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Bring the Brood: Must-Try Maui Outdoor Activities for Active Families

Posted on September 18, 2015

Story by Jody Robbins

Maui ticks all the right boxes for active families.

Sure, there are all of those gold sand beaches fringing the island just waiting to make every member of the family’s day. But there’s much more to Maui’s menu of family activities than building sandcastles, boogie boarding and taking a dip in the ocean. I recommend hitting up one of the seven experiences below offering outdoorsy, active families a real feel for Maui’s natural wonders.

Horseback riding at Piiholo Ranch in Upcountry Maui. Photo Credit: Jody Robbins.

Cowboy up!
Head to Upcountry Maui to make like a paniolo (Hawaiian for “cowboy”). Paniolo and ranching are as much a part of the Hawaiian cultural history as surfing. Horseback trail rides at Piiholo Ranch, near the Upcountry Maui town of Makawao, take visitors through a fertile valley running parallel to Haleakala volcano. On our tour, we moseyed past nene geese (the Hawaiian state bird), herds of deer, and a family of wild boars! When we and our horses needed a bit of cooling off, we galloped right up to some natural pools before picking guava straight off the tree.

Whale watching
Each year from December through May, the warm, shallow waters surrounding the Hawaiian Islands become prime breeding, calving and nursing grounds for North Pacific humpback whales. The west Maui town of Lahaina is home to several companies offering whale-watching tours. We went with Ultimate Whale Watch, which utilizes a 30-foot rigid hull inflatable raft for its tours. The Coast Guard uses similar vessels, so we felt very safe the entire time. Within two minutes on the water our crew spotted a mother whale and her calf, and kept our boat nearby (by law, all watercraft must remain a minimum 100 yards distance) for a good 10 minutes as the massive mammals displayed their pectoral fins and some spectacular water splashing.

The undersea world seen from an Atlantis Submarines portal. Photo credit: Jody Robbins.

Take a submarine ride
The whole family can explore the ocean floor with Atlantis Submarines, which will submerge your brood 127-feet below the ocean surface on a real, working submarine. I was as enthralled as the rest of the sub’s passengers, especially as we skulked past several white-tipped reef sharks, manta rays and a sunken vessel.

A good surf lesson is about so much more than simply learning how to paddle out, catch a wave, stand up and then ride it properly. Hawaiian Paddle Sports will teach you all of these basics and offer an in-depth lesson on surrounding aquatic flora and fauna. You also won’t be charged for all of the photos instructors capture of your family as you learn to surf. All the better to remember how great it felt to catch your first wave and ride it into shore with the West Maui Mountains as your backdrop.

Your writer rappelling down a rainforest waterfall in northeast Maui. Photo courtesy of Jody Robbins.

Rappelling waterfalls
Outdoor adventurers keen to soak up the natural wonders of the Valley Isle’s rainforests will have the time of their lives rappelling cliff faces into stream-fed natural pools with Rappel Maui. The outfitter provides an in-depth safety orientation before escorting families on a tour descending stream-cut rainforest ridges on the island’s Hana Coast. With your safety gear on, you’ll rappel down a series of 30- to 60-foot cliffs, learning how to refine your technique on each before descending through a cascading waterfall. It’s a refreshing experience, to say the least, and a totally rad activity for older kids and teens. Participants must be age 10 or older and weigh at least 70 pounds.

Here’s an activity you don’t really need to pony up and book an excursion for – that is, if you know where to go. Maui has several great spots for snorkeling, each brimming with coral reefs and interesting marine life. We spent a ton of time in the waters of Kapalua Bay on the island’s west side. There’s a family of sea turtles residing in the rocks in the center of the bay, and if they’re around, kids should have no trouble spotting them. (There is no minimum-distance state law, but the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration recommends remaining at least 150 feet from all sea turtles and not disturbing them or their natural behavioral patterns.) Like all of Hawaii’s beaches, Kapalua Bay is open to the public. There are also washroom facilities near its parking lot.

Learning the art of fishing by net throwing. Photo credit: Jody Robbins.

Throw-net fishing and other Hawaiian cultural activities
Most people who take the slow, winding 64-mile journey along Maui’s rugged northeast coast on its famed Hana Highway do little more than pull over for postcard-worthy views. But if you’re hankering to uncover a bit more Hawaiian culture, you’ll want to stop at the Travaasa Hana resort. Guests of the Hana town resort are invited to try their hand at Hawaiian cultural activities ranging from outrigger paddling and lei making to throw-net fishing. Throw-net fishing is a sustainable way to capture large amounts of fish, and our family spent a peaceful afternoon knee-deep in the Pacific casting our nets in the hope of doing just that. Sadly, we only snagged a snorkel mask.

About Jody Robbins: Jody Robbins is a Canadian travel writer and blogger. A previously published version of this post can be found on Jody’s blog, “Travels with Baggage.” Follow Jody’s adventures on TravelswithBaggage.com or on Twitter @Jody_Robbins.

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