Meet Magical Maui: A Kid-Friendly Paradise
Balancing work and fun time with your kids is a feat, that's why family vacations are precious and Hawaii’s Valley Isle, Maui, HI, is the perfect destination to create stronger family bonds. Imagine a morning spent snorkeling together in Molokini’s shallows, an afternoon of witnessing the return of the humpback whales to their Pacific breeding grounds or a sunset photo session on the heights of Haleakala. With daytime temperatures in the high 70s to mid-80s all year, Maui keeps kids smiling with outdoor fun to suit every budget.
A Whale of a Time
Winter—the December to April rainy season—brings thousands of humpback whales to breed or give birth in the waters off Maui. The price of a good pair of binoculars and a drive to the Pacific Whale Foundation’s whale-watching station at Papawai Point (Route 30, between mile markers 8 and 9, Maalaea, HI) gets you 180-degree ocean views and the chance to see the humpbacks breaching the waves. For most of the winter, a Foundation naturalist is on-site from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. to answer questions, and it’s all free.
Expert traveler's tip: Winter whale watching in Maui can be a wet, windy experience. Stay comfy and dry with hooded windbreakers all around.
Just 13 miles and 20 minutes down the road from Papawai Point lies Launiupoko Beach Park (Route 30, mile marker 18, Lahaina, HI), complete with changing and restrooms. A shallow, rock-enclosed cove forms a natural wading pool where the youngest family members safely splash to their hearts’ content. Older kids can scour the rocks for black crabs or try their luck at surfing the small waves. There are shaded picnic and barbecue areas, so grab picnic fixings on the way as you pass through Lahaina Town.
The Hawaiian name “Haleakala” means “house of the sun,” and in ancient legend the sun was thought to rise from this nearly 2-mile-high Maui mountain. But a hike over the dormant crater is more like a walk on the moon—a cinder desert where many of Hawaii’s endangered native plants and animals still thrive. Set aside a day for this trip up to the Haleakala National Park (Haleakala Highway, Hana, HI). Gas up, pack food—the park offers neither—and arrive at the Visitor's Center (9,730 feet above sea level) before 3 p.m. to pick up Junior Ranger booklets so the kids can record their adventure.
Expert traveler’s tips:
- The National Park Service requires advance registration and a nominal fee (in addition to the park’s car entrance fee) to reserve a parking space on Haleakala's summit between 3 a.m. and 7 a.m. Another option is to arrive in the afternoon for a sunset viewing.
- Sun and rain protection, closed-toe shoes, long pants and layers are essential; the weather can change in a heartbeat and temperatures at the summit average 30 degrees lower than those at sea level.
Kids Feeding Kids
Perched on Haleakala’s lower leeward (or inland) slopes, about 45 minutes below the National Park, is quirky Surfing Goats Dairy (3651 Omaopio Road, Kula, HI). On the way to or from the crater, drop in to stretch your legs with 250 lively goats and enjoy samples of fresh artisan goat cheese. A basic 20-minute tour features an overview of the operation and a chance to feed the goats. Watch the youngest ones “surf” atop discarded surfboards strewn around the property. A free-roaming potbellied pig adds to the animal-loving fun.
From Clouds to Coral
Maui’s crater magic doesn’t end with Haleakala. Book a half-day Quicksilver Maui snorkeling charter (101 Maalaea Road, Wailuku, HI) to partially-submerged Molokini Crater’s coral reef. Swap the layers and hiking boots for swimsuits, snorkel masks and water shoes and prepare to encounter more than 250 species of gloriously gaudy tropical fish.
Departing from Maalaea Harbor, the 5.5-hour catamaran cruise includes:
- Continental breakfast
- Lunch buffet, including BBQ pulled pork and chocolate chip cookies
- Soda and juice
- Shaded and cushioned seating
- Freshwater showers
- Stairway access to the water
- Flotation devices
- Snorkeling gear and instructions
Older kids will love the waterslide, and a lifeguard remains in the water to keep an eye on snorkelers. Four glass viewing panels let non-snorkelers watch the action through the vessel’s bottom. The trip also takes in Turtle Town, where you can snorkel with Hawaii’s green sea turtles. For each paying adult, one child 6 or younger sails free.
Passionate for travel and the well-written word, Judy Wolfe is a professional writer with a Bachelor of Arts in English literature from Cal Poly Pomona and a certificate in advanced floral design. Her thousands of published articles cover topics from travel and gardening to pet care and technology.