"Maui is magical," my daughter mumbled recently, her mouth full of shaved ice.
She was reading from a shop sign, but agreed with the sentiment entirely.
Of course she did. She'd just been swimming with a mermaid and had managed to make her mother do the same, but more on that in a moment.
We'd never been to Hawaii until this year. While all the islands are meant to be fabulous, we chose Maui for its relaxed vibe and couldn't have been happier with our pick. The beaches are beautiful, the people are friendly and there's so much to see and do.
We swam and snorkelled with turtles (they found us rather than the other way around), hiked lush trails, drove the famous road to Hana and tried out a few paid activities.
Come prepared. Maui isn't cheap!
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Make like a mermaid
I mean, who doesn't want to channel The Little Mermaid, or for the adults, Darryl Hannah from Splash?
Maui has a range of operators offering mermaid experiences and outings can be held at the beach, in the sea or resort pool. I chose Mermaids on Maui.
Getting the tails on took a bit of wriggling, but was easy enough.
Learning how to move in one was not.
I did my best sexy sea siren impression but more closely resembled a giant sea slug. It was really hard work. Even moving around on the beach or lifting my tail up in a mermaid pose was difficult, never mind learning to swim with it.
Apparently, children take to mermaid swimming far more quickly than adults, as my daughter proved. I was comforted to know that our mermaid instructors Miristi and Sarah were trained in water safety and rescue.
Our package included photos and videos in the water and a couple of incredibly cute mermaid themed gifts.
It ended in the perfect way when Sarah the mermaid model swam off into the distance back to her 'sea cave' to sleep.
My daughter was astounded and to this day is still slightly confused. Hey, in magical Maui anything is possible!
- Cost: Packages start at US$365 (about NZ$567) for one mermaid or merman.
- Top tips: To keep the cost down, let your kids channel their inner mermaid without you. You can take photos. For those who don't want to be mermaids or mermen there's also a shark fin.
Take the plunge in a submarine
Not everyone wants or is able to swim, snorkel, scuba dive or make like a mermaid to discover interesting sea life. You can stay dry in a submarine.
Atlantis Submarines Maui operates several times a day from the harbour at Lahaina. It's a short boat ride to the sub, which descends to a depth of about 30m and cruises around the seabed.
To ensure there's always plenty to look at, the company paid hundreds of thousands of dollars to sink an old ship. It's been there for nearly 15 years.
We saw all sorts of tropical fish, although at that depth their colours are muted, and three reef sharks lazing on the bottom. My daughter was ecstatic that she'd seen the real deal and all from the safety of her seat (especially as there had been a shark attack in the week we were there).
- Cost: From US$124 (NZ$192) for adults - some of the deals include children for free. As it's likely to be the sort of activity you'll only try once, Maui is the perfect place to do it.
- Top tips: Make a day of it in Lahaina. It's a beautiful old town that reminded me a lot of our Far North town of Russell. Go shopping, ride the sub and snap a photo under the sprawling Banyan tree, the oldest in Hawaii. We also had lunch in Mick Fleetwood's bar, which was tasty and affordable. If you're lucky, the rock and roll icon might even be there when you visit. It's been known to happen.
Have a hula of a time
One activity Maui has a wide range of is luaus - a traditional Hawaiian party or feast that is usually accompanied by entertainment.
I opted to go with The Grand Luau at Honua'ula, which did not disappoint.
The setting - just off the beach in Wailea - was perfect, with a gorgeous sunset thrown in the mix.
The event combines storytelling, dance, culture and traditional Polynesian food, all slickly put together. Even though there were several hundred people in attendance, it still felt rather intimate.
The storytelling was easy to follow, the costumes colourful and there was lots of variety in the action such a fire knife display, an elegant dance with a parachute and a ribbon aerial act in the palm trees. Kids and adults alike also got the chance to learn to hula with the professionals which everyone loved.
What topped it off for us was discovering that the very entertaining MC, Richard Chadderton, was a Kiwi. After a quick grilling from me, next to the kalua - a
pig being roasted Hawaiian style - he explained that he'd studied on Oahu for four years before marrying into the Grand Luau at Honua'ula family. A perfect match!
Some online reviews actually criticise the food at this event which really surprises me. It far outshone other buffets I’ve been to at events like this. There were masses of hot and cold choices and alcohol flowed freely.
- Cost: From US$99 (NZ$153) per adult. Costco can offer the cheapest prices.
- Top tips: Your table number is decided when you check in ahead of the event. When its time to enter a little later, there is the most ginormous queue. Make sure to wait in the shade for a bit or go for a walk. There's no need to rush. If you like a drink, plan not to drive as the free cocktails are good. Also, make sure to have a bit of extra cash for extras, such as photos or souvenirs.
Head up Haleakala
A holiday in Maui isn't complete without a trip up to the summit of Haleakala, the world's largest dormant volcano. The best time to visit and peer over the crater is either for sunrise or sunset.
Depending on where you're coming from, it can take up to two hours to drive the Haleakala Highway and then up the winding Haleakala Crater Road leading to the summit of Haleakala. To make the most of the trip, we opted to view the sunset as we wanted to check out some beauty spots along the way.
We've done other volcano climbs around the world but this one was truly magnificent, even on a partly overcast day with a warning from the park ranger that we might not see much. She needn't have worried - we were more than satisfied and the sun setting on Maui was the perfect end to a magical trip.
- Cost: US$25 (NZ$39) for a private vehicle to enter the Haleakala National Park.
- Top tips: Be sure to make a reservation ahead of time for the sunrise trip or you'll be turned away. Also, leave plenty of time to get up there. Parking gets horrifically busy even at sunset.
If you can, stop off on the way and check out a few of the towns such as Paia and other sights on the way.
We did a cheese tour at the Surfing Goat Dairy (no actual surfing goats, thankfully). The tour is quick and quite expensive, but you do get pet the animals, learn how they're milked and try some tasty cheese.
Maui, like many holiday hot spots, is hard on the wallet, so my recommendation would be to pick only one paid activity and save the rest of your cash by enjoying the free activities, fantastic food and shaved ice.
Opting for a condo insead of a hotel can also be a sensible choice for families as you get self-catering convenience without missing out on facilities such as a pool.
* Emma received complimentary or reduced rates at The Grand Luau at Honua'ula, Mermaids on Maui and Atlantis Submarines for this article.