While Maui may be most famous for its beautiful beaches, lush forests and spectacular sunsets, there are plenty of high adrenaline activities and adventure sports on offer for those who love to make the most of the great outdoors. Some of the top outdoor activities on Maui are surfing, diving, mountain biking and paragliding, and we’ve chosen the best locations for each so you can enjoy the most extreme things to do on Maui.
Kitesurfing at Peahi
On the northern shore of Maui is Pe’ahi, a scenic point of the Northshore Maui coastline and home to one of the largest waves in the world, Jaws. Named by surfers in 1975, the wave is caused by an underwater ridge and can exceed heights of 60ft in the winter. Jaws attracts big wave surfers and kite surfers from all over the world, and there are only a few occasions each year when the conditions are just right for surfing it. Whether you are an experienced surfer or a curious spectator, if you’re in Maui when Jaws is going off, this event is something not to be missed. While most of the big wave surfers use Jet'Skis to tow them into the wave, few used the power of the wind.
The best place for viewing kitesurfers on Jaws is the vantage point on the Pe’ahi cliffs above the break. This is accessed by a 1.5-mile dirt road off the Hana Highway, between mile markers 13 and 14. Driving conditions are relatively easy in dry weather, however, a sudden downpour can turn the road to slick mud, meaning that it is sometimes better to walk.
Mountain Bike the Skyline Trail in Haleakala National Park
The Haleakala Skyline Trail is one of the best downhill mountain bike trails on Maui. The off-road route takes you down the side of the Haleakala volcano, which is a huge shield volcano that forms more than 75% of the island. The trail is mostly above the treeline, and so the terrain is mostly volcanic rock with a few small shrubs about. It’s rated as moderately difficult, but it offers spectacular views of Maui’s north and south shores, as well as the valley below.
The trail is an out-and-back ride and links up with various other trails lower down the volcano, such as the Boundary Trail and Waipoli Road. The total descent from the top of the Skyline Trail down to the Kula Highway is around 7000 ft, and you should allow a total of 5 hours riding time in total to go up and back down. You'll see some of the best upcountry neighborhoods on your way up the mountain like Kula 200.
The summit of Haleakala is truly spectacular. Here you’ll find a visitor center and several telescopic observatories, in a landscape that looks like Mars. For a truly magical experience, you can drive up to the summit and watch a spectacular sunrise on mornings when there’s no fog, before mountain biking back down via the Skyline Trail.
Scuba Dive the Back Wall of Molokini
Molokini is one of the few atolls in the world - a volcanic crater that is partially submerged in the ocean. It is the remains of one of the seven volcanoes of the Pleistocene epoch that formed the prehistoric Maui Nui island, now flooded by the ocean into four smaller islands - Maui, Molokaʻi, Lanaʻi, and Kahoʻolawe. Many divers and snorkelers explore inside the crater which is protected from strong winds and waves and therefore has fantastic visibility, but it’s the back wall of Molokini that is one of the most spectacular scuba diving locations in the world.
The Molokini back wall is a sheer, vertical drop of 300ft below the surface of the ocean, offering spectacular underwater views amid deep blue waters. It is an advanced drift dive for certified divers, where you can see white tip, black tip, and gray reef sharks, manta rays, dolphins and schools of colorful fish. In the winter and spring, there is even the opportunity to see humpback whales.
Cliff Jumping Along the Road to Hana
The Road to Hana (the northern portion of the Hana Highway) is dotted with beautiful waterfalls that plunge into deep pools which present idyllic swimming opportunities, and for the more adventurous, cliff jumping. The most popular cliff jumping site is around the halfway point of the road at Chang’s Pond, aka Blue Sapphire Pools. The upper tier is a drop of 25 ft, and the lower one about half that height.
Other, less crowded cliff jumping spots are Waioka Pond (aka Venus Pool) south of Hana, and Dog Pond near the start of the highway. Waioka Pond is particularly beautiful as it is right down by the shoreline, so is perfect for spending an entire day cliff jumping, swimming, and sunbathing in this sheltered area from the rugged coastline.
A note on safety - cliff jumping is a potentially highly dangerous activity, so you should always carefully scope out the water to find the deepest spots before jumping in. Look out for boulders and ridges under the surface of the water as well, and if in doubt, ask a local.
Paraglide Poli Poli
If you’ve always wanted to know what it feels like to fly, paragliding is your perfect adventure sport on Maui. On the leeward side of the Haleakala volcano is the Polipoli flight park, which is the main paragliding site of the island. The site is protected from the trade winds and therefore is flyable for around 330 days a year, and has strong thermals meaning you can peacefully descend the 3000 ft to the landing point. You can really get the bird's eye view of Upcountry real estate on Maui!
Due to Polipoli’s unique geography, pilots can fly for two to three hours in the morning until clouds start to form later in the day. Paragliding here on Maui means you’ll be treated to spectacular views of the volcano and its valleys, the beautiful beaches, and across the ocean to neighboring islands. If you’ve never been paragliding before, take a tandem with a qualified instructor to experience the thrill of flying before deciding whether to take a course on solo flying.
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