Top 5 Animal Activities for Kids
Number 1: Whale Watching
All right, we’re going from the top down in terms of size, so first – whales! These huge and mysterious animals have captured our attention for centuries, and the whale craze shows no signs of stopping. Just last year, I talked with restaurant patrons about whales on the rooftop of a popular venue here on the west side of Maui. This was one of my jobs (believe it or not!), and it was a perfect place to be. Being outside and oceanfront with a third story vantage point was fabulous while searching for humpbacks swimming in the waters between Maui and Lanai.
The customers asked questions while they sipped cocktails and enjoyed lunch, and we all told each other whale stories. (Whale stories are usually more factual than fish stories, and we’ll talk about fish shortly.) I ate up there a few times, too. I’d tried to take a cue from the adult humpbacks and survive only on my fat stores while living here, but somehow the practice got lost in inter-species translation. (Oh, well!)
Okay, so being on land and seeing whales was fun, but I’ve learned since that being on a boat seeing whales is INcredible. When it comes to animal activities for kids, there is nothing like a whale watch. Listening to a whale exhale in the same space as you is insanely cool. I can tell you, you’ll never feel so small, and you may never be so excited! I mean, there’s a WHALE. Right THERE!!!
Sometimes they are jumping out of the water, oftentimes the boy whales are trying to wrestle each other out of the way to check out the girl whales, and frequently the whale moms are teaching their newly born calves to do things like slap their fins or tail flukes on the surface of the water. The best part is that this stuff is going on out there in the Pacific for the entire whale season, but when you’re on a boat like the Quicksilver or Malolo—the Boss Frog vessels; awesome catamarans—suddenly you’re a part of it, too.
We run whale watches from about mid-December through mid-April. So, whale see you on the boats, right?
#2: Horseback Riding at Mendes Ranch
If you want to go horseback riding on Maui, we have some horses saddled up for you at Mendes Ranch. (You can’t ride whales – sorry!) According to Greek mythology, Poseidon, the god of the sea, crafted and tamed the horse for mankind. What an incredible gift!
Mendes Ranch’s morning ride is a beautiful 90 minute guided trail tour. You begin at the ranch in the valley, travel to the edge of sea cliffs, and then go all the way down to sea level and back. You’ll be treated to stupendous coastal views of west Maui, and your guide will take plenty of photos of you on your horses with your camera, so make sure to bring one!
This island trail is a bit like the Old West, which, considering Hawaii’s paniolo (cowboy) history, makes sense. It’s hot, rocky, dusty, and completely awesome! Mendes Ranch is a working ranch, and has been running animal activities for kids for three generations. The original Mendes on Maui emigrated from Portugal in 1886, as you’re sure to learn from your knowledgeable guide.
While enjoying the sights, sounds, and smells of the trail carved from the rugged mountainside, you’ll also get to taste guava and lilikoi picked right from the trees along your path! You are likely to see non-horse animals on the trail, too. Keep your eyes and ears open for birds, cows, pigs, goats, and even rabbits.
This here’s the only trail ride on island that allows the horses to run! There are two spots on the trail where the horses can step on the gas! More advanced riders will likely be thrilled, but just so you know, running is not a requirement. Horses are matched to you according to your skill level back at the ranch, but even so, the horses know the trail well. Make sure to pay extra attention when reaching those areas.
I often act like a fussy mother hen, okay? So, my little chicks, following is my safety and comfort briefing:
Wear the helmets offered by the ranch. Helmets are optional for adults, but you’ll be out in nature on a gorgeous trail on top of a large animal, and adult heads are important, too. Don heavy, long pants that you are excited about getting dirty. And finally, use sunscreen and bug spray. Keep these tips in mind, and you’ll have a great time with Mendes Ranch! Giddy-up!
#3: Lahaina Animal Farm
I visited the Lahaina Animal Farm for the first time in mid-January. This is a great place for all ages to visit, but it is especially good for kids. The farm sits about two miles outside of Lahaina Town and another two miles above it, in the West Maui Mountains. Once I hopped out of the car (I do blog for Boss Frog’s, after all!), I was immediately struck by the welcome quiet.
All traffic noise was absent, so the only sounds left were the occasional snuffling of horses, the crowing of roosters, and the gobbling and mewling of turkeys. I was hoping to see ducks there, too. My Nana used to take me to feed the ducks when I was a little girl, so as an adult, being near ducks always makes me feel loved. (It’s funny what sticks with you, isn’t it?)
About twenty of us gathered beneath a shade tree in the mid-morning, waiting for our 90 minute Non-Private Tour to begin. Excited children made up about half of our group. We were all there to see, pet, and feed all kinds of animals.
The woman named Nis (pronounced “niece”) gives the tours, and she is absolutely lovely. She brought us POG juice to cool off before we started the tour. Nis’s love for the animals showed in everything she did and said; she is clearly sensitive to their needs as well as those of her human guests. Nis made sure that everyone who wanted to had a chance to feed and touch the animals.
There are several different stations, and at each one, Nis taught us the proper way to approach and interact. She also told all kinds of stories about where each one had come from, and how they all lived along with each other. There were full size horses and miniature horses, donkeys, goats, chickens, turkeys, tortoises, a pond full of fish and tadpoles, and a brand new pigeon who had just flown in from Oahu. (On a plane, actually. I was curious, too.)
This tour is an easy one, so all fitness levels and ages should be comfortable – no hills, no more than a couple of stairs, and just slight differences in terrain. And it turns out there are ducks there!
To keep the Lahaina Animal Farm running, this beautiful small business rents their absolutely gorgeous farmhouse to visitors staying on the island. Nis runs just one tour every weekday morning, and the farm hosts special events on the weekends (think birthday parties and weddings). Plus, they sell eggs laid by the happiest. Chickens. Ever. Only $6.00 a dozen!
I really enjoyed Lahaina Animal Farm’s animal activities for kids. You can visit the farm, too – just click right here!
#4: Maui Ocean Center
Maui Ocean Center is the aquarium on Maui. They’ve been open since 1998, and there is a lot to see indoors and out! You’ll find young sea turtles, sea jellies, seahorses, and flatfish. There is a marine mammal activity room, a shark and stingray tank, and a variety of brilliant reef fish. The visibility is always good, and their fish tunnel is amazing! One fabulous exhibit you’ll find nowhere else is called Ancient Hawaiians and the Sea.
For rainy day animal activities for kids, this one is fantastic. Children love watching the fish, touching the sea stars in the tide pool, and asking questions. If you want some back-up when answering them, marine naturalists are always on hand! You’ll enjoy the short educational films shown in a small theater that feels like an underwater cave. If you take your time in the aquarium, it can easily stretch into an half day affair.
FYI, for all the shoppers, there are two places you have to check out if you want to move your attention from fish scales to great sales. The aquarium’s epic gift shop is full of ocean sculptures, clothing, toys, books, and jewelry. (Holy stuffed manta ray, Batman!) I don’t even shop, but I seriously drool when I go in there. Also, there is an excellent craft fair next door, full of all sorts of “made on Maui” items.
This aquarium also boasts a restaurant! I went to the Seascape with some girlfriends this past Thanksgiving, and we all enjoyed our meals immensely, but agreed that my salmon was the most delicious. (I know, I know . . . go to the aquarium and eat fish. But I did it. And the salmon had been wild caught in Alaska, so that was a go on the Seafood Watch card.)
One cool and little known fact about this aquarium is that it is somewhat of a catch-and-release facility. If they see that a fish is not doing well in captivity, and they can release it safely, they put that fish back right where they found it.
If you visit Maui Ocean Center—and I think you should—we may even see each other! I’m a member, so I pop in and out all the time.
Last but certainly not least is snorkeling on Maui! This incredible activity is why I moved here from the mainland. I can’t get enough of slipping underwater to see what’s going on. Along with the unsurpassed beauty of the residents, there’s a whole society and culture under the sea, complete with alliances, education, romance, and agriculture. If you do plan to visit Maui, you simply must snorkel, Daaahling!
Most of the gorgeous fish you’ll see are concentrated around Maui’s coral reefs. Lucky for you, all you have to do is swim out a bit and float around to see all these ocean animals. Reef habitats are kind of like marine animal condos (oceanfront, of course!). The herbivores do the landscaping by eating the algae always threatening to take over. Parrotfish chomp off pieces of coral along with their algae bites, and that chewed-up coral shortly becomes beach sand. You didn’t know you’ve been dreaming about sunning yourself on parrotfish droppings, did you?
You can also find eels, octopuses, spotted eagle rays, reef sharks (beautiful as well as harmless), slipper lobsters, and even nudibranchs along the reef. While you are enjoying the heck out of yourself in the water, remember that corals themselves are live animals that feel pain, take years to grow, and are susceptible to disease when disturbed, so please do your best not to touch or stand on them.
We at Boss Frog’s rent snorkel gear if you’re ready to find a beach and get out there. The best reefs are on the west and south sides, and both coastlines sport some kid-friendly beaches. If you’ve never snorkeled before or you’re not sure where to start, come along with us! We run two great boats that will take your whole family out to some of the best snorkeling sites on island: Molokini and Turtle Town! (Yeah, Turtle Town is just like it sounds. Except the turtles don’t wear clothes or work at the bank or anything. Their animal activities are much more mellow.) Our Quicksilver and Malolo catamarans have great captains and crew, all the snorkel gear and instruction you’ll need, and plenty of food and drinks. It is really nice to have everything provided, isn’t it?
Well, Dear Readers, it’s just been fabulous talking with you about Maui’s animal activities for kids! Mahalo for your rapt attention. (Mahalo means “thank you” in Hawaiian.) If you have any questions or answers about anything Maui, let us know!
Until the next Boss Frog’s Frog Blog, this is Maui Amy, signing off.
Aloha for now!