You don’t have to be a surfer to fall in love with Maui, writes Catherine Steel.

In 1866, Mark Twain wrote that he "went to Maui to stay a week and remained five". I would have done the same had I been given the chance.

When I was on the Hawaiian island last year with my husband and two toddlers, it was only for a fortnight. After a trying winter during which the typical family cold and flu lingered longer than usual, we couldn't get on the plane fast enough. But it wasn't just the dreary Auckland winter that drove us; we wanted a taste of the Maui magic that had enchanted us a year earlier.

After the nine-hour flight, we arrived at Honolulu's breezy open-air airport, ready for our transfer flight. The lush palms and the sweet scent of the iconic plumelia flower blew in the air, reminding me of what was to come. It was this wind that first brought us to Maui. My husband, a keen windsurfer, had wanted to experience this place since childhood.

Maui life is simple. You can't help but slow down a notch - the laid-back culture almost expects it. The people are warm and inviting, and in fact one of Maui's most famous beaches is Ho'okipa - Hawaiian for "hospitality".


I love the way life on the island weaves ethnic values with colonialism, and full-blown Western tourism with the surf culture that pervades the North Shore.

But you don't have to be a surfer to love the island - it is buzzing with creativity by way of its skilful jewellers, artists and writers. Its thriving festival scene is impressive, celebrating anything from music to cuisine to film. A buzz runs through the island with a life of its own, hinting there is always more to discover.

Here are a couple of gems that I found intriguing: Paia, a hippie/surf town on the North Shore, stole my heart. Tiny, yet lively, it is always busy. On any given day you'll bump into professional windsurfers in the traffic jams of pick-up trucks carrying windsurfing gear, people in the sunny sidewalk cafes devouring fish tacos, and tourists darting between the chic turquoise boutiques. My daughters and I spent some great afternoons exploring this town before cooling off at one of the nearby beaches.

We had hired a Paia beachfront house with friends the previous year but this time we were only travelling with our daughters, so a condo was the easier choice. We stayed in Kihei on the south coast, a modest town with plenty of condos. Hiring a garden apartment meant we could open the doors out on to the grass, allowing the kids to run around. The communal pool, which they loved, was only a short walk away. Catering for their daytime sleeps was easy.

We visited the historic up-country town of Makawao where you can still find sprawling ranches and real-life paniolos (cowboys). My 4-year-old was disappointed we didn't see any cowboys, but we found a different side of the island that made the day trip worth it. Wherever we drove we passed dense fields of sugar cane, hinting at the island's plantation past.

After a few lessons in Kihei, I learned to surf and hope to continue to now I'm home. The memory of watching fathers surfing with their young daughters struck a chord with me. Sharing the power and peace of the waves, which is so iconic to Maui, is a unique way to bond.

Most evenings we found families and friends sitting on the banks of Kamaole Beach Park in Kihei, watching the sunset over the water, playing volleyball on the grass and enjoying barbecues. The local Hawaiian culture and lifestyle - particularly this way they celebrate family on the beach parks - reminded me of New Zealand's links with the Pacific Islands.

When I close my eyes, I can still see the awesome sunsets. I hope to be back on the Valley Isle someday soon. As Mark Twain also wrote, "The memory of Maui will remain with me always." Until my next visit, that is.


Getting there

Hawaiian Airlines flies daily to Honolulu with Economy Class tickets starting from $1235. They offer regular connections to many islands in the region.