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Flying in paradiseFlying in paradise

Maui, HawaiiMaui, Hawaii

As winter drags on, many pilots tinker with their airplanes in the hangar, dreaming of summer. But you can go flying now in Maui, and enjoy Hawaii your way. Cruise above tidy pineapple fields and lush rainforests, fly by tall waterfalls, and soar over Haleakalā’s stark volcanic landscape. Or land at Hana Airport for a taste of old Hawaii without the hours of driving on a narrow, twisty road.

  • The islands offer so much beauty, it’s hard to choose a flight itinerary. Maui is a paradise and it’s all gorgeous, from the volcano to the vineyards and cane fields to the coral reefs, turquoise waters, and on to other islands if you choose. Here, the Maui Flight Academy Cirrus flies beside the cliffs of Molokai, the tallest sea cliffs on earth, made famous in the opening scene from Jurassic Park 3. Photo courtesy Maui Flight Academy.
  • If you’d like to fly to Hana Airport, about a 30-minute flight from Kahului, you’ll be following the coastline northeast and then southeastbound. Most pilots begin their descent to Hana after passing the late George Harrison’s cliff-side golf estate, and line up their left downwind for Hana’s Runway 8 along a large flat black rock called the Heiau. Photo courtesy Maui Flight Academy.
  • Just southeast of the Hana Airport in Waianapanapa State Park, the Honokalani black sand beach is covered with small, smooth pebbles against a backdrop of lush vegetation. The Waiomao Caves there are lava tubes filled with clear blue-green seawater. Photo by Rebecca Pang.
  • The award-winning Travaasa Hana nestles above iconic Hamoa Beach. This luxury hotel emphasizes culture and traditions; you can take hula, lei-making, or ukulele lessons. Forget about clocks or TVs in the rooms. The gracious and hospitable staff—some of whom have been with the hotel for four generations—helps you slow down and enjoy island time. They’ll take you horseback riding, stand-up paddling, or snorkeling, show you the best places to hike, or pamper you in the full-service spa. You can try archery and even a ride in a glider with Hans, a veteran pilot who started gliding at age 14. Photo courtesy Travaasa Hana.
  • Hang Gliding Maui, owned by Armin and Karin Engert, offers flights in a Rotax-powered Airborne XT 912 trike. Armin has amassed more than 13,000 hours flying hang gliders and ultralights since 1982. Zoom up over the 10,023-foot Haleakalā crater, skim the water near shoreline cliffs, or soar over verdant rainforest in a 30-, 45-, or 60-minute tandem lesson. Photo courtesy Armin Engert.
  • Stand-up paddleboarders brave some big winter waves along Maui’s North Shore. Bring binoculars, because if you look farther offshore in winter, you’ll stand a good chance of spotting a humpback whale. They breed and calve around Maui from mid-December to mid-May; we’ve seen the greatest numbers offshore from Lahaina. Photo by Peggy via Flickr.
  • It’s worth rising in the middle of the night to stand on Haleakalā’s 10,023-foot summit at sunrise. As the Sun peeks above the horizon, a small puff of wind hits your face—a mini shockwave of air being warmed by the rising ball of fire. You can literally see the curvature of the earth. Surrounded by ocean, you feel on top of the world. Later, you can mountain bike down Haleakalā through several climate zones, stopping if you wish to admire panoramic vistas along the way. Haleakalā Bike Company is about 10 minutes east of Pa’ia and offers good equipment, prices, and tours. Photo by Bill Devlin via Flickr.
  • If you drive the Haleakalā Highway yourself, stop at Maui Wine, near Keokea. In addition to regular and sparkling wines, they make a raspberry dessert wine and a famous pineapple wine called Maui Blanc. At the King’s Cottage, sidle up to the 18-foot wine bar carved from a single mango tree. Originally constructed in the 1870s, the King’s Cottage was built for the visits of King Kalākaua, the last reigning king of Hawai’i, who would come to the slopes of ‘Ulupalakua to relax, entertain, and enjoy a little royal vacation time. A free tour takes you through production areas, lush grounds with huge, ancient trees, and the “Old Jail,” shown above. Photo courtesy Maui Wine.
  • For easy rainforest hiking, take Highway 32 from Wailuku to ʻIao Valley State Monument. The famous landmark here is the ʻIao Needle, a basalt volcanic plug that rises 1,200 feet and is surrounded by even taller sheer cliffs. Everything is covered in greenery, and it’s only a half-mile walk to the Needle overlook. Photo courtesy Wikimedia Commons.
  • The Fairmont Kea Lani overlooks Wailea’s pristine white-sand beach. Indulge at the award-winning spa and dine at the outrageously good Kō restaurant, which offers a pan-Asian-island menu. The nearby Wailea Golf Club has three championship courses, while the Wailea Tennis Club offers eleven Sportsmaster courts. Photo courtesy Fairmont Kea Lani.
  • The Fairmont can arrange dozens of excursions or lessons for you including biking down Haleakalā, snorkeling, scuba, surfing, stand-up paddling, kayaking, or an outrigger canoe outing. Look for sea turtles in the water, or jump in for a swim yourself. Anglers head to Molokai or Lanai to sportfish for blue or striped marlin, tuna, ono (wahoo), and mahi-mahi. Photo courtesy Fairmont Kea Lani.
  • The Fairmont Kea Lani offers numerous programs for kids and teens, including lei making, hula lessons, tide pool excursions, and much more. Photo courtesy Fairmont Kea Lani.
  • At the Grand Wailea, a Waldorf Astoria Resort, the Humuhumunukunukuapua’a Restaurant (I’ve always wanted to write that word!) is world-famous and named after the state fish, a type of trigger fish. This thatched-roof restaurant floats on a lagoon filled with tropical fish. While at the Grand Wailea, stop by NaPua Gallery to see works by renowned glass artist Dale Chihuly and other masters, take a tour of the resort’s extensive art collection, or sign up for an art or photography class. Photo courtesy Grand Wailea.
  • My first ocean dive was at Molokini, a partially submerged volcanic crater which forms a small, uninhabited islet off Maui’s southwest shore. Its crescent shape protects divers from waves and the channel's powerful currents. Photo by Josh via Flickr.
  • The Molokini crater houses a lush reef with excellent visibility as deep as 150 feet. Molokini is home to about 250 species of fish, including this Moorish Idol. Book the 2-tank dive to Molokini and Turtle Town with Maui Dive Shop, who offer free pickup from southwestern Maui resort areas. Photo by

See photo captions for more details on the Maui flying, lodging, and activities described below.

Flying: Unless you have super long-range tanks, you’ll be arriving in Hawaii at Maui’s Kahului Airport via airliner. But you can still quench your craving for general aviation by flying a Cessna 172SP with Maui Aviators or a Cirrus SR22 with Maui Flight Academy (the latter offers discounts to AOPA members). If helicopters are more your thing, Maui Helicopter Academy has a two-seat Schweizer 300CBi for use in flight training, rental, or sightseeing tour. Or choose a larger tour helicopter from Air Maui.

Maui’s Class C Kahului Airport, along the north coast, has two intersecting runways. After you take off, you’ll see pineapple fields and windsurfers on the north shore. Bring binoculars to look for whales and dolphins. A complete circle of the island takes about two hours. Photo courtesy Maui Aviators.

Hana: Hana is the best of the “old” Hawaii, before so many people discovered and developed it. You can fly yourself here and spend the night near a secluded black sand beach. About 12 miles south along the coast, the grave of Charles Lindbergh sits at the base of a tree near Palapala Ho’omau Church. Numerous small pools linked with streams and waterfalls in a lush tropical setting comprise Hana’s 'Ohe'o Gulch, often called the Seven Sacred Pools. From here, you can hike two miles up the Pipiwai Trail, passing through a tall bamboo forest to 400-foot-high Waimoku Falls. The award-winning Travaasa Hana nestles above iconic Hamoa Beach. Ride in a glider, or, if you can’t get enough flying, try a different kind of adventure in a powered hang glider. Zoom up over the 10,023-foot Haleakalā crater, skim the water near shoreline cliffs, or soar over verdant rainforest in a 30-, 45-, or 60-minute tandem lesson.

North Shore, Haleakalā, and Wailuku: In winter, Maui’s north shore is home to gigantic waves that lure big-wave surfers. Windsurfing is popular the rest of the year. The funky little town of Pa’ia, east of Kahului Airport, boasts a surprising variety of restaurants in all price ranges, as well as boutiques and coffee shops. Nearby Baldwin Beach is a perfect place for sunning or a leisurely stroll. A classic Maui excursion involves rising in the dark and shuttling to Haleakalā’s 10,023-foot summit, where you’ll greet the sunrise and feel on top of the world. Then you’ll bike down Haleakalā through several climate zones. If you drive the Haleakala Highway yourself, don’t miss Maui Wine, the island’s sole commercial winery, near Keokea. In Wailuku, you can get a close-up view of Maui’s diverse ocean life, including sea turtles, sharks, and corals at the Maui Ocean Center. Next, make the easy hike to the Iao Needle, a 1,200-foot basalt volcanic plug surrounded by dense greenery.

The Kapalua Resort in northwest Maui has two world-class golf courses. The 6,600-yard, par-72 Bay Course was designed by Arnold Palmer and Francis Duane, while the 7,411-yard, par-73 Plantation Course (hole 18 shown here) hosts the PGA Tour Sentry Tournament of Champions each January. Photo courtesy Kapalua Resort.

Northwest Maui: Lahaina is the quintessential Maui town, with wooden Colonial buildings and ever-popular restaurants, including Kimo’s and Longhi’s, across from each other on the 800 block of Front Street. Lahaina is the place to party late into the night. Just 15 minutes north of Lahaina, the Napili Kai Beach Resort perches above Napili Bay. Swim in the calm water and dine on the beach at the Sea House Restaurant or check out the nearby Kapalua Resort with its two world-class golf courses.

Wailea and Makena: Southwest Maui tends to be sunnier and less windy from Kihei down to Wailea and Makena. We’ve rented a condo at Kamaole Sands in South Kihei (lushly landscaped with pool and tennis yet cheaper than most resorts) and barbecued fresh local fish. The uber-luxe Fairmont Kea Lani rests above Wailea’s pristine white-sand beach and offers more activities and excursions than you could probably cram into a week. The nearby Wailea Golf Club has three championship courses, while the Wailea Tennis Club offers 11 SportMaster courts. At the Grand Wailea, a Waldorf Astoria Resort, the Humuhumunukunukuapua’a Restaurant (OK, Humuhumu for short) is world-famous. Stop by NaPua Gallery to see master works or sign up for art classes. But don’t forget to book a diving trip. Going beneath the sea is a perfect way to cap off a week of exploring Maui from the air and on the ground. Aloha!

Perennial “best breakfast” and “best happy hour” winner the Sea House Restaurant (above) is right on Napili Beach and offers nightly live entertainment. Napili Bay is a wide, crescent-shaped bay along Maui’s northwest shore, about 15 minutes north of Lahaina. The offshore reef provides generally calmer waters for safer swimming, and the sandy bottom is easy to walk on. The Napili Kai Beach Resort is right on the bay. Its low-rise hotel or condo-style accommodations are scattered throughout 10 landscaped, oceanfront acres. Choose a studio or up to three-bedroom suite with kitchenette. The resort offers four pools, shuffleboard, a boutique day spa, fitness room, barbecue areas, two 18-hole putting greens, and more. Photo courtesy Sea House Restaurant.

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Crista Worthy

Crista V. Worthy

Crista V. Worthy has been flying around the United States with her pilot-husband Fred and their children since 1995, and writing about fun places to fly since 2006. She has single-engine land and sea ratings. Her favorite places to explore are the backcountry strips of Idaho and Utah's red rock country. She currently lives in Idaho and serves as editor of The Flyline, the monthly publication of the Idaho Aviation Association. To suggest future destination articles, send an email to [email protected]
Topics: US Travel

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