Maui Visitors Guide

Maalaea Harbor Activities Maui visitors guide




Aloha in sand Maui Visitors Guide MHA



Hawaiian Greetings:  There are customary greetings that are used on the Islands to indicate hello, what’s up or even, “it’s cool brah”. (brah being pidgin for brother) It’s useful to know these different words and signals like the Shaka to know what’s being communicated to you while you’re here on island. (Note that we didn’t say, “on THE Island” – we say, “On Island”.)

So our first lesson in this Maui visitors guide is the word “Aloha.” Most ‘Mainlanders’ (that’s you if you’re from the mainland, or not from Maui) understand that Aloha means both hello and goodbye, but it also has a deeper meaning. The Aloha ‘spirit’  is a way of life, a way you treat others in day to day contact with them. To ‘practice Aloha’ means you’re kind, patient and tolerant of others. Here’s a way to remember it:


A, ala, watchful, alertness
L, lokahi, working with unity
O, oia’i’o, truthful honesty
H, ha’aha’a, humility
A, ahonui, patient perseverance

Next word to learn is Mahalo. It means Thank you. There are other forms of the expression which have more respect attached to them like Mahalo Nui Loa, which is thank you very much… more polite for our elders.

Here are some other words you might hear and may or may not want to use while on Island:

DaKine. (da-kine; “i” sound pronounced like “eye”) refers to a thing – usually when you can’t think of the regular name for it. You might say, “dakine snorkel trip” if you can’t recall the boat you went on…
Howzit. (as spelled; from English “How’s it?)
Haole. ( howl-lee or howl-le)  That’s you if you’re not a native Hawaiian – however, be careful how – or even IF – you use this word. Some find it offensive.
Shaka. ( shah-ka) It’s that signal you make with your hand. More on this later.
Uncle/Auntie: (unko, ant-tee; English). … Everyone older than you – it’s the respectful way of referring to friends even if they’re not related to you (unless they are your mom or dad, brother or sister.)
Slippahs: (from English slippers). Flip flops, Zories, Sandals… you get the idea. Here we call them slippahs and you take them off before you come inside. More on this.
Grindz: (i like “eye”.) Grindz is food – funny story: it’s said that Hawaiians don’t eat until they’re full; they eat until they’re tired. When it’s ono grindz, you will understand why.
Ono: Tastes good.
Pono: Good for you.
Shoots: This is a way of saying, “no problem”
Talk Story: This means to have a casual conversation.
Local: A “local” person generally is someone born on Maui (or other Hawaiian Island) but isn’t necessarily of the Hawaiian Race (that would be a ‘Hawaiian’) and this can be a culturally touchy thing too. Some folks think they are local when they’ve lived on island for a number of years (a ‘local haole’ for instance), however, some would dispute that meaning.
Pau: means finished. As in, “I’m pau with this list of words.”

While it can be easy for some to pick up the pidgin dialect while here on the island, we recommend that you don’t use it. Locals could find your accent mocking or offensive.

MHA Visitors Guide Shaka

Hand gestures: When someone shows you the Shaka (pictured on the right) it is usually a good thing and it means “it’s cool” it can also mean “cool down” if someone perceives that you need to chill out a little. It is never offensive and always meant with good intent (or should be.) Just be careful to do it right – only use your thumb and pinky – no other fingers, ok?

Let me say a little more about the Aloha spirit here. For you mainlanders who don’t know any better, here’s a kind thought: while on the island, we do things island-style. Yes, there is even a song about it, but I digress. Island style means a lot of things. For instance:

Maui Time: means a more relaxed schedule than what you mainlanders are used to. Chill out, dude. You’ll get there.
No honk horn: We don’t honk our horns on Maui – only in a REAL EMERGENCY. Otherwise, it’s really, really bad manners. Don’t do it.
Direk-shun: if you need directions you may be told in terms of landmarks rather than north/south/east/west. You may be given directions in terms of going toward the mountains (mau’ka) or toward the ocean (ma’kai) or they may just say – “go to da Costco, turn lef and you dere!” so knowing where some landmarks are helps – otherwise, Google Maps works pretty well on island.

MHA Visitors Guide Cane SpiderMaui Critters: Here on Maui, which is a tropical island – we have our share of insects, reptiles, rodents, mammals and so on. Fortunately, nearly none of them bite or are venomous. Notice we said, nearly none. More on that later. Here’s a list of the bugs you might want to pay attention to:

Cockroach. They vary in size and are kept in check mostly by Geckos and other lizards and even Centipedes. They’re everywhere and most locals exterminate (or bug bomb) their homes on a semi-regular basis to keep them in check. They can and do carry disease so don’t eat one (that was a joke, brah.)
Midge: You may see little ‘clouds’ of insects floating above lawn areas – these are harmless but they will smudge up your windshield on occasion.
Spiders: There are a few varieties of spiders on Maui and some of them get rather large (remember, this is a tropical island) and they also enjoy the chase or jumping at times. If you freak out near spiders, sorry – just watch where you’re going. They look scary but they won’t bite you and aren’t venomous (usually.) There are the venomous black widows and the brown recluse on island but I’ve never seen either of them. Mostly you will see the huge cane spider which is yellow and black (pictured).
Mosquito: Yeah there are mosquitoes on island but you won’t see droves of them and they’re not unusually large. Just be sure to have some good insect repellant handy if you’re going to be outside in the evening.
Centipede: Ok this the one is one to look out for.They get big here – I’ve seen some nearly a foot long – I thought it was a snake until I remembered that there aren’t any snakes on island… yeah, yuck. The nasty centipede is equipped with a set of venomous fangs, which can not only sting you but (for some with sensitivities) send you on a trip to the hospital or urgent care. Keep an eye out for them and don’t handle them. They usually stay out of the way in dark, damp areas and they do eat other bugs, which is a good thing. Just don’t touch.
Slugs/Snails: Here’s a serious warning. Certain slugs carry what’s called Angiostrongyliasis (Rat Lungworm disease.) This is bad stuff, brah. How do you get it? Usually by accidentally eating them in greens (like salad greens.) What does it do? Read up on it here. It’s fairly rare on Maui – but it’s worth paying attention to. Make SURE your greens are CLEAN.

Before I move onto the next section, let me just mention something that will help keep the bugs down and the locals will very much appreciate it: Don’t leave food out for them to eat. They love your leftovers and it gives them the desire to multiply, so don’t leave your food out – even inside the place you’re living – really, especially inside the place you live – unless you really, really love bugs everywhere. Keep your food in the fridge or in a sealed garbage container.

MHA Visitors Guide Gecko

Ok on to the reptiles and Dakine:

Lizards and Geckos thrive in Maui’s tropical climate.They live here with us and are simply a fact of life.They perform an excellent service on our behalf so Geckos are even tolerated indoors (really, you can’t keep them out anyway.) The service that they perform is they eat TONS of bugs. They are better than a ‘no pest strip’ and they’re pretty cute too. There are iguanas, chameleons, anole, and others. Nothing that bites us – so let them be, live and let live. Be kind to Geckos!

There are also lots of beautiful birds like Lovebirds, Mourning Dove, Minah, Cardinal, Pidgeon, Java Sparrow and many others. As for mammals, there’s also the infamous Mongoose which looks like a weasel, unlike the cartoon version you may be expecting. You’ll often see them crossing the road (or evidence that they tried to.) The full depth of the wildlife of Maui is beyond the scope of this Maui Visitors Guide but we recommend that you do a little research on it. It’s really interesting!





MHA Visitors Guide Groceries


When it comes to shopping… it is of note that plastic bags are not a choice in Maui as they are against the law. Here’s what you do: Buy or bring your own bags to the store. There are some really cool little bags that will easily fit inside of even a small purse – they fold up very small but when unfolded, are quite spacious. You might also want to get an insulated bag (available inexpensively at Costco or Walmart) to keep things that need to stay cool while on the drive home, especially if the grocery store isn’t your last stop as cars can get very hot inside.

It can be very expensive to eat out in Maui – and worthwhile too, but if you’re not independently wealthy you might want to buy some groceries. It is worth noting that some grocery stores are more ‘local style’ and some are clearly tuned into the tourist trade and the prices will reflect that. It’s worth doing a little comparison if you want to save a lot of money for FUN ACTIVITIES.

So if you do go out to eat: Keep in mind that restaurant wait staff is usually poorly paid and depend upon tips to make a living here on Maui. Living here is expensive so if you’re waiting tables, unless you’re doing it at Mama’s Fish House, you’re probably living with several roommates. So be nice and tip these hard-working folks. 20% is standard.


If you watch Television, you will notice that the schedule here is different than it likely is on the mainland. News starts at 10 instead of 11 and most shows are an hour or two earlier than at home. So if you’re into “must see TV” you may want to pay attention to when your favorite show will air. Often there is a channel with nothing but tourist information on it – this can be informative, however, it is also mostly paid advertisement in a documentary format.

MHA Visitors Guide Hula Lei GirlGetting Lei’d…

Yes, it’s true, you can get lei’d in Hawaii. There is a wonderful custom here of greeting newcomers with a flower lei. You can even purchase a lei greeting at the airport ahead of time to be sure it happens for you and or your group. If you have friends or ohana (family) on island, they may be so kind to give you a nice lei greeting –  but keep in mind that they aren’t inexpensive and they represent quite a lot of work and time to make, so don’t treat them casually. Also keep in mind that if you do have friends or ohana on island, they may invite you over for a meal. If you’re so invited, be sure to bring a gift as it is customary here. It doesn’t have to be anything big, maybe a bottle of wine or something from home. Plan ahead! It’s also considered good manners to leave your shoes (or slippahs) at the door. They shouldn’t have to ask you!




Finally, Respect is important. Respect the A’ina (the land) and respect the culture. In review:

  • Take your shoes off when entering a home and bring a gift.
  • Don’ take coral or rocks home
  • Pack out everything you bring to the beach.
  • Don’t get impatient. You’re on vacation bruh! Chill.
  • Use Eco-friendly products. This is an island, friend. We have to live here.
  • Remember to bring a shopping bag
  • Tip at restaurants
  • Bring Insect repellant and use it
  • Appreciate the Lei
  • Read this Guide again – familiarize yourself with the island – do some research on The Island of Maui, Maui Culture, Maui’s Wildlife, Hawaiian Language
  • Say Mahalo!

MHA Visitors Guide Plumeria blossom

Maui Visitors Guide Copyright Maalaea Harbor Activities 2018, 2019 All rights reserved. Photos courtesy of: Upsplash, Getty Images, Shutterstock.