A young surfer catches a wave at Honolua Bay.

MAUI

When the surf is up on Maui, there’s no better place to be than the bohemian hippie town of Pa’ia. It’s been a boring summer for surfers on the Hawaiian island of Maui, but the surf is finally up and with the first good autumn swell locals head to the north shore in search of the big waves.

When the surf is up on Maui, there’s no better place to be than the bohemian hippie town of Pa’ia.

It’s been a boring summer for surfers on the Hawaiian island of Maui, but the surf is finally up and with the first good autumn swell locals head to the north shore in search of the big waves.

On a Sunday afternoon when the surf is up, you’ll find some of the best surfers and windsurfers on the island at Honolua Bay or Ho’okipa Beach near the little town of Pa’ia. You’ll also find spectators lined up on the beaches and hillsides just to watch them — kind of like a high school football game in any other town.

Watching the surfers carve their way through the big waves is great fun for locals and visitors alike and a visit to Pa’ia is something that shouldn’t be missed when the big waves come to town.

But Pa’ia is a great place to visit all on its own — regardless of the surf conditions.

Modern-day Pa’ia has a free-spirited bohemian quality that is evidenced by its chipped and fading entrance sign, which includes a warning that says: “Please do not feed the hippies.”

The brightly coloured wooden buildings lining the Hana Highway are a world away from the resorts, condos and crowds of the tourist areas of the island. Walk around Pa’ia and you can imagine what Maui was like a few decades ago.

The word “pa’ia” means “noisy” in the Hawaiian language, but when you walk around the town today it seems to be a poor moniker for such a sleepy little place. Although it’s hard to imagine, there was a time when the name actually fit.

Pa’ia’s roots go back to 1880, when the first sugar mill was built on the island. The town began as a camp for workers who came from all over the world to work in the sugar cane fields or at the mill.

By the 1930s, one-fifth of Maui’s population, about 10,000 people, lived in the town and it easily lived up to its name.

The 1950s saw a downturn in the sugar industry and the population shrank dramatically as workers moved away to find new jobs.

In the 1960s, hippies discovered Pa’ia and breathed new life into the town. They restored some of the ramshackle homes and opened new businesses. Most of them never left and you can still fell their presence in everything from the town’s entrance sign to its alternative boutique-style shops.

The 1980s saw another surge in population for Pa’ia when the sport of windsurfing exploded in popularity and Ho’okipa Beach was recognized as one of the best wave sailing spots on the planet. The best windsurfers from around the world came to challenge themselves on the surf near Pa’ia and many purchased homes in the area.

Although its population is nowhere near what it was in its heyday, it sits at about 2,700 people today.

A walk around Pa’ia is a great way to spend an afternoon. It has some fascinating little shops with everything from art and handicrafts to designer fashions and one-of-a-kind swimwear. You’ll also find one of the best organic/natural foods markets on the island, a bona fide centre for Tibetan Buddhism that has been blessed by the Dalai Lama himself and some fantastic little restaurants that use fresh, organic, locally-sourced ingredients.

Wandering around Pa’ia is a great way to spend an afternoon, but when the surf is up there are better places to be. We didn’t give the downtown the time it deserved, because we were busy watching surfers carve the big waves.

Pa’ia’s top five food spots

• Mama’s Fish House — This might be the most expensive fish house on the island but if you love seafood, Mama’s is the place to go on Maui. You can’t beat the setting. The restaurant is located in a beachfront cove with spectacular views. The fish is fresh and the fishermen are even credited on the menu. Dishes have an island touch with fish either crusted in macadamia nuts or baked with tropical fruit and served with sides such as Molokai sweet potato, Maui onions, roasted kukui nuts, Haiku bananas and fresh coconut. Reservations are essential. (www.mamasfishhouse.com)

• The Flatbread Company — This great little pizza spot makes fantastic thin crust pizzas in a wood-fired oven using mostly organic local ingredients. Try the pulled pork pizza with mango barbecue sauce, Hawaiian goat cheese and Maui pineapple. (www.flatbreadcompany.com)

• Charley’s — If you are a fan of Willie Nelson, you will definitely want to make a stop for a drink at Charley’s. The restaurant and bar are decorated with photos and memorabilia of the artist, who keeps a residence in Pa’ia and is a good friend of the owner. A couple of times each year, Nelson puts on an impromptu concert at Charley’s. You’ll also find the world’s largest guitar inside the bar. (www.charleysmaui.com)

• Ono Gelato Company — Gelato is a kind of Italian ice cream that is made with milk and has about half the fat and half the calories of regular ice cream. Ono Gelato prepares its Italian gelato in-house using fresh organic milk, fresh local fruits and natural ingredients. They make 24 flavours daily as well as a nice selection of non-dairy sorbetto. Most important, they give free sample tastings. (www.onogelatocompany.com)

• Shave ice — Shave ice is an ice-based dessert that is so popular on the Hawaiian Islands that it has become a must-try for any visitor. In Pa’ia, you can try shave ice at either Aloha Shave Ice or Tobi’s. We tried out Tobi’s, where our server Carrie insisted that it was really “magic ice.” One taste and we were pretty sure she was right.

If you go:

• Both WestJet and Air Canada offer direct flights from Calgary to Maui and several other airlines offer connecting flights. Rates vary depending upon the dates of travel.

• Pa’ia is on the north shore of Maui, about an hour’s drive from the popular tourist area of Ka’anapali.

• We chose to stay at the Hale Ho’okipa Inn in Makawao, which is located about 10 minutes from the town of Pa’ia. This was a good location for exploring Haleakala National Park, the north shore area and the road to Hana. Rates start at $135 per night. For information or reservations, visit http://maui-bed-and-breakfast.com/.

Debbie Olsen is a Lacombe-based freelance writer. If you have a travel story you would like to share or know someone with an interesting travel story who we might interview, please email: DOGO@telusplanet.net or write to: Debbie Olsen, c/o Red Deer Advocate, 2950 Bremner Ave., Red Deer, Alta., T4R 1M9.

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