Did you know there’s more to Maui than just beaches and mai tais? In fact, this little island has everything an eco tourist could possibly want: hiking, farm-to-table restaurants, organic farm tours, and activities that respect authentic Hawaiian culture.
Here’s what to do, where to stay, and what to eat:
“The public bus system has grown considerably on Maui, and is a viable option now,” says Rob Parsons, an environmental consultant and Maui County’s first environmental coordinator under mayor Alan Arakawa. If you are spending most of your time at a resort, get a shuttle from the airport there, and sign up for tours that will pick you up and take you where you need to go, such as Hana, snorkeling tours, zip lining, and more. Also, Uber and Lyft operate on the island. For tourists like us, however, who like to run around and do all the activities all over the island, we needed a car. You can rent a hybrid, though it will cost much more than you will save on gas.
First things first, if you’ve rented a car, before you get on the road, download the Maui Gypsy Guide. It’s an iPhone app that works without a connection (this is important on the road to Hana) which tells you about turn-offs, places to eat, semi-secret swimming holes, and Hawaiian history. We drove to Hana right before dark, so we didn’t use it on the way there, but we did on the way back and the places we found with it were so magical, I was actually devastated we didn’t use it on the way out.
It requires a two-hour, nerve-racking drive down a winding coastal road full of hairpin turns, blind spots, and one-lane bridges, but Hana is a place you cannot miss. In fact, many people go to Hana for the day, just to experience the drive there, which is replete with quirky turn-offs, waterfalls, and good eats. I say don’t rush it. Book yourself two nights in Hana so you can experience it at a more leisurely pace, and can afford to stop and take in the view, to walk down that little path, and to see the sunrise on the beach.
When I’m staying near the beach, I prefer to stay someplace with a light physical footprint, so that it doesn’t interfere with the wildlife (sea turtles, nesting birds) or the fragile sandy soil. We chose the Bamboo Inn*, a charming bed & breakfast built with traditional South Pacific materials on stilts nestled in the palm trees. The goal of the couple that owns the inn is: “To provide overnight guests with a quality experience in a sustainable manner that is environmentally responsible, supportive of the community, and respectful of native Hawaiian cultural protocol and practices.” The solar panels provide almost all the energy the inn needs, including for charging electric vehicles. Bamboo Inn is a member of 1% to the Planet, and only uses non-toxic cleaning supplies.
We loved our suite, which had a kitchenette and a balcony with a hot tub looking east out to the water, and an outdoor shower (bring eco-friendly shower supplies, the greywater goes to the ground below). Each morning our breakfast was left in a basket in the outdoor dining area, a pretty patio with a thatched roof where we talked with other guests, or did a bit of work with the wifi provided there. You’ll find plastic knives for your butter and jam in the basket – just leave them when you’re done and Bamboo Inn will wash and reuse them.
Sustainable Places to Eat
Ka Haku Smoke Shack: This little barbecue shack on the side of the road to Hana serves local meat smoked over an outdoor grill. We were afraid we would get there after it closed and screeched into park two minutes before what Google maps said was closing time, at 3 pm, but it’s a casual place. “We close when we run out,” the guy manning the grill told us. His son and and wife were helping out, and gave us a thick, large leaf piled high with meat that we ate with our hands.
Fruit stands: These unmanned stands on the side of the road are built and stocked by property owners who have too much fruit on their property to enjoy themselves. It’s on the honor system, so pull over, put some coins or dollars in the lockbox, and pick out some local fruit to snack on while you drive.
Coconut Glen’s: Stop while you drive to and from Hana for dairy-free ice cream in a compostable cup with a wooden spoon.
Aunty Sandy’s: This famous place off Hana Road ran out of the banana bread before we got there. But you’ll have to take literally every other person’s word ever for it: get the banana bread.
The Preserve at Travaasa – This peaceful, open-air restaurant at the high-end resort serves locally raised, caught, and grown dishes, plus excellent cocktails. Just make sure to ask for your drink without a straw – they serve plastic ones.
Hana Ranch Restaurant: Hana Ranch is a long-time free-range, antibiotic- and hormone-free cattle ranch run by Biological Capital that is a large employer of the Hana community. You can try a burger at the Ranch Restaurant, which is run by Travaasa. (So again, ask for no straw.)
Eco-Friendly Things to Do
On your way to Hana, stop to watch the surf from Ho’okipa Lookout, where the swells get big in the winter and the best surfers try to surf the waves.
Pipiwai Trail: You might hear this trail called Seven Sacred Pools; that’s just a (very successful) marketing tactic. There are more than seven pools, and they are not sacred at all in Hawaiian mythology. But they are quite beautiful. The trail includes the bamboo forest, a magical leg of the hike, and ends at a tall waterfall. Here’s a tip: Call 808-572-4400 on the day of your trip to find out if the pools are open. They were not the day we went because of the risk of rockfalls, and while I wouldn’t go as far as saying the hike wasn’t worth it, it was quite frustrating to arrive sweaty and hot to the end of the trail and encounter a giant sign forbidding us from actually touching the final waterfall pool.
Beaches: It was Illich’s idea to get up early to watch the sunrise from a beach, and it was absolutely worth it. Red Sand Beach (a.k.a. Kaihalulu Beach) was a 15 minute walk from our B&B. It’s on Google maps, but actually getting there is tricky. You have to spot the path that veers through private property, then take it down a steep hillside (wear your Teva’s there, not flip-flops!) and around a cliff before you find your magical destination. We were the only ones there for sunrise until 9 in the morning, when a family arrived.
Just be aware that this trail can be dangerous and is not recommended for those with mobility issues or young children. The local police and fire departments strongly discourage visitors from venturing down the trail due to multiple incidents of rescue and serious injury (in some instances fatalities) each year.
Hamoa Beach, on the other hand, isn’t hidden, but it’s not exactly crowded, either. A long, protected stretch of white sand that is a quick walk down the stairs from your parking spot, this beach is the perfect place to be lazy and stretch out. The only thing that disturbed us was someone’s friendly lab.
Maui Garden of Eden: We didn’t have time to stop here, but it came recommended. If you like gardens, try to make time for a couple hours of strolling.
Nahiku Gallery: Located on the road to Hana, this little store looks touristy from the outside (t-shirts and wooden signs with cutesy sayings) but inside you’ll find treasures from local artists, such as the dangly earrings made of mollusk tusks that I bought. Beware, the Google Maps location is not quite correct. But you can’t miss it – it’s part of a small complex of stores and food on your left more than halfway to Hana from Paia.
What do you think of when you imagine Hawaii? Do cattle ranches and cowboys, a thick mist obscuring pine trees, and fields of lavender come to mind? No? Then you haven’t been to Maui’s Upcountry. Comprising the northern slope of Mount Haleakala, it feels like a slightly more exotic Denver.
Eco-Friendly Things to Do
Mount Haleakala: A dormant volcano that last erupted about 300 years ago, this National Park should absolutely be at the top of your list. You can drive up to the top to simply watch the glorious sunrise. (Just make sure to reserve a parking spot for your car ahead of time.) Or you can hike the thing. We did both, driving up to the lower parking lot, hitchhiking the rest of the way up with a nice Dutch couple, watching the sunrise, then doing a seven-hour hike through the moonscape bowl of the volcano.
You don’t have to do seven hours of hiking – you can always start hiking down then turn back an hour or two into the hike. Or you can go all in and camp out overnight. But as a ranger at the station will warn you, you hike at your own risk. Honestly, by the time we finished the two hours of cliffside switchbacks up to the parking lot, we were wrecked. And we had come prepared with proper hiking layers and shoes and plenty of water and snacks. But we are definitely going to remember this hike forever.
Ali’i Luka Lavender farm: This peaceful farm and garden offers all things lavender, plus an impressive array of succulents and other plants, and a small café and store. Guided tours run from 9:30 am to 2:30 pm.
Pi’iholo Zip Line: You might call this the invasive species zip line, because the zip line platforms are drilled into eucalyptus trees, which are invasive, and look down, and you might catch sight of two other invasive species, the axis deer and the wild boar. But it smells lovely up there, and the guides are fun and witty and take safety seriously.
Hui No’eau Visual Arts Center: We stopped by this charming former ranch to see a temporary exhibition that invited Hawaiian artists to do something on the subject of endangered Hawaiian species. But you can also come for a guided walking tour of the property and its native species, or a glass-blowing demonstration.
Hawaii Sea Spirits distillery tour: This is the distillery that makes Ocean Organic Vodka, which you might have enjoyed if you flew on Hawaiian airlines. With its solar panels and well, the distillery is almost entirely self-sufficient, and is working on cultivating the most comprehensive collection of native Polynesian sugarcane.
Surfing Goat Dairy: We didn’t stop by because we’ve done a goat dairy farm before in Upstate New York, but this came recommended. I mean, baby goats, right?
MauiWine: Talk about local ingredients! I never thought I would enjoy pineapple wine, but when I did, I found it to be just as good as a grape wine – not super sweet at all – with just a subtle nose and finish of pineapple. If you’re into game meat, you could head across the street for an elk or venison burger at the ranch store.
Maui Stargazing: We didn’t do this, but would have if we had more time!
Stop into Makawao Town, where you can do some excellent sustainable and local shopping and get lunch. I didn’t find any restaurant there that is explicitly sustainable, so if you’re starving and can’t wait to get back down to Pa’ia, just order something vegetarian and enjoy!
Fleur de Lei: This eco-boutique at first looks like another Hawaii fashion boutique, with warm-weather, floral fashion and accessories. But look closer, and you’ll realize it is a tropical curation of some of the best sustainable fashion brands, including Amour Vert and local Hawaii brands.
The Mercantile: Find ethical fashion like Ulla Johnson, Frank and Eileen, and Road Twenty Two.
Pink By Nature: Carries local and international designers.
This hippie town is your best bet for good eats on Maui and maybe a yoga class, crystal healing, or anything else New Age-y.
Maui Eco Retreat is actually a 30-minute drive toward Hana from Pa’ia, so it’s the kind of place where you settle in and stay, rather than venturing out. But it’s definitely an option if you want the greenest experience on Maui!
Sustainable Restaurants and Cafes
Pa’ia Bowls: A new spot tucked away off the street among the greenery serving healthy smoothie bowls.
Flatbread Company: A casual, brick-oven, organic pizza spot that serves excellent cocktails made with local liquor and ingredients. Go on a date, or gather up all your friends and make it a party.
Cafe des Amis: We went back twice to this cute cafe. It serves sweet and savory crepes, and delicious lilikoi (a local fruit) margaritas.
Millhouse Maui: Located in a former millhouse, this farm-to-table restaurant is a wee bit of a drive from Pa’ia. It has a large pond that you walk over to get to your table, and delicious food and cocktails. A must if you want a romantic, peaceful dinner.
Imrie: This boutique has a few organic things, but not all, so shop carefully.
West Shore: Lahaina/Kaanapali
This wasn’t our favorite side of the island. It’s even pricier over here than the rest of Maui, with large resorts, luxury shopping, condos, etc. It’s so touristy. But, if you’re up for doing what we did – spending your last couple of days on this side to really get the honeymoon-in-Hawaii experience – then there are definitely some good finds.
We found our resort through Book Different, which features hotels that support the local community, and also ranks their environmental footprint. So I’m confident our resort has some basic eco-friendly initiatives, though again, it was very expensive and we are not really high-rise hotel people, so I’m not going to gush over it here.
We also walked past the Hyatt Regency, which is a huge resort that is LEED certified, and has so many amenities – flamingos, an artificial grotto waterfall with a pool, swans, an Asian garden, a pool – you might be tempted to never leave and see the rest of the island. If that’s your style, well, I recommend the Hyatt.
Eco-Friendly Things to Do
Old Lahaina Lu’au: You can’t leave Hawaii without doing a lu’au, and this one is the most authentic. Plus, Old Lahaina supports the Buy Back the Beach fundraiser, which raises money for conservation on Maui. Hot tip: book your reservation a few weeks in advance, because it sells out quickly. We ended up going to a second-rate one that was super fun (my husband and I both enjoyed the eye candy up on stage, yow) but I felt guilty about giving our money to one that mashes together all Polynesian cultures into one polyester-clad performance.
Drive around the back side of the island: Remember the Maui Gypsy Guide you used for Hana? Switch that back on and take a drive. You’ll be taken to some amazing natural features, learn more about Hawaii history, and visit small local villages along the way. We had to turn around part way because they were working to shore up the road, which has been eroding due to climate change. So doublecheck before you leave that the road is open. Also, bring plenty of cash to shop for banana bread, fresh juices, and other goodies sold by Hawaiians on the turn-offs.
Some other things we didn’t do but heard good things about: Pacific Whale eco-adventures (with certified marine naturalists), take an all-day ferry trip with family-owned boat business Trilogy to the island of Lanai or snorkeling, or visit Maui Brewing Co. for some local beer.
After a couple of days of visiting farms in upcountry, it was a treat to have a delicious dinner at Kimo’s, which sources many of its ingredients (goat cheese, organic vodka, fish) locally from the very same farms you can visit in upcountry. It’s a beautiful old restaurant with a view from the terrace out onto the beach. Make a reservation in advance!
Merriman’s, which we tried and loved on Kauai, also has a Maui location near Kaanapali.
Hula Grill also sources local fish, meat, and greens. Try their Mai Tai!
South Shore, Kihei/Wailea
The south shore consists of two parts: the affordable touristy area, and the luxury, golf resort-filled touristy area. We didn’t spend a huge amount of time here, but there are some gems.
Hyatt has another sustainable luxury hotel here called the Andaz.
The farm-to-table restaurant Merriman has their casual concept Monkeypod here.
Coconut’s Fish Cafe is a casual restaurant that has won accolades and acclaim for its healthy Hawaiian seafood.
Eco-Friendly Things to Do
Our snorkeling tour of Molokini launched from the beach here – we took a sailboat, but at dawn so that I could sidestep the problem of sunscreen (reef-safe mineral sunscreen doesn’t work for me) so they motored us out instead of using wind power.
Makena Beach is a proper beach for lounging, with soft white sand, safe waters for swimming, and food trucks in the parking lot. If you turn right when you arrive and climb over the rocks, you’ll find Little Beach, a nudist beach where young and old hippies go to play the drums and frolic on Sundays.
If hiking Haleakala wasn’t enough for you, try Hoapili trail which leads you on the four-hour trail that Hawaii royalty used to take. It’s very sunny and barren, over lava rock, so bring proper hiking shoes and lots of water!
*This hotel gave us a small discount because I’m a sustainable blogger.