’t realize how powerful the surf can be here. Maui has the added factor of strong winds being funneled down the central valley and around the western coast. This increases the wind and surf to moderate conditions on most days, requiring respect and caution on the part of the ocean goer. Don’t get us wrong. There are calm days with little wind and glassy water, but that’s not the norm. There are also the high surf days when it’s best to watch the show from the beach (or take a hike—literally). Don’t make the mistake of underestimating the ocean’s power. We don’t want you to be one of the statistics.
- The most serious water hazard is the surf. In general, beaches are calmer in the summer (with south-facing beaches calmer in the winter). Keep in mind that high surf can be found anywhere on the island at any time of the year. For a surf forecast, call the Surf News Network at 808-572-7873, visit their website or go to our weather and surf page.
- Rip currents can be frightening, but not panicking can be what saves your life. If you find yourself swimming towards the shore—but people on the beach appear to be getting smaller—you’re caught in a rip current. Stop…don’t panic. Do not try to swim against it back to shore. Swim parallel to the shore until you break away from the current’s hold, then swim toward shore. For more info, visit the NOAA page on rip currents.
- Even on land, you must keep an eye on the ocean. Large “rogue waves” can be created far out at sea and come ashore with no warning. Many people have been caught unaware by large waves during ostensibly “calm seas.” Never turn your back on the ocean.
- Would you believe that cold temperatures can be a threat in Hawai‘i? Hyporthermia can happen anywhere, even in the tropics. You lose more body heat in the water than you might realize. Consider a light wetsuit if you’re going to be swimming or snorkleing for more than an hour. It helps you float and prevents sunburn too.
- The following Maui beaches should have lifeguard stations, though keep in mind that they may only be around from 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. They are D.T. Fleming and Hanaka‘o‘o in West Maui, the three Kama‘oles in Kihei, Big Beach in Makena, and H.A. Baldwin, Ho‘okipa and Kanaha near Kahului. Also Hana Bay in the summer.
- Recognizing a distressed swimmer can be difficult, but someone calling for help is a sure sign. If you notice trouble in the water, call 911 immediately, then attempt to get help (lifeguard). Only assist if you have the proper training. Know your limitations. All too often the would-be rescuer becomes victim number two.
- Avoid swimming alone. Two or more people is more fun anyway.
- Though some people (like us) will purposely look for sharks—well, reef sharks, anyway—most visitors want to avoid them. To decrease the chance of this you should never swim in the mouth of a river nor swim in murky water. Sharks love these conditions because they can sneak up on prey. Sorry about all the shark talk. You’re statistically more likely to choke to death on a bone at a lu‘au than get taken out by Jaws. But just want to keep you akamai (smart or clever) about them.
- Don’t let small children play in or near the water unsupervised.
- Fins…we can’t stress this enough. Fins give you far more power and speed than going barefoot. They are a good safety device, and can get you out of trouble fast. They can give you considerable peace of mind in addition to opening up the underwater world.
- Water shoes can be the difference between a great beach stroll and an expletive-laced hobble over sharp rocks. These water-friendly wonders could be the best investment you’ll ever make. We bring them with us whenever we go to any beach.
- Some Safety Links For Maui:
Rainforests, volcanic fields, rocky coastlines, waterfalls and impossibly steep canyons. Maui has ’em all. It’s been said that you pass through more ecological zones going from the top of the volcanic mountains to the ocean here than you do driving from Canada to Mexico. Adventure can be found most anywhere in Hawai‘i, but like with the ocean, personal responsibility is integral and preparedness can mean the difference between the trip of a lifetime and a trip to the emergency room.
- Know where you are. This advice may seem obvious, but if you’re lost or stuck and can make an emergency call, you want to be able to explain where you are. Take note of your surroundings. Emergency calls from cell phones should transmit locational info, but knowing the name of the area, road and/or trail you will be on before heading out is part of personal responsibility. Also, stay on marked trails whenever possible. Our geo-aware smartphone app will insure you always know where you are. You did download it, right?
- If you want to stay on top of what hiking is available to you, contact the Hawai‘i DLNR Division of State Parks at 808-274-3444. Also, the trails division of DLNR, called Na Ala Hele has a complete list of maintained trials and closures.
- Let someone know where you are going, what direction you’ll be traveling and when you plan to return. This could be someone in your party who stays behind or even the hotel concierge.
- Be prepared. Sturdy footwear—not flip-flops—are important, especially on rough terrain. Plenty of water, snacks, rain gear, and small first aid kit will keep you ahead of the game.
- If you find yourself lost and you call for help, stay where you are. It can make the difference between spending a few hours lost in the jungle, or a few days…or worse.
- Jumping off of waterfalls, rocks or cliffs can be dangerous. Heck, we admit. We’ve done it. If you simply can’t stop yourself, we empathize. But check out what’s below the water’s surface before taking the plunge. (Visualize a hidden tree branch on a stout tree sticking up right where you want to land. Can we say the word, impale?) Even then, we’ve seen people get pretty banged up, so try to resist the temptation.
- Don’t trespass. Please, respect private property signs. Even if you come across one on seemingly public land, we advise you to turn around. We have a very descriptive description of the situation in our Basics chapter.
- Flash Floods are one of the most common ways for hikers to get into trouble. They can occur at anytime, but the wetter, winter months increase the chances of one occurring. It doesn’t have to be raining where you are for a flash flood to occur. That tiny trickle of water you cross in the morning can turn into an dangerous whitewater river in a matter of minutes. On Maui, the most popular hiking areas where flash flooding occurs are ‘Iao Valley and ‘Ohe‘o Gulch. Generally, the north shore (windward) gets the most rain. Current alerts can be found at the National Weather Service website.
Keeping Valuables Safe
Though Hawai‘i can be idyllic in many ways, we are not without our problems. Crimes do happen here, too, mainly petty theft. There are some things you can do that can prevent you from having to spend your time on the phone canceling your credit cards.
- Car break-ins can be a problem anywhere. Don’t leave anything of value in your car. (Well, maybe the seats can stay.) It takes only seconds to break a window, pop open a trunk, and grab everything in sight. Thieves are good at this and some specialize on waiting for people to go on a hike or jump on a boat, knowing they now have plenty of time after you leave. Plan on what you’ll need for the day and make sure you can carry it with you wherever you go (bringing a backpack is a great idea). If you do need to leave stuff behind, the trunk is your best bet. But put your items in there before you get to the trail or the dock. Seeing someone put something in the trunk just invites the crow bar to come out. The best rule to follow is: if you don’t need it, don’t take it.
- Limit valuables you take with you for the day. Take just a single card and small amount of cash with you and leave the rest in the safe. If something happens and your wallet or purse gets lost or stolen then one quick call and it’s canceled. Then you’ll still have some backup at the hotel you can use until the new Amex arrives. Make sure you have a secure place to store items. Room safes at hotels are common and many condos also have them. We list these in our resort reviews on this website.
- Be aware of your surroundings. Purse-snatchers and are not completely unknown are in Hawai‘i, for the most part are on O‘ahu, and frequent the busy crowded places. Use the same common sense you would at home and you’ll be fine.
- Theft is not the only way to lose your valuables on vacation. So you’re on your honeymoon and that shinning ring just begs to be worn. Not a problem unless you’re going to the beach or on a hike. Water and mud can act as a lubricant and also cause fingers to shrink. Plus, newlyweds might have rings that haven’t been sized properly. We cannot tell you how many times we’ve seen people come out from a day of snorkeling or swimming and find that amazing symbol of their love is now at the bottom of the sea. It happens so often there are people that specialize finding lost jewelry. (Some charge, some don’t.) Leave the ring in the safe at the hotel if possible. If you are unlucky enough to need the services of someone to help find your sunken or buried treasure, try Dave’s Metal Detecting at 808-276-5302.
What Readers Have to Say
- R. Downie, OK
“This is one of the best guides I have used anywhere. The recommendations are spot on. I not only used this guide to make the most of our first visit to the Big Island, I will be using it to plan the next.”