I always assumed I’d have to make it as a long-standing contestant on the Bachelor in order to visit Hawaii. It’s one of those uber romantic places that producers love for TV because the brilliant sunsets are a dime a dozen and every hotel looks like it was built for honeymooners (it was). As a New Yorker, a Hawaii trip seemed so far out of the realm of possibility for me that I didn’t even put it on my travel bucket list — if I didn’t get cast on the Bachelor, I’d just never make it there.
Then, this fall, I found myself on a twelve hour direct flight to Honolulu en route to Maui — one of those plush travel writing gigs that people will happily give a pinkie to score. I had a lot of time to pinch myself and, with no WiFi, the seemingly endless flight was filled with intense anticipation. It was a lot of buildup, especially considering that I’d only be in the state for two days, something which I’d soon be told is “literally insane” by every single person I met on the trip.
When I landed at around 7 PM, the jet lag and leftover buzz from the free-inflight booze left me feeling incredibly loopy, so it was hard to comprehend what I was seeing. On one side of the sky, the sun: an electric peach, huge, surrounded by a purpling haze. And on the other side, the moon: a glowing ball of crumpled silver satin. Two universal giants, sharing the sky like two equally-weighted children on a see-saw. I fell in love with Hawaii immediately.
If you look below the skyline, the ride from the airport in Maui to the resort town of Wailea is not beautiful. And it was hard to photograph the battling stars without getting a seemingly inappropriately placed Target truck or Taco Bell in the frame. Screw capitalism, y’know? I tried though. The sight was so outrageous that I fully expected to see Earth behind me. Like I was vacationing on a far off star.
Once we passed through the commercial side of the island, everything became so beautiful that I drained my full phone battery on blurry attempts to capture it. Every inch of land was worth documenting. Worthing Instagramming. Worth sending to friends and family back East.
After half a day surrounded by sky and ocean, you forget that the rest of the United States ever existed. Your Earth is no longer long stretches of land. Now, teal waters are the mainland, and the islands are merely terrariums with idyllic dioramas inside. This was all a lot to handle for a big city girl. The closest I ever feel to a synergistic connection to my environment is when I’m frantically eating my lunch on a park bench, drop something, and a rat beats me to the clean up. The people of Hawaii have some sort of handshake with the Earth.
I’ll never know if it was the calm bathwater ocean temperatures, or the celestial sky show, or the fish tacos that gave me butterflies in my stomach, but Hawaii definitely left me with the feels. In only 48 hours, it managed to convince me that I’m doing it all wrong. That basically anyone who doesn’t live in Hawaii is cheating themselves out of a better life.
Here are eight things besides my constant sky-watching that you can do in Maui to induce an epiphany:
Go to Big Beach.
Big Beach is, well, really big. A part of the Makena State Park, this expanse of sand and sea is a must. While its beauty draws the attention of tourists, its enormous waves are a playground for locals. They’re so big, there’s a good chance the lifeguard on-duty will suggest you don’t actually get in it. The shore break crashes just at the water’s edge, making it extremely dangerous. Whether you decide to brave the waters or sit back, take pictures and enjoy the botanical beauty behind you, you’ll be glad you made time to witness its epic beauty.
Float in awe at Wailea Beach.
While some waters in Maui might be too intense to actually swim in, Wailea is characterized by various lagoon-esque spots that are perfect for recreational swimming. Swim out past the break, stand on the sand bar and look out into the infinite nothingness. The water is warm, the sky will completely surround you, and you’ll see nothing but blue in every direction. If you have snorkeling gear, this is a great place to look for fish. Because the water is so calm, it’s easy to stop and stare.
Eat and gawk at The Mill House.
This true mill house and brewery is located on at tropical plantation, that just so happens to sit at the foot of a rain forest. The chef’s dedication to local ingredients and sustainability is noble and the results are delicious. Not only can you walk around on the property, but you can zip line through it, too. And honestly the choice between the passion fruit dessert and the zip lining will be hard to make. Before you go, don’t forget to try to coffee, it’s grown and brewed on-site.
Stay at The Residence Inn Maui Wailea.
You don’t have to drop a ton of money to stay somewhere that has everything you need. Views, amazing pools, ocean access, and a knowledgable staff, a room at The Residence Inn is all you need to make the most of your Hawaii trip. The hotel shouldn’t be the main event, because you don’t want to be glued to it. You want to go out and explore. So the best thing you can do for yourself and your wallet, is stay at a hotel that is central, clean, and accommodating. Not to mention, this is the newest hotel on the island, so it brings a totally different meaning to clean sheets.
Make friends with sea turtles at Makena Landing.
Hawaiian Paddle Sports will hook you up with a water adventure of your dreams, and not only take you on a mini tour of the area, but will make sure you see a sea turtle before your activity is over. Whether you opt for paddle boarding, outrigger canoeing, kayaking, or surfing, they’ll make sure you have the experience you were looking for — you know, the one you saw on a reality show.
Because Hawaiian Paddle Sports is an incredibly eco-conscious company, they won’t take you to the super touristy spots that are over-visited and endanger the freedom or health of the giant sea turtles. You’ll see the hidden spots, less trafficked and better for exploring.
Take the road to Hana.
Rent a car or join a tour, whatever you do, don’t leave the island without taking the road to Hana. This famous route is host to the most epic, cinematic, mind-blowing views, that no matter how sunburned you got, and no matter how much money you blew on this trip, will make you feel sure it was all worth it. Cliffs, waterfalls, lava tubes, natural beaches, 100 year old mango trees. This drive is a must.
Wake up early for a sunrise at Halaekalā National Park.
Translated literally to “House of the Sun”, catching the sunrise at Halaekalā is well worth the 3 AM wake up call. After a two hour scenic drive to the top, you’ll make it there just before the 5 AM sunrise and when it begins, you will be reborn with the day. From a 10,000 foot elevation, this sunrise is unlike anything you’ll see on a west coast beach or east coast rooftop. You’ll witness volcanic craters, endless ocean, and an array of shifting colors. This is the kind of site that you’ll bring up anytime anyone mentions Hawaii or sunrises for the rest of your life.
Frolic through the fields at the Ali`i Kula Lavender Farm.
On the outskirts of the Halaekalā National park, is a 13 acre lavender farm that hosts over 55, 000 stunning purple plants. A seemingly endless view of purple rolling hills is definitely a stop worth making, plus, it’s on your way back to the hotel. The color, the smell, the vibes, everything about this destination is relaxing and zen — despite the fact that lavender isn’t even native to Hawaii.
You’ll take tons of pictures here, consider doing some yoga poses, and ultimately decide it’s time to go back to the hotel because your brain is literally about to implode from all the beauty. The only reason you’ll be okay with the fact that you have to go home, is because you’re so overwhelmed by the magic of Hawaii, that you know if you stay for one more second, you won’t ever leave. And your partner, or kids, or pets, or job are waiting for you, or whatever.