South Maui is in the lee of the majestic Haleakala crater. Since this wide crescent of sandy shoreline is protected by the volcanic slopes of Maui’s tallest peak, the area is generally dry, receiving less than ten inches of rain annually. In ancient times, Ma‘alaea and Kihei had a fairly small population, consisting mostly of fishing villages. Now in the 21st century, Kihei-Ma‘alaea holds Maui County’s second largest population base, slightly under Kahului, and is one of the fastest growing small communities in the U.S.
Kihei is renowned for its beaches, which remain unchanged by the development around them. They still offer long stretches of white sand and clear waters that are perfect for snorkeling, scuba diving, stand up paddle surfing and kitesurfing.
You’ll find the best beach facilities on the island here. The beach parks are equipped with showers and restrooms, and the three Kalama beaches have lifeguard stands with ocean safety officers to keep a watchful eye on everyone in the water. There are many tables and benches along with barbecues to turn a day at the beach into a picnic with family, friends and lots of food. Basketball and tennis courts as well as skateboarding and volleyball facilities provide something for every member of the family to enjoy.
The gateway to South Maui is marked by Ma‘alaea Harbor, where Kihei’s ocean activities begin. The charter boats docked in the harbor depart daily for snorkeling expeditions to Molokini, whale watch tours, dinner cruises, fishing charters and scuba diving adventures. The Harbor Shops at Ma‘alaea offer a variety of souvenir, clothing and gift items, as well as being the center of Pacific Whale Foundation resources and activities. The pulse of Ma‘alaea is the Maui Ocean Center tropical aquarium, gift shop and restaurant. Spend a day in this interactive center, learning about marine life from the colorful coral reef to the depths of the ocean. Next door, at Maui Golf & Sports Park, families can engage in miniature golf, rock climbing, trampolining and a bumper boat ride.
As you cruise south along a two-mile stretch of oceanfront to the town of Kihei, be sure to make a stop at the Kealia Pond Wildlife Sanctuary. A scenic boardwalk has been built across the top of the area’s natural sand dunes, making it perfect for birdwatching, whale and dolphin sighting. In season, you can also view endangered green sea turtles from a safe distance as hatchlings make their way from the nest to the sea.
Where Sugar Beach intersects with North Kihei Road, you’ll see multi-colored outrigger canoes at a shady oasis on the beach. This is the home of the popular Kihei Canoe Club where you can frequently watch paddlers practicing for canoe races in their outriggers. On the mountain side of the road is the site of what was once the oldest store in Kihei, Suda Store, which now hosts a weekly farmers’ market with fresh produce for sale.
Proceeding down South Kihei Road, you’ll come across the site of Ko‘ie‘ie Loko I‘a (Ko‘ie‘ie Fishpond), one of the most accessible and approachable fishponds in Maui County, which is located at Kalepolepo Beach Park. Legend has it that this royal fishpond was constructed by the legendary menehune (little people with magical powers) of Hawai‘i in the 15th-16th centuries. Visitors have the opportunity to touch, taste, smell, see and listen to the stories of Ko‘ie‘ie with Hawaiian cultural groups who take care of the fishpond.
Nearby is the Hawaiian Islands Humpback Whale National Marine Sanctuary Education Center. In this visitor center, you’ll discover a living classroom with scientific exhibits and cultural artifacts, along with opportunities to enjoy nature watching from the oceanfront lanai. During winter and early spring, kohola (humpback whales) are seen on the horizon and close to shore.
The heart of Kihei is a shopper’s paradise. There are open-air markets and small shopping centers, offering everything from alohawear and sports gear to souvenirs and gifts. Explore both sides of South Kihei Road and you’ll find a wide array of restaurants and bistros, a theater complex, activity centers, lounges and nightclubs.
Accommodations can be found in a variety of condominium resorts from north to south, and the centrally located Maui Coast Hotel. With perfect tropical weather and a laid-back lifestyle, Kihei has become one of the most popular destinations on Maui.