Helen Hatzis
Helen Hatzis
January 19, 2024 ·  11 min read

Rediscovering the Beauty and Spirit of Maui

Over a decade after my first visit to Maui with my daughter in 2009, I returned to the island that had deeply touched my heart. On that initial trip, we stayed in Lahaina, a historic town that was our gateway to exploring the diverse wonders of Maui, from its vibrant communities to its breathtaking natural landscapes. Maui, the second-largest Hawaiian Island, stands out for its incredible diversity and rich cultural heritage, offering visitors a unique and unforgettable experience.

The island’s natural beauty is unparalleled, from lush tropical rainforests in the east to the arid, volcanic landscapes in the west. Over 30 miles of stunning beaches, including white, black, and red sand shores, offer sunbathing, swimming, and snorkelling activities. The crowning jewel is Haleakalā National Park, whose massive volcano forms more than 75% of the island. The summit of Haleakalā is famed for breathtaking sunrises, sunsets, and unique ecosystems.

Maui’s cultural tapestry is rich with Hawaiian traditions, visible in its music, dance, and language. Historical sites, like those in the Iao Valley, highlight the island’s spiritual significance and rich past. Towns like Lahaina, Paia, and Hana exude small-town charm, contrasting the bustling environments of larger Hawaiian islands. The culinary scene here blends traditional Hawaiian cuisine with diverse cultural influences, offering fresh seafood, farm-to-table dining, and traditional luaus.

The people of Maui, a melting pot of ethnicities, embody the ‘Aloha spirit’—a philosophy of harmony, respect, and connection with the island’s heritage. This diverse community adds to the vibrancy of Maui’s spirit. What sets Maui apart are its unique experiences: whale watching in the Auau Channel, the scenic Road to Hana, and more. My recent visit reaffirmed Maui’s enduring beauty and spirit despite the challenges, including natural disasters. This journey was a rediscovery of the island’s many facets, including the charm and resilience of places like Lahaina and an opportunity to support its vibrant community.

A Journey of Reconnection:

This trip was more than a revisit; it was a reconnection with an island as beautiful as I remembered. Contrary to reports of extensive damage, Maui’s beauty stood resilient. Supported by Hawaii Tourism, my mission is to showcase Maui’s enduring allure and the community’s welcoming spirit. Tourism, vital for the Hawaiian Islands, serves as a key economic driver, especially in times of recovery.

This trip was a blend of nostalgia and discovery. While I chose not to revisit the parts of Lahaina affected by the fire, wanting to preserve my cherished memories, the rest of Maui was as breathtaking as I remembered. My companions, writers from Vancouver and Toronto, brought diverse perspectives that enriched our shared experiences. We explored familiar and new territories together, marvelling at Maui’s resilience and beauty. Engaging with locals, I delved deeper into Maui’s culture. The ‘Maui Strong’ initiative, bolstered by celebrity support, is a testament to the island’s enduring spirit.


The island’s culinary landscape was a journey in itself. Maui’s cuisine is a captivating blend of traditional Hawaiian flavours and international influences, creating a diverse and exciting culinary landscape. The island’s food scene is enriched by Asian influences, notably from Japanese, Chinese, and Filipino cuisines, evident in dishes like sushi, stir-fries, and various noodle dishes. Portuguese and American culinary traditions also leave their mark with popular items like Portuguese sausage and American-style burgers. This fusion creates a unique gastronomic identity, showcasing the island’s multicultural fabric.

A significant aspect of Maui’s food culture is the farm-to-table movement, emphasizing fresh, locally-grown produce. The island’s fertile lands yield an abundance of exotic fruits like papaya, mango, and pineapple, as well as a variety of fresh vegetables. This focus on organic and sustainable practices is reflected in many restaurants across Maui, which source their ingredients directly from local farms and fisheries, ensuring both freshness and support for the local community.

For more casual dining, Maui offers a wealth of options. Shave ice, a sweet and refreshing treat made from finely shaved ice flavoured with syrups, is a must-try, especially on warm days. The plate lunch, a staple of casual Hawaiian cuisine, typically includes a protein like teriyaki beef or fried fish, served alongside rice and macaroni salad. These offerings represent the island’s laid-back lifestyle and provide a taste of local favourites. Our visit to Tin Roof was a delightful deviation, where the Poke bowl was a testament to Maui’s vibrant, fresh flavours.

Kula Lodge & Restaurant, nestled in the upcountry of Maui, offers a charming and rustic retreat with breathtaking views of the island. This cosy lodge is renowned for its warm hospitality and picturesque setting, making it a favoured spot for both locals and tourists. The restaurant at Kula Lodge is particularly celebrated, serving a range of delicious dishes that emphasize local ingredients and flavours. Guests can enjoy their meals on a terrace that overlooks the majestic slopes of Haleakalā and the Pacific Ocean, providing a dining experience accompanied by stunning panoramas. The lodge’s ambiance, combining comfort with natural beauty, makes it an ideal spot for those seeking a tranquil escape and a taste of Maui’s upcountry charm.

Seascape Restaurant at Maui Ocean Center, a Platinum Certified “Ocean Friendly Restaurant,” stands out for its commitment to sustainable dining and stunning oceanfront views. As one of Maui’s top beachfront restaurants, it offers an exceptional seafood experience under the guidance of James Beard Foundation Rising Star award-winning Executive Chef Enrique “Henry” Tariga. This unique combination of culinary excellence, eco-friendly practices, and breathtaking location makes Seascape a premier choice for those seeking both environmental mindfulness and exceptional dining in Maui.

On the more luxurious end, Maui boasts several upscale dining experiences, particularly in its many resort restaurants. These establishments often feature menus with creative interpretations of traditional Hawaiian and international cuisine prepared by some of the world’s renowned chefs. These settings emphasise innovative culinary techniques and high-quality ingredients, offering a more refined taste of the island’s diverse flavours. From the locally sourced, plantation-era-inspired cuisine at Kō at the Fairmont Kea Lani to the artisanal creations at Olivine at the Grand Wailea, every meal was a celebration of local flavours. 

The Te Au Moana Luau at Wailea Beach Resort is a captivating experience that brings to life the rich cultural heritage of Hawaii. Held at the picturesque oceanfront of the resort, this luau offers guests an immersive journey into the traditions and stories of the islands. It features a sumptuous feast of traditional Hawaiian cuisine, showcasing the flavours and culinary techniques of the region. The highlight of the evening is a spectacular performance of Hawaiian music and dance, including the mesmerizing hula, which narrates the history and legends of Hawaii. This enchanting event not only entertains but also educates guests about the deep cultural roots of the Hawaiian people, making it a must-visit for anyone seeking to experience authentic island culture at its finest.


In Maui, the range of activities allows visitors to fully immerse themselves in the island’s natural beauty. Snorkelling and scuba diving reveal an underwater world teeming with marine life, including vibrant coral reefs and areas frequented by Hawaiian Green Sea Turtles.

For hiking enthusiasts, the island’s trails lead through diverse terrains, from volcanic landscapes to lush valleys. The beaches of Maui are ideal for both surfing and paddleboarding, accommodating all levels of expertise with a variety of wave conditions. Golfers can enjoy the island’s world-class courses, which offer challenging play and stunning views of Maui’s scenery. Each of these activities provides a unique way to experience and enjoy the natural wonders of Maui.


Since its inception in 1998, the Maui Ocean Center has been a beacon for marine conservation and education in Hawai’i. Esteemed for its dedication to protecting the island’s unique marine life, the centre offers extraordinary encounters with a range of oceanic creatures, many of which are native exclusively to Hawai’i. Home to one of the world’s most extensive collections of live Pacific corals, the centre is not just an aquarium but a living showcase of the ocean’s wonders. Its carefully curated exhibits and comprehensive educational programs are crafted to instil a deep appreciation for the sea and its inhabitants. These efforts extend beyond mere observation, aiming to immerse both locals and visitors in the richness of the surrounding marine environment and the local Hawaiian culture. The Maui Ocean Center stands as a testament to the beauty and importance of the ocean, encouraging conservation and fostering a connection between humans and the aquatic world.

The 2023 Hawaiian Airlines Made in Maui County Festival, celebrating its 10th anniversary, is a vibrant showcase of the island’s rich creativity and entrepreneurial spirit. With over 140 vendors, the festival presents a diverse array of products, all made in Maui County. Attendees have the unique opportunity to explore a vast selection of items, ranging from local food delicacies, exquisite art, handcrafted jewellery, and fashion to bespoke furniture, distinctive gifts, and collectables. This bustling 2-day only event offers a chance to purchase unique and high-quality products and serves as a platform to connect directly with local farmers and artisans. Visitors can engage with these talented individuals, gaining insight into their crafts and understanding the vital importance of supporting local businesses. The festival is more than just a shopping experience; it’s a celebration of Maui’s community, culture, and commitment to sustainability, making it an unmissable event for both residents and visitors alike.

Nestled at an elevation of about 4,000 feet, the Ali’i Kula Lavender (AKL) farm is a horticultural masterpiece created by Agricultural Artist and Horticultural Master Ali’i Chang. Spanning 13.5 acres, this serene farm is home to a staggering 55,000 lavender plants, showcasing 20 different varieties of this aromatic herb. While lavender typically blooms in the summer, AKL cultivates around nine varieties that delightfully flower throughout the year. The farm’s diverse flora also includes olive trees, hydrangeas, Protea, succulents, and a wide variety of other plants, offering a unique and immersive Lavender Lifestyle experience. As the only one of its kind in Maui, AKL provides a tranquil and sensory-rich escape, inviting visitors to explore and indulge in the beauty and tranquillity of this exceptional lavender haven.

ʻĪao Valley State Park, a verdant and tranquil sanctuary located in Central Maui just west of Wailuku, is a remarkable natural wonder spanning 4,000 acres and stretching over 10 miles. At the heart of this lush valley stands one of Maui’s most famous landmarks, the 1,200-foot ʻĪao Needle. This iconic, green-mantled rock outcropping, towering majestically over the ʻĪao stream, creates a stunning visual spectacle. The park is a popular destination for easy hiking and sightseeing, offering visitors the opportunity to immerse themselves in the area’s natural beauty. The serene environment, combined with the rich cultural and historical significance of the valley, makes ʻĪao Valley State Park a must-visit for those looking to experience the breathtaking landscapes and serene atmosphere of Maui.


Fairmont Kea Lani, splendidly located steps from Keoneopolo (Polo) Beach along 22 acres of the prime Wailea coastline, epitomizes an oceanfront paradise in Maui. This luxurious resort offers guests an immersive Hawaiian experience, blending relaxation with cultural engagement and indulgent amenities. Guests can stay in sumptuous suites or villas, each providing breathtaking ocean or garden views, and enjoy leisurely days by one of the three swimming pools, including an adults-only option. The resort places a strong emphasis on Hawaiian cultural traditions, offering a variety of authentic local experiences. Spa Kea Lani enhances the stay with locally inspired treatments, incorporating traditional Hawaiian healing practices, while the dining options celebrate Hawaiian cuisine, showcasing dishes made with fresh local ingredients. Recreational activities, ranging from water sports at the beach to exploring Maui’s natural beauty, add to the allure. Committed to sustainability, Fairmont Kea Lani employs eco-friendly practices, ensuring a luxury experience that is both indulgent and environmentally conscious, making it a perfect blend of luxury, culture, and environmental stewardship for an authentic Hawaiian getaway.

The Wailea Beach Resort is a haven of luxury and tranquillity, offering guests a chance to immerse themselves in the beauty of Maui’s coastline. This resort is distinguished by its elevated accommodations that blend comfort with an elegant island style, providing a serene retreat for those seeking relaxation and rejuvenation. Each room and suite is designed to offer panoramic ocean views, creating a seamless connection between the indoors and the breathtaking natural surroundings. The resort’s dining options are inspired by the rich flavours and traditions of the island, including Humble Market Kitchin by Roy Yamaguchi, the signature restaurant at the resort where guests can indulge in exceptional breakfasts. This dining experience, with its unique blend of Hawaiian and Asian influences, perfectly complements the stunning seaside vistas. The resort’s unique charm is further enhanced by its residential-style accommodations, which offer a sense of home coupled with the indulgence of a high-end resort. Nestled along the ocean’s edge, Wailea Beach Resort is an idyllic destination for those looking to unwind and experience the best of Maui’s natural beauty and hospitality.

Volunteering: A Soulful Connection

Embracing the Hawaiian concept of “kuleana,” which signifies a deep sense of responsibility and care for the land and each other, Maui locals engage in various volunteer activities. These efforts focus on environmental conservation, including regular beach cleanups, reforestation projects, and initiatives to protect endangered species. Cultural preservation is also crucial, with volunteers dedicating time to restore historical sites and educate others about Hawaiian heritage. Community support is evident through contributions to food banks, shelters, and youth mentorship programs. Additionally, sustainable initiatives are gaining traction, with community gardening and renewable energy projects, reflecting a commitment to sustainable living and environmental stewardship. This robust volunteer movement in Maui underscores the community’s dedication to preserving the island’s natural beauty and cultural richness.

The highlight of my trip was volunteering with Feed My Sheep, an organization that embodies the spirit of ‘ohana by supporting residents affected by wildfires. Working alongside locals and volunteers from across the US, we supported residents affected by the wildfires. This resonated deeply with my work through Aloha Toronto, supporting organizations like Maui Food Bank and Maui Aide. It underscored the profound impact of tourism as an economic driver, extending beyond leisure to meaningful community support.

Tourism: The Lifeline of Maui

Tourism is more than an economic driver for Maui; it’s a lifeline that sustains its people and culture. Tourists play a crucial role in the island’s recovery and future by visiting Maui. My journey, shared through social media and this article, aims to encourage others to experience the magic of Maui, contributing to the island’s revitalization.

My visit, particularly at a time when the island is reopening to visitors, was a small contribution to the local economy and a show of support for the resilient people of Maui.

Tips for Your Maui Adventure:

  • Engage with the community and immerse in local culture.
  • Explore beyond the beaches – Maui’s interior is rich in natural wonders.
  • Support local businesses and savour the diverse culinary scene.
  • Practice sustainable tourism to preserve Maui’s beauty.
  • Embrace the local culture and engage with the community.
  • Explore beyond the beaches – Maui’s interior is rich with natural wonders.

Your visit to Maui is more than a vacation; it’s an opportunity to support a resilient community, contribute to an economy in recovery, and explore an island rich in history, culture, and natural beauty.