One of the first things to expect on your Maui vacation is the variable weather conditions. Although the island is just 727 square miles, it features plenty of microclimates. The reason why is because within that relatively small range of miles, you can go from sea level to an elevation of 10,023 feet at the summit of Haleakala. Not only that, but the presence of the West Maui Mountains adds even more dynamic to the weather patterns of the aptly nicknamed Valley Isle.
Overall, the weather on Maui tends to be pleasantly warm throughout the year, because the ocean acts as a temperature buffer that helps prevent excessive heat and cold. It also helps that Hawaii is closer to the equator than any other state in the nation. That is, if you enjoy warm weather. The waters around Maui are so hospitable that humpback whales consistently show an overwhelming preference for its southern and western coastlines in the winter months when they come to breed and give birth to their offspring.
Aside from these general qualities, many visitors have found themselves surprised by five minute spates of rain thrown down from relatively blue skies near the North Shore, or by the freezing cold temperatures at the summit of Haleakala at night. If you enjoy sightseeing, you’ll want to know the basic weather trends of Maui, so you can avoid any inconvenient surprises.
Before we plunge into the weather patterns of various areas, it’s important to know that the winter months tend to be the wettest, thanks to the prevailing trade winds that come from the north. For reference, winds coming from the south are known as Kona winds. Wetter months tend to arrive around mid-November and persist until late March. Of course, this varies year to year, and it’s also worth keeping in mind that any part of the island can get rainy or crystal clear days in the winter. Now, let’s talk about typical weather patterns in specific areas.
1. If you’re looking for the warmest, driest conditions on the island, you’ll find them in South Maui, which gets the lowest rainfall and provides many miles of gorgeous white sand beach, along with a number of outstanding snorkeling spots. This area includes Kihei, Wailea, and Makena, in that order as you proceed south, down the coastline. When the trade winds are blowing from the north, this is one of the last areas of the island that those winds reach. This also means that the waters along this coast are protected from the swells that come with the trade winds. When the much less prevalent Kona winds come from the south, conditions are windier and the water is choppier.
2. West Maui tends to be almost as dry, and includes Lahaina, Ka’anapali, and Kapalua, in that order as you head north along the coast. The further north you get, the more likely you’ll get some rainfall. Kapalua, which is the most northerly of the group, tends to be the greenest of the three, but you have to go quite a bit further north to find rainforest. Because the trade winds tend to come from a northeasterly direction, you’ll find calm waters off these shores, unless a Kona wind from the south is kicking up the swells.
3. Central Maui tends to be dry, but Kahului is close enough to the North Shore that rain clouds will sometimes get blown in by the trades. Above Kahului, on the lower slopes of the West Maui Mountains, you’ll find Wailuku, which features a lush landscape and frequent showers. Clouds regularly gather at the peaks above, fed in part by the humidity of the jungle environments that are established in that area. The rain tends to form its own cycle at this location.
4. North Shore Maui features regular showers, particularly in the winter months. They often consist of no more than drizzle, coming and going suddenly, which makes this part of the island a great place for rainbows. The regular but inconsistent rainfall is owed to the trade winds, which bring storm clouds to North Shore before they get to the rest of the island. That is, if they get to the rest of the island. Although the elevation of the North Shore is low and not much of an obstacle, these clouds will often drop their rain there and dissipate as they move inland, away from the ocean humidity that formed them. Some of the island’s finest surfing locations are found here because of the swells delivered by the trade winds. In fact, the North Shore is considered by many to be the windsurfing capital of the world because the conditions are so ideal for the sport.
5. Upcountry includes a wide variety of microclimates because it describes several areas on the slopes of Haleakala, facing Central Maui. Toward the northern and rainier side, you’ll find Makawao, with Olinda perched above it. In the middle, there is Pukalani, with Kula up above, both of which tend to be dry. Last but not least, on the south side, you find Ulupalakua, which tends to get little rainfall, unless the less prevalent Kona winds bring storm clouds in from the south. Another distinct quality of the Upcountry areas is the pronounced temperature change that you’ll discover as you climb in elevation. You’ll find the air cooler and less humid the farther up the mountain you go. At the top of the mountain, temperatures can reach freezing levels at night in the winter. Even if you visit the Crater during the day in summer, you’ll want to wear some layers. The air is not only cold, but thin at about ten thousand feet, so be careful not to overexert yourself.
6. East Maui is dominated by Hana and a rainforest microclimate. The trade winds bring storms not only to the coast, but up against the slopes of this remote side of Haleakala. Hana can get around 80″ of rain per year, but those levels fluctuate quite a bit depending on the location within this expansive area of the island. When traveling from North Shore Maui to East Maui, you’ll pass through Haiku, which is another of the rainiest regions of the island, thanks again to the trade winds.
We hope that this handy guide will help you prepare for the weather conditions that you might encounter on Maui. It could also help you decide where you want to find accommodations, and areas where you might like to try some Maui tours and activities. Our Maui ocean tours operate from Lahaina Harbor, one of the calmest, sunniest locations on the island. As for questions about our tours, you’ll find our contact information at the top of the page if you need our assistance. Mahalo!