Our journey along the backside of Mount Haleakala started early Wednesday morning in hopes that we would make it to the ‘Ohe’o Gulch and Pipiwai Trail before the crowds. Traveling up the backside of Mount Haleakala also allowed us to avoid traffic, as a great number of people forego this beautiful drive due to rental restrictions. The backside of Mount Haleakala is known to host particularly sharp, curvy, unpaved roads with high cliffsides overlooking the coast. While it can be considerably dangerous, particularly during heavy rainfall, I cannot imagine traveling to Maui and missing out on the beautiful views of the upcountry fields or the volcanic cliffsides.
Along our drive we spotted a few rainbows draped among the island cinder cones that were overgrown with greenery. As we climbed the backside of Mount Haleakala, we noticed clouds covering a crest of peaks. The Piilani Highway narrowed into a dirt pathway, and we noticed a field with several horses. One of the horses, clearly comfortable with visitors, made a noble trot closer to the wall and I rubbed his nose. Note to self: Next time bring carrots.
We weaved along the coastal roads, around the jagged cliffs, and soon found ourselves traveling closer inland. Speckled throughout this jungle terrain were little pockets of neighborhood farms. The southeast side of the coast has been inhabited primarily by natives for hundreds of years – they remain an integral part of Hawaiian culture and there is a strong emphasis to foster and maintain the Hawaiian language and culture in early education.
Just past Ho’omau Rd, sat a hidden gem, Laulima Fruit Stand. While there are numerous fruit stands and farmer markets in Maui, this was one of my favorite, as it filled the dual niche, as a local coffee shop and an organic fruit stand. The fruit smoothie (fresh coconut milk, fresh papaya, tahitian lime, and crushed ice) was delicious – definitely worth writing home about! Living in Houston, I still can’t replicate it, as the fruit has never been so ripe and fresh. There were also a number of baked goods, including coconut pie, and (naturally) Maui’s staples for tourists, banana nut bread. We bought some cacao, strawberry papayas, and lilikoi fruit, and sat outside by a patch of bamboo reeds to breathe in the peace and quiet. It should have been a very typical moment, but stopping there to eat lilikoi and listen to the birds felt remarkably Zen. It was indubitably the best start to our busy day.
We chose to visit ‘Ohe’o Gulch first as the Seven Sacred Pools site fills up quickly with tourists who want to swim in its calm waters. The attraction itself consists of seven swimming holes, connected by waterfalls, tucked along the southeast coast of the island.
The Pipiwai Trailhead starts across the street from ‘Ohe’o Gulch. While the pathway is clearly defined, it is a bit more rigorous than a standard hike in the jungle, as hikers are often stepping on/over tree roots and rocks. Also, in our case, we were made aware of the potential flash floods, as sparse rain showers started and ended throughout our hike. The trail was muddy from the rain and some hikers were prone to falling, so be sure to check the weather before making the trip to hike the Pipiwai Trail. The Pipiwai Trail is a 4-mile hike (round trip) through a bamboo forest, and ends at the Waimoku Falls – a sight you wouldn’t want to miss. The jaunt through the bamboo forest is one of the most serene experiences I’ve ever experienced. It’s quiet, peaceful, and as Zen as you could ever imagine. If you sit quietly, you can hear the leaves of the bamboo canopy sway to and fro.
- Fill up your gas tank in Paia. There is one gas station traveling up the backside of Haleakala by Ulupalakua, but it is very easy to miss. The next gas station is located in Hana, and you don’t want to be placed in a compromising situation if your tank is low.
- Remember to wear good hiking boots or tennis shoes (not sandals), and bring rain gear, bug repellent, and sun protection (sunglasses, hats, lotion). I also suggest bringing a bottle of water and a small snack if you are prone to hunger every few hours.
Our next stop was Hamoa Beach – ranked #5 in National Geographic’s World’s Best Beaches. As with the rest of the trip, I expected it to be a bit busy and overcrowded, but that was the brilliance in planning our trip for November. We had the island to ourselves. There were a handful of locals surfing and sitting on the beach, and we were lucky to find that it was exactly what we were hoping for. It was the epitome of picturesque – with water every shade of blue that an artist could create on a palette. The waves were high that day and we made acquaintance with a couple of surfers whose dogs raced up and down the beach.
We were told of a scenic gem north of Hamoa Beach called the Red Sand Beach, locally known as the Kaihalulu Bay. I was originally told that it was on private property, but that people visited often. I laughed when a local told me that he couldn’t tell me the location (it would be the antithesis of neighborly), but his friend who was visiting was obliged to share where this “secret” spot was tucked away. As we parked our car, we noted the the trespassing sign (again). A policeman was circling the area as we started walking toward various landmarks, and I started to get nervous. In a silly twist of irony, the policeman asked if we were looking for the Red Sand Beach. I fessed up, expecting a slap on the hand, and instead he told me that he’d guide us. The land belongs to Hana Ranch, and I soon realized why this shouldn’t be in every Maui tourist book. The trail isn’t marked, but rather a man-made foot-traffic trail. It’s a very steep trail, and Hana locals have witnessed a great number of “Red Sand Beach rescues,” which is also why a number of them aren’t forthcoming about the location. While the view was undoubtedly worth it, I had to climb up tree roots along the cliff side to get back on the steep trail. It’s a stop that I’m glad I made, but out of respect for Hana locals, I will not be making it again. It is unspoiled beauty and it should stay that way.
We were fortunate to visit one final beach on our road trip along Pa’iloa Bay, Wai’anapanapa State Park, aka the Black Sand Beach. The translation for Wai’anapanapa is “glistening water,” which served as a beautiful contrast to the black, pebbled sand from lava fields. Alan climbed the cliffsides and I took pictures, including one of a nearby beached Portuguese Man-of-War (often mistaken as a jellyfish). The 120 acres of land consists of freshwater caves, burial sites, and ancient temples. We visited a couple coastal caves, but sunset was going to be upon us within an hour and we wanted to avoid the Hana Highway at night, so we went on our way.
Two very special stops on the Road to Hana that shouldn’t be missed is the Nahiku Marketplace (Mile Maker 29) and Coconut Glen’s (Mile Marker 27.5). Nahiku Marketplace has several different food options, including Thai and fresh seafood (coconut shrimp and smoked fish). There are also a number of shops that sold shell/stone jewelry and woven gifts, but my all-time, ultimate reason to stop there was for the coconut chips. The jolly woman that sells them has been setting up shop here for years, selling one of my new favorite snacks. Think freshly-peeled coconut, sprinkled with brown sugar and vanilla, and slow-baked. She had several flavors to select from, including Spicy and Hana-style, which was my personal favorite. Save some room for Coconut Glen’s – (vegan-friendly) coconut milk ice cream! I had the lilikoi-flavored ice cream, and my husband had the coffee-toffee – both incredible! Buy a bit of the coconut candy there too – a sweeter, sugary version of the Nahiku Marketplace coconut chips.
The last spot in our journey before our trek back to Lahaina was Mama’s Fish House, in Paia. I had been told by Hana locals not to miss it, but after a day of hiking, beach-bumming, and driving, we were quite under dressed. While the atmosphere and service was impeccably charming, my favorite thing about Mama’s Fish House was the quality of food. Our server could tell us the name of the fisherman that caught the Mahi Mahi that day, and I loved how personal the notion was. I ordered the Blue Prawns and my husband ordered the Ahi Tuna – to this day it’s one of the most flavorful meals we’ve had. This place is not to be missed. Happy Reading!
For more information about ‘Ohe’o Gulch & Pipiwai Trail, Hamoa Beach, Waiʻānapanapa Black Sand Beach, Coconut Glen’s, and Mama’s Fish House.
NOTE: All blog posts, articles, and photographs are the intellectual and creative property of Melissa J. Koziol. Thank you for reading!