Maui with Tweens: A Perfect Family Day
The best advice I can give you if you are traveling to Maui with tweens is somewhat mundane, but it is sound advice that will serve you well for the rest of your trip. Stop at Costco. It's located just seven minutes (3.39 miles) from Kahului Airport. Load up on the things tweens want most-snacks, a snorkel, mask, and fins. You'll get your money's worth out of the snorkel gear, and favorite island snacks include Japanese rice crackers called kakemochi, Hawaiian Sun drinks (especially guava and passion fruit), papayas, honey-roasted macadamia nuts, and Ani's Hawaiian Sweet Bread. The Costco is located at 540 Haleakala Highway in Kahului; hours are Mon-Fri 10AM-8:30PM, Sat 9:30AM-6PM, Sun 10AM-6PM. 808-877-5248.
Tip: Practice using the snorkel, mask and fins in your hotel pool prior to going into the ocean. I started my son's snorkeling by floating him on an air raft with his mask and snorkel on so he could see underwater while we pulled him behind us. Soon he was diving after the fish himself.
After you load up on goodies, head toward Black Rock Beach at Kaanapali, Kaanapali Beach (State Highway 30). Kaanapali Beach offers the perfect Maui family vacation activity for tweens, with its three miles of picture perfect, warm white sand. Your tweens will swim in naturally protected clear water and see fish, sea turtles and marine life. Lifeguards are on the beach, but take note that there are no public restrooms, so your family will need to use the facilities at one of the many hotels along the beach.
Parking tip: The public parking lot on the ground level of the Sheraton Maui Resort, the last hotel at the north end of Ka`anapali Parkway is the closest to Black Rock. Arrive in the morning if you want to get one of the free parking spots.
While visiting the lovely island of Maui, one of the best things to do is to watch for humpback whales. Carve some time out of your morning for this activity if you are visiting November-May. The famous whales frolic off the west coast of Maui. The best times to see them are from January-April. Watch for the mother whales that bring their calves very close to shore. Stop on Highway 30 at any lookout over the ocean to get a good vantage point. Be patient!
After whale watching or beach play on the lovely beaches of Maui with your tweens, your tribe will more than likely be ready to tuck into a hearty lunch. Head to Da Kitchen, a 40-minute drive (26 miles) from Black Rock Beach. The restaurant is located at 425 Koloa Street (Hana Highway) in Kahului. You'll find dishes here most likely not found in any other state: fried Spam Musubi ($4.50), Da Saimin ($8.25), and Honolulu style fried noodles with vegetables and teriyaki beef ($8.99). My tween easily packed away a Loco Moco plate lunch ($9.99)-grilled burger topped with two eggs, onions, mushrooms and gravy served with two scoops of rice and Potato Mac salad. Local style, he garnished it with catsup. Try the kalbi ribs, Korean chicken, chicken Katsu, or the Teriyaki Plate. Da Kitchen is open Mon-Fri 11AM-8:30PM, Sat 11AM-5PM, closed Sun. 808-871-7782.
Family travel in Maui wouldn't be complete without a leisurely drive through Wailuku, the somewhat sleepy capital of Maui. You'll see old-time buildings, quiet streets, and quaint homes circa early 1900s.
Be sure to visit the ancient Hawaiian temples of Haleki`i and Pihanakalahi Heiau. The lava foundations of these temples, originally built in 1240, were once the site of sacrifices to ancient gods. To get to the temples, drive past the Wailuku Industrial Area toward Waihe`e. Turn left on Kuhio Place and then left to Hea Place. Free admission and ample paved parking are a plus. My twelve-year-old son enjoyed this site and felt awe at its historical significance.
Another one of the best tween friendly family vacation ideas in Maui is taking a visit to Iao Valley State Park. A beautiful park, the valley is so lush from rainfall that ancient Hawaiians grew taro (an edible plant) here. The awe-inspiring waterfalls thunder loudly through the valley. Bordered by yellow gingers, torch ginger, banana plants, and thickly growing ferns, a paved walk leads to a scenic viewpoint of Kuka'emoku (`Iao Needle), a tall thin mountain, which rises 1,200 feet from the valley floor. This valley is the site of the battle of Kepaniwai, where the forces of Kamehameha I conquered the Maui army in 1790 in his effort to unite the Hawaiian Islands. Note that restrooms are available, and be sure to bring mosquito repellant. The park is open 7AM-7PM daily. 808-587-0300.
Directions: Take Highway 32 (Kaahumanu Road) west out of Wailuku. This road turns into Highway 320, which leads to the Iao Valley State Park.
After spending the morning at the beach and the afternoon in the mountains, end the day with an authentic Hawaiian luau in Lahaina at Old Lahaina Luau. During the first hour of the luau, locals teach traditional culture and crafts. When they blow conch shells, the Hawaiian underground cooking pit, the imu, is opened and the fragrant scent of the kalua pig, which has been cooking all day, billows out, and the suckling pig is carried out. The luau feast offers many traditional Hawaiian foods as well as familiar steak, chicken, fruit, and salad.
The entertainment showcases authentic Hawaiian dances and chants that depict the legends of Hawaii and its history. "Can we come back again?" my son asked when the full cast sang their last Aloha Oe. Located at 1251 Front Street, Lahaina. Advance reservations are necessary, call 808-667-1998. The luau starts at 5:15 PM or 5:45 PM, depending on the time of the year. Adults $92.00 + $3.83 tax = $95.83; Children $62.00 + $2.58 tax = $64.58.
Author Pam Chun's award-winning first novel, The Money Dragon, was named one of 2002's Best Books in Hawaii. Born and raised in Hawaii, Pam has been featured on NPR and has spoken at the Smithsonian. Read her blog on Red Room.