Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Traveling with kids to Maui: visiting the Iao Valley and Haleakala

Maui is heaven for beach-inclined people such as myself. However, on our family vacation we did manage to see some sights that were not beaches, including driving up to the summit of the Haleakala volcano, and into the Iao Valley to see the Iao Needle.

The Iao Needle.
The Iao Valley
A trip to the Iao Valley from south or west Maui can be done in half a day, or a whole day, depending on how early you set out. The drive takes you kind of towards the airport before veering up into the mountains.

The big sight to see here is the Iao Needle, a striking, 370 m (1200 ft) tall peak that was considered sacred to native Hawaiian people.

From the parking lot, you hike up the Lookout Trail on well-tended, paved and gravel paths and several stairs to a nice lookout area where you can take photos of the peak.
My children loved this outing. My son especially loves a good hike, so he had fun even on the steeper parts of the trail.

It's not a tough walk by any means, but it is a lot of walking uphill on the way to the lookout, and bringing a stroller definitely won't work.

If you're traveling with a baby, bring a baby carrier, and if you have a lazy toddler (like I did) they might hitch a ride on your shoulders.

Go early in the day if you can so it's not too hot, and bring a bottle of water! Regardless of the time of day, it can be sweaty work to hike in a tropical rainforest...

The Iao Stream.

The hike to the lookout follows the Iao Stream and the scenery is quite beautiful. Lush rain forest grows everywhere and there is an ethnobotanical loop trail where native plants and farming techniques are on display.

After the Iao Valley, we headed for a drive along the north coast, and had lunch in Paia at Charley's restaurant. By then we were ready for some more beach-time, so we visited HA Baldwin Beach Park.

This is a beautiful beach, though somewhat windy. The best area for the kids was far east end of the beach where the water was calmer and the kids could go in a little easier. Definitely a wonderful day out in Maui!

The scenery at the top of this volcano is truly spectacular, somewhat like looking out over an alien planet with all the swirls of color, jagged rocks, smooth sand dunes, and forbidding heights.

The summit is 3055 m (10,023 ft) above sea level and the drive here will take some time. Estimated driving time from Kahului is 1 1/2 hours. Be aware that the road up the volcano is seriously winding and narrow. For the driver (and any passengers with a fear of heights) this is not really a relaxing drive, though it is scenic.
Two i'iwi birds from the gift shop at the summit!

My children do not usually get car sick, but they did look a little green around the gills after this drive. I also think the altitude at the summit affected them somewhat, because both of them were rather whiny during the time we spent at the summit. Not our best family outing, but that could have just been because the kids had an off day.

If you go, 
  • do bring warm clothes, because it can be quite chilly at the of the volcano, and
  • watch for signs of motion sickness on the way up, and be prepared that your kids might be feeling the effects of the altitude: even some of the adults in our party were affected. 
Haleakala is definitely worth a visit, and if everyone is feeling ok, there are several trails you can hike in the crater area. Going up to the crater before dawn and watching the sun rise from up there can be a spectacular experience I've been told, but we didn't try that: maybe next time!

If you have older children you could try out one of the special bike tours. The companies offering these tours will usually drive you up to the summit and then you bike downhill all the way to sea level! Quite a rush I would think.


  1. Looks like you guys had a nice time!

    We really enjoyed our trip as a couple up to the Haleakala summit and Iao Valley... looking forward to bringing our kids along on our next trip! They'll like the exploring part of it (hopefully they don't get motion or altitude sickness on Haleakala though... will cross my fingers!)

  2. It was an excellent time! And away from the beach... most of the time it was hard to get the kids off the beaches when we were in Maui (wonder why? ;)).

  3. Great post! I love the i'iwi birds from the gift shop!

  4. My kids still have those birds! :) They make the "i'iwi" sound when squeezed too.


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