Maui's Best Hidden Value A review of Banana Bungalow Maui Hostel
For the adventurous traveller (not "tourist"!) who is more concerned with seeing the real Maui instead of the standard Disneyland version, I could not recommend Banana Bungalow highly enough.
Start with free airport pick-up and return, throw in a different tour seven days a week (free but you are asked to tip your driver/tour guide, who does not get paid) and round it out with simple, old but clean accomodations and you have the makings of a great Maui vacation for a fraction of what most visitors will pay. Banana Bungalow is in Wailuku, a laid-back town on the upswing with a cafe featuring live music, antique, gift, bric-a-brac and used book stores and excellent restaurants all within a 10-minute walk, plus a dramatic view of the west Maui mountains at the doorstep. The hostel stays busy with visitors from all over the world, but the 10pm-8am quiet times are strictly observed. I found the staff and guests to be friendly, eager to help or give advice, and in general a nice bunch of folks to hang out with. Best of all, there is NO NEED to rent a car or deal with the hassle of trying to navigate amidst all the befuddled tourist drivers--just remember to sign up for the next day's tour.
We went "Snorkelling With the Sea Turtles" Thursday, exploring the reefs full of colorful fish (and some cute turtles!) at two different beaches. For lunch we had delicious fish tacos by the roadside, and afterwards we shopped for handcrafts and souvenirs in Kihei.
Friday's trip was the Whale Watch on a Pacific Whale Foundation boat. Bring your binoculars! Even though it was late in the season, we got lucky and spent most of the trip captivated by a mom humpback, her baby, and one or two other adults. Our driver then took us to the cool town of Paia, featuring lots of nice little shops, restaurants and a nearby beach.
Monday we did a little of this, a little of that--some hiking in west Maui visiting the Iao Needle and a nearby park, lunch in Paia, swimming at Baldwin Beach and at a natural pool with a waterfall, watching the windsurfers and kiteboarders at Ho'okipa, ending with a peaceful sunset...
Tuesday was the not-to-be-missed "Road to Hana" trip. Along the gorgeous way we stopped for heavenly banana bread, visited a black sand beach and a pepper sand beach, hiked in a bamboo forest to a 300 foot waterfall, swam in a freshwater cave, and took a tiny cliffside path to a deserted red sand beach that had water of the most indescribeable blue you can imagine.
I cannot praise the tours or the drivers highly enough. They showed us the out-of-the-way places, answered our questions patiently, told us when it was or was not okay to leave our things in the van--sadly, it is not safe in many parts of Maui. In fact, most cars are left empty and unlocked so as to prevent thieves from breaking windows to get in. Some reviews about BB mention that it is not in a good part of town, yet I spoke with many of the shopkeepers who disagree. They explain that things have been improving rapidly in the last couple of years now that the area is being restored. As for my own experience as a single woman, I never felt uneasy walking about town in the day or evening, and certainly had no problems at the hostel.
I had a private room to myself the entire week ($40+tax per night), and, with six bathrooms in the building, never had to wait to use one. I slept like a baby every night--I'm sure all the swimming and hiking helped! The backyard is a tropical oasis with mango and other trees with plenty of places to lounge in a chair or hammock with a book and couple of newly-made friends.
Do NOT expect to like BB if you are a prima donna or a plastic person. Instead, stay somewhere generic like the Maui Beach Hotel (at $125+tax per night), in an industrial area of Maui next to the airport, where the only thing you can walk to is a mall (bor-ing!) so you will want to rent a car ($45+ per day) and pay for the more commercial tours ($49-99 a pop). Or shell out $150-200/night for something on the Disneyesque South Shore. If I ever get back to Maui, I'll be staying at the Bungalow and doing the rest of the tours--including the 12-mile volcano hike and sunset viewing...