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My absolute favorite beach though is Ho’okipa Beach where the surfers love to surf and the sand is just right. (Image: Rebecca Mongrain/Seattle Refined)

Maui no ka oi (Maui is the best)

Over the years, I’ve been to most of the Hawaiian Islands but my heart belongs to Maui. I loved the food and the hustle of Oahu but found Kauai to be too remote and laid-back. Maui falls in between with plenty to keep one busy but also allows for relaxation and solitude, making it the best Hawaiian island.

I first visited the island in 2008 with my future husband and parents and quickly fell in love with the island. I soon discovered why people say, Maui no ka oi (Maui is the best).

Hawaii’s second-largest island has everything from rugged terrain, beautiful waterfalls, awe-inspiring beaches, great shopping and historical sites along with award-winning restaurants. Maui provides both a relaxing, secluded get-away along with great shopping, luau entertainment and gorgeous vistas.

For the past 23 years, Conde Naste Traveler’s Readers’ Choice Awards have named Maui the best island in the US. The accolades come from over 300,000 readers who cast votes among a selection of 7,394 hotels, 606 cities, 500 cruise ships and 236 islands.

Maui's nickname is the "Valley Isle," and when you arrive, you'll see why. Mt. Haleakala lies to the east and the West Maui mountains are to the west. Maui’s sights are vast and one could spend more than a month intently exploring them all. I’ve been over 6 times to Maui and I still feel like I haven’t uncovered all of the island’s secrets.

One of Maui’s most famous attractions is The Road to Hana which is often spoken of in a hushed whisper. The 68-mile scenic route is simply magical. The twisty roads are not for the faint of heart but the awe-inspiring waterfalls, hikes and breathtaking beauty make the hair raising drive more than worth it. The end of the road lies at the Seven Sacred Pools where there are more than seven tranquil pools fed by inland streams. The black coastal rock provides a striking contrast to the soothing ocean. The Pipiwai Trail starts from here and is one of the best hiking trails on the island.

I love heading to the top of Haleakala Crater because I always imagine I’m on the moon. The harsh landscape is beautiful with red rocks and the crater is vast, about the size of Manhattan Island. For those interested in stargazing the Haleakala Observatory is where astronomers from around the world come to experience the Hawaiian skies. One thing I’ve never done but is on my Maui bucket list is riding a horse on Haleakala. Seeing Haleakala from horse back sounds thrilling.

Every winter, more than 10,000 humpback whales travel to the Hawaiian islands to give birth and nurse their young. Auau, the shallow channel between Maui and Lanai provides some of the best viewing grounds of these magnificent creatures. On my most recent trip in December, we hopped aboard a whale watching boat and were treated to magnificent views of whales and dolphins. One of the gentlemen on the boat told me that he had been out three times that week already. After seeing the whales, I knew why. It’s been a life-long dream of mine to see whales in the wild and Maui gave that to me. Now I want to go and see them again and again.

My children’s favorite part of Maui are the Luaus. We’ve been to the Wailele Polynesian Luau a few times and the show never fails to mesmerize. The fire-knife dancers, Hawaiian fare and hula dancers are amazing. My little girls always end up practicing their hula dance and posing with the real dancers after a show. I spent my time in amazement at the warrior dancers as they shallow flames and climb coconut trees.

Maui beaches can’t be beat with many of them providing the perfect locale for surfing and snorkling. One of my favorite snorkling location is off Black Rock on Kaanapali Beach near the Sheraton. I’ve seen everything from turtles to small sharks and so many colorful fish in between. My absolute favorite beach though is Ho’okipa Beach where the surfers love to surf and the sand is just right. Located near Paia, Ho’okipa is also a world-renowned location for windsurfers. Turtles can often be spotted on the far end of the beach.

No trip to Maui is complete without a visit to the Iao Valley in Central Maui. Rising from the lush valley floor is the 1,200 foot Iao Needle which provides easy hiking and fantastic sightseeings. The Iao Valley State Park is currently closed due to extensive flooding but a stop in Wailuku is well worth it to gaze up at the valley.

The absolute best part of Maui though is the people. The aloha spirit begins at the airline ticket counter before we even take off from Seattle. I always leave the house for Hawaii, exhausted from a lack of sleep and worrying about packing up my entire family. The second my husband pulls the car up to to the departures gate and I hand our bags off to the skycap, I can feel the aloha spirit engulfing me. The generous nature of the Maui people makes their already wonderful island, a true paradise.