Yes, Hawaii is a transformative destination

Swim up pool bars, sticky sweet mai-tais, Hawaiian shirts, white sand beaches, buffet breakfasts and never having to leave the resort are all things that come to mind when travelers think of Hawaii. For a long time, Hawaii has represented the quintessential relaxing getaway (think never leaving the hotel pool) without evoking feelings of adventure, connectedness and transformation. While a mai-tai or four can be transformative in some ways, it is not the sought-after soul awakening many travelers are looking for.

Millennials now make up a large portion of travelers, and their idea of an ideal experience usually doesn’t involve being confined to a resort. While many people coming to Hawaii will still seek this type of travel, there is now a new interest in Transformative Travel: the want to immerse yourself in the culture, food and spirit of wherever you are. Many now look to travel as a way to broaden their horizons, go on adventures and become more aware global citizens.

If Hawaii is not at the top of your transformative travel list, I am here to tell you why it should be. There is so much more to these islands than chains of hotels and sunburned travelers.

The history and culture of Hawaii is deeply rooted in community, respect for the Aina (land), and living Pono (living righteously with regard to others, yourself and the environment). With such lush and enchanting beauty all around, it’s no wonder the Hawaiian people have such reverence and respect for their islands. Visiting the Seven Sacred Pools, the enthralling bamboo forests and the cascading waterfalls on the road to Hana should be more than enough to inspire you to preserve this alluring landscape. Take a stroll through the Kealia Pond and Bird Sanctuary. Here you can spot many of Maui’s unique birds and enjoy the serenity of your surroundings. The Pacific Whale Foundation also offers a great way to stay eco-friendly and active on vacation with their simple “Beach clean-up kit”. Stop by any of their locations (Maalaea or Lahaina) and pick up the kit. All you have to do is fill up a plastic bag with trash you find on Maui beaches, and bring it back to PWF, so they can use it for research purposes to protect the whales.

Viewing these amazing and majestic creatures doesn’t have to take place on an overcrowded boat. Check out Blue Water Rafting leaving from Kihei Boat Ramp. These Whale Watching excursions are fast paced, fun and no nonsense. The rafts are a great way to be out on the water and get super close to the whales without harming them. There are usually only 20-30 people on these boats as opposed to the 80-100+ other popular tours. The whales come here to give birth, your chances of seeing a mother and her calf are high from January-March. Blue Water Rafting also offers a snorkel adventure to Molokini, a volcanic formation that now hosts dazzling reefs and hundreds of colorful, tropical fish.

For another way to avoid crowds and further explore the natural beauty of Maui, head Upcountry to Kula and visit the Ocean Vodka Distillery. This family owned distillery is ecologically friendly, self-sustaining and 100% organic. They pay homage to their Maui roots by making their vodka out of sugar cane. Make sure to get a tour which includes a free tasting. While Upcountry you can also visit the lush and mystical feeling Maui Winery, Kula Botanical Gardens, the Ali’i Kula Lavender farm and the Paniolo (cowboy) town of Makawao. Keep your eye out for some very special Hawaiian birds (such as the H

awaiian Chukar and the Red Crested Cardinal) and beautiful butterflies.

Makawao offers art galleries showcasing the works of talented local artists, unique boutique shopping (check out Pink by Nature) and beloved restaurants such as the Makawao Steak House and Polli’s. Habibi is also delicious and offers Mediterranean food in an open-air setting. Stop by the T Komodo Store and Bakery to taste some of the best malasadas (Hawaiian donuts) Maui has to offer. This long-standing establishment is unpretentious, a local favorite and a microcosm of the cultural melting pot that is Hawaii. Guava malasadas sit along-side classic American favorites like apple pie and Asian influenced dishes like saimin.

To focus on mindfulness and spiritual transformation stop by Lumeria and the Sacred Garden in Makawao. Lumeria, an ornate nature retreat focusing on clean eating and living, offers sound healing crystal bowl meditation classes and yin yoga. The Sacred Garden is a mystical Garden (free to e

nter) that lets you lose yourself in lush foliage, secret reading rooms, tropical teas and meditation circles.

After visiting Makawao, take the winding road down to Paia, a town where shoes are optional and surfing is mandatory. Watch experienced surfers take on the daunting waves of Ho‘okipa and search for the Honu (turtles) that come ashore to sunbathe. Just past Ho’okipa, you will find Jaws Country Store and Café, a quaint, laid back, outdoor spot for turmeric lattes, homemade smoothies a

nd creative, Insta-worthy toasts and sandwiches. In town, Paia Bay Coffee is an outdoor coffee shop shrouded by Hawaiian foliage and canvas for shade. Enjoy home-made banana bread and chai tea while basking in the sun and listening to the barefoot musicians who often use the shop as their practice space. Walk across the street and into the colorful, mural laden, tiny, hidden alleyway that leads to Hula Girl Tattoo Parlor. Stop by for a consultation or a walk-in appointment. Charley’s, which is just a little more down the road, is owned in part by Willie Nelson. He is known to stop by for impromptu performances and sometimes on open mic night (not to be missed). Try their home-made taro veggie burger or their creative sushi rolls. The environment is eclectic, lively and musical. End the day at Alice in Hula Land thrifting and sifting through band tees and Maui inspired pins and patches.

If you keep driving through Paia, you will be on the Road to Hana – a windy

and thrilling ride through dense forests, black sand beaches and hidden waterfalls. Pull off the road at any point to soak up the vistas and the calming energy of the island. At mile marker 6.5, the four waterfalls of the bamboo forest will rejuvenate you and inspire adventure. There are several food stops along the way, so it can be hard to choose. Keep your eyes out for a

nyone selling Huli Huli chicken – a slow cooked chicken usually made at self-set up stands. It is always delicious, cheap and local.

Maui is a magical island full of restorative energy and off the beaten path activities. If you thought Hawaii was only for lounge chairs and Tiki drinks, I hope I have changed your mind. While there is so much to do here to broaden your horizons and f

eel connected, the true transformative spirit of Aloha comes to you when you simply put yourself in direct and mindful contact with the local nature, culture and people. Wave hello to your fellow drivers, slow down, eat the local cuisine (Spam is good! I promise), and take time to simply appreciate the beauty this island is giving you.


Need a hand with your next Maui vacation? Please contact the Sunny Maui Vacations team at or call 808-240-1311, ext. 21. We’ll find you the best vacation rental condo in South Maui and help you with any and all recommendations and activities across Maui (chat with our in-house Concierge at extension 71).

Written by: Samantha Skidmore

Image credits: achintthomasnyko18, unsplash

Need a hand with your next Maui vacation? Please contact the Sunny Maui Vacations team at or call 808-240-1311, ext. 21. We’ll find you the best vacation rental condo or rental home in South Maui and help you with any and all recommendations and activities across Maui.