Maui, Hawaii — ''Aloha!'' welcomed my host. ''Never mind the rain. If it rains on you your first day on Maui, legend has it that you will return someday.''
It wasn't long before clear skies had returned to this island known for its sun-drenched beaches. By the time we had made the half-hour drive to Wailea on Maui's southwestern shore, the pavement was almost dry. The well-manicured lawn of this chic resort development glowed an iridescent spring green, and gems of shimmering raindrops rolled from the thick-leafed tropical plants bordering the drive to the Inter-Continental Hotel. As we pulled up to the open-air lobby, a car radio announcer informed us that it was ''82 degrees here in paradise.''
No wonder more than a million people a year make their way to this second-largest island in the the Hawaiian chain. Though Maui attracts more visitors than its neighboring islands, you'd never know it. It is one paradise that has not been paved with condominiums, parking lots, or souvenir strips; 75 percent of the island remains pristine and uninhabited. There is also a thankful lack of luaus and hula girls -- and the clusters of hotels that prominently illustrate most Hawaii tourist brochures.
Tourism is Maui's biggest industry, yet the island's friendly people treat visitors like welcomed guests to their home. Offers to help weary arriving travelers are sincere rather than motivated by a potential tip. The dress code is conspicuously casual. Brightly colored Hawaiian ''aloha shirts'' are worn to dinner in even the most elegant of restaurants.
After just a few days on the island, I agreed with an early English explorer who wrote: ''We had now come into a delightful climate, where we had almost everything we could wish for in profusion.'' Maui's terrain varies widely, as do its temperatures. From the cool, lush, tropical rain forest with its myriad waterfalls to the dusty ashes of Mt. Haleakala's arid volcanic crater, Maui has it all.
Haleakala, or ''house of the sun,'' is one of the world's largest dormant volcanoes. It has not erupted since 1790, yet its 10,000-foot high brooding presence dominates the island. The only thing to grow here is a beautiful, velvety plant called silversword, which can be found nowhere else in the world. Here also lives the rare Hawaiian goose or nene. After near extinction, this graceful bird is making a comeback and adds a bit of life to this stark lunar landscape.
This then is Maui, so diverse an island that a trip here seems like a visit to several countries. When making your travel plans, try to arrange for a rainfall upon arrival; you'll definitely want to return.