A Guide to Hawaii's Most Diverse Island
Beautiful beaches. Clear waters. Marine life all over. Palm trees, sun, and a light breeze. These are all the things that make Hawaii so magical and are a few of the reasons so many Americans choose to vacation in Hawaii year round.
Maui is my favorite island out of all the Hawaiian islands. For me, it offers all the things I want in a boujee vacation—great golf courses, incredible fine dining, spectacular beaches, clear water and good shopping. That’s not to say that’s what I want to have everywhere I travel, but when I go to Hawaii, these are the things that I enjoy the most. Oahu is too busy and too touristy (I I know I am going to get shamed for this, but think overweight, pale Americans from Hawaii wearing tube socks and fanny packs) and islands like Kauai, Molokai and Lanai are too rural and don’t have much to do. Now, don’t get me wrong—there is a time and a place where a rural, serene location might be what you want but I actually like Maui because it has all the action you want AND the calm, peaceful options for those wanting to relax. It’s really the best of both worlds.
Another great thing about Hawaii in general is that you can pretty much visit year-round. While there is such thing as a high season, there is no such thing as a time not to visit. I’ve been to Maui more than a half dozen times and whether I go in June or November, the weather is always incredible. Sure, you might get your occasional rain, but that’s pretty standard for anywhere in the tropics.
Where to Stay
The Four Seasons is probably the most exclusive resort on the island, though not necessarily the nicest. Don’t get me wrong—it’s a beautiful resort and has all of the usual Four Seasons amenities and that exemplary Four Seasons customer service, but I think for the money you can get better. It just sort of depends on what you plan to do while in Maui. If you want to be right in the heart of all the action, this is probably one of your best best (along with the Andaz, the Marriott, and the Wailea Beach Villas).
Located right in the heart of Wailea, staying at the Four Seasons is probably the most convenient and is one of the nicest hotels among the string of resorts that line the beach in Wailea. They definitely have some of the best restaurants too, so staying here means that you can eat at a different restaurant each day and still probably not have to leave the resort at all. There’s Wolfgang Puck’s Spano (we even saw Wolfgang hanging by the pool with his family the last time we were there), DUO steakhouse, Ferraro’s, and The Beachwalk Cafe. Their spa is great and the best beach is right out in front of the Four Seasons, so you don’t even have to walk far to get there. It’s generally crowded though, so keep that in mind.
The Ritz Carlton is probably my favorite hotel on the island, but might not be my first recommendation depending on what you are planning to do. It’s pretty far out there, away from most of the action, so if you are wanting to dine at the best restaurants, shop, and do touristy shit, the Ritz is not your place. If you’re just looking to chill by the beach or relax by the pool, get spa treatments, or play golf, the Ritz Carlton at Kapalua is your best bet.
With that said, there’s nothing negative about this resort other than it being a bit far away and a little secluded (though sometimes that’s a good thing).
This hotel is on the up and up. They just completed a very long renovation project, which was not only desperately needed but also mandatory if they want to compete with the neighboring hotels. Thankfully now the resort has more modern rooms, better restaurants and better pools. The food is WAY better than it used to be. The adult-only pool with the cabanas is really great--quiet and peaceful with incredible views. Their scuba facility is actually pretty decent (I learned to scuba dive for the first time there several years back) and their new water park for the kids looks pretty nifty. I also love that they offer oceanside yoga in the mornings and full use of kayaks and paddleboards.
The Marriott Wailea has been my go-to Maui hotel for years—not just because it’s part of the Marriott brand and therefore a destination I can rack up points and elevate my Bonvoy status, but also because it’s centrally located in Wailea. The Marriott sits between the Andaz (where my favorite Maui restaurant is) and the Four Seasons and the Fairmont, so if I’m in Maui for a conference it’s the perfect place to stay away from all the other conference attendees but still be close enough to walk. It’s also walking distance to the Wailea shops, the golf course, and a short drive (or longer walk) to Monkeypod.
My main complaint today would be that it doesn't have any fine dining restaurants like its neighbors (the Andaz has Morimoto and Ka'ana kitchen, the Four Seasons has Spago and Duo, the Fairmont has Kō and Nick's Fishmarket, the Grand Wailea has Humuhumunukunukuapua'a). I would not call Humble Market Kitchen fine dining. And the spa isn't that great either. I always have to head over to the Grand Wailea or the Andaz if I want a good spa treatment. Another bummer is that because they're usually so busy, if you're a Marriott Elite Rewards member don't expect an automatic upgrade--I've only been lucky enough to get one at this property on one occasion, despite the fact that I almost always get upgraded when I travel to other Marriott properties.
Though it's not as nice as some of its neighbors (the Andaz and the Four Seasons are way better), it's a good option for the price. They have done a really great job with their recent improvements.
The Andaz is one of Maui’s newer hotels, and it’s definitely the coolest. With it’s modern design and layers upon layers of infinity edge pools, the Andaz is the place to stay if you like that modern, young, fun feel. The rooms are impeccably done—very minimalist with clean lines and colors but still with all the comforts and amenities that you could want. And the best part? It has two of Maui’s best restraurants on the island—Morimoto and Ka’ana Kitchen. Get one of the oceanfront rooms if you can.
This is one of my favorite hotels in Maui. It is new, clean, modern and has a bit of a sensual side to it. The cascading pools and incredible views, combined with spacious, tastefully decorated rooms and phenomenal restaurants make the Andaz THE place to stay. I would choose it over the Four Seasons and the Fairmont even. The fact that you just have to walk downstairs to get to two of the best restaurants in Maui (Morimoto and Ka'Ana kitchen) is a huge plus. And the price is very reasonable for what you get. I just want to stay in one of their villas one of these days... next time hopefully
This hotel would typically be on my “where NOT to stay” list, but if you are traveling with kids, this is probably actually one of your best options. This place is seriously like Disneyland (in all the good ways and the bad ways), so if you are NOT traveling with children, I would never advise staying here.
Though this wouldn’t be my first ipick, there are, however, a lot of good qualities about the Grand Wailea. The spa is INSANE--seriously one of the best, if not THE best, on the island--and I've heard the rooms are actually really nice. Because they do cater to families, there are a lot of activities for the kids and I think they even have programs where you can drop the kiddos off with supervision so you can enjoy some time alone.
If you’re traveling with a group of people, a large family or just want a lot of space, the Wailea Beach Vilas are a great option. They are a community of villas sandwiched in between the Marriott and the Grand Wailea, with 3 and 4 bedrooms. It’s like having your own home (with all the amenities of home like a full kitchen, multiple bathrooms and laundry), but with all the amenities you can enjoy at a resort, like daily maid service, pool and gym privileges, and staff who will set you up with loungers, towels and an umbrella on the beach. These places are spendy though, as they run between $700 and $1200 depending on the season.
Though I’ve attended several conferences at the Fairmont, this past June was my first time staying there. Let me tell you—it did not disappoint! Though I had never been all that wowed by their restaurants, pool area and meeting rooms (they’re all nice but not particularly mind-blowing or different from the other hotels along Wailea), the room absolutely blew me away. I think I had a slightly upgraded ocean view suite, but it was more spacious than I could have ever imagined and extremely well-appointed. My suite had a large entryway with a mini bar, coffee area, counter and separate closet, and then a giant living room with a sectional couch, TV and desk area with a sliding glass door that opened up to the balcony. Next was the master suite—which of course also had a balcony—with a spacious king bed, two closets and another TV. I have to say, the bathroom was what did it for me: it was almost as big as the bedroom and had two sinks, a large walk-in shower, toilet room and giant soaking tub. For the money, the Fairmont is a good choice and the rooms are fairly comparable to the Four Seasons without the Four Seasons price tag.
If you are looking to stay closer to Lahaina or in Ka’anapali, the Westin is probably your best bet. Though not my first choice for a stay on Maui, if you insist on staying in Lahaina or Ka’anapali then the Westin is hands-down your nicest option. It’s right on the beach, has plenty of options for the kids, and has a nice assortment of restaurants to choose from.
Where to Eat
Morimoto Maui holds a special place in my heart, for a lot of reasons. This particular location is my fave. Perhaps it’s the setting (the views from both the restaurant and the outside bar, particularly if you are lucky enough to dine at sunset, are incredible), or perhaps it’s the luck we’ve had (see below where I describe our Omokase meal personally made by Chef Morimoto), but for some reason the Morimoto in Maui is better than any other Morimoto restaurant I've been to. I've eaten here more than a dozen times and they are just so damn consistent. The service and the food is incredible. The fish is fresh, the food is imaginative, and the setting is just so breathtakingly beautiful. It really makes for a perfect dining experience.
The last time I dined there was definitely one of the best dining experiences of my life. As most people know, I love Morimoto restaurant and usually eat there just about every night I'm in Maui (or Boca, or Vegas, or Napa...). But my last dinner took the cake. Chef was in the restaurant and was just sort of supervising and not in the kitchen at all when we got there. When he heard we were sitting at the sushi bar and requested sushi omokase (which isn't on the menu but we've done it there before), we overheard him tell our waitress that he would personally make our omokase meal. And that's exactly what happened--he stood in front of us and made each and every dish, explaining how it's made, where the fish comes from, the technique used and exactly how it is to be eaten. Everything was incredible (as usual) and to top it off, he's just such a rad dude.
Do the omokase at the sushi bar. Have the otoro and the foie gras oysters. These dishes are seriously amazing. Some of my other favorites include the beef carpaccio, the uni shooters with duck egg, and the duck fried rice. And their ramen is awesome too if you don't want sushi (the broth is mind-blowingly good). Their omokase is an excellent option as well--it’s one of my favorite ways to dine there because you get so much variety. I typically prefer the sushi omokase, but the regular omokase (off the menu) is another good option, as it allows you to try all of their most popular dishes.
If you’re into cocktails, they balls boast a pretty incredible selection of booze too, with just about every Hibiki ever made and cult following bottles like Pappy Van Winkle and super exclusive sakes. Their Hawaiian 75s (their version of a French 75 but with lilikoi) are so tasty. Plus, their outdoor bar is absolutely stunning and you can watch the best sunsets right from your seat at the bar. Morimoto is easily our favorite restaurant on Maui.
I have mixed feelings about the Spago in Maui. I've eaten here probably a little over a half dozen times and it's just never very consistent. I have had some of the best and worst meals here. Its inconsistent food is really unfortunate because when it's good, it's REALLY good. Like, maybe even top ten dining experiences good. But I've also had meals when the same exact dishes that were incredible before are not good at all. If you are lucky enough to be there on a good night, it's 5 star. If you're unlucky, it's more like 2 stars for an abominably high price.
With that said, here's the good: the lamb and the roasted chicken entrees are absolutely phenomenal when cooked well. Though the chicken seems like a boring option (and I rarely order chicken at restaurants, unless I'm at a Thomas Keller restaurant or something), the chicken at Spago is A+. Crispy, well seasoned skin surrounding a chicken breast that is super juicy. And the lamb just has so much flavor. Their ahi tartare cones (an appetizer) are also really good. And if you're lucky, there's a good chance you will see Wolfgang if he is in town, since he usually likes to come out and greet the guests when he is there. My understanding is that he’s typically there fairly often.
Quite possibly one of my favorite things at Spago is their "Rolling Fog Over Mount Fuji" cocktail. I don't think it's on the menu anymore but if you ask they will still make it. I think they took it off the menu because the price of Hibiki went up, so that's why you'll be looking at like $25 a cocktail if you order it. It is so incredibly good though. The smokiness of the Hibiki, paired with the sour taste of the lemon juice and Aperol and the frothiness of the egg white make it quite possibly the best cocktail I have ever had. It's also possible that my good dining experiences at Spago were influenced by the fact that I had like seven Rolling Fogs.... but who knows.
Even though the restaurant is very inconsistent, I would still recommend it as a must-go while on Maui. I’d give it four stars because the good times and those Rolling Fogs definitely make up for the bad experiences. I suppose I'll just need to drink more Rolling Fogs each time...
Monkeypod is a true Hawaiian staple. They are known for their liliquoi foam mai tais, which are absolutely incredible and a little bit dangerous (boy do they creep up on you…). They are seriously amazing. The restaurant has a fun, casual atmosphere with a reasonably priced menu. Bar-like food is what they excel at best (think things like deviled eggs, wings, burgers, etc.) but there are also some random gems on the menu too. [LOOK UP]. We seem to always be there during the NBA finals (since one of the conferences I go to is held the second week in June), and Monkeypod is one of the best spots to watch the games. So if you’re looking for a place to watch a sporting event, check Monkeypod out first. Note, however, that if it’s on a day where they have live music, they probably won’t be able to turn the sound of the game on—not a complaint, just something to keep in mind.
Ka'ana Kitchen, also at Andaz, is one of my favorites. They do modern Hawaiian share plates and the food is spectacular. It’s mid-priced with an upscale feel and incredible craft cocktails. If you’re looking for Hawaiian ingredients and traditional Hawaiian favorites, but with a modern culinary twist, Ka’ana kitchen is your best bet.
Mama’s is super famous and touristy, but worth it. We usually hit up Mama's for a mai tai and lunch after we land cause it's pretty close to Kahului. It's relatively spendy but not crazy for lunch (and just as good--I think the lunch and dinner menus might be the same, just priced differently), so I think lunch is your best bet. Their appetizers are actually my favorite. The fried fish collar, ceviche, macadamia nut crab cakes, and the crispy whole fish are my favorites. As Maui’s most famous restaurant by far, Mama’s surprisingly lives up to the hype. If it’s the sunset you’re after, be sure to book a reservation—and book one early.
Another great thing about Mama's is it's close to Paia (see below). You definitely need a res though, so plan ahead, even if only going for lunch.
Duke's Beach House is kind of like Mama's. The food isn't mind blowing but it's famous like Mama's and it's very Hawaiian. Worth it for the Hawaiian feel and the views. Just be prepared for it being touristy (which usually makes me steer clear of places like that, but it's okay every once in a while).
For foodies, The Pint & Cork in the Wailea Shops features upscale appetizers, salads and sandwiches for lunch and dinner, with a nice selection of wine and beer.
I often hear people recommend Merriman's. I personally would skip it. It's got great views and is in an awesome location, but it's touristy and expensive and the food is just average. There’s a lot of that in Maui unfortunately.
I also would skip Lahaina Grill for the same reasons as for Merrimans. I’m not saying it's terrible, but I don't think it's worth the price. It's kind of the "nice" place that all the midwestern tourists will go to for a splurge. If you want fine dining and want to spend that kind of money, go spend it at Spago or Morimoto. Or go to one of the restaurants at the Ritz.
The poké at Da Kitchen Cafe is super famous and good if you want cheap and easy.
Get Lappert's Ice Cream. Once you can identify the smell, you'll be able to smell it from a mile away. They're known for their waffle cones. I'm not even a huge ice cream person but that shit is pretty damn good.
There's a pretty well known Hawaiian brewery that has a bar/restaurant in I think either Kaanapali or Lahaina. Kona maybe? I can't recall but their Bikini Blonde is my fave.
What to Do
Go on a Hike
There are so many beautiful hikes that you can do in Maui, of varying skill levels and lengths. One of my favorites is the Twin Falls hike. If you’re even relatively familiar with the island you can easily get to these falls on your own, and there are actually several pretty cool pools and falls along the way. The starting point for the Twin Falls hike is 6300 Hana Highway in Haiku. It’s perfect for beginners and kids, as it’s short and very easy.
For first timers to Maui, I would recommend going with a guide like Dynamic Hawaii. I haven’t used this company but we used a company a while back whose name I can’t remember. Do a private or small group guided tour if you can—trust me when I say it will be a lot more enjoyable if you are not apart of a cattle wagon. The only good thing about having a guide is you learn a lot about the landscape, the fruits along the path that are edible, and you know they'll take you to all the good spots.
Hike Up to Haleakala
I've never hiked Haleakala but everyone always says to do it. The sunrise at the top is supposed to be life changing. But I've never done it cause you have to start hiking at like 3 am to do it. Not my bag, but maybe someday. Maui for me means lots of mai tais and usually a few hangovers, so the hike at 3 am never sounds all that appealing to me. Not saying not to go though--I haven't heard a single person who has done it say they didn't like it. One piece of advice though if you do go: bring warm clothes. I hear it can be super cold at the top.
There are many tour group options that will take you up to the top before sunrise. Keep in mind when planning that as I mentioned these typically pick up at 3 am and then drop off back at the hotel around noon or so, so it’s a long day. In addition to going to the crater and the volcano though, tours like Haleakala Eco Tours will also stop in Haiku, Makawao or Paia too. There are also other tours that include sunrise bike rides down he volcano for a more athletic and adventurous traveler.
Drive the Road to Hana
Okay, so I almost feel like a sell-out putting this one on the list. I’ve chosen to add it because I do think everyone should do it at least once. I’ve done it a couple times now, and I think that’s plenty. The drive does offer spectacular views, and it allows you to see more diverse flora and fauna, but it can also be a pain. It takes several hours to complete and the traffic is always horrific. It seriously shocks me how many horrible drivers there are out there (a turn, gasp!). But if you are very patient (which I am not) and have a ton of time to kill, you should at least do this once.
It's not anything incredible, but it's a nice drive where you get to see more rural parts of the island. The bummer is that the tourists cannot fucking drive (growing up in Murphys I swear makes us all better drivers on windy roads) and the traffic is HORRIBLE because of it. But if you have plenty of time (pretty much need the whole day), it's worth it. Do keep in mind though that there's not much in Hana though so you might be better off bringing food and beers and doing a picnic. We ate at one of the few restaurants there (I can't remember the name) and it was pretty terrible. You'd be better off getting food at one of the shacks along the road, which I totally wish we had done.
Here’s how to do it in style: rent a 1957 Porsche 356 Speedster Convertible from Maui Roadsters and cruise those windy roads in a beautiful car.
And a note to first-timers and tourists: be respectful. Please, PLEASE pull over at the turnoffs if you have a line of cars behind you. The locals will appreciate it. It's not just polite but pretty mandatory to abide by the unspoken rules of the road when driving to Hana.
Anything that Involves Water
The obvious things: paddle boarding/kayaking, snorkeling, etc. One of my favorite things is to take either the kayaks or paddle boards out with snorkel gear to get to some of the better snorkeling spots that you wouldn't necessarily want to swim to. In Wailea, there are great spots like Makena Landing where there are caves that the turtles like to hang out in. We've even done a number of private, guided kayak tours (sounds expensive but it's not) where they take you out and bring you out to the perfect spots. Or you just fill the kayaks with beer and chill.
If you're into diving, do some diving. I did some scuba diving with sharks and then also did a night into a bubble cave where the sea turtles hang out. It was like a top 5 life experience kind of thing.
Hawaii is one of the best places in the world to scuba dive. That’s one of the reasons there are dive shops set up all over the island. But if scuba diving is not for you, try free diving or even just snorkeling. Just being in the water and seeing the giant turtles, starfish, octopi, urchins and a colorful array of interesting fish is such a magical experience.
Hit the Links
Maui has some really top-notch golf courses. Arguably the most famous on the island is Kapalua, located on the northern side of the island at the Ritz Carlton property, because it holds a PGA event there every January (next year is the Sentry Tournament of Champions). Though Kapalua--particularly the Plantation Course--is quite the stunner, one of my favorite courses to play is the less expensive Wailea Golf Club. They have two courses: the Emerald course and the Gold course--both of which are wonderful but if I had to pick I would say the Emerald is my favorite.
Spend a Day at the Spa
The spas at the hotels on Maui are some of the best, but you pay the price for them. They're usually pretty spendy. One option would be to book a massage or a facial at one of the nice resorts (Ritz Kapalua, Four Seasons, Andaz, etc.) and then use the facilities (and the pool!!!) like all day. Then it's money well spent and you get a change in scenery from where you're staying.
Shop Swimwear and Bohemian Boutiques in Paia
Paia is one of my favorite places to visit when I am in Maui. It is such a cute, quaint and funky little town. It has the BEST bikini shops and boutiques. If need to get unique and non-touristy souvenirs for friends and loved ones back home, this is the place to go. And if you want to do any shopping for clothing, artwork, bikinis or jewelry, Paia is way better than over-touristy Lahaina or high-end but non-unique Wailea. The bars are pretty good too and it's just up the street from Mama's Fish House, so that's a plus too.
You will absolutely LOVE Paia! I promise. It's a super cute, quaint little hippie town full of boutiques and bikini shops. They've got everything from high end bikini stores like San Lorenzo to inexpensive options like Pakaloha. I usually pick up a Pakaloha bikini and trucker hat every time I'm there--they're so cute! Also lots of good bohemian-like jewelry. And fun, chill bars/restaurants. It's all good.
Get a photo with the parrots in Lahaina
Okay, this recommendation might also fly in the face of all that I stand for. I am not usually one to recommend doing anything as stereotypically as this, but I have to admit, its worth the good laugh. A good thing to do with the kids.
Take a Surf Lesson
My husband is going to hate me for adding this to the list but I do think it’s a good thing to do for people visiting the Hawaiian islands. What’s more Hawaiian than surfing? Well, a lot actually, but that’s not the point. Learning to surf in a place like Hawaii is a one of a kind experience. You not only get to enjoy the ocean and get a bit of a workout in, but if you are actually able to get a wave it’s pretty awesome.
Charter a Sailboat
It's a major splurge, but if you can charter a boat for a half day or a full day, you will not regret it. Some of the best experiences I have had seeing Maui, lounging and snorkeling have been on chartered sailboats. There is nothing better than having a boat to yourself for the day to do whatever you want. But it can be expensive.
This is definitely my highest recommendation, though it is also the most expensive. Private charters can run anywhere from $800 for a half day to as much as $5,000. I think our last charter (for 2 people, but you still have to pay for the whole boat) was about $1200. That’s very reasonable. Though it’s a splurge, chartering a boat is so worth it.
Take a boat out to Molokini Crater
Less expensive options for boat trips are the catamarans that go to Molokini crater. I think the company we did it with was Trilogy. But keep in mind you're stuck on a boat with other tourists and kids for a full day. Usually it includes booze and food and is only like $100 pp for the day, but then you have to deal with fanny pack wearing people from Hawaii and possibly annoying kids. There are numerous providers that offer a morning of snorkeling, some options include Bride of Maui, Snorkel Molokini, Four Winds Maui or Trilogy.
Watch the Firedanceers at Little Beach (or is it big beach?)
Go to Little Beach on a weekend night and catch the fire dancers. I am not sure if this is an everyday thing, and it’s very much a locals thing, which makes it super cool but hard to find. We were lucky enough to befriend our dive instructor a few years back, who was the person that took us out there. You bring beers (and apparently lots of drugs if you want to fit in) and just mingle and sit by the fire. Kinda makes me think of my HS parties now that I think of it…
Ocean Vodka Tour & Tasting
Only a 30 minute drive from Wailea, the tour and tasting offered at Ocean Vodka offers a unique experience for spirit connoisseurs. Make a reservation to ensure you have a spot though, as they can be busy during peak seasons. After getting a little vodka buzz on, you have only a 20 minute drive (well, maybe don’t drive…) to the Lavender Farm (Ali’I Kula Lavender - wwww.aliikulalavender.com) or to the Kula Lodge, which has a restaurant with food that’s nothing to write home about but arguably one of the best views on the island. You’re also only about 20 minutes away from Makawao, which is the old cowboy town. Here you’ll find cute shops, including art and sculpture galleries, a blown glass store and delightful little boutiques.
Enjoy Maui’s Beautiful Beaches
Maui really has some incredible beaches. And there’s so many that you shouldn’t have a hard time finding one that’s not crowded. In Wailea, the easiest and most convenient beaches are the ones outside of the Elua Villas (between the Marriott and the Andaz), and the big beach out in front of The Grand Wailea and the Four Seasons. They’re crowded in the high season though, so keep that in mind. If you’re looking for a quieter beach in Wailea, take a short drive further south to Makena Landing. That’s more of a locals spot, so you probably won’t have to share the beach with too many tourists.
The beaches on the way out by Kapalua are great too, and generally only shared by guests of the Ritz Carlton. If you’re looking to get away from the crowds, some of these beaches are your best bet. Along the drive out there too, between Lahaina and Kapalua, there is about 10 miles of coastline that is either completely empty or just has a few locals barbecuing or fishing. The water here is clear, the surf is calm and perfect for beginners (there are several well-known beginner surf spots), and the water is shallow for a long time, so it’s perfect for the kiddos.
There are some beautiful, yet rocky, black sand beaches on the road to Hana. They’re stunningly beautiful, but not an option if you’re looking to lay out on the sand, bring the kids to make sand castles, or swim in the ocean.
I would avoid Kaanapali beach if you can just because it's usually so crowded. If you have a car, drive somewhere away from all the resorts. I usually tend to only go to Lahaina/Kaanapali once or twice because to me it just sort of feels like Disneyland (and not in a good way). Again, think people from Ohio with fanny packs. Just a bit too touristy for me, but still worth going at least once.
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