This is the hottest, sunniest, driest, most popular coastline on Maui for sun lovers—Arizona by the sea. Rain rarely falls here, and temperatures stick around 85°F (29°C) year-round. On this former scrubland from Maalaea to Makena, where cacti once grew wild and cows grazed, there are now four distinctive areas—Maalaea, Kihei, Wailea, and Makena—and a surprising amount of traffic.
If west Maui is the island’s head, Maalaea is just under the chin. This windy oceanfront village centers on a small boat harbor (with a general store, a couple of restaurants, and a huge new mall) and the Maui Ocean Center , an aquarium/ocean complex. This quaint region offers several condominium units to choose from, but visitors staying here should be aware that it’s almost always very windy. All the wind from the Pacific is funneled between the West Maui Mountains and Haleakala and comes out in Maalaea.
Kihei is less a proper town than a nearly continuous series of condos and minimalls lining South Kihei Road. This is Maui’s best vacation bargain: Budget travelers swarm like sun-seeking geckos over the eight sandy beaches along this scalloped, condo-packed 7-mile stretch of coast. Kihei is neither charming nor quaint; what it lacks in aesthetics, though, it more than makes up for in sunshine, affordability, and convenience. If you want a latte in the morning, fine beaches in the afternoon, and Hawaii Regional Cuisine in the evening—all at reasonable prices—head to Kihei.
Just 3 decades ago, this was wall-to-wall scrub kiawe trees, but now Wailea is a manicured oasis of multimillion-dollar resort hotels along 2 miles of palm-fringed gold coast. It’s like Beverly Hills by the sea, except California never had it so good: Wailea has warm, clear water full of tropical fi sh; year-round golden sunshine and clear blue skies; and hedonistic pleasure palaces on 1,500 acres of blacklava shore indented by fi ve beautiful beaches. It’s amazing what a billion dollars can do.
This is the playground of the stretch-limo set. The planned resort development—practically a well-heeled town—has a shopping village, three prized golf courses of its own and three more in close range, and a tennis complex. A growing number of large homes sprawl over the upper hillside, some offering excellent bed-andbreakfast units at reasonable prices. The resorts along this fantasy coast are spectacular, to say the least. Next door to the Four Seasons, the most elegant, is the Grand Wailea Resort Hotel & Spa, a public display of ego by Tokyo mogul Takeshi Sekiguchi, who dropped $600 million in 1991 to create his own minicity. Stop in and take a look—it’s so gauche, you’ve gotta see it.
After passing through well-groomed Wailea, suddenly the road enters raw wilderness. After Wailea’s overdone density and overmanicured development, the thorny landscape is a welcome relief. Although beautiful, this is an end-of-the-road kind of place: It’s a long drive from Makena to anywhere on Maui. If you’re looking for an activities-fi lled vacation or you want to tour a lot of the island, you might want to try somewhere else, or you’ll spend most of your time in the car. But if you crave a quiet, relaxing respite, where the biggest trip of the day is from your bed to the gorgeous, pristine beach, Makena is the place.
Beyond Makena, you’ll discover Haleakala’s last lava fl ow, which ran to the sea in 1790; the bay named for French explorer La Pérouse; and a chunky lava trail known as the King’s Highway, which leads around Maui’s empty south shore past ruins and fi sh camps. Puu Olai stands like Oahu’s Diamond Head on the shore, where a sunken crater shelters tropical fi sh and empty gold-sand beaches stand at the end of dirt roads.