Let's go eco on the Hawaiian island of Maui

There's more to the Hawaiian island of Maui than grass skirts and ukeleles. Helen Truszkowski and her two boys went exploring
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The Independent Travel

With its backdrop of lush volcanoes, the view from the beach is perfect; I could lie here for hours. But it's 7am and we're already late. I'm here in the Hawaiian islands with my two sons, George, 10, and Jack, 11 months, on Maui, a land-mass in the shape of the figure eight. The locals say: "Maui no ka oi" - Maui is the best, the bee's knees, the cat's miaow. And there's good reason for the superlatives: this is a fantasy location.

The Hawaiian chain is commonly accepted to have 18 islands, of which Maui is the second largest. The exotic Valley Isle has made a name for itself with its striking scenery, cultural history, and mile upon mile of powdery beaches.

Modern tourism did not reach the Hawaiian islands until 1936, when visitors first flew to Honolulu from San Francisco. Numbers crept up steadily, but it took Elvis Presley's 1961 movie Blue Hawaii to attract big numbers of young travellers, who came to holiday like the King. Forty years later, and our own kids have rediscovered the draw of hula, aloha shirts and ukuleles, courtesy of Scooby-Doo and Disney's Lilo & Stitch.

On Maui this level of movie success has led to problems. There are too many cars, and luxurious mega-resorts are swelling the island with ever swankier accommodation, leading to increasing concern about water use. Thankfully, though, much about Maui tugs in the opposite direction. While mass tourism remains alive and well, something else is happening: a shift to eco-preservation.

It is a 40-minute drive from the west coast beaches and up the Kuihelani Highway that slices through the middle of the island. We pass swaying sugar and pineapple plantations. A vicious shower evaporates into a heavenly rainbow. It's head-spinning stuff. I'm taking the boys to meet John White of Maui Eco-Adventures. Named 2005 Ecotour Operator of the Year by the Hawaii Ecotourism Association, John runs tours off the beaten track. By forging strong relationships with private landowners and environmental organisations, by donating time and money to groups such as the Maui Coastal Land Trust, and by helping to restore and maintain trails, the company has a unique take on the island.

We reach Kahului heliport just in time. Our pilot is gagging to probe the gulches and crevices of Mount Haleakala. The land here rises sharply - in just 38 miles, you can go from sea level to 10,023ft. We do it in minutes, being treated to a fine view of the islands of Molokai and Lanai.

We descend on foot into the crater of the world's largest dormant volcano. It is a wilderness, resting on a crumpled sheet of ancient lava eroded into cinder cones and coloured in slabs of russet and slate. We are far above the clouds; the air is thin. Dave, our guide, sees children as the eco-travellers of the future and wastes no time coaching them for the role. He points out the ahinahina plant that studs the barren moonscape and asks the boys to watch for the elusive Nene Goose. George is ecstatic. It's like all his favourite scenes from Star Wars and Indiana Jones rolled into one.

Maui is an island of epic bio-diversity. Its 33 miles of public beaches are great for snorkelling and in winter hundreds of humpback whales give birth offshore. Add in the arid lands of Kihei, the swampy bogs of the West Maui Mountains, the rainforest of Hana, and the desert of Kaupo and you have an unbeatable family holiday playground. The boys explored the depths of the Ocean Center, rodeon a steam train, snorkelled with green turtles, and sat in on a Hawaiian Luau. We checked into the Napili Kai Beach Resort, which runs a non-profit foundation committed to showing children the dances, language, history and crafts of Polynesia.

The ancient Hawaiians instilled in their keiki (children) respect for people and nature. If you are anything like me, you take your kids on holiday to have a good time, not to save the world. Still, it is worth knowing that it is not all grass skirts, coconut-shell bras and mai-tais. Your family can also play a part in helping to preserve the land and the wildlife, and a culture based around Mana, the life energy that exists in everything here.

Return flights from London Heathrow to Maui via Washington with United Airlines cost £608 through expedia.co.uk. The writer stayed at the Grand Wailea Resort Hotel & Spa (001 808 875 1234; grandwailea .com) and at the Napili Kai Beach Resort (001 808 669 6271; napilikai.com). Feel Good Maui Maui Eco Adventures (001 808 661 7720; ecomaui.com) offers hiking tours from $80 per person. General information from Hawaii Tourism Europe (020-7202 6384; hawaii-tourism.co.uk)

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