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Kihei, Wailea, Makena 'The best of everything'

By SARAH RUPPENTHAL

For The Maui News
Kamaole Beach Park II Lifeguards

South Maui may, at first glance, seem like just another seaside beach town. But this lovely and picturesque area is overflowing with activity, from the land to the sea.

The ancient Hawaiians were drawn to South Maui’s sparkling white beaches, crystal-clear waters and vibrant, multi-hued sunsets — the very same displays of nature that continue to attract visitors to the area today. With its dry, sunny climate and endless stretches of beaches fringed by palm trees, South Maui is the ideal destination for those who seek to indulge in sun, sand and surf, or for those who seek to escape into their own tropical paradise. The area is brimming with accommodations in all price ranges, ranging from posh five-star resorts to quaint low-rise condominium villages.

But what truly sets South Maui apart from the rest of the island is its seemingly endless supply of things to see, things to do — and things to taste.

Nestled on the island’s southwestern coastline, South Maui is known for its dry, dusty and hot days. With less than 13 inches of rainfall each year, visitors to the area are almost guaranteed cloudless blue skies — just remember to bring a bottle of sunscreen and a pair of sunglasses.

The most popular area of South Maui is the lively beach town of Kihei. Ancient Hawaiians once described the area of Kihei as “Kama'ole,” which means “barren.” Today, Kihei is anything but barren and is a favorite travel destination and most densely populated town in South Maui. It also offers the bulk of South Maui’s shops, restaurants and tourism activities and attractions. With dozens of shopping malls, several grocery stores and restaurants ranging from fast-food to fine-dining, Kihei has just about everything — under the sun.

Visitors will find shady lawns and palm trees scattered along Kihei’s many beaches and beach parks, often filled with craft fairs, live musical performances or other entertaining events. Most of these beach parks are carefully monitored by trained lifeguards, and are some of the safest swimming areas in Hawaii. From November to April, Kihei’s beaches offer a fantastic view of the humpback whales as they make their annual trek through Hawaii’s waters.

Kihei’s beaches may look similar, but each has its own personality and temperament — one may be ideal for surfing a crashing set of waves, the other may be more suitable for a leisurely snorkel adventure with the kids. From scuba diving lessons and kayaking to sunset dinner cruises and whale watching expeditions, the area has a nearly endless supply of fun and exciting activities, in and out of the water. As one of Maui’s top nightlife areas, Kihei has a variety of places to catch a Monday night football game, sing a favorite Karaoke song, or dance the night away. With some of the best restaurants on the island, Kihei is sure to satisfy the most discerning palates. The area is celebrated for its creative culinary delights showcasing local cuisine, fresh island seafood, and some of Maui’s best Japanese and Italian restaurants.

A few miles down the beach, the resort area of Wailea rests along nearly two miles of gently sloping terrain and rugged shoreline. Five of Maui’s most prestigious hotels overlook the surf of Wailea Beach, fronted by a winding pathway that leads to The Shops at Wailea, an open-air mall featuring upscale retail shops, boutiques, art galleries and award-winning restaurants. Beyond the water slides and cabanas of Wailea’s resorts, there is an impeccably manicured landscape punctuated by tennis courts and golf courses. The Wailea Tennis Club offers several, state-of-the-art plexi-pave tennis courts, with three that can be illuminated for nighttime matches. The renowned Wailea Tennis Academy offers first-rate tennis clinics, private and group lessons, and a fully-stocked pro shop.

For golfers, Wailea offers a truly unforgettable experience. Golfers can choose between the greens of the Wailea Blue, Wailea Gold or Wailea Emerald courses. The Wailea Emerald and Gold courses are ranked as two of the best golf courses in the nation, while the Wailea Blue is considered one of the best in the Hawaiian Islands. For any golfer, there is no greater joy than teeing off under a canopy of palm trees and against the backdrop of the magnificent Pacific Ocean. In addition to golf and tennis, many of Wailea’s resorts offer their guests intriguing Native Hawaiian cultural programs, guided nature tours, marine education workshops and children’s programs. And for those who seek the soothing touch of a massage therapist or the rejuvenating effects of a spa treatment, the area has several world-class spas. After dark, Wailea comes alive with music, dancing and late-night entertainment in restaurants and hotel lounges, often accompanied by the festive sounds of an outdoor wedding ceremony, a live musical performance or a traditional Hawaiian luau.

A short distance away from the resorts of Wailea is the peaceful area of Makena, a residential area of luxurious beachfront homes bordered by unpaved pathways andlava rock walls. The ancient Hawaiians once lived in small fishing villages along the shores of Makena, catching fish for upland villages and for the royal families who resided in West Maui. Today, Makena is a haven for nature-lovers, golfers and tennis players, with several tennis courts and the uniquely designed, four-star Makena Golf Courses within close range of roadside stands offering sweet cupfuls of shave ice and sizzling fish tacos. The nearby Makena Landing is a popular diving and snorkeling spot, offering visitors a rare opportunity to be up close and personal with Maui’s resident sea turtles and indigenous fishes. And a trip to Makena would be incomplete without a stop at Big Beach. Stretching more than 3,000-feet long and 100-feet wide, Big Beach certainly lives up to its namesake, but visitors should be wary of its high, unpredictable surf.

Far away from the activity of the resort areas is the Ahihi Kinau Natural Area Reserve, a protected marine sanctuary that is guarded by a massive platform of lava rock created during the last eruption of Haleakala in 1790. Within the rugged, ebony landscape of the Ahihi Kinau Reserve is the legendary La Perouse Bay, a protected area that is the site of the King’s Highway, a sacred area that was once a pathway for Hawaiian royalty. Both the Ahihi Kinau Reserve and La Perouse Bay are protected by state law, and there is restricted access to certain areas.

From the gentle ocean breeze of Makena and romantic sunsets of Wailea to the mouthwatering cuisine and thrilling nightlife of Kihei, South Maui is a tropical paradise that truly has the best of everything.

Grand Wailea Hotel

Makena Big Beach

Click on a link or on the map to visit another area of the island.