10 of Maui’s “Can’t-Miss” Natural Wonders
The Hawaiian Islands are resplendent in natural beauty and none more so than the Island of Maui itself. You could spend years exploring Maui and never run out of new and interesting things to do and see within its bounds. However, most of us don’t have that kind of time, and it is for those that we have compiled the following list of Maui’s natural wonders that no one should miss.
First on our list are the Lana‘i Cathedrals, long considered one of the most awe-inspiring underwater sights you will find anywhere in the world. The Cathedrals get their name from the appearance that sunlight filtering down across the waterfilled lava caverns provides. The lighting shines through windows in the rock in a way that resembles stained glass.
There are multiple “Cathedrals” that visitors will be able to witness, each with multiple windows to marvel at, with one even having an altar made of rock within it. The only catch is that you will have to be scuba diving in order to visit, but luckily for those that are interested, Dive Maui regularly offers tours to the Lana‘i Cathedrals.
Watching the water cascade down the never-ending torrent of a waterfall is one of nature’s most magnificent sights, and if waterfalls are something of interest to you, Maui has scores you can visit. One of the best is the always popular Wailua Falls.
Wailua Falls is 80-feet in height and is located off of the famed road to Hāna, on the eastern edge of the forest reserve from which the highway gets its name. Wailua Fall’s popularity can partly be attributed to the fact that visitors are able to see the falls from the roadway, but also thanks to the access visitors have to the plunge pool that has formed beneath them.
There is ample parking in the nearby lot. Just be sure to come early in the day, as the site can become crowded as the day wears on.
Much like a whale’s blowhole, marine blowholes appear as great shots of water expelled from caves below the surface, such blowholes only exist in a few places on Earth. One of the most breathtaking of these is the Nā-kālele Blowhole on Maui’s northwestern shore.
A blowhole is the geologic cousin of a geyser, it is formed over the eons by seawater entering underwater caves and spreading via erosion upwards towards the surface. This also means that a blowhole’s jets are beholden to things like the cycle of tides and wind.
In the case of Nā-kālele, the spout can be most spectacular when conditions surrounding the blowhole are at their most treacherous. This can mean wet rocks that are easy to slip on, the best way to stay safe is to appreciate Nā-kālele from a safe distance and sticking to the dry rocks when maneuvering around the area.
The blowhole is approximately 20 minutes north of Kapalua by car via HI-30 and HI-340, park around mileage marker 38.5.
Pa‘iola Beach at Wai‘ānapanapa State Park
Wai‘ānapanapa means glistening waters, which is a definition that fits the waters surrounding Wai‘ānapanapa State Park well. Perhaps the waters appear to glisten so much because of the contrast offered by Pa‘iola’s gorgeous black sand beaches. The northwest portion of the beach is largely free from lava rocks and is most suited to swimming or snorkeling in its aquamarine waters, if the seas are calm enough.
Pa‘iola Beach itself is rather small but is well worth the visit and is surrounded by ancient Hawaiian cultural artifacts that indicate the importance of the area to Native Hawaiians. There are also freshwater caves that are well worth exploring. The caves are noted for how the freshwater is suspended above the sea’s saltwater due to their different densities.
The Wai‘ānapanapa State Park utilizes a reservation system, which means that you will have to plan your trip ahead of time. But requiring reservations also has the added benefit of controlling the flow of visitors and crowds to a more manageable level. This increases everyone’s enjoyment of the area and helps to protect its natural wonders.
Out-of-state visitors will either pay a $10.00 parking fee per car or a $5.00 drop-off fee per person.
If you’re a new diver looking for a unique scuba experience, Molokini Crater is one of Maui’s natural wonders that you should definitely block out some time on your schedule to see. Molokini is off of Maui’s southwest coast and the crescent-shaped volcano crater is actually viewable on many satellite images of the area.
While the trip is a required boat dive, it is well worth the expense. There are plenty of different dives available of the area, ranging from those suited for beginners to more advanced dives off the back end of the crater where the ocean floor drops sharply into the Pacific’s depths. The popularity and accessibility of Molokini can lead to crowding in the crater’s waters at times.
Visibility is often quite good, and divers and snorkelers alike are able to see coral, turtles, tropical fish, and maybe even a reef shark. If you are looking for a second dive after Molokini, inquire about a visit to Turtle Town for the chance to see beautiful turtles.
‘Ohe‘o Gulch (Seven Sacred Pools)
One of Maui’s most popular sights is ‘Ohe‘o Gulch, and for good reason, as it is one of the most beautiful sights you will find on the Hawaiian Islands, or anywhere else in the world for that matter.
‘Ohe‘o is part of Haleakalā National Park and the falls it is comprised of run from the crater’s summit, water twisting and tumbling down into myriad pools as it goes, finally terminating down into the Pacific Ocean. ‘Ohe‘o translates roughly as “something special” and this truly is what this space is. Simply put, it has to be experienced to be described.
To get there, head to the unincorporated area of Kīpahulu in Maui’s Hāna district. Admission to the Haleakalā National Park will cost $15.00 and is good for three days, an annual pass will run you $25. Be sure to arrive early if you want the splendor of ‘Ohe‘o mostly to yourself, as it gets crowded as the afternoon wears on.
Moloka‘i Hammerhead Dive
If you are an advanced diver with a taste for adventure, a Hammerhead Dive at Moloka‘i is a “must try” activity. Besides catching sight of the eponymous Hammerhead sharks, you’ll also be able to see a diverse array of local wildlife including schools of fish, moray eels, and maybe even some spinner dolphins.
Moloka‘i is just a short boat ride away from Maui across the Pailolo channel. The trip is well worth it for the opportunities it provides divers who wish to swim with sharks and experience the unspoiled coral off of Moloka‘i’s coast.
Dive Maui is happy to be able to offer Hammerhead Dives regularly from May to November when the weather and sharks are most likely to cooperate.
Lāhainā Banyan Court
Lāhainā Banyan Court differs from other wonders on this list due to its unique urban setting. Lāhainā is Maui’s premier beach town, located on the island’s west coast there is always something to do. But nothing Lāhainā has to offer is more worthwhile than spending a few moments to visit its banyan tree and contemplating the tree’s amazing size.
It is difficult to overemphasize just how huge the banyan tree is, this single tree takes up nearly 0.66 acres and rises 60-feet tall, this makes it not only the largest banyan on record in the Hawaiian Islands but also the entire United States as well! 16 major trunks have sprouted from its aerial roots over the years.
Originally planted in 1873, to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the first American Protestant missionaries, the banyan tree continues to wow visitors today. The former Courthouse Square it was planted in is now named after the banyan tree which has made it so famous. There are often events and vendors selling artwork on the square, making it a worthwhile place to stop and visit to soak up some local Maui flavor.
Pipiwai Trail and Waimoku Falls
For those that have visited ‘Ohe‘o and would like a challenging hike to pair it with, the nearby Pipiwai Trail is well worth checking out and it culminates in another impressive waterfall in its own right, the Waimoku Falls.
The Pipiwai Trail is a moderately challenging, yet often spectacular, 4-mile roundtrip hike that contains an approximately 650-feet elevation gain. The trail is famous for the many beautiful and varied landscapes that it traverses. Hikers will get to see the pools and smaller waterfalls that it passes, along with a remarkable bamboo forest near the trail’s middle.
The Waimoku Falls are a more than worthwhile ending to the Pipiwai Trail. Watching the water tumbling down a sheer rock face more than 400-feet into the pool below is simply awe-inspiring. Its plunge also makes Waimoku one of the tallest waterfalls on Maui.
Just as with all of the popular sights on the Hanā Highway, it is best to start your day early if you want to enjoy the trail and falls in relative solitude.
Lastly, on the northwest side of Maui, you will find Honolua Bay, a delightful and unique inlet filled with beautiful fish and coral that makes it perfect for snorkeling, surfing, and scuba diving.
It is a short hike to the bay from the road but walking the access trail is worthwhile on its own, as the trail’s surroundings are filled with lush greenery and natural splendor.
Just when you get used to hoofing it, you will find you’ve arrived at Honolua Bay and can enjoy its pristine waters for yourself. Just be sure to not take any mementos of your visit (such as shells, rocks, wildlife, or coral), as this is expressly prohibited and will lessen the enjoyment future generations are able to have of this natural wonder.