Thanks to Maui’s generous assortment of micro-climates, you can experience a different vista at just about every Maui neighborhood. The windward areas along the north of the island are where you’ll find tropical rainforests, waterfalls and an abundance of bamboo, and such exotic flowers as ginger, puakenikeni and maile. The sun-drenched southern shores of the island, also known as the leeward areas, have the iron-rich soil that is perfect for growing sugar cane and coffee. The best sunsets are here; it’s especially striking to watch the glow of the sun sink down in the sky against the backdrop of the offshore islands of Molokai, Lanai, Kahoolawe and Molokini. It’s probably not surprising, then, that this area is also filled with luxury resorts. Meanwhile, the central, sloping areas of Mauka are comprised primarily of pasturelands filled with lavender, onions and flowers, and working ranches. Ascend Maui’s mountains and sleeping volcano and the scenery switches from rich and fertile to barren alpine conditions where hardly a tree or a bush lives. Residential Maui neighborhoods are scattered throughout the island with the largest concentrations located near the airport and harbor in Kahului.
Sunny and sassy, the South Maui neighborhood mixes the bawdy beach town of Kihei with the swank resorts of Wailea. Kihei is home to a series of several wonderful Maui beaches all called Kamaole and favored by locals. Adjacent Wailea focuses more on refined relaxation and the Maui vacation lifestyle supported by the area’s high-end resorts.
On a good day, it’s a three-hour drive from the Kahului Airport to reach this section of the island. On a bad day, overflowing streams and raging waterfalls will force road closures, leaving the area cut off for days. Residents of the East Maui neighborhood take the good with the bad and thrive on the remote setting despite the inconveniences. You'll find taro farms on these settled acres, and cattle grazing in the cool canopied forests. But, it’s the daylong sojourn through the miles of natural beauty that brings the rental cars and tour vans through Paia and onward toward Hana and Kipahulu. There’s a certain amount of oohing and ahhing to be done along the hairpin turns traversing the shaded lava fields. It’s a long trip to Hana, but it’s a journey filled with fresh water ponds and falls, scenic ocean views and flower-scented air.
Busy and bustling, the Central Maui neighborhood includes Wailuku and Kahului, which are the island's centers of commerce and government, and the location of the state’s second-busiest airport. Nearby, the campus of the University of Hawaii’s Maui Community College with an enrollment of nearly 3,000 students has been offering two-year degrees at the Kahului campus for more than a generation. Just around the corner from the college, the Maui Arts & Cultural Center in Kahului is the island's primary performing arts venue, and has hosted such talent as ukulele master Jake Shimabukuro, the rock group Journey and local reggae band Ten Feet. Kahului also is home of two of the largest Maui shopping malls. If there is a place to find Maui history on the island, Wailuku would be it. The town features historical buildings among its government offices and dots those blocks with charming cafes, restaurants, theaters and small businesses.
An hour’s scenic drive from Kahului Airport, the West Maui neighborhood is all about gorgeous Maui beaches, wintering whales, golden sunsets, and iconic views of Molokai and Lanai. More popular than Wailea or Kihei, West Maui is the destination of choice for visitors new to Maui travel. Here you'll find some of the best Maui hotels and its famous collection of world-class resorts, as well as quiet Maui vacation condos, shops, restaurants and attractions. The west side is home to Lahaina, the once-bustling whaling town and historical capital of the unified Hawaiian Islands. Stylish Kaanapali Beach stretches its sugar-sand shore for miles along a littoral lined with mega-resorts and designer shops. There are quiet condo resorts in Napili, championship golf in Kapalua and budget vacation condos in Kahana and Honokowai.