Travel

Your Guide to Everything Other Than the Beach in Maui

And fine, a couple beaches.

Royce Bair/Moment/Getty Images
Royce Bair/Moment/Getty Images
Royce Bair/Moment/Getty Images

The picture painted in most people’s minds when they think of Maui includes world-famous beaches, surfing, scouting sea turtles, hopping on a catamaran with an island drink, and basically anything that has to do with the water. It’s true, the beaches are paradise-it’s an island in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, after all. And you’d be remiss not to check out some of the pristine beaches like Ka’anapali, Kapalua, and Makena, to name a few. But there’s way more to Maui than beaches.

Nicknamed the Valley Isle, small towns with personalities of their own dot the central valley between Haleakala and the West Maui Mountains. Most don’t think of towns like Wailuku, as it isn’t on the beach, but what does exist there is one of Hawaii’s coolest cocktail bars and a bento box spot that sells out on the regular. In Haiku, rent a 20-acre plantation with 20 of your closest friends without breaking the bank-or turn your phone off and practice wellness at an off-the-grid hotel.

If you’re craving tranquil views, outstanding oyster shooters and smash burgers, views spit out of a catalogue, perfect weather year-round, and, okay, some of the world’s prettiest beaches, there’s never been a better time to plan a trip to Maui than now.

Hawaii is popular for good reason, but tourists would be at a huge loss to not engage with the local culture and at least hear about protecting the special land while visiting. An easy way to learn more while still experiencing all the beautiful nature is to head to Kipuka Olowalu and volunteer. The experience involves a trek around a Jurassic-Park-like plot of land in the Olowalu valley, where you’ll immerse yourself in Hawaiian farming techniques, the replanting of native species, and preserving culture. And then you can get back to checking off all of the below.

Hotel Wailea, Relais & Châteaux
Hotel Wailea, Relais & Châteaux
Hotel Wailea, Relais & Châteaux

Try a non-oceanfront hotel

Oceanfront property is abundant and always in demand, but Maui has several more private best-kept secrets (that are still in close proximity to it all). Hotel Wailea in the exclusive Wailea Resort sits 300 feet above sea level with views of mountains, Hawaiian islands, and the sea. The 5-star Relais & Chateau property is decently close to shops, beaches, and luaus, but it feels worlds away from the action. It doesn’t get much better than seeing the sunrise and sunset from an ocean view suite-and being within walking distance to one of Maui’s best bars: Birdcage Bar, where creative cocktails flow and lovebirds make an appearance around sunset. The hotel remains the only luxury, adult-only digs, and this means you don’t have to worry about kids taking up prime pool space.

Lumeria Maui, in Makawao, is one of Hawaii’s hidden gems. It pegs itself as a tranquil wellness retreat, and rightfully so, since here you’ll find yoga, meditation, healing arts, metaphysical studies, dance and movement, and many more classes and programs. Don’t expect TVs in the rooms, but do expect large crystals throughout the grounds-and a really gorgeous pool. When in Makawao, be sure to get to T. Komoda Store & Bakery, a local staple since 1916, for donuts on a stick.

Haiku House Maui
Haiku House Maui
Haiku House Maui

Or book an entire estate on a 20-acre plantation

If you have the opportunity, rent out Haiku House, a luxury estate situated on a 20-acre plantation on Maui’s North Shore. The spot includes nine suite-style bedrooms and enough space to roam around with give-or-take 20 of your closest friends (or not!). Compared to other luxury resorts and hotels, when broken down per person, the average $6,500 per night price tag is more attainable than it seems.

Learn the art of Mālama (caring for the land in the Hawaiian language) via Common Ground Collective, a non-profit helping promote sustainability. Guests can roll up their sleeves and weed, plant, and harvest the fruits of the labor, such as Meyer lemons, pomelos, and avocado. A portion of proceeds go to families in need.

Hana-Maui Resort
Hana-Maui Resort
Hana-Maui Resort

Take the other scenic route to Hana… and stay overnight

The Road to Hana is a coveted attraction, and the average tourist does the roundtrip drive in one day. That’s cool and all, but expect it to take almost three hours to reach the finish line, with around 620-ish nauseating twists and turns along the 64.4 mile-long stretch that makes up Hana Highway. If you don’t want to spend six hours in the car, hop on Mokulele Airlines for a 20-minute flight from Kahului Airport to Hana and cut out nausea-ville, plus see panoramic views of the journey from above-Keopuka Island and waterfalls included. (You can rent a car in Hana, but it’s wise to book in advance as there are very few cars available).

Whether you drive or fly, it’s highly recommended to stay overnight and experience Hana the way most travelers don’t. That means you can also hit epic trails, like Waimoku Falls, in the a.m. before the rush of day trippers surges. Hana-Maui Hotel‘s sea cottages are a perfect place to unplug and unwind while listening to the waves crash in the distance. It’s also super close to Black Sand Beach, Hana Gold Cacao Plantation, multiple waterfalls, lush tropical forests, and the tiny, charming Hana town.

Food options are limited, but that’s the beauty of it, as you’ll want to spend the majority of the time exploring and chilling. If hunger strikes, there are a few solid bets like Thai Food by Pranee, Huli Huli Chicken, Hana Ranch Restaurant, Hana Farms Roadside Stand (also serving pupus and pizza), and The Restaurant at Hana-Maui Resort (as fancy as it gets).

Pacific'o On The Beach
Pacific’o On The Beach
Pacific’o On The Beach

Get your fill of sushi and smash burgers

There’s a lot more to Maui’s food scene than poke bowls and Mai Tais (which btw, hail from California, not Hawaii). Hawaii is a melting pot of cultures, so the food is quite exciting if you’re willing to veer off the beaten path. There are too many to list but here’s a solid start.

Fast casual: Chef Sheldon Simeon’s Tin Roof still remains a must-stop en route to the airport for the fat chow fun and spicy chicken sandwich alone. Smash burgers in Hawaii? You bet. Zach Soto, a former fine-dining chef, opened Havens inside a Shell gas station in Kihei and has a dialled-up menu with everything from saimin (Hawaii’s noodle soup), sushi, mouthwatering burgers, oyster “chili watah” shooters, and crazy tots (tater tots with kimchi and furikake).

Epic views and great food: It would be hard to beat a prettier sunset than at Pacific’O in Lahaina. Rarely do the view, food, and cocktails all stand out in equal parts, but with chef Isaac Bancaco’s local and seasonally driven eats-plus bar manager Mari Howe’s cocktails-the restaurant achieves the rare trifecta exception. The fried chicken with malasadas is a dish that will stick with you forever. Craving pasta and an ocean view? The Four Seasons Resort Maui at Wailea is home to Ferraro’s Bar e Ristorante. This vibrant, open-air Italian restaurant gives off Tuscany-meets-Hawaii vibes with unmatched views. But Chef Michael Patria crushes with the expected (insanely awesome pizza and pasta) and the unexpected (hearts of palm “ceviche” and a seafood cobb salad).

Breakfast: Chef Lee Anne Wong’s Papa’aina at the Pioneer Inn in Old Lahaina is a real glimpse into sourcing locally. The menu is ever-changing and everything is dynamite-from the breakfast ramen to the luau skillet, and obviously the macadamia nut ricotta pancakes. If you don’t mind waiting a bit, Baked on Maui in Haiku is a fun spot in the Upcountry with phenomenal baked goods and skillet egg dishes.

Kiawe Outdoor
Kiawe Outdoor
Kiawe Outdoor

Find a food festival or private outdoor dinner

Four Seasons Resort Maui at Wailea just brought back the annual Four Seasons Maui Wine & Food Classic over Labor Day Weekend (September 2–4, 2022) with a Michelin-starred chef lineup and exquisite wines. The twelfth annual Hawaii Food & Wine Festival is one of the longest food festivals and takes place on the islands of Hawaii, Maui, and Oahu from October 20 to November 6, 2022-it’s a standout way to see what each island has to offer.

Kiawe Outdoor is like the alfresco dinner party of your dreams, where three things collide: fire Hawaiian outdoor fire cooking, epic wine hand selected by Yeshua (an advanced sommelier), and conversation under the stars. You could attend one of the ongoing select planned dinners or opt for a completely customized dinner with friends. Dinners give visitors the chance to taste invasive species like Axis deer, which is slow cooked over Kiawe wood. It’s unlike any other dining experience on the island.

For 30 years now, Celebration of the Arts has taken place at The Ritz-Carlton Maui, Kapalua. Each April local artisans, cultural practitioners, chefs, filmmakers, cultural panelists, and more gather for a weekend of educational activities and events. It’s a beautiful way to learn more about Hawaiian culture in a really lively environment. Book tickets early, as this is a sought after weekend for locals!

Peter Unger/Stone/Getty Images
Peter Unger/Stone/Getty Images
Peter Unger/Stone/Getty Images

Spend the day in Wailuku

Often overlooked by visitors, Wailuku, at the foot of the West Maui Mountains, is a cool town to explore where tourist traps don’t exist. After browsing the boutiques-don’t miss Native Intelligence (a cultural retail boutique), Rebecca Lowell Art, and Turnbull Studios & Sculpture Garden-pop by Shikeda Bento Patisserie for standout bento boxes and sweets. Wash it all down next door at Esters Fair Prospect, an authentic tropical cocktail bar owned by Jessica Everett and Suzanne Navarro. In addition to serving tasty small bites and pupus, the classic daiquiri, with Sugarcane Dane‘s Maui Cane Syrup, will give you a real sense of place. If you’re craving sushi, though, make your way over to the BYOB, no-reservation-needed Umi Sushi.

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Jenn Rice is a contributor for Thrillist.

Travel

Ditch your Phone for ‘Dome Life’ in this Pastoral Paradise Outside Port Macquarie 

A responsible, sustainable travel choice for escaping big city life for a few days.

nature domes port macquarie
Photo: Nature Domes

The urge to get as far away as possible from the incessant noise and pressures of ‘big city life’ has witnessed increasingly more of us turn to off-grid adventures for our holidays: Booking.com polled travellers at the start of 2023 and 55% of us wanted to spend our holidays ‘off-grid’.  Achieving total disconnection from the unyielding demands of our digitised lives via some kind of off-grid nature time—soft or adventurous—is positioned not only as a holiday but, indeed, a necessity for our mental health. 

Tom’s Creek Nature Domes, an accommodation collection of geodesic domes dotted across a lush rural property in Greater Port Macquarie (a few hours’ drive from Sydney, NSW), offers a travel experience that is truly ‘off-grid’. In the figurative ‘wellness travel’ sense of the word, and literally, they run on their own independent power supply—bolstered by solar—and rely not on the town grid. 

Ten minutes before you arrive at the gates for a stay at Tom’s Creek Nature Domes, your phone goes into ‘SOS ONLY’. Apple Maps gives up, and you’re pushed out of your comfort zone, driving down unsealed roads in the dark, dodging dozens of dozing cows. Then, you must ditch your car altogether and hoist yourself into an open-air, all-terrain 4WD with gargantuan wheels. It’s great fun being driven through muddy gullies in this buggy; you feel like Laura Dern and Jeff Goldblum in Jurassic Park.  As your buggy pulls in front of your personal Nature Dome, it’s not far off that “Welcome…to Jurassic Park” jaw-dropping moment—your futuristic-looking home is completely engulfed by thriving native bushland; beyond the outdoor campfire lie expansive hills and valleys of green farmland, dotted with sheep and trees. You’re almost waiting to see a roaming brachiosaurus glide past, munching on a towering gum tree…instead, a few inquisitive llamas trot past your Dome to check out their new visitor. 

To fully capture the awe of inhabiting a geodesic dome for a few days, a little history of these futuristic-looking spherical structures helps. Consisting of interlocking triangular skeletal struts supported by (often transparent) light walls, geodesic domes were developed in the 20th century by American engineer and architect R. Buckminster Fuller, and were used for arenas. Smaller incarnations have evolved into a ‘future-proof’ form of modern housing: domes are able to withstand harsh elements due to the stability provided by the durable materials of their construction and their large surface area to volume ratio (which helps minimize wind impact and prevents the structure from collapsing). As housing, they’re also hugely energy efficient – their curved shape helps to conserve heat and reduce energy costs, making them less susceptible to temperature changes outside. The ample light let in by their panels further reduces the need for artificial power. 

Due to their low environmental impact, they’re an ideal sustainable travel choice. Of course, Tom’s Creek Nature Domes’ owner-operators, Cardia and Lee Forsyth, know all this, which is why they have set up their one-of-a-kind Nature Domes experience for the modern traveller. It’s also no surprise to learn that owner Lee is an electrical engineer—experienced in renewable energy—and that he designed the whole set-up. As well as the off-grid power supply, rainwater tanks are used, and the outdoor hot tub is heated by a wood fire—your campfire heats up your tub water via a large metal coil. Like most places in regional Australia, the nights get cold – but rather than blast a heater, the Domes provide you with hot water bottles, warm blankets, lush robes and heavy curtains to ward off the chill.

nature domes port macquarie
Photo: Nature Domes

You’ll need to be self-sufficient during your stay at the Domes, bringing your own food. Support local businesses and stock up in the town of Wauchope on your drive-in (and grab some pastries and coffee at Baked Culture while you’re at it). There’s a stovetop, fridge (stocked as per a mini bar), BBQs, lanterns and mozzie coils, and you can even order DIY S’More packs for fireside fun. The interiors of the Domes have a cosy, stylish fit-out, with a modern bathroom (and a proper flushing toilet—none of that drop bush toilet stuff). As there’s no mobile reception, pack a good book or make the most of treasures that lie waiting to be discovered at every turn: a bed chest full of board games, a cupboard crammed with retro DVDs, a stargazing telescope (the skies are ablaze come night time). Many of these activities are ideal for couples, but there’s plenty on offer for solo travellers, such as yoga mats, locally-made face masks and bath bombs for hot tub soaks. 

It’s these thoughtful human touches that reinforce the benefit of making a responsible travel choice by booking local and giving your money to a tourism operator in the Greater Port Macquarie Region, such as Tom’s Creek Nature Domes. The owners are still working on the property following the setbacks of COVID-19, and flooding in the region —a new series of Domes designed with families and groups in mind is under construction, along with an open-air, barn-style dining hall and garden stage. Once ready, the venue will be ideal for wedding celebrations, with wedding parties able to book out the property. They’ve already got one couple—who honeymooned at the Domes—ready and waiting. Just need to train up the llamas for ring-bearer duties! 

An abundance of favourite moments come to mind from my two-night stay at Tom’s Creek: sipping champagne and gourmet picnicking at the top of a hill on a giant swing under a tree, with a bird’s eye view of the entire property (the ‘Mountain Top picnic’ is a must-do activity add on during your stay), lying on a deckchair at night wrapped in a blanket gazing up at starry constellations and eating hot melted marshmallows, to revelling in the joys of travellers before me, scrawled on notes in a jar of wishes left by the telescope (you’re encouraged to write your own to add to the jar). But I’ll leave you with a gratitude journal entry I made while staying there. I will preface this by saying that I don’t actually keep a gratitude journal, but Tom’s Creek Nature Domes is just the kind of place that makes you want to start one. And so, waking up on my second morning at Tom’s —lacking any 4G bars to facilitate my bad habit of a morning Instagram scroll—I finally opened up a notebook and made my first journal entry:

‘I am grateful to wake up after a deep sleep and breathe in the biggest breaths of this clean air, purified by nature and scented with eucalyptus and rain. I am grateful for this steaming hot coffee brewed on a fire. I feel accomplished at having made myself. I am grateful for the skittish sheep that made me laugh as I enjoyed a long nature walk at dawn and the animated billy goats and friendly llamas overlooking my shoulder as I write this: agreeable company for any solo traveller. I’m grateful for total peace, absolute stillness.” 

Off-grid holiday status: unlocked.

Where: Tom’s Creek Nature Domes, Port Macquarie, 2001 Toms Creek Rd
Price: $450 per night, book at the Natura Domes website.

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