It's really hard to pick a top attraction in Maui.
The island is just packed full of world class diving sites, incredible hiking, stunning waterfalls, and beautiful drives. Nevertheless, as a person who only had five days in Maui (with several days filled with our diving certification classes), I really had to be selective about which places to visit and then plan really good restaurants that were near those locations (of course!).
As I researched on the web and poked around various Top 10 type lists, one place started to stand out.
Haleakala, a dormant volcano on the eastern side of Maui, consistently showed up on these lists, almost always being hailed as the number one attraction to see in Maui.
Bryan and I have always been avid hikers, having backpacked down and up the Grand Canyon (we took it slowly, over a course of three days!), explored phenomenal trails in the Canadian Rockies, and climbed, camped, and driven countless other national parks in the U.S. It was a no-brainer that we would want to discover this beautiful, exotic, almost alien landscape at 10,000 feet.
The drive up, from sea level to 10,000 feet, is fascinating. The roads are a bit windy, but they are wide, nicely paved, and reasonably protected with guardrails. Honestly, it's nothing like the Road to Hana (which is a much more difficult drive!).
The scenery changes as you drive up, from soaring trees at the bottom to grass covered hills as you ascend.
You'll drive through the cloud line, and then above it, to reach an altitude where only certain vegetation can survive.
The entrance to the park is at 7,000 feet elevation, and then there is a summit viewing area at 10,000 feet.
By far the most popular way to visit Haleakala is to see the sunrise. Because the drive to the summit from west Maui (which is where most of the resorts are) takes about 1.5 to 2 hours, most people leave around 3-4AM in order to secure a viewing spot before the sunrise.
Neither Bryan and I are morning people, so getting up at 3AM definitely sounded a bit painful. We also had a real reason why we couldn't go to Haleakala so early in the morning. We had gone diving just the day before. In order to prevent decompression sickness (a.k.a. "the Bends"), a diver typically has to wait around 18-24 hours at sea level before ascending to high elevation. In our case, that meant the earliest we could be at the top was around noontime.
So we opted for sunset. It was nice to be able to drive UP the mountain in daylight, enjoying all the beautiful scenery around us.
We hiked all afternoon, exploring the alien, surreal, almost Martian-like environment.
It was so quiet, and there was so little life up here at this high altitude.
We went as far as we could, but at some point, in order to turn around and make it back to the summit by sunset, we had to turn around. That's me indicating our "halfway" point.
The steep climb uphill was exhausting, but we made it in record time. In fact, we went up so fast (at least compared to what the rangers had suggested), we ended up having another hour to "kill" at the summit. We spent that time hiking around the summit area before the sun began to set.
And it was beautiful.
The drive down in the dark was . . . dark, but not too bad. There are a lot of cars all heading down at the same time, so it's pretty easy just to follow the car in front of you. It wasn't too trafficky, and the cars moved at a pretty good pace down the mountain.
It was kind of unreal to be driving so far above the cloudline for so long as we descended the mountain. It really felt like I was in an airplane . . . sort of.
We had dinner booked at Hali'imaile General Store, a restaurant that is located pretty close to the bottom of the volcano. It's a great place to stop by for a meal in order to break up that long drive from the top of the volcano to the sunny western side of Maui, which is where most of the hotels and resorts are located.
Hali'imaile General Store is open for both lunch and dinner, and has been in business since 1988. It's not a store at all. The owners decided to name the restaurant after the general store that used to be in that space before they took it over in 1988.
The food is modern Hawaiian, focused on using local Hawaiian ingredients but heavily influenced by Asian techniques and flavors.
By the time we arrived at the restaurant, we were famished from our hike and definitely excited about trying many things on the menu!
From the "Raw Bar" section of the menu, we ordered the Sashimi Napoleon ($24), a play on the layered French dessert, this version consisted of layers of Ahi tartare, smoked salmon, and Ahi sashimi stacked between crispy wonton crisps and toosed with a wasabi vinaigrette. It was delicious. The seafood was gorgeously fresh and I loved the crunch from the wonton crisps. All in all - a great dish.
Bryan loves duck and Mexican food, and thus was intriqued by the Asian Pear Duck Tostada ($16) from the "Appetizer" section of the menu. In this case, an Asian spiced confit duck leg was served in a huge crispy lumpia shell topped with Asian pear slices and a refreshing slaw of jicama, cucumber, and carrot. For added flavors and textures, there were also dried cranberries, toasted macadamia nuts, and cilantro, all tossed in a ginger chili dressing.
This was solid, though Bryan thought the overall dish was a bit sweet for his preference.
I know. I'm boring and predictable, but I ordered Ahi tuna AGAIN just because it's so good here in Hawaii. The Blackened Ahi ($42) was topped with tobiko and came perched on top of baby greens and mashed potatoes. Underneath it all was a generous pool of sweet Thai chili sauce and a vivid green wasabi vinaigrette.
The Ahi was perfectly cooked and I enjoyed the sweet, spicy, and savory combination of the sauce. Bryan thought it was a bit too sweet (he's sensitive in that way), but I very much enjoyed it.
Bryan ordered the Grilled Rack of Lamb ($42) which consisted of two double-cut chops served with Hali'imaile General Store's signature "HGS classic black bean Hunan sauce". This came with a side of wasabi mashed potatoes and grilled asparagus. Bryan, who usually does not love asparagus, actually really enjoyed the vegetables in this dish.
"They are really nicely charred, with a smoky flavor yet fresh, crispy, and sweet on the inside. I think it's my favorite part of the entire dish."
The vegetables were delicious, and the wasabi mashed potatoes were nice as well. The signature version of the Hunan sauce turned out to be quite sweet, and a bit too sweet for Bryan, unfortunately (again!). I thought it was OK, but I'm not naturally a huge lamb fan, so it was harder for me to get excited about the dish.
All in all, we still had a solid meal at Hali'imaile General Store. If you're not a fan of sweet flavors in Asian foods (like Bryan), you may not love some of the dishes here. However, I think most people can tolerate sweet a lot more than Bryan, so I'm not too concerned about that. The execution of the dishes was good, and some really stood out, such as the Sashimi Napolean. They didn't seem to mind too much that we were wearing clothes that sort of looked like hiking clothes. In general, Hawaii is pretty relaxed, and Hali'imaile General Store is reasonably casual, with a relaxed and warm ambiance of a local country store.
Location-wise, this is a very nice place to go after visiting Haleakala. It's located pretty close to the foot of the mountain, which is the perfect spot to take a break before continuing that longish (45min - 1 hour) drive back to the western side of Maui.
Even if you don't eat here, you must visit Haleakala. The views are stunning and it really feels like you are on another planet. At least when I went, the trails were not crowded at all, and there were times when we felt completely alone up in that alien space. If you look really closely at the photo above, you can see a handfull of people hiking the trail, but it's really not that many at all.
It was like we had that whole volcano to ourselves to enjoy, explore, and just soak in, which was kind of awesome.
This post is part of a larger series on our two week trip to Hawaii. Other posts in this series!
Exploring Volcano National Park
Da Poke Shack and Umeke's on the Big Island
A Mantay Ray Dive, Sea Turtles, and Kona Coffee
Haleakaka and the Hali'imaile General Store
Mama's Fish House and the Road to Hana
Sansei Restaurant & Sushi Bar (+ Diving in Maui!)
Lahaina Grill, Maui
Kokohead Cafe, Honolulu
La Mer Honolulu
Hali'imaile General Store
900 Hali'imaile Rd
Makawao HI 96768