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Koloa vs. Wailea: A Hawaii Travel Guide

Grand Wailea Maui

Koloa vs. Wailea: A Hawaii Travel Guide

Have you ever wondered which Hawaiian island would be the best fit for your ideal vacation? Let’s compare the Koloa vs. Wailea areas, respectively, on the islands of Kauai and Maui. Both areas have a thriving resort community, beach access, and so much natural beauty. Not to mention what each of the islands has to offer adventurous tourists just a short drive away from these two regions, there are lots of things to consider. Read on to get a better idea of what grand adventures await you on your next Hawaiian vacation to either Koloa or Wailea.

Get to know Koloa vs. Wailea and the differences between the two. We’ll take a look at the history of these areas of both Kauai and Maui as well as some of their biggest attractions. Get an idea of the sights, sounds, and adventures that will best fit your ideal Hawaiian vacation. Maybe your choice takes you to the slightly larger island of Maui, you’ll get to explore the Wailea resort stretch with beautiful weather and beaches galore. Or maybe you head to Kauai where the weather is wetter but there is the lovely Poipu Beach and the Koloa old town village has lots of shops to check out. Where will you pick for your dream Hawaiian vacation with the choice of Koloa vs. Wailea?

Koloa vs. Wailea: What Are The Differences?

When comparing Koloa vs. Wailea, it's important to note that these regions are on two different islands. Koloa is located on the Southern side of the island of Kauai, the third largest island among the Hawaiian islands. And then there's Wailea, which is on the South coastal part of Maui, the second largest island. Maui is the larger island between the two, with more residents, and more developed areas overall. Kauai is known for its more rural stretches, with many areas protected from development in an effort to retain the natural beauty and history of this island. Kauai is sometimes referred to as the “Garden Isle” for its diverse landscapes, rainforests, volcanoes, and stunning beaches – the works.

Hawaiian Islands map,seen through a magnifying glass,selective focus
The Hawaiian islands each offer their own unique vacation experience.


The History of Koloa

Old Kōloa was developed as a sugar town, adjacent to the first successful sugar mill on the island. The first shops grew alongside the Kōloa Heritage Trail which preserves historical sites integral to the development of the sugar plantations of Kauai. The first buildings date back to the early 1900s and hosted a tailor, laundromat, general store, hotel, bakery, and other old town staples. While the inhabitants have changed, you can still walk the streets of the old town, or make your way towards the resort-lined waters of Poipu beach and experience the past and present of this beautiful Hawaiian island.

Koloa Attractions

Whether you're staying at one of the resorts or hotels in Koloa, or just driving over for a day trip, you should make your way through the Tunnel of Trees. This eucalyptus grove is well worth a photo op. Read on to get some more ideas of the best Koloa attractions.

Eucalyptus tree tunnel, Koloa Town, Kauai, HI
The eucalyptus tunnel in Koloa is well worth a drive-through.

©Mike Peters/Shutterstock.com

  • Walk through Old Kōloa and sample fresh fish from the local fish market, or stop for Italian food at Pizzetta. Don't forget to grab an iconic Hawaiian shave ice on your jaunt.
  • And don't forget the shopping opportunities, check out Island Soap and Candle Works. There are also lots of other local artisan shops that will be sure to have some great souvenirs.
  • In the shopping center near Poipu, there are great restaurants like Eating House 1849 Koloa. Stop into some of the high-end grocery stores with organic fruits, vegetables, and local Hawaiian fare.
  • Speaking of Poipu, check out this beautiful stretch of beaches where you can snorkel and swim. Shipwreck beach
  • Check out Allerton Garden which showcases the natural beauty of the island. There are rainforest trees, bamboo, tropical fruit trees, and other native plants. Take a stroll through the beautiful landscaping of this gem of Kauai.
  • If you venture just outside of Koloa, you can experience the wonder of the Makauwahi Cave Reserve. These caves show fossils and archeological sites that tell the story of Kauai.
  • For some unique excursions, courtesy of Atlas Obscura, check out the Lithified Sand Dunes or Spouting Horn. The former is an outcropping of sea cliffs that used to be sand. Over time they hardened and now, they make for quite the contrast to the blue waters of the Pacific. The Spouting Horn is one of the most photographed places in Kauai, and legend says that a huge lizard lives beneath the rocks and causes the geyser that shoots seawater into the air. See it for yourself!
Spouting Horn is off the southern coast of Kauai in the Koloa district and is known for its crashing waves and large sprays of water.
Spouting Horn is one of the most photographed spots on the island of Kauai.

©Dale Lookholder/Shutterstock.com

Wailea History

Moving onto Wailea, which is named for the legend of the Hawaiian Goddess who would turn into a bird. Lea was the Goddess of canoe builders and her flights over the Maui coastline inspired the name for this region. Wailea translates to “waters of Lea.” Right next to the Haleakala Mauka mountain, the natives first grew sweet potatoes, raising cattle in the fields, and fishing in the bountiful waters along the Maui coast. After World War II, development began on the island. By 1971, the Wailea Development Company took steps to create a residential resort community on this stretch of Maui. They built out shopping centers, restaurants, residences, and lots of spots for tourists to stay while preserving the natural beauty of the island (via Wailea Resort Association).

Wailea Attractions

Maui is a large island, so take advantage of the many tourist opportunities on this beautiful island.

  • Starting with the beaches, there's Wailea Beach, Keawapaku Beach, and Makena Beach, to name a few. Check out Ulua Beach Park and try your hand at surfing or snorkeling among the waves.
  • For a bit more of an adventure, check out the Āhihi-Kīna‘u Natural Area Reserve. Here you'll see lots of the volcanic coastline and find lots of unique spots for snorkeling.
  • Looking to hike? Head to nearby Keoneʻōʻio Bay. These trails are gorgeous and lead to all kinds of beach spots where you can take a dip to cool off.
  • And what resort community would be complete without some shopping opportunities? The Shops at Wailea have all kinds of restaurants including Olivine, and ‘Ikena (via OpenTable).
  • And of course, Wailea is known for its golf courses. Check out the award-winning greens, and play some holes in the bright sunshine on Maui.
Maui Golf Course
The beautifully manicured golf courses of Wailea are sure to provide lots of fun.


Things To Consider

As with any trip planning, you may want to consider how the cost of a particular island will impact the kinds of things you can do. Maui is for sure a tourist hub, with lots of activities geared towards those who want to spend money. It can be more expensive to stay on the island of Maui than Kauai because it is a more developed island. Kauai can provide a more remote vacation experience, and while it's still pricy in terms of island costs, you can spend more time in nature doing free things on the accessible beaches.

This doesn't account for the cost of accommodation or renting gear for doing these excursions, but there is a price differential to consider between Koloa vs. Wailea. It's simply a good idea to consider what kinds of things may be the best fit for you and your family on your Hawaiian vacation. If you're looking for bustle and beauty with less of a budget, Maui is the way to go. If you want an emphasis on nature and are looking to spend less overall, perhaps Kauai is the place for you. Either way, this trip is sure to be great.

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