Central Maui hiking options are varied enough that while most hikes aren’t exactly challenging, there are opportunities for a good workout. For easy to moderate hikes, Hike Maui (808/879-5270 or 866/324-6284, 6am-8pm daily) offers knowledgeable guides who will take you to some of the island’s most scenic locations. Group sizes are usually fairly small, and again, what makes these hikes worthwhile is not only being taken directly to the trailhead, but also learning about the island’s flora, fauna, history, and mythology from local guides who love what they do. Hike Maui meets guests in a large community parking lot in Kahului near the intersection of Kuihelani Highway (Hwy. 380) and Pu‘unene Avenue and offers waterfall hikes, trips into Haleakala Crater, and options that combine kayaking with an afternoon hike through the rainforest.
For independent hiking, you’ll have the an equal selection of easy to moderate hikes, scenic routes and swimming opportunities, and if you like, to squeeze in a bit more of a challenge.
Even though the drive into ‘Iao Valley goes deep into Mauna Kahalawai, the valley itself doesn’t have very good public hiking. The only part of ‘Iao Valley which could be considered a hike is the 10-minute, paved walking trail leading up to a lookout peering out at ‘Iao Needle. If you go out there, you’ll notice a railing that keeps visitors from walking into the bush, and on the other side of the railing you’ll notice a thin trail, which disappears back into the trees. This trail snakes its way through the forest for a couple of miles, although this area is officially off-limits due to the fact that it’s easy to get lost—especially if the clouds roll in.
If you want to swim in ‘Iao Stream, the best place for accessing the swimming holes is from Kepaniwai Heritage Gardens where short trails lead down to the refreshing—and cold—water.
Waihe‘e Coastal Dunes and Wetlands Preserve
Set on land protected by the Hawaiian Islands Land Trust, this hike passing for two miles along the undeveloped shoreline of Waihe‘e has only recently been opened to visitors. Within the 277-acre preserve are the remains of the Kapoho fishing village as well as two different ancient heiau. Scholars estimate that the Waihe‘e area was populated as early as AD 300-600, which is not surprising, as the freshwater streams, fertile valleys, and lush uplands provide all the natural resources for sustaining life. The lonesome shoreline is covered in driftwood and is a great place for beachcombing. This is one of the few places on the island where you can walk down a sandy beach and be the only person around.
The trail itself parallels the shoreline and passes by a couple of abandoned houses before reaching the cultural relics at Kapoho. Expect the round-trip journey to take a little over an hour; add on 30 minutes to explore the coastline or ruins. To reach the trailhead, make a right on Halewaiu Place off Kahekili Highway (Hwy. 340) and follow the signs for Waiehu Golf Course. When the road makes a sharp turn to the right and starts heading toward the golf course, you’ll notice an unmarked dirt road going to the left. From this turnoff it’s 0.25 mile to the parking area and trailhead, although the unpaved road and small stream crossing are unsuitable for rental cars. You can either park your car here at the turnoff or on the access road, which leads down to Waihe‘e Beach Park just before the golf course. It’s best to park away from the fairway since golfers sometimes drive balls into the parking lot.
Waihe‘e Ridge Trail
Driving the Kahekili Highway from Wailuku, the parking area for the Waihe‘e Ridge Trail is immediately across the road from Mendes Ranch, at the seven-mile marker. This 2.5-mile trail starts innocently enough but does become a switchback farther up. It also crosses some areas that become boggy after a rain. The trail rises to over 2,560 feet with spectacular views into Waihe‘e and Makamaka‘ole Valleys. The trail continues to Lanilili summit where on clear days you can see the northern slope of the mountain. This area can get cloudy, blocking the views, although if you start hiking before 9am you’ll finish the trail before the clouds start rolling in. This trail takes some energy, so count on three hours for the five-mile trip.
If you’re on the hunt for waterfalls, head to the makai (ocean-side) section of Makamaka‘ole Valley where a couple of small waterfalls are hidden in the jungle. Although it’s a short, user-friendly hike, the trail can be slippery and requires climbing over a couple of boulders. Be respectful of No Trespassing signs and leave the area as you found it.
If approaching from Wailuku, the discreet trailhead is 7.8 miles after making the turn onto Waiehu Beach Road, or 0.8 miles after the Mendes Ranch. At this point the road has climbed in elevation and narrowed at parts to only a single lane. You’ll pass a sharp turn in the valley, and when the road starts pointing back toward the ocean, you’ll notice a small, dirt pullout, which can accommodate four or five vehicles. The trailhead is a narrow, well-defined dirt pathway that heads downhill into the brush. There’s also a false trailhead that departs from the same parking area but only goes for about five yards. If the trail suddenly ends after 10 seconds, turn around and look for the other one. Once you are on the correct trail, it will wind its way downhill for about 10 minutes before arriving at a small swimming hole where you’ll find a rushing waterfall and a rope swing. Along the way you’re rewarded with a dramatic view of Makamaka‘ole Valley as it wends its way to the ocean below.
The trail continues deeper into the valley toward a waterfall more dramatic than the first. You’ll have to climb over a large boulder to keep on the trail, which will then parallel the river over some slippery rocks. The mosquitoes can be vicious in this shaded section, so be sure you’ve applied repellent or have covered yourself. After tracing the river for 10 minutes, the trail will end at a large banyan tree whose serpentine roots snake down a near-vertical cliff face. In order to reach the pool below, climb down using the roots of the banyan tree as handholds as if it were a natural ladder. This maneuver requires some athletic ability and skill, so it should only be attempted by those who are agile and accepting of the risks. The reward, however, is a small swimming hole where you can bathe beneath a waterfall in a hidden tropical setting. This spot is popular with many professionally guided hiking tours.
Excerpted from the First Edition of Moon Hawaiian Islands.