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The Common Sense Guide to Enjoying Activities in Hawaii

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Why This Guide to Activities in Hawaii?

After having safely guided thousands of guests through a rainforest canyon in East Maui, we’ve heard and seen it all. We’ve met all kinds of people who were not sure what activities in Hawaii were available and worth doing. Or what their Hawaii experience was going to be like. There have been guests who didn’t know what to expect from the rainforest; guests who didn’t know about that famous Maui red dirt. Or guests who didn’t understand that the waterfalls are a natural result of rainfall running downhill, from the top of Haleakala down to the ocean. They didn’t know that the water travels down a maze of twists and turns and waterfalls before landing in the Pacific. They didn’t know that, even though some of the troughs and flumes that guide part of the rainfall were man made, the waterfalls are definitely natural. Spoiler: We don’t turn the waterfalls on in the morning and off at night.

So we wrote a handy guide for anyone who isn’t familiar with activities in Hawaii or faraway destinations.

Volume One: A Guide for Those Who Like Common Sense Guides

So here’s Volume One of the guide maybe you didn’t know you needed; an “activities in Hawaii” guide for people who appreciate keeping it simple and using common sense. You may learn something about Maui–or not–but you will definitely do some thinking about this beautiful island.

It’s Expensive. Planning Can Help You Make the Most of Your Dollar

It’s Nature

The Fresh Water

The first thing you might think about when thinking about Maui is the ocean. After all, we’re surrounded by it for thousands of miles. But what you might not know is that there are lots of activities in Hawaii that involve streams and small bodies of fresh water. First, a bit of safety information:  The water is not always your friend. Here are the common sense basics of staying safe in streams, rivers and ponds:

Flash flooding is possible. Stay aware and don’t take chances with your safety.

Don’t drink it

There’s bacteria everywhere in nature. On the hiking trails, in the air, in the water and on you.  There is no magical reservoir of sterile water to swim in.

Don’t float down the flumes

Don’t put anything in it. Use reef-safe sunscreen and use the bug spray very sparingly. (In some locations, it’s not even necessary)

Look before you leap.  Even places well-known for their depths can become dangerous due to the water throwing branches and even boulders into the pools.

It can be chilly

Helmets save  lives. Falling rock


The Sun

Reef safe sunscreen.

SPF clothing is your best bet.

Stay hydrated, reapply sunscreen more often than you think you should

If you want to see the sunrise at Haleakala, you will need to make a reservation. Sundown is also good, and you don’t need a reservation and you can go someplace for dinner on your way down.




The Ocean

Wash off afterward. It’s full of staph

Heed the flags and listen to the lifeguards

Did you cut yourself on the reef, rocks or your surfboard?  Did you end up with a horrible sun burn or rash while you were out that needs medical attention? You may have better luck seeing a dermatologist instead of going to an urgent care clinic or the emergency room.



The Aina (Land)

Don’t trespass,  even if a guide book tells you it’s OK. Even if a guide you hired says it’s OK because “everyone does it.” Be responsible and polite.

Bites suck

Don’t take the rocks



The Geography and Topography


Is a Certain Tour for You?

If all else fails, ask.


Being a good consumer wherever you go saves a lot of time, money and trouble. Here’s how to tell if the tour you’re buying is legit.

What’s the Water Temperature in the Waterfalls?

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So, How Cold Is It?

One of the most frequently asked questions we encounter from guests is, “What’s the water temperature?” or “Maui water temperatureHow cold is the water?” Stream water temperature is a little chillier than the ocean water, especially during certain times of the year. Another question we’re often asked is if it’s necessary to wear a wet suit top while rappelling waterfalls. Since everyone has a different idea of what cold is, we’ll give you the following facts: The normal annual range of water temperature for the network of streams that travels through natural gulches and man made flumes is 20-27 degrees C or 68 to 80 F. The stream that contributes to most of the waterfall flow at the Rappel Maui activity site averages about 23 degrees C or 73 degrees F.

These are shallow streams with flow that fluctuates with rainfall and other factors. There may be a daily range of a few degrees, and can follow the trends in air temperature.  Stream water temperatures are warmer June through September. They’re cooler November through February.  The weather is usually a little wetter during the winter months as well. Heavy rainfalls make streams fuller or raising the possibility of flooding.

How to Prepare

If you know that you’re sensitive to chilly water temperatures, it doesn’t hurt to bring a thin wet suit top.  Most guests do not find it necessary, but nice to have.  If you bring a wet suit with you and decide not to wear it, you can remove it and stash it into the backpack we provide for you.  Alternatively, a long sleeved rash guard or quick-dry shirt works well, and the flotation device you’ll wear during the tour also serves as a warmth layer. If you’re looking for a wet suit top once you arrive on Maui, most of the dive and snorkel shops carry them for sale or rent.

While your mileage may vary for comfort level with water temperatures, it’s rare for the water temperatures to be intolerable. The amount of time guests are submerged in the pools and streams is limited.  Please call or chat with us to discuss your experience.

Happy New Year From Rappel Maui

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How to Book Activities & Tours in Hawaii

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Are you  going to book activities and tours while in Hawaii? Being a good consumer when planning your Hawaii vacation can save you time, money and frustration, and ensure that all your memories of Maui are great. Good consumerism can apply to anything, and making a reservation for doing an activity or taking a tour excursion in Hawaii is no exception.  Here are some tips for travelers from the Hawaii State Department of Commerce and Consumer Affairs. You can get this and much more information from DCCA at their web site.

travel agencyThere are a few different ways to book an activity:

  • Direct with the tour operator–You can usually call the tour company directly to book or make a reservation online.
  • With an activity desk or hotel concierge–These are the booths or desks you see in the lobby or around town. Activity desks can also sell tours online.
  • With a travel agent–These are agencies that also sell other kinds of travel services, like cruises or airline fares. They might be location-based or online.
  • As a discounted or free gift after having attended a sales presentation–These are activity desks that also ask you to attend a time share or other pitch in order to claim your reservation.

Who Can Operate an Activity Desk?
The State of Hawaii regulates activity desks, and an activity desk must obtain a registration from the Department of Commerce and Consumer Affair’s Professional and Vocational Licensing Division before it can operate. You can find out if a company is properly registered as an activity desk at the CCA web site or by calling (808) 587-4272.

What Information Are You Entitled To?

An activity desk must clearly display the name and telephone number of the activity provider whose activity is being booked or sold. And, an
activity desk provider must disclose to you, in writing, if a discount offered for an activity requires you to first attend a sales presentation.

What Should You Look for Before You Book Directly With an Operator or a Desk?

An activity desk should be able to provide the following information, or get the information if they don’t have it immediately handy:

  • Where the excursion or activity is located and figure out how you’re going to get there
  • Where you will need to meet and whether transportation to the site is included
  •  What’s included in the cost, and if there additional fees like equipment rental or meals
  • If the activity is appropriate for you, and you meet the restrictions or requirements the operator may impose. Assess whether you are able to meet the physical demands of the activity. Some high adventure activities may not be appropriate for pregnant women or individuals with certain health issues.
  • What the cancellation policy is.  Be sure you understand it. Make sure you understand under what conditions a refund may be available.

 Pro Tips:

Be wary of deals that require you to book 60 days in advance. (Most credit card companies will only allow you to dispute a charge within 60 days of purchase.)
Ask if there are any limitations on what you can bring. Plan ahead if purses, handbags,or backpacks are not allowed.
Ask if you can bring your camera and if you can take pictures or video. If not, ask if pictures will be available for purchase.
Stay cool, drink plenty of water and don’t forget reef-safe sunscreen.

Bringing Generations Closer

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We’re often asked what the minimum age is for the classic rappel tour, as families with active children enjoy the prospect of creating memories on Maui with their children. Rappelling and outdoor activities are great for bringing multi-generational families together.  Some children and teens even decide, after taking their rappel tour, that canyoneering is their new sport of choice. The outdoors rock!

The minimum age for the Rappel Maui classic tour is 10, with a minimum weight of 70 lbs, and a minimum waist measurement of 22″.   “What’s the maximum age?” one guest asked over the phone.  For the classic tour, we don’t necessarily have one, and  during the summer of 2017, an 81-year-old man completed a Rappel Maui tour with his family of two generations. He was not the slowest or the least graceful person on the course, and he went out for a nice dinner afterward. Renaissance man, indeed.

Whatever your activity level and appetite for adventure,  there’s probably an outdoor activity on Maui for you to discover. Thank goodness it’s a jungle out there.  Call us to discuss your multi-generational outing or ask about a senior discount.


When is the Best Time to Visit Maui?

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Many travelers and explorers know that, when visiting a new place, timing is everything. The best time to visit Maui depends on what you’re most interested in experiencing. According to some experts, the best time to visit Maui is NOW.

Here’s a rough guide to what happens on Maui, when.

If You Want to See Whales
These big, beautiful creatures begin arriving sometime in October, and wow us with their gigantic displays until April or even May (for those who didn’t get the memo.) You can catch the water aerobics and synchronized swimming from shore, often without using binoculars. If you want to get up close and personal, take a whale watch tour, or paddle out in a kayak or outrigger canoe. You can even spot these big beauties from a helicopter or small airplane.

If You Like Warmer Temperatures–or Not
Some like it hot. If that’s you, visit during the months of August or September; those are typically the months with the hottest average temperatures. January and February are usually cooler. Note that, because of Maui’s varied topography and the way that the mountains effect the weather patterns, there are places in Maui that stay warm all year round (Kihei, Wailea and Lahaina), and places where the nighttime temperatures can dip down into the 40s during winter time (Makawao, Kula and the Haleakala summit). There are even times where there’s a fine dusting of snow at the very tip of Mount Haleakala, which is at 10,000 feet above sea level.

If You Want to Catch the Trade Winds
If you’ve spent any time at all in the islands, you’ve heard of Maui’s two types of wind, kona winds and tradewinds. The trades are from the northeast, blow during most of the year, and keep things nice and temperate. These winds are more common April through October. The kona winds blow from the south or southwest, and usually bring with them a cloud of vog from Hawaii Island. Vog is the volcano gas from the Kiluea volcano across the channel, and can cause a hazy air quality. These winds are more common during the fall and winter months.

If You Want to Miss the Stormy Season
From June to November, there’s an uptick in tropical storm and hurricane activity in the Central and South Pacific. While it’s rare to encounter direct hurricane landfall in the Hawaiian Islands, foul weather bands bringing heavy rains can stretch out, reaching parts or all of Maui as the hurricanes pass by. These rains are usually short-lived, but bring with them the threat of flash flooding. That means that streams, rivers and gulches can swell unexpectedly and surprisingly quickly with dangerously swift and high waters. Don’t go unguided and unaccompanied on hikes along stream beds, even if they’re dry. It’s common for visitors and locals alike to become stranded or much worse by flash flood activity. This video is an accurate example of how easy it is to become a victim of changing conditions. Remember, the weather overhead does not always dictate water levels; it’s often the weather you can’t see, miles away that decides whether you need to be airlifted to safety. When active storms near Hawaii are sending big wave swells our way, be aware of breaking waves and rip tides when swimming in the ocean. Listen to the lifeguards and heed the red flags that may be posted on the beach warning of dangerous shore break–they really mean it.

If You Want to Miss the Crowds
There’s a dramatic drop in visitor activity in September, just after the high season finishes reaching its peak in August. This nice, quiet period lasts until the fall holidays. Other relatively low activity periods are January and April, with the busiest season being the summer months. These lull periods are great times to visit the island, as the weather is pleasant, and its easier to make reservations for tours and restaurants. Most tour operators even offer generous discounts during the slower seasons.

If You Want to Experience a Celebrity Sighting
During the holiday seasons, it’s common to see one of Maui’s famous residents or homeowners casually enjoying the aloha spirit in towns like Paia or Wailea.  Owen Wilson, Woody Harrelson, Steven Tyler, Oprah and many other legends make Maui their home for at least a portion of the year. Sometimes you can catch an impromptu number or two from the likes of Willie Nelson or Mick Fleetwood during a live music set. You can also catch surfing celebs like Kai Lenny, Bethany Hamilton, Laird Hamilton, Dave Kalama and a whole cast of surfing royalty doing what they love.

If You Want to Witness the Beauty of one of the Most Remote Places on Earth
Come anytime! There is no bad time to take in the natural wonder that is The Valley Isle. From rainforest to desert, and from hanging ten to beachcombing with an umbrella drink, there is ample opportunity to experience island time.  Safe travels!

Where’s What on Maui

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You’ve probably noticed that, even though it’s a smallish island, getting directions around Maui can be somewhat confusing if you’re a first-timer who’s unfamiliar with the towns and unique directional cues you’ll get from locals. Don’t worry, it doesn’t take long to catch on to what’s where and how to get there.

Cardinal Directions

First off, north/south/east/west are infrequently used, unless someone is referring to the sides of the island.  You’re more likely to hear island directional cues like mauka, makai and upcountry. To go in the “mauka” direction means to go away from the ocean; going “makai” means to go toward the ocean. “Upcountry” is the area at higher elevations up Mount Haleakala.

There are also leeward and windward mentions, but this is usually in relation to weather patterns. When Maui’s tradewinds are blowing, Hana, Kahului, Makawao, Wailuku, Kapalua, and Napili are on the island’s windward side; Wailea, Kihei, Maalaea, Lahaina, and Ka’anapali are located on the island’s leeward side.

Where You’ll Find What

  • Kahului is in Central Maui, at the isthmus of the island between East and West Maui; it’s where the Kahului (OGG) airport is.
  • Maalaea is where one of Maui’s harbors and the aquarium are located. It’s also near the park & ride lot where we meet you before your tour.
  • Lahaina is on the west side, along with Kaanapali–a long stretch of resorts, beaches and shops.
  • Kihei, Wailea and Makena are on the south side.
  • Makawao, Pukalani, Kula and part of Haiku are all upcountry towns.
  • Paia, Sprecklesville and part of Haiku are on what’s referred to as the North Shore.
  • Because of its remote perch at the very end of the eastern coast, Hana is…Hana.

Where the Streets Have Long Names: A Pronunciation Guide to Maui’s Places

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One thing that first-time visitors to Hawaii mention are the seemingly complicated Hawaiian names found on street signs and maps.  Be assured: there’s a way to get through words that look like vowel soup.

Look for the okina or break up long words with lots of vowels.

An ‘okina is a character that resembles an apostrophe or a tiny, upside down, superscript 6. It marks a very brief pause between the syllables of a word, a sound you can hear in the word “uh-oh,” for example.  (This is also called, for you grammar nerds out there, a glottal stop.) Pronouncing the vowel and consonant sounds separated by the ‘okina allows you to break down the word into shorter, simpler parts, but you can also do this with longer words in which there is no ‘okina. This is also useful for when the ‘okina is absent from traffic and street signs.

Look for vowel pairs and syllable couples

Note that some vowel pairs are not pronounced separately, but together as one sound, unless they are separated by an okina.  “Au,” (pronounced like “ow”)  “ei” (pronounced “ay”) and “ae” (usually pronounced “eye”) are such pairs (called a diphthong).

Practice with common names

Try this method with some of these street names and cities:

Mokulele–broken up into 4 parts is easy to pronounce phonetically:  Moe-koo-LAY-lay
Honoapiilani–broken up into 7 parts is pronounced: Ho-no-ah-pee-ee-LA-knee
Kaahumanu–is another 5 part word:  Ka-ah-hu-MAH-noo
Hookele–broken into 4 parts, with the stop happening between the two Os:  Ho-oh-KAY-lay
Haleakala–broken into 5 parts: Ha-lay-ah-kah-LA

Kihei–very simply, in 2 parts: KEY-hay
Kaanapali–properly pronounced in five parts, with the stop between the As, but commonly pronounced in four parts, without the stop between the two As: KA-nah-PAW-lee (or ka-AH-nah-PAW-lee if you honor the okina)

Note that the emphasis on some words will vary from person to person, just as with words in other languages. Often the authentic pronunciation differs from the casual dialect that has evolved over time. You’ll also hear some widely accepted pronunciations of Hawaiian words that are incorrect, but most locals use them. One such example is Hali’imaile.  The way that you’ll most likely hear it pronounced is “HIGH-lee-MY-lee.”

Most Important: It’s OK to slow down

Remember, while you’re driving around Maui, that slowing down to read those long street names is OK. Speed limits are low, and if you’re on vacation, a change of pace is probably why you’re here. Take your time, both driving, and “talking story.” Discover the island with aloha and be safe.  Welcome!

How Does Weather Affect a Rappel Maui Tour?

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Some recent weather history on the Hawaiian Islands: the summer of 2015 was a very active one. It marked one of the strongest El Niño patterns in recorded history, which meant that warmer water temperatures along the equator brought higher numbers of tropical storms and hurricanes across the Pacific Ocean. El Niño was blamed for other strange weather patterns on the mainland that winter. There was flooding in some parts of the world, and severe drought conditions in others well into the spring of 2016. Here in Hawaii, the storm activity that crept across the Central Pacific made for noticeably wet weather. In 2016, that spring and summer never dried up; the moderate to heavy rains continued for the rest of the year, with some areas of the island receiving twice as much rain as usual. In early 2017, the weather began to settle into a more normal pattern; however, the weather in the rainforest is very unpredictable. If you are wondering what the weather is going to be like during your scheduled tour date, you may have to wait until 48 hours before your tour, unless a larger front, system or tropical storm is forecast. Also keep in mind, weather can vary wildly from shore to shore. It’s common for the weather in Kaanapali to be dramatically different from the weather in Haiku.  We can tell you how much rain has fallen or is expected at the activity site within the next few days.


A near-falls descent.

When heavy rain falls over the northern part of the island, it impacts Rappel Maui tours in a few ways.  We operate rain or shine, and we tell all of our guests to expect at least a little rain, even if it’s a few minutes of mist. There is frequently rain in the rainforest, and it’s evident from how lush and green the surroundings are at the activity location that is just a few miles from one of the wettest parts of the island: Hana. If heavy rains or prolonged periods of steady rains cause the streams to swell to levels that are unsafe for swimming, we operate the classic tour on a normal schedule and use alternative rappel stations that are a safe distance from the water course. Sometimes those stations are right next to the waterfall flow, ending in the ponds, and other times, when the falls are roaring and raging, we use jungle walls and cliffs that are farther away from the stream flow. The times when we do not operate due to weather is when extreme conditions cause road closures, landslides or widespread outages.


The main role of your guides is to make sure that everyone has a safe and enjoyable day. Safety is their first priority, and a generous portion of their attention is spent on looking out for one of the least forgiving dangers of rappelling: flash flooding. There are times when the water in the streams is not high or swift, and there’s blue sky above. Danger is not obvious to the average guest, but the guides opt to use rappel stations not directly in the water course. What gives? The local papers are full of accounts of visitors and locals alike getting stranded–or much worse–after seemingly safe conditions turned ugly within the period of a few seconds. When guests ask guides what made them veer from the preference of using the waterfalls, there’s usually a good reason based on ground saturation, the weather upstream, and river gauge readings taken before the tour began. Guides don’t take chances with your safety or theirs; if invisible dangers change your tour, and you’re unsatisfied or concerned, please call the reservations line to talk about your personal experience.  And if you’re ever interested in seeing for yourself what can happen when untrained explorers are caught off guard, this video and accompanying story is an excellent cautionary tale.


Adding Vocation to Your Vacation

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It’s easy to call a place like Maui paradise. It’s a warm, sunny climate with stunning scenery everywhere, and blue waters teeming with sea life. Even so, Maui is home to populations of people, animals, plants and places that need help.  If you’ve ever wanted to make your vacation about something more than recreation and relaxation, there are lots of activities that are interesting, stimulating, rewarding, fun AND give back to the communities that are often underserved or land in the shadows of big tourism.  Because #themoreyouknow…


You can take a shelter dog to the beach for a day of out-of-the-kennel-and-into-the-sunshine fun by way of the Beach Buddies program at Maui Humane Society.  Because Maui has a limited adoption pool and pet overpopulation problem in an isolated and remote place on the globe, animals can wait a long time to find their forever homes.  Not only can you have a Maui dog for a day, you can also visit Maui’s cutest critters at the shelter, volunteer your time at one of MHS’s free spay/neuter clinics or stop by to take a tour and make a donation. Everything helps. Learn more.


Maui’s COSTCO is one of the busiest locations in the United States.  When doors open at 10 AM, there’s often a line of people waiting that stretches out into the parking lot.  Because many COSTCO purchases are big purchases at a great value, many visitors end up with more food than they can consume during their time on Maui. There are multiple food drop off locations for you to donate unopened, non-perishable foods to Maui Food Bank. Learn more.


Charity Walk happens every May, and raises millions of dollars for charitable organizations all around Hawaii.


Did you know that Maui has only one major book retailer on the island? You can make media and materials more accessible for all by donating any books, magazines, DVDs and other media that you’re not taking home with you to one of the three used bookstores operated by Maui Friends of the Library.  There’s even a super convenient location where you can donate and shop at the Queen Kaahumanu Center in Kahului. Learn more.


Visit the Hawaiian Islands Humpback Whale National Marine Sanctuary in Kihei on your way to South Maui’s beautiful beaches. Not only will you learn more about the weather, the ocean and undersea life, you’ll have a beautiful view of the water and Haleakala. Learn more.

On the third Saturday of each month, you can join the Surfrider Foundation and a collection of Maui’s community groups to conduct Beach Cleanups. Learn more.


Did you buy toys, beach toys and larger or bulky baby/child supplies that you know you’re not able to pack? Donate these items to a Goodwill donation drop. There are four donation center collection centers to serve Maui. Learn more.

If you’re not able to give your time, talent or treasure to the places you visit, you can always do your part by limiting your environmental impact on the places you do visit.

  • Reduce, reuse, recycle.
  • Follow signs and instructions when visiting natural preserves.
  • Don’t walk or step on reefs.
  • Don’t bother or touch wildlife/sea life. Leave turtles and seals on the beaches alone. (There is a fine waiting for you if you don’t.)
  • Dispose of your garbage responsibly.
  • Respect the culture.
  • Bring or buy reusable shopping bags.
  • Respect park and private property boundaries.
  • Instead of using chemical blocks like sunscreen that bleaches and kills the coral reefs, use clothing and swimwear to protect your skin from the sun.
  • And, best of all, educate yourself on the challenges that face the places you love, even if you don’t live there. The problems that Hawaii faces are just like the ones you might know from your mainland hometown, but are often exacerbated by occurring in one of the most remote places in the world.

The Hawaiian Island chain contains some of the most extensive coral reefs found in the world. They are home to over 7,000 marine species, one quarter of which are found only in the Hawaiian Archipelago. Let’s keep Hawaii beautiful so that you and many future generations will be able to appreciate it again and again.