Hidden Gems of Maui, Hawaii – Finding Maui’s Best Kept Secrets!

There is always a lot of talk about hidden gems of any location, those secret sites only locals know about where you step away from the beaten path and find those remote spots of unbelievable beauty that you often have all to yourself. Maui has in the past had many such incredible hidden nooks, where you can find your own little piece of paradise away from the adding crowds. Unfortunately, this is not really the case anymore. The Island has been written about so extensively that real hidden gems are no longer hidden.

Hidden Gems of Maui, Hawaii

That is not to say Maui still does not have a huge area of gems, they are just mainly no longer hidden! We look at all of Maui’s best places and things to see and do in our Guides here. What we no mean when we say Hidden Gems of Maui, are the more difficult to locate gems. The places that you may have heard of but struggle to pin down. Those that are not advertised or signposted, or we feel are underrated. The little things you can see do taste and fine that are not immediately obvious or heavily written about. This is a tough job as really so much of Maui has already been revealed!

Negative Tourism

Through extensive guides, intense internet publications, Youtube Travel programs, and even traditional print press have for the last few decades slowly been revealing all of Maui’s little hidden gems, taking the remote and secluded spots and exposing them to the world. With the drive for ever more exclusive hidden gems the line between hidden and private became blurred and then smashed. Guides were encouraging people to trespass and tourists felt the Island was their right and every part open to them like Disneyland. Fences were cut signs ignored and people trespassed into and through private property all to get that perfect selfie in a secluded paradise. Naturally, this left a real bad taste in the mouths of locals and the relationships were strained.

In our list of Hidden Gems were ensure anything we list is open to the public and visiting will not upset or offend any locals. There are other unspoiled locations on the island some may recommend but these are private, and should not be visited. We want to encourage responsible tourism and trespass is not responsible.

Likewise, any location should be left as you fond it. Momento’s and tokens taken away from a location can be deeply offensive to Hawaiian Religion and customs. And little is deeply offensive to ALL. So always remember the simple mantra, especially when exploring off the beaten path.

Take Nothing but Photos, Leave Nothing but Footprints!

Risk

Finally, Most of these hidden Gems come with an element of risk. The popular tourist spots are all signposted and welcoming as they have warming signs and managed risks (that is different from safe) But these are Hidden as the liability is unacceptable to anyone. People hunting these out are doing so at their own risk and some of these have a high level of risk attached.

We feel these risks are acceptable to us, (in fact in some cases only ME) but that is a personal risk assessment based on our risk aversion, and physical ability and capability. You need to make your own risk assessment and continue to update it on the fly. If things feel too much turnaround. If conditions worsen, Turn around. If you lose a trail. Turn Around and refind the trail, DO NOT PUSH ON REGARDLESS. People who do occasional push on over a cliff edge.

Remember Hawaii is NOT Disneyland, there are areas of real wilderness and rugged danger. The sea is a cruel mistress and she will not hesitate to take like. On many of our Hidden Gems, people have in the past died. If you do not accept the risk this could be you stay away (Although number 7 on our list only carries the risk of cardiovascular disease later in life).

If these were not risky, they would not be hidden, it’s that simple.

1- Red Sand Beach – Hana

Red Sand Beach

On the Far backside of the most remote Town, of one of the most remote Islands in the world’s most remote island chains, is a hidden little beach from a lost world. Composed of bright red sand, made from the eruptive material of some ancient volcanic event, pounded by giant Pacific Breakers this little cove is quite like no other beach we have ever seen! Every single thing about it is unique and stimulating for the soul.

Once a haunt of nudists, these have largely been driven away by the tourists that have now discovered the area. The only thing stopping a mass invasion if the remoteness of Hana, along with the difficulties of the trail leading there.

Still droves of people head there every day, especially when the hordes descend on the Daily Hana tours and journeys. To get there when the beach is quiet requires a stay in Hana and a very early alarm call or staying late until most have moved on. The beach is one of the most special locations in Hana and we really love it. it is one of the highlights of the Road to Hana and if you have the time to seek it out it well worth a visit. But be warned the Path is very rough and there are some unprotected large drops and if you take a wrong turn you will head up a very dangerous and precarious path.

More info on Hana’s Red Sand Beach and how to find it here.

2 – Olivine Pools – West Maui

Olivine Pools Maui
Olivine Tide Pools by BirdsEyePix on CC2.0

The Olivine Pools are absolutely borderline in making our list. They are not really hidden anymore but being in a remote and less-visited part of the island right on the limit of your hire car agreements range, the pools just make our list. The doubt is only about whether the pools can still be considered hidden, not if they are a gem.

As you head along the 340 highway past Kapalua, Past Honolua Bay, Past the Nakalele Blowhole, away from anything bearing a resemblance to civilization, just before the road ceases to be a real road before the village Kahakuloa and the forbidden zone for car hire you will see a small pull out right before the 16-mile marker.

Here a small trail leads down to the ocean where several deep pools have been worn in the Lava rock. A combination of algae, clear water, and light refractions means the pools glimmer a stunning green color and appear more like exotic swimming pools and the perfect place for a relaxing dip. When conditions allow.

The sea here can be exceedingly rough and waves often roll right over the pools. Remember, these pools are not filled by rain or subterranean seawater, the pools are flushed and refreshed by the surf crashing over the rocks into the pools. People die here most years when choosing to bath when the conditions are poor.

The pools are at their most spectacular when the surf is high but they should definitely be admired from the top of the cliffs. Even when the surf is lighter it can still be a risk. Just because the waves are not breaking over the rocks this does not mean a large set is not rolling in off the ocean. If waves are breaking even slightly then the pools are best left to the ocean, and just be admired. Also, don’t make the mistake of thinking that other people are swimming then it must be safe. They could easily be clueless tourists with no idea of the risks. Only swim if the sea is calm and the water crystal clear.

We advise Googling “Olivine Pools Maui Deaths” prior to taking a dip!

3 – Julias Banana Bread – West Maui

Banana Bread Maui

Ok while you are over this end of the Islan lets try a little food Gem. Banana Bread is big news on Maui and we love it, however not all Banana Bread is the same. We think there are two outlets that top the list and we cannot decide which is best. So we just visit both! They both require a long drive so we make sure we make the pilgrimage to both when we get the chance. One is Aunty Sandis in Hana, her this is very well known. Her rival is Julias Banana Bread in the remote West Maui Village of Kahakuloa.

Look out for Julias bright-green roadside Treehouse. Stop of check-out her wares. The menu is limited to local fresh tropical fruit and her incredible banana Bread. Also, try the Passion Fruit Butter which is like nothing on earth!

Bonus – Lorraine Shave Ice – Also while in Kahakuloa stop off at Lorraine Shave Ice some of the Islands best Shave Ices and tropical desserts a wonderful stop in the quaint little town in the middle of nowhere.

Warning! – Technically Kahakuloa is beyond the limits of your hire car agreement. The road is single track, that’s one lane for both directions. And not properly paved and it remains this way all the way to Waihee. If you have an accident or breakdown here you are not covered. While we do not recommend going past Kahakuloa, the town itself is only just in the “red zone” and for most, it is a risk worth taking. But be warned you ARE violating your rental agreement!

4 – Secret Trail Iao Valley – Central Maui

Iao Valley

The Iao Valley is a truly spectacular wonder and a must-visit in Maui, however, a State Park, one which holds the Iao Needle one of Maui’s Icon’s, can hardly be considered a Hidden Gem!

However, there is a secret trail that leads beyond the park and a bit further into the Maui Mountains Via the Iao Valley. The Trail is very rough and not easy to follow or hike with steep unprotected drops and river crossings. But the pay off is spectacular, the view from deep in the valley is pretty magical and is one of the only spots you can view the Wall of Tears, a cascading wall of waterfalls.

Access is a bit vague and does require you hopping over a barrier but it seems accepted that this is only in place due to the difficulty of the hike and the potential liability. So if you do take it on be sure to make sure you are up to the challenge and be ready t turn back if it’s too hardcore for you. And Finally, remember you are on your own if anything happens. This is technically Trespassing and if you chose to break the law it’s on you.

Read more in our Hiking Article.

5 – Puu Olai – South Maui

Another unofficial trail with no signage or trail markers. This one takes you up a coastal Volcanic cone via a goat track. The retail is open but it is down to you to find the trial and navigate as it is not an official Trail.

You can follow the trail around from big beach parking lot round to little beach, avoiding any clothes dodgers. Carry on past little beach towards Oneuli Beach along the coastal bluffs. Keep following the trail keeping the water on your left through pine woodlands and fantastic ocean views. Eventually, you should be able to pick up the Goat trail that leads up Puu Olai and provides some of the best views in South Maui.

The Cinder Cone is around 330ft high so expect plenty of climbing but nothing too outrageous. If you use Google maps you should be able to pick up the trail on the Satalite image and follow it around the coast to little beach to where it meets the summit goat trial.

6 – Kaanapali Back Wall – West Maui

Black Rock Back Wall

Warning – Out of all our Hidden Gems, this is the most dangerous. It requires a level of physical capability way beyond any of the others and can turn nasty in a heartbeat. Unless you are an EXCELLENT swimmer Avoid this one! And by excellent we mean competition level endurance open water swimmer. Anything less and you may quickly get into trouble.

This is probably the best snorkeling site on Maui. Despite being right in the center of the Kaanapali resort area you find a completely remote and blue water snorkeling location. This wild and rarely swum area has a huge amount of cool marine life, crystal water, and access to the open ocean with the chance to encounter pelagics. It is a very exhilarating snorkel.

The Problem is this remoteness is also its downfall. The Black Rock is one of the most popular snorkeling sites in Maui and has a good amount of sea life and decent vis most of the time. However it’s not the best, the sandy beach creates a fair amount of silt that muddies the water. However if swim out past the usual confines of the rock, past the diving rock and around the headland you get to the back wall.

Here you have tall 50ft sheer rock cliffs that plunge into the depths in clear blue water. The wall is rich with fish and critters, while turtles are abundant and off guard. Of to one side is the open channel and the other is sheer rock. It is a remote and vulnerable location. This is what makes it wild and exhilarating but also what makes it dangerous. There is often a stiff current running along the wall. But occasionally it is more than stiff and can also be a rip pulling out to sea. And the truth is you won’t know which until you are committed.

The full swim from Mays Beach round to Kaanapali beach is over 600 meters, which is a fair distance, but most people do the snorkel as an out and back so expect 1000+ Meters. And the worst is half of your swim is against a current, meaning getting back to point A is very tough if the current is against you. The Good news is if the current is too strong for you you can always follow it around to the opposite beach to where you started and walk back, but people often try and fight the current, exhaust themselves and get into trouble.

We really love this site and cannot just leave it out of our list but heed the warning and unless you are utterly confident swimming long distances at hard effort levels skip this one. (For the record, I am an Ironman Triathlon Competitor so this swim is easy but these are the sort of levels you need to be at, swimming long distances weekly at the least with Open Water experience, Vacation Snorkelers need not apply)

And ofcourse we should not need to say, but probably have to, if the surf is high, find somewhere it isn’t if you want to snorkel!

Read more about the Backwall and other snorkeling sites in Maui here

7 – Takeout at the Gazebo – West Maui

Gazebo restaurant
Paradise Defined

The Gazebo is probably the number one breakfast spot on Maui. Everyone should give it a shot and judging by the queues every day most people do. While the Restaurant is far from hidden, The fact these queues snake around the resort to the car park shows a lot of people are unaware of the takeout option.

If you don’t know the Gazebo is a famous Breakfast spot on the Napili Bay Peninsular with simply stunning views of Molokai and the Channel nestles next to a beautiful beach filled with turtles and assorted reef fish. During Whale season you will also see Humpbacks frolicking just of shore while you tuck into your Breakfast. Speaking of which, the food itself is pretty good too. Giant Fluffy Pancakes, Lush Ommletes, massive plates of fried rice, and Amazing Breakfast Burritos that were actually life-changing for us!

But again this is hardly secret or hidden. Along with the legendary location and food are the legendary Queues. People start lining up over an hour before opening and the queue snakes right back into the Napili Shores Resort. People stand in the burning sun for 60-90 mins waiting for one of the few limited Tables inside. At least you get coffee though!

Not us, we waltz right up to the front, skip the queue and dive straight into our Macadamia and white choc-chip pancakes! How? we use the Takeout service! You can either ring ahead or order when you arrive and spend the time exploring the stunning Napili Bay while your food is prepared then. Then grab the order at the back door and eat down on the rocks above the tidepools or down on the soft golden sands.

Gazebo Breakfast

Honestly, it’s worth doing this way just to see the faces of the folks who have queued for over an hour as you breeze on by. It is also worth noting that after 11-12 the queue practically disappears, the lunch menu is decent but not quite as steller, and people tend not to hit the place for lunch, but the whole menu is available all day so if you don’t mind a super late breakfast you should easily get a table later on, and frankly the breakfast burrito is good any time of the day!

Check out the Full menu and opening times here.

8 – Kahanu Garden and Pi’ilani Heiau – Hana

Maui Piilanihale Heiau

Adults (18 and older) – $12
Kamaaina – $7
Teen (17-13) – $5
Children (12 and younger) – free

As you near Hana, along the incredible Hana Highway you pass a left turn, this is signposted and well-marked as Kahanu Garden along with the Hana Lava Tubes. The Gardens have their own website and are well advertised, yet still very few of Hana’s many Day Visitors make it to the very end of this dirt road to visit the spectacular Gardens and Heiau.

Why? we are not sure, maybe it is just so out of the way, you really feel you have taken a wrong turn, and while advertised it’s not really clear what you are visiting. So while this doesn’t really fit the definition of a hidden gem, it kind of is in a hidden in Plain sight kind of way. We just wanted to include it to help it get the recognition it deserves.

The Gardens are pretty delightful and a National Historic Landmark, filled with beautiful plants and trees that draw in Hawaiian birds. The Coastal locations is very beautiful and the gardens are worth the trip themselves. However, the Real Star is the Heiau.

A Heiau is a Hawaiian Temple and the Pi’ilani Heiau is one of the best-preserved and the largest known Heiau in the State of Hawaii. We say “known” as there could well be others that are unknown as this one was only recently recovered from the jungle. The Huge 3 Acre Stone Temple, with its 50ft high walls, is an imposing sight, reminiscent of the Mayan Ruins found in South America. These Huge Stone structures were not even built by the native Hawaiians but by the people before them, possibly the near Mythical Menehune.

This lost temple reclaimed from the jungle has huge cultural and spiritual significance and really helps connect you to the Real Hawaii. With so many stops and things to see on Hana, it is unthinkable that the Kahanu Gardens and Temple are so often skipped, but that is the truth, don’t be one f the many who miss out.

9 – Kanaio Beach – South Maui

Kanaio Beach

Beaches in Maui are stunning and beautiful, Some of the best in the world, with azure blue water golden sands, lush green backdrops and postcard-perfect blue sky’s. Finding one that is not filled with sun worshipers or bathers is a serious challenge, however. Even the Remote Red Sand Beach of Hana or the clothes optional little beach will still be littered with people. However, Kanaio Beach along the King’s Highway is one such beach that can often be found absolutely deserted.

There is a reason, it is not exactly easy to get to. First, you head down a single track road, across barren lava fields, before you run out of road and need to abandon the car. You then have to hike Miles across Desolate and barren Lava fields along a rough and ready track until you finally find this remote and wild cove. It also has little in the way of a beach, instead of sand you get sharp Lava Rubble to if you want to swim (and you will after that hike) Remember to bring Water Shoes. And Finally being on the remote lava coast it is highly likely the surf will be pounding and ruin any chance of swimming or enjoying the water.

Well if it was easy it wouldn’t be deserted, would it!

However, if the surf is low and you made the hike out here and made it over the sharp lava rock, bathing alone in a remote lava cove with nothing but several thousand miles of the pacific ocean to your south is quite a joy. There are very few places on Maui, or even Hawaii where you can be so alone.

Should the surf be bad or you luck out with people already being on the beach you can try Keawanaku Beach which is just a hundred meters back up the trail, this is accessed from some old goat trails and is anther rocky beach but it faces the opposite way to Kanaio and as such will be affected differently by the surf, it is a great back up beach, which is handy as the effort taken to get here would mean it would be very disappointing if the conditions ruined it!

10 – A Thousand Hidden Water Falls – Hana

It is hard to fully appreciate how many Waterfalls there are on Maui. The island, especially the Hana Coastline is just a perfect Waterfall producing territory. Tall cliffs with large amounts of rainfall in the upper mountains. Driving the Hana Highway you will encounter a huge number simply cascading beside the highway. Waterfalls that in many locations would be national landmarks are just scattered along the highway as if they were everyday occurrences, which in Maui they are!

However, some of the best are not immediately obvious and some of the less exciting falls are highly signposted and advertised. As people rush to get along the Hana Highway to get to Hana they forget to stop and explore the delights of the journey itself. Many of these delights being the endless waterfall opportunities that can be right beside the road and completely missed by most.

We list all the best stops on the Hana Highway in our Road to Hana Stops Guide here. From this guide, you will find al those hard to find waterfalls and get the best views of one of Maui’s most spectacular natural treasures.

Makahiku Falls Pipiwai
Makahiku Falls

Have Your Say

As we have said Maui’s hidden gems are largely exposed now and finding truly unknown or local-only spots is very unlikely but as we and other people continue to explore more may come to light.

If you have found a new Spot, or think it’s a new spot let us know in the comments below. If you have visited one of our listed locations or think there is somewhere we should look again we would love to hear from you in the comments. Or maybe you have an update or further information about our list? Whatever you have to say just fire away in the comments.

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