Here's a brief rundown of the many outdoor activities available in Maui.
Travel Tip -- When planning sunset activities, be aware that Hawaii, like other places close to the equator, has a very short (5- to 10-min.) twilight period after the sun sets. After that, it's dark. If you hike out to watch the sunset, be sure you can make it back quickly, or else take a flashlight.
Don't Leave Home Without Your Gold card -- Almost any activity you can think of, from submarine rides to a Polynesian luau, can be purchased at a discount by using the A3H Gold Card offered by Activities & Attractions Association of Hawaii, 355 Hukilike St., No. 202, Kahului, HI 96732 (tel. 800/398-9698 or 808/871-7947; fax 808/877-3104; www.hawaiifun.org). The card, accepted by members on all islands, offers a discount of 10% to 25% off activities and meals for up to four people. It's good for a year from the purchase date and costs $30.
Your A3H Gold Card can lower the regular $149 price of a helicopter ride to only $119, saving you a total of $120 for four people. And there are hundreds of activities to choose from: dinner cruises, horseback riding, watersports, and more -- plus savings on rental cars, restaurants, and golf.
Contact Activities & Attractions Association of Hawaii to purchase your card. Then contact the outfitter, restaurant, rental-car agency, or other proprietor directly; supply your card number; and receive the discount.
Many of Hawaii's tropical birds are found nowhere else on Earth. There are curved-bill honeycreepers, black-winged red birds, and the rare o'o, whose yellow feathers Hawaiians once plucked to make royal capes. When you go birding, take along A Field Guide to the Birds of Hawaii and the Tropical Pacific (Princeton University Press, 1987) by H. Douglas Pratt, Phillip L. Bruner, and Delwyn G. Berett.
Molokai, in particular, is a great place to go birding. The lush rainforest of Molokai's Kamakou Preserve is home to the Molokai thrush and Molokai creeper, which live only on this 30-mile-long island.
Almost every type of nautical experience is available in the islands, from old-fashioned Polynesian outrigger canoes to America's Cup racing sloops to submarines.
No matter which type of vessel you choose, be sure to see the islands of Maui, Molokai, Lanai, and Kahoolawe from offshore if you can afford it. It's easy to combine multiple activities into one cruise: Lots of snorkel boats double as sightseeing cruises and, in winter, whale-watching cruises. The main harbors for visitor activities are Lahaina and Maalaea, Maui; Kaunakakai, Molokai; and Manele Bay, Lanai.
Body Boarding (Boogie Boarding) & Bodysurfing
Bodysurfing -- riding the waves without a board, becoming one with the rolling water -- is a way of life in Hawaii. Some bodysurfers just rely on hands to ride the waves; others use hand boards (flat, paddlelike gloves). For additional maneuverability, try a boogie board or body board (also known as belly boards or paipo boards). These 3-foot-long boards support the upper part of your body and are very maneuverable in the water. Both bodysurfing and body boarding require a pair of open-heeled swim fins to help propel you through the water. The equipment is inexpensive and easy to carry, and both sports can be practiced in the small, gentle waves.
Maui's year-round balmy climate makes camping a breeze. However, tropical campers should always be ready for rain, especially in Hawaii's wet winter season, but in the dry summer season as well. And remember to bring a good mosquito repellent. If you're heading to the top of Hawaii's volcanoes, you'll need a down mummy bag. If you plan to camp on the beach, bring a mosquito net and a rain poncho. Always be prepared to deal with contaminated water (purify it by boiling, through filtration, or by using iodine tablets) and the tropical sun (protect yourself with sunscreen, a hat, and a long-sleeved shirt).
There are many established campgrounds at beach parks, Maui's Waianapanapa Beach, and Hulopoe, on Lanai. Campgrounds are also located in the interior at Maui's Haleakala National Park.
Hawaiian Trail and Mountain Club, PO Box 2238, Honolulu, HI 96804, offers an information packet on hiking and camping throughout the islands. Send $2 and a legal-size, self-addressed, stamped envelope for information. Another good source is the Hiking/Camping Information Packet, available from Hawaii Geographic Maps and Books, 49 S. Hotel St., Honolulu, HI 96813 (tel. 800/538-3950 or 808/538-3952), for $7. The University of Hawaii Press, 2840 Kolowalu St., Honolulu, HI 96822 (tel. 888/847-7737; www.uhpress.hawaii.edu), has an excellent selection of hiking, backpacking, and bird-watching guides, especially The Hiker's Guide to the Hawaiian Islands by Stuart M. Ball, Jr.
Nowhere else on Earth can you tee off to whale spouts, putt under rainbows, and play around a live volcano. Hawaii has some of the world's top-rated golf courses. But be forewarned: Each course features hellish natural hazards, like razor-sharp lava, gusty trade winds, an occasional wild pig, and the tropical heat. And greens fees tend to be very expensive. Still, golfers flock here from around the world and love every minute of it.
A few tips on golfing in Hawaii: There's generally wind -- 10 to 30 mph is not unusual between 10am and 2pm -- so you may have to play two to three clubs up or down to compensate. Bring extra balls: The rough is thick, water hazards are everywhere, and the wind wreaks havoc with your game. On the greens, your putt will always break toward the ocean. Hit deeper and more aggressively in the sand because the type of sand used on most Hawaii courses is firmer and more compact than that used on mainland courses (lighter sand would blow away in the constant wind). And bring a camera -- you'll kick yourself if you don't capture those spectacular views.
Hiking in Hawaii is a breathtaking experience. The islands have hundreds of miles of trails, many of which reward you with a hidden beach, a private waterfall, an Eden-like valley, or simply an unforgettable view. However, rock climbers are out of luck: Most of Hawaii's volcanic cliffs are too steep and brittle to scale.
Hawaiian Trail and Mountain Club, PO Box 2238, Honolulu, HI 96804, offers an information packet on hiking and camping in Hawaii; to receive a copy, send $2 and a legal-size, self-addressed, stamped envelope. Hawaii Geographic Maps and Books, 49 S. Hotel St., Honolulu, HI 96813 (tel. 800/538-3950 or 808/538-3952), offers the Hiking/Camping Information Packet for $7. Also note that the Hawaii State Department of Land and Natural Resources, 1151 Punchbowl St., No. 131, Honolulu, HI 96809 (tel. 808/587-0300; www.hawaii.gov), will send you free topographic trail maps.
The Nature Conservancy of Hawaii (tel. 808/572-7849 on Maui or 808/553-5236 on Molokai; www.tnc.org/hawaii) and the Hawaii Chapter of the Sierra Club, PO Box 2577, Honolulu, HI 96803 (tel. 808/579-9802 on Oahu; www.hi.sierraclub.org), both offer guided hikes in preserves and special areas during the year.
A couple of terrific books on hiking are The Hiker's Guide to the Hawaiian Islands and The Hiker's Guide to Oahu, both by Stuart M. Ball, Jr. (both from University of Hawaii Press).
One of the best ways to see Hawaii is on horseback; almost all islands offer riding opportunities for just about every age and level of experience. You can ride inside Haleakala's Crater, along cattle country, or through an upcountry forest.
Maui is one of the world's most popular destinations for ocean kayaking. You can paddle amongst the turtles off the Makena coast, or along roll surf off the coast of Hana, and in the summer, experts can take advantage of the usually flat conditions on the north shore of Molokai, where the sea cliffs are the steepest on Earth and the remote valleys can be reached only by sea.
Some people come to the islands solely to take the plunge into the tropical Pacific and explore the underwater world. Hawaii is one of the world's top-10 dive destinations, according to Scuba Diving magazine. Here you can see the great variety of tropical marine life (more than 100 endemic species found nowhere else on the planet), explore sea caves, and swim with sea turtles and monk seals in clear, tropical water. If you're not certified, try to take classes before you come to Hawaii so you don't waste time learning and can dive right in.
If you dive, go early in the morning. Trade winds often rough up the seas in the afternoon, especially on Maui, so most operators schedule early morning dives that end at noon. To organize a dive on your own, order The Oahu Snorkelers and Shore Divers Guide by Francisco B. de Carvalho from University of Hawaii Press.
Tip: It's usually worth the extra bucks to go with a good dive operator.
Snorkeling is one of Hawaii's main attractions, and almost anyone can do it. All you need is a mask, a snorkel, fins, and some basic swimming skills. In many places, all you have to do is wade into the water and look down at the magical underwater world.
If you've never snorkeled before, most resorts and excursion boats offer snorkeling equipment and lessons. You don't really need lessons, however; it's plenty easy to figure out for yourself, especially once you're at the beach, where everybody around you will be doing it. If you don't have your own gear, you can rent it from one of dozens of dive shops and activities booths.
Favorite snorkel spots include Hulopoe Bay on Lanai and Kapalua Bay on Maui, as well as the Molokini Crater just off Maui, which is accessible only by boat.
Some snorkeling tips: Always snorkel with a buddy. Look up every once in a while to see where you are and see if there's any boat traffic. Don't touch anything; not only can you damage coral, but camouflaged fish and shells with poisonous spines could also damage you. Always check with a dive shop, lifeguards, or others on the beach about the area in which you plan to snorkel and ask if there are any dangerous conditions you should know about.
Big-game fishing at its best is found in the waters surrounding the islands of Maui, Molokai, and Lanai, where the deep blue waters offshore yield trophy marlin year-round. You can also try for spearfish, swordfish, various tuna, mahimahi (dorado), rainbow runners, wahoo, barracuda, trevallies, bonefish, and bottom fish, like snappers and groupers. Each island offers deep-sea boat charters for good-eating fish, like tuna, wahoo, and mahimahi. Visiting anglers currently need no license.
Charter fishing boats range widely both in size -- from small 24-foot open skiffs to luxurious 50-foot-plus yachts -- and in price -- from about $100 per person to "share" a boat with other anglers for a half day to $900 a day to book an entire luxury sport-fishing yacht on an exclusive basis. Shop around. Prices vary according to the boat, the crowd, and the captain. Also, many boat captains tag and release marlin or keep the fish for themselves (sorry, that's Hawaii style). If you want to eat your mahimahi for dinner or have your marlin mounted, tell the captain before you go.
Money-saving tip: Try contacting the charter-boat captain directly and bargaining. Many charter captains pay a 20% to 30% commission to charter-booking agencies and may be willing to give you a discount if you book directly.
The ancient Hawaiian practice of hee nalu (wave sliding) is probably the sport most people picture when they think of Hawaii. Believe it or not, you too can do some wave sliding -- just sign up at any of the numerous surfing schools located throughout the island.
Tennis is a popular sport in Maui. The etiquette at the free county courts is to play only 45 minutes if someone is waiting.
Every winter, pods of Pacific humpback whales make the 3,000-mile swim from the chilly waters of Alaska to bask in Hawaii's summery shallows, fluking, spy hopping, spouting, breaching, and having an all-around swell time. About 1,500 to 3,000 humpback whales appear in Hawaiian waters each year.
Humpbacks are one of the world's oldest, most impressive inhabitants. Adults grow to be about 45 feet long and weigh a hefty 40 tons. Humpbacks are officially an endangered species; in 1992, the waters around Maui, Molokai, and Lanai were designated a Humpback Whale National Marine Sanctuary. Despite the world's newfound ecological awareness, humpbacks and their habitats and food resources are still under threat from whalers and pollution.
The season's first whale is usually spotted in November, but the best time to see humpback whales in Hawaii is between January and April, from any island. Just look out to sea. Each island also offers a variety of whale-watching cruises, which will bring you up close and personal with the mammoth mammals.
Money-saving tip: Book a snorkeling cruise during the winter whale-watching months. The captain of the boat will often take you through the best local whale-watching areas on the way, and you'll get two activities for the price of one. It's well worth the money.
Not So Close! They Hardly Know You -- In the excitement of seeing a whale or a school of dolphins, don't forget that they're protected under the Marine Mammal Protection Act. You must stay at least 300 feet (the length of a football field) away from all whales, dolphins, and other marine mammals. This applies to swimmers, kayakers, and windsurfers. And, yes, visitors have been prosecuted for swimming with dolphins! If you have any questions, call the National Marine Fisheries Service (tel. 808/541-2727) or the Hawaiian Islands Humpback Whale National Marine Sanctuary (tel. 800/831-4888).
Maui is Hawaii's top windsurfing destination. World-class windsurfers head for Hookipa Beach, where the wind roars through Maui's isthmus and creates some of the best windsurfing conditions in the world. Funky Paia, a derelict sugar town saved from extinction by surfers, is now the world capital of big-wave board sailing. And along Maui's Hana Highway, there are lookouts where you can watch the pros flip off the lip of 10-foot waves and gain hang time in the air.
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.