I was starting to feel like a pariah because of the fact that I was the only person in San Diego who hadn’t yet been to Hawaii. That, combined with the fact that 13-year-old Max complained every time I traveled without him, led me to book 2 $400 flights to Maui in January.

By the way, January is a fantastic time to go. Flights normally are double that price any other time of year but in January, crowds are thinner, and it’s still 80 degrees. What’s not to like?

Maui was wonderful. It was less developed (at least the west side near Napili Bay where we were) than I’ve heard some of the other islands are, so it still had a little rough-around-the-edges feel. People complain that Hawaii is so expensive, but I found meals reasonably priced (anywhere from $25 to $60 for the two of us). Our condo rental was $200 a night, so that was the most expensive part of the trip. Of course the touristy things like luaus and ziplining come with a hefty price tag, so budget it in.

Here’s what I enjoyed and recommend you do on your next trip to Maui.

1. Hike.

maui rainbow

I didn’t realize that the fact that Maui looks fairly small in no way is an indicator of how close things are. The speed limit on much of the island is 45 mph, so it can take hours to go across the island. I’d thought we’d be closer to trails on nearby mountains like those in West Maui Forest Reserve, but they were at least an hour’s drive.

What I did love was Kapalua Coastal Trail, which I could walk to from our condo on Napili Bay. The 3.5 miles of this trail runs adjacent to the beach and meanders among the resorts. Part is paved and part is dirt. I’d walk/run it in the mornings before it got too crowded.

On my first day, I was blown away when I reached a segment of the trail that broke off into craggy volcanic rocks leading up to the shore. ‘Lo and behold, a rainbow greeted me across the water over the nearby island of Moloka’i. It took my breath away.

Maui is chock full of paths and trails, so get out and enjoy the beauty.

2. Watch Cliff Divers at Black Rock

cliff diver at black rock maui

I’m always looking for cool lesser-known things to do when I travel, so I was excited to stumble upon a site about the Black Rock Cliff Dive Ceremony. Held nightly at the Sheraton Maui for over 50 years, cliff diving has a much older and richer history in Maui.

Max and I perched ourselves near the beach where we could see the silhouette of the cliff in the distance. All of a sudden, I felt heat and looked up to see a young Hawaiian man rush by with a torch. He proceeded to light the torches on the hotel property before sprinting down the beach to ascend the rocks of the cliff known to locals as Pu’u Keka’a. He then faced the four directions to pay homage to the ancient Hawaiian gods, turned, then dove headfirst into the ocean below.

The ceremony took just an instant, but it was so memorable and beautiful at sunset. This ceremony is totally free to watch, though you may pay for parking at the Sheraton. You can dine or enjoy a drink at the outdoor restaurant to make the evening even more enjoyable. I suggest moving up the beach closer to the cliffs than we were to get great photos.

3. Snorkel with the Sea Turtles

sea turtle tide pool

One of the most memorable experiences I had in Maui was snorkeling. While I tried it at Napili Bay where we were staying, I felt that the crowds kept the fish away. Then I researched and found out that Honokeana Cove was known for its sea turtle sightings. I was sold.

Getting into the cove from the sharp rocks proved to be a bit challenging, as the waves were crashing against them. I asked another snorkeler how she got in and followed suit.

There’s something so magical that happens once you can relax your body, regulate your breathing, and take in this entire other world below you. I floated above coral reefs, watching brightly-colored fish play tag. But alas, no sea turtles.

I saved a few shots from my underwater film camera just in case I ran into a sea turtle, and headed back to shore after about 45 minutes.

Whoa!

I very nearly bumped into a sea turtle. Having read about one turtle in the bay nicknamed Barnacle Bill who didn’t like snorkelers and was known to butt them, I quickly backswam out of his way. I and three other snorkelers followed the fellow from a distance, taking photos and smiling around our snorkels.

Magic.

On my walk back to my condo, I saw another turtle up close, perched in a tidepool for his lunch. I guess it depends on the weather and time of year as to whether you’ll see many turtles or not.

4. Hula at a Luau

luau girl

Okay, I didn’t actually hula, but guests at Myths of Maui are invited onto the stage if they want to learn how. This was our first luau, and I wanted Max (the sullen teen) to experience it, though I knew he’d grump about it (which he did).

I recommend upgrading your ticket to the VIP ticket so that you get to sit right under the stage and get first dibs on the buffet.  The food was great, and alcoholic beverages were free (though they were a bit oversweet for my craft cocktail tastes).

If you’ve ever seen photos or videos of a luau, it’s exactly what you’d expect: several hours of song and dance. A group of talented young Hawaiian men and women performed traditional and modern hula and other dances, both from Hawaii as well as Tahiti and other islands that influence Hawaii. Max perked up a little when the fire dancers came out.

We both got lei’d (I couldn’t resist the pun): me with a beautiful plumeria lei and him with a keepsake kukui nut lei.

5. Soar Down a Zipline

northshore zipline maui

When planning our trip, I asked Max, who hates to swim and doesn’t like the beach (you’re wondering why I took him to Maui, aren’t you?) what he wanted to do on our trip.

“Zipline,” he said.

Sure thing. I could arrange that. But as I browsed for tickets, I realized: I’d have to do it too. Being attached to a rope over the jungle was not the way I wanted to spend my Hawaiian vacation…or how I wanted to die.

Still, I love my kid. So I booked tickets for NorthShore Zipline, which was situated on Camp Maui, a strategic home base for the 4th Division of Marines in World War II. As we waited for our appointment, Max and I wandered around the property and looked at the old Jeeps the Marines left behind. Pretty cool.

Then it was zipline time. Our guides, nicknamed Frodo and Symbol, got us in our harnesses and helmets and walked us over to our first line. Because we were the only two on this particular tour, they were a little more flexible with us. They were as fun as the ziplining, entertaining us with their hilarious antics.

“We’ll go through the course twice. The first time, we’ll do it the regular way. Then we’ll do the NorthShore way,” Frodo said with a gleam in his eyes.

“Uh, what’s the NorthShore way??” I asked nervously.

Symbol laughed. He didn’t respond.

It turns out the NorthShore way involves them telling you to lean back so the world is topsy-turvy. Then Symbol holds your feet far longer than you’re comfortable with, making you curse at him. Or else Frodo spins you in a circle as you careen down the line. Frodo also enjoys shaking the line so you bounce up and down.

It sounds terrible, but it was actually a blast.

And while Max only cracked one smile, he had the time of his life.

PS I booked our tickets through Maui Tickets for Less because they were a hell of a lot cheaper. Here’s the deal with why: they’re actually a timeshare company and once you book your tickets they’ll call you trying to get you to take the option for even cheaper tickets if you sit through a timeshare presentation. I didn’t want to do that, so I took the steep discount and got my tickets. Easy peasy.

So that was Maui. It was an awesome experience, and it’s made me want to explore the other Hawaiian islands.