Maui mini-adventures

Going off the beaten path lets visitors soak up the laid-back island life

By Carol Pucci

The Seattle Times

Published: Saturday, Feb. 18 2012 4:00 p.m. MST

A scenic drive around the top of the West Maui Mountains leads to the Nakalele Blowhole.

Carol Pucci, Mct

MAUI, Hawaii — Sample the cream puffs at a historic Japanese bakery.

Test your driving skills on a one-lane stretch of mountain road that weaves along coastal cliffs.

Buy a pineapple at a roadside stand. Watch the owner slice it with his machete. Then eat it as the juice drips down your chin.

If you're a first-timer on Maui, the guidebooks can help with the official checklist: sunrise at the Haleakala volcano. Snorkeling at Black Rock. Paddle-boarding off the coast in Lahaina.

Been there. Done that, or just looking for something new? Pry yourself out of the lounge chair and put together your own mini-adventure. Here are three ideas for exploring off-the-beaten path.

Maui is Hawaii's second-largest island, but away from the resorts and shopping malls, it's mostly a collection of small communities.

Take a morning or afternoon to soak up a bit of laid-back island life. Here are a couple of options, either of which can be used to break up a trip to or from Hana or Haleakala:

Paia, close to the Kahului airport on Maui's north shore, and on the road to Hana. Once dominated by a sugar planation, Paia attracts a relaxed crowd of windsurfers from nearby Hookipa beach.

Stroll the two main streets lined with flat-roofed wooden buildings painted in faded pastels. Shop for shoes and bags made from hemp at the Hemp House, 16 Baldwin Ave., or bracelets made from island pine at the Maui Hands Gallery, 84 Hana Highway.

Chances are you'll meet a local artist behind the register at the Maui Crafts Guild store. Twenty craftsmen, jewelers and painters sell their work in a canary yellow building at 69 Hana Highway.

Makawao, a former cowboy town in Maui's rural Upcountry, where Japanese and Portuguese immigrants settled in the late 1800s.

Follow your nose to Komoda Store & Bakery, 3674 Baldwin Ave., owned by the Komoda family for almost a century.

Third and fourth-generation family members start after midnight making doughnuts filled with guava and sweet red bean for customers who begin showing up at 7 a.m. Lining the top of the pastry case and selling for $1.50 each are cream puffs, the house specialty.

Kiyoko Komoda, 90, whose husband's father left a plantation job to open the bakery, was folding boxes in the back of the store the morning my husband, Tom, and I dropped in. Her sister-in-law, Leatrice, 80, greeted us from behind the counter.

Order a sack of doughnuts to go, then take a stroll through the gardens at the Hui No'eau Visual Arts Center on the estate of former sugar baron Harry Baldwin and his artist wife Ethel.

Lining Baldwin Avenue are art galleries and boutiques. Shop for ethnic jewelry at Little Tibet inside an old gas station, then grab a stool at the bar under the chili-pepper lights at Polli's Mexican Restaurant, and cool off with a margarita.

Everyone knows about the drive to Hana on the road that twists through tropical forests along the bottom of Haleakala.

Less well-known, shorter and scenic in a different way is the 30-mile drive over the top of the West Maui mountains (Highways 30 and 340), starting just past Kapalua in West Maui and ending in Wailuku.

Andrew Doughty, author of the guidebook, "Maui Revealed," describes this drive as "Hana Highway without the traffic."

Hana is an all-day excursion, but this drive took us three hours, including stops for short hikes and snacks, and the return trip back to Lahaina in West Maui from Wailuku.