Much of West Maui is lined with resorts and rows of oceanfront condos, but northwestern Maui is where the development gives way to a rugged coast. It’s a section of island where white sand beaches are hidden from view of the road, and waves thunder and crash. It’s a popular alternative to driving to Hana, and what it lacks in waterfalls, the drive on the northwestern coast makes up for with some of the island’s best views and plenty of places to explore.
From the moment you drive past Kapalua, the road narrows and the landscape turns lush. The first stop is Mokuleia, also known as “Slaughterhouse Bay,” where a steep set of concrete stairs leads down to a patch of golden sand. The snorkeling in summer months is some of the best on the island, and completely different from Honolua Bay, which is located right next door. Here you’ll find he’e, or camouflaged octopus, that dart between sand channels and rocks, and spotted eagle rays often cruise the waters just off the point.
Honolua Bay, on the other hand, is best accessed by driving another mile up the road, where local vendors sometimes set up booths selling locally made crafts. Half of the fun of snorkeling Honolua is making the hike to shore, which weaves through a valley that drips in vines and bursts with various shades of green. Snorkeling is excellent here during the summer months. However, during the winter months, swells come in and attract experienced surfers. If a winter swell is hitting Honolua, during a visit, take a moment to pull off the road and watch the surf from above, as some of the world’s most talented surfers score perfect, hollow, turquoise barrels with the island of Molokai visible behind them.
Continuing north on the drive up the coast, you’ll find Punalau Beach, with it is the wind-whipped shoreline, and Honokohau, which offers one of the island’s most panoramic views. If stands on the roadside are selling fruit, stop for a while, “talk story,” and continue driving around the coast before reaching the Ohai Loop Trail. Set near the island’s northern tip, this moderate, 1.2 mile hike offers views that stretch from Molokai to the slopes of Haleakala, and is a calming place for peaceful reflection while listening to nothing but the wind. In winter, it’s also one of the island’s best places to look for Humpback whales, and despite the fact that it’s right off the road, it still remains a lightly visited escape on the northwestern coast.