kipahulu on horseback • maui stables

“Steadfast, unwavering,” is the Hawaiian translation of Keoni. Keoni Smith, our “alaka’i” (tour leader) gathers the visitors to Maui Stables under the shade of the wood-framed meeting area in Kipahulu. The morning breeze shakes the leaves, the sunlight and shadows shift in the surrounding jungle like mirrors in a kaleidoscope, like the ten-foot ki‘i (wooden statues) that guard the stable entrance, Keoni’s 6’ frame towers over us. With soft brown eyes, a deep voice and infectious smile, he immediately captivates our group. Extending a genuine greeting of aloha, he invites us to open our eyes, our ears and our minds and become “of this place,” and in this moment. Soon, it’s revealed to me how his name and this business are mere reflections of one another.
Located on the southeast side of Maui, Kipahulu is about thirty minutes from Hana and about two hours from Kahului. This is a place where waterfalls flow freely, floral bouquets bloom widely, tropical fruits fill the trees and the air thickens with the sweet essence of all three. The Kipahulu area remains untouched by modern development. After Ni‘ihau, this area has the second highest percentage of Native Hawaiians in the state; most of these families’ genealogy extends back hundreds of years. Often referred to as “the last Hawaiian place,” Kipahulu is one of the most isolated communities in Hawai‘i. Totally off the grid, this community is reliant on nature and committed to a self-sufficient lifestyle.

Today, we’ve come to Maui Stables for a horseback ride, but we are about to embark on a journey in time, past and future. Offering daily tours through Haleakala National Park, this educational endeavor is available to the public because of the efforts of Keoni and his staff, and the vision of Ed Lincoln.
“This is not just a trail ride, it’s a historic cultural experience,” Lincoln explains. A commercial fisherman by trade, a preservationist by nature, and a Hawaiian by blood, and spirit, Ed opened Maui Stables 7-years ago after retiring from the sea.
And this isn’t your ordinary business entity. The employees at Maui Stables don’t buy into a corporate philosophy; they are the corporate philosophy. Under the guidance of the area’s cultural advisors, Lincoln developed Maui Stables for one reason: to provide culturally based economic opportunities for Kipahulu’s Hawaiian community so they may remain on the land of their ancestors.

The horses of Maui Stables have a good life: they get to graze on over 100-acres of leased land, they ride only one time a day, they are loved, and they are lucky. All 29 of Maui Stable’s horses have been rescued from slaughterhouses on the mainland. “People gave up on them because they said they were un-trainable.” Keoni explains, “but as you will see, that’s not the case.”
After assessing my size and riding level, Keoni leads me to my new friend. Having only ridden one time, in 6th grade Girl Scouts, he introduces me to Kahiki Nui. This 10-year old brown and white beast momentarily glances my way, but he quickly returns to something of greater interest to him: his food trough. Keoni turns to help the others and I try to win my horse’s affection by scratching his big nose. Kahiki Nui stares at me while he chews, seemingly unimpressed, I choose to interpret his gaze as a spike in interest.

We saddle up and get ready, the tour, and the education can begin.

Keoni regroups us and begins the tour with a traditional pule (prayer) and oli. He calls to the ‘aumakua to ask permission to visit this land and to guide us on our journey. He asks us to be silent and observe. A simple exercise in listening to nature is one we often ignore in our busy lives. “What do you hear?” he asks. The bubbling bird songs fill the air. “This is a sign, a good sign,” he says, “it’s safe to journey into the jungle.”

We mount our horses and set out. “Un-trainable horses, give me a break,” I think. All I have to do is sit back and enjoy, as riding Kahiki Nui is like driving in cruise control. In single-file, the horses mosey along the road in Haleakala National Park in single file and a hidden past becomes revealed. Keoni points out an old sugar mill, a church and the waist-high crumbling rock walls of an ancient Hawaiian heiau playing peek-a-boo under layers of jungle foliage. He explains how this region once supported one of Hawai‘i’s largest populations and over 30,000 Hawaiian warriors. I look up the mountain and imagine the entire region draped with the terraced lo‘i that once sustained this population and this culture.

We begin up the mountain on a 4-mile trail. Kahiki Nui steps along with the others like a trained soldier. From taro, to sugarcane, to cattle, this land has seen many changes over the years. We enter a forest where now the native plants press to survive among the introduced. I think how that runs parallel to the people of this land as well.

Keoni shares with us how ancient Hawaiians utilized the native species; he explains how modern Hawaiians also utilize the many introduced plants in their lives today. Traveling through this jungle is like opening up a spice drawer or medicine cabinet, We squeeze wild thyme, we taste wild peppercorns, we learn how guava wood smokes fish, and how the orange spores of the native laua‘e ferns are good for eczema. Part Hawaiian history lesson, part ecology lesson and part cooking lesson, Keoni’s knowledge seems infinite and he freely offers it to us all along the way.

We’ve come to the end of the trail. Resting our horses, we convene at the top of the hill on a grass clearing at the cliff’s edge. Before us is an unobstructed view of the Palikea, or “silver clouded ridge,” and the 400-foot Waimoku Falls which continually tumble over the cliff. Sitting cross-legged, Keoni explains this is a sacred valley filled with the iwi (bones) of the Hawaiian ancestors.

We rest for another exercise in silence; we take in the quiet, and like the lava tubes directly under us, we absorb all we’ve been given today.

Ed Lincoln developed Maui Stables to help the Hawaiian culture remain steadfast and unwavering in the future. A small company with a grand mission, and thankfully, it’s working.

Maui Horseback Tours
at Maui Stables
•    All Maui horseback riding tours originate at the Maui Stables.
•    Depart Kihei & Ka‘anapali areas by 6:30am for 9:30am tour.
•    Check-in at 12:30pm for 1pm tour.
•    Morning refreshments and noon snack are provided.
•    Closed shoes and long pants are required.
•    Sunscreen, photo equipment, swimwear, and change of clothes recommended.
•    The cost of tour is $150 plus GET tax at 4.167%.
•    300 lb. weight limit for riders.
•    24 hr cancellation notice required for full refund.
•    Please call for available discounts for Youth (ages 10-15), Kama‘aina, Seniors & Groups.

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