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Hawaii: Discovering Maui on the Cheap

When I was planning my stint in Maui I knew I needed quality camping at Haleakalā National Park.  I knew I wanted to drive the Road to Hāna.  And, I knew I wanted lots of fish tacos in my belly.  I did all of these things, but as per usual, the intended itinerary changed and we ended up entering each day without a set schedule.  If you’re looking for an ‘on the cheap’ journey for your upcoming trip to Maui, read through for some of our highlights.

The Road to Hāna (I know.. everyone suggests this.. but it’s good – really!)

One of the best ways to experience the varied scenery of the island is to rent a car and drive the entire Hāna highway; the Road to Hāna.  This 55-mile road takes you from urban to countryside to rainforest to windy cliffs to dry, barren land and finally to beautiful beaches.  If you have not experienced the Road to Hāna, it’s well worth the drive with plenty of attractions along the way.  Leave yourself ample time; although it’s only 55 miles it took us the better part of a day.  Cautious driving is necessary at some points as the road becomes extremely narrow and congested with one-way traffic.  Grid Walking Tip: If you stop at the Nahiku Market Place, mile marker 28, look for the surfboard photo-op.  Across sits a small booth, Hāna Style Coconut Candy.  My husband and I bought a bag and hoarded it the rest of the trip!  Also, check Quick Links below for a good eats suggestion.

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This candy was everything!

Haleakalā National Park   

From the Hāna Highway we entered the Summit District of Haleakalā National Park, a US National Park featuring the dormant Haleakalā Volcano.  As we arrived after dark, I don’t remember paying an entrance fee but research suggests it’s around $10 for 3 days.  We found it easiest to spend our first night near the park entrance at the Hosmer Grove Campground.  This is a free, drive-up campsite and does not accept reservations as it is first come, first served.  Staying at this site will leave you well positioned for numerous day hike opportunities including a head start for the pilgrimage to the sunrise vista.  The Kīpahulu District on the east side of the park has a similar campground, the Kīpahulu Campground.  Information for both can be found on the NPS website.

If you are able, it’s worth it to get an early, very early, start and see the sunrise at the edge of the Haleakalā Crater in the Summit District.  Drive past the Park Visitors Center at 7,000 feet and continue to the Haleakalā Visitors Center at 9,740 feet.  It’s from this vista that you’ll be able to take in an amazing view, if the weather is cooperating.  Remember to bring layers; at that elevation it will be brisk before the sun comes up.  If feeling up to it, you can hop on one of the surrounding walking trails leading to a higher, more solitude and scenic view.  Planning on doing some backcountry at Haleakalā?  Read my trail guide post from our trip!

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Early morning risers gathering at the Haleakalā Crater.

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The sunrise!

Beach Time

On the west coast of the island, we made our way to Kihei (about an hour from Haleakalā).  We picked up some snorkels and beverages and headed back down the coast to Ahihi Kinau Natural Area Reserve – an excellent place to spend some time during the day.  We drove past the black lava fields, parked and hiked into the reserve and found some excellent snorkeling spots.  Grid Walking Tip: We were advised by a local not to stay the night at the reserve as cars left unattended were often subject to vandalism.

From Ahihi Kinau Natural Area Reserve, we headed north to Maluaka Beach where we would spend the night (again, on the guidance of a local).  Here, although not exactly allowed, camping is tolerated.  A guard comes by at 7p each night and again in the morning to lock/unlock the gate to the parking lot and as long as you’re comfortable not being able to leave you’re golden.  We were set at ease as locals were camped out as well, poles set for early morning fishing.

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Our home for two nights – Maluaka Beach.

We ended up spending two nights on Maluaka Beach.  During the day, we packed up and drove up and down the west coast searching for snorkeling spots.  There’s plenty to choose from!  We ate our backpacker’s meals and had the occasional splurge at a food truck for fish tacos.  From the Road to Hāna to Haleakalā to touring the coast we really felt we discovered Maui while keeping expenses low.  We did end our trip in Paia and stayed three nights at a laid-back B&B – Mangolani B&B – which was well deserved!

Maui was my first official on the sand, inches from the water, beach camping experience and I loved it.  Spent a night or two on a beach?  Let me know where!

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Sunset at Maluaka Beach.

Quick Links:

Road to Hāna useful reference

Good eats on the Road to Hana

Haleakalā National Park

Haleakalā Wilderness Camping

Mangolani B&B

Let me know what you think!