The Valley Isle – a tiny mass of volcanic rock in the South Pacific – is a land of contrasts. Travel a few miles in any direction and not only does the ambience of Maui change but so can the climatic feel, landscape and vegetation.
Maui’s north shore – stretching from Wailua Harbour towards the ‘caught in a time warp’ town of Hana – boasts lush green palm trees swaying in the almost ever present Trade Winds. On the flip, make the trek towards Mount Haleakala’s summit to view the sunrise, and everything becomes a little more alpine in feel. Rising to an elevation of 3055m, it’s a shock to the system having gone from wearing boardshorts, bikinis and flip flops, to needing fleeces, jackets and beanie hats.
Descending from the top, heading for a hearty breakfast after an early start, you pass through rolling meadows and pastures where Hawaiian cowboys (similar to Gauchos) work their cattle and horses. Reminiscent of the Wild West, rather than the tropics, it’s worth exploring if you get the chance.
Back on the north shore beaches and it’s here you’ll find ‘those’ waves, that break on assorted reefs that litter the coastline, and also gusty/breezy conditions – especially during June, July and August. Maui is definitely at its blowiest during this period – worth considering.
If you’re thinking of heading here during summer you could follow examples set by stand up paddlers who use the breeze for amazing downwind paddling along the coast. Choose your put in and take out wisely, don’t attempt conditions you aren’t comfortable with and you should be fine.
North shore flat water can be found in the sheltered Kahului port which has manmade breakwaters to keep swells, and to some extent wind, at bay. If you put in here then watch out for marine traffic.
Heading across to the ‘other side’, the south shore has a number of put in options between Lahaina and Kihei. Heading first along Honoapiilani Highway, towards Lahaina, you’ll discover a plethora of mellow reef breaks right next to the road. Depending on your level, and the conditions on offer, choose your spot, pull over and launch. The closer you get to Lahaina the busier these breaks become. Some are pretty shallow and need to be carefully considered if there’s any surf kicking about. South swells though, needed to really light these breaks up, are few and far between and only really occur in summer.
Having had your paddling fill head into Lahaina for refreshments and feet up time. The old banyan tree, located in the centre of town, is the perfect shady spot for enjoying a post paddle shave ice.
If you’re fortunate enough to be on Maui when a solid south swell hits then check out Maalaea Harbour – one of the fastest waves in the world. Definitely NOT a put in for sit on kayakers, unless you’re a world class rider, Maalaea is where surfers snag freight train tubes.
For a mellower experience Kihei town, lying on the south eastern flank of the island, is more of family/tourist resort boasting a number of relaxed wave spots mixed with flat water touring options.
Kalama Beach Park and Kamaole Beach Park, also referred to as ‘the cove’ is where many of the island’s surf schools operate. You’ll find plenty of stand up paddlers and sit on top kayakers knocking around so you’ll be in good company.
Post paddle session Kihei offers plenty of refreshment opportunities and entertainment choices. You’ll also find affordable accommodation mixed with the bigger five star resorts of Wailea.
There are other put in options on Maui, depending on conditions and your skill level. Many, however, are off the beaten track should you get into difficulty. That said, as long as you use your common sense you could find your own piece of secluded sit on top Utopia.
How to get there:
Fly direct to Maui International Airport from many global locations. Once on teh island it’s a case of renting transport or catching a taxi to your accommodation.
Plenty of facilities on the island as a whole. Some put ins have public car parks and toilets, whereas other locations are far quieter. Lifeguards patrol many of the more recognisable beaches.
Shallow reef, big waves (at times), harsh UV, other water craft and marine life should be considered. Unfortunately there’s also an element of localism to be aware of. Some residents won’t take kindly to you turning up at a quiet spot they call their own. While this isn’t extensive it’s worth keeping in the back of your mind.
Ins and Outs:
Most of the popular spots offer easy enough launches – just drag your boat across the sand. Other locations, if you’re hardy enough, offer far trickier put ins with paddlers needing to negotiate rock gardens.
Maui is predominantly surrounded by reef and a very large expanse of water – the South Pacific. With this in mind it’s no surprise the ocean’s full brunt can, and often does, unload its power on these reefs. Some launch options have rocky put ins while others are sandy – wherever you end up it’s worth spotting hazards and know what’s happening weather wise. For instance, many of the south shore spots may appear windless near shore, yet if look hard you’ll notice strong gusts further out to sea that could sweep you away from land.
Hawaii epitomises the tropical holiday experience for many. Grass skirts swaying in the breeze, Hula Girls matching their rhythm, sunset cocktails, white sandy beaches and a gin clear ocean. While you can of course find this type of Hawaiian view, for those in the know, Maui is a watersports enthusiast’s nirvana with all forms of watercraft represented.
The home of windsurfing, with its gladiatorial arena of Ho’okipa Beach Park the focus of all attention, what many don’t realise is Maui, and in fact all of Polynesia’s contribution to and heritage within paddle sports.
Outrigger canoeing is as popular throughout Polynesia as football (or soccer) is in Europe. Walk along any stretch of Maui ocean frontage and you’ll come across multiple outrigger canoe clubs. These clubs are intensely family orientated and social affairs. Ohana (the Hawaiian word for family) has a very deep meaning to indigenous people and you can’t get more of a visual representation than within these paddle clubs. As such, anyone heading to ‘The Valley Isle’ for kayaking shenanigans, sit on top or other, will be in good company.
Surf is also synonymous with Hawaii – big waves to be more precise. Images of tanned locals dropping into swells the size of houses have become a regular sight in the media. And while this can be the case, at certain times in certain spots, there are less hectic put ins available more suited to sit on top kayaking.
At the very least, the cultural experience surrounding Hawaii should be banked, and then let’s not forget the amazing weather and satisfaction from simply being in the Hawaiian Islands.
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