exploring waterfall wonderlands with hike maui: experience the magic of nature

HIKEMAUI_waimoku_fallsI’m not a morning person. So signing up to participate in Hike Maui’s full-day Hana hiking adventure, which begins at 7am in Kahului, is out of character for me. As I drive down Haleakala Highway, while slamming down hard-boiled eggs and peach-flavored yogurt (distracted driving, anyone?), I’m thinking, “this better be really good.” It was, and then some.

At precisely 7am, a white Hike Maui van driven by Dave Black arrives to pick me up at the Kahului park ‘n’ ride lot on the Kuihelani Highway. Already in the van are five more hikers whom Dave had picked up earlier at their Ka‘anapali hotels. We drive down Hukilike Street to the Hike Maui headquarters, where we’re greeted by Jake Noury, our guide/driver/entertainer for the day.

It’s another beautiful Maui morning as we board Jake’s van and head up Haleakala Highway. Jake tells us he was born and raised on Moloka‘i, and that as a youngster he learned cordage tying, as well as other traditional Hawaiian skills that are passed down through generations. He and his family farmed, fished, and collected raw ingredients from the land for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Cordage was made into nets, which they used to trade for goods from other families.

Driving through verdant Kula, Jake tells us the mo‘olelo (story) of Maui and the sun. “Maui’s mother, the goddess Hina, didn’t have enough time to dry her kapa cloth, because the sun raced across the sky too quickly each day,” Jake says. “So Maui tied the sun’s legs to a wiliwili tree, and a compromise was reached—the seasons of summer and winter—so that during summer Hina could dry her kapa cloth.” Right on cue, we pass a wiliwili tree resplendent in red and yellow blooms. Nicely done, Jake!

We reach the bumpy part of Pi‘ilani Highway, which was named for the king who built this road in the 16th century to encircle Maui’s entire coast. Near the Kaupo store, Jake points out what seems to be randomly placed coconut trees. “Those trees were planted to demarcate the Pi‘ilani Highway,” he says. Wow…I’ve lived here for ten years and never knew that!

Jake pulls over to the side of the road to harvest some lengths of bark from a hau bush, which he says he’ll use later to demonstrate cordage tying. He knots some strands onto the van’s antenna so they’ll dry out during the day. As we pass through Kipahulu, a pueo (Hawaiian owl) suddenly flies across the road in front of us. “It’s unusual to see a pueo during the day,” Jake says. “The pueo is my ‘aumakua [family god], so this sighting means today’s going to be really good.”

We make a quick snack stop at Kipahulu Point Park, the site of Lindbergh’s grave. Jake tells us Lindbergh is buried here because, as he was famously quoted as declaring, “I’d rather spend a year in Kipahulu than ten years anywhere else.” No argument there. Jake uses his knife to cut open a fresh coconut that he’s brought along on the trip, and one by one we each “assume the stance”—feet wide, bending slightly forward from the waist, so we won’t get coconut water all over ourselves—and using both hands take a swig of the rejuvenating elixir.

Arriving at Haleakala National Park we disembark, and Jake passes out snacks, lunches, and bottled water. He also sprays each of us with Natrapel, a mosquito repellent that doesn’t contain DEET. It’s absolutely gorgeous in Kipahulu today, with a brilliant clear blue sky offset by sparkling turquoise ocean and bright green grasses. The pueo sighting was a good omen.

We cross the highway on foot and head up the Pipiwai Trail. Before long, Jake stops to point out a purple flower—verbena. “It tastes like a button mushroom,” he says. “It’s an excellent anticoagulant; you can use crushed verbena leaves to stop a bleeding wound.” Hopefully, we won’t have to put verbena into service today.

The lower portion of the trail is populated with numerous tree roots and stone steps, and it’s quite humid today. By the time we reach the first of what Jake calls “mandatory hydration stops” at an overlook for 200-foot Makahiku Falls, we’re all glowing. Next, we stop at a huge banyan tree in the middle of the trail for a shady photo op.

Soon we come to an open area where the cool breeze dries our sweat, and Jake stops for a pop quiz, pointing at the surrounding flora: “What plant is this?” he asks. When no one answers, he says, “I’ll give you a hint, think ‘how will I get through this?’” We all laugh and call out, “It’s hau!”

After crossing a bridge across lower Waimoku Falls, we enter an exquisite bamboo forest, and the ambient air temperature drops pleasantly. Although the forest is quite extraordinary, Jake explains bamboo is actually an extremely invasive species. “This type of bamboo grows upwards towards the water source, destroying everything in its path,” he says. As we hike along the boardwalk that snakes through the marshy ground, we can hear the bamboo “cracking” in the breeze high above our heads.

Jake helps us negotiate two stream crossings using what he calls the three-point system: “Step on the little rocks closest to the streambed and stabilize yourself with one hand on the bigger ones.” The trail ends at stunning 400-foot Waimoku Falls, which has to be one of the most spectacular natural wonders on Maui. It’s a convenient and inspirational spot for lunch.

Descending the trail goes quickly, and soon we’re back at park headquarters, where we walk a half mile down the Kuloa Point Trail to the Pools of ‘Ohe‘o. We don the water shoes (tabis) Hike Maui provides for this hike, and follow Jake across the rocks to take a refreshing swim in the largest pool.

Back in the van, we drive through sleepy Hana town, and pull into Waianapanapa State Park, with its famed black-sand beach and breathtaking natural beauty. Jake inspects the hau strands on the antenna, and declares them ready to be tied into cordage. He rolls the strands on his thigh with his right hand, while simultaneously twisting them with his left. The result is a length of rope like those ancient Hawaiians used for hauling, canoe lashing, sewing material, and other practical applications.

The Road to Hana has several picturesque stops, and we visit both the Wailua and Ke‘anae overlooks, where we view picturesque taro terraces farmed by local residents. “Taro is a staple food source for Hawaiians, even today,” says Jake. “It’s considered an ‘older brother’ in our culture. Poi was my first solid food, as it was and still is for all Hawaiians living a traditional lifestyle.”

As we near Kahului and the end of our day’s adventure, Jake tells us Hike Maui is considered the premier guiding service on the island. “We go through an intensive six-week training course covering many subjects such Hawaiian history, geology, botany, and geography,” he says.

Jake feels growing up on Moloka‘i and living off the land gave him a fortunate advantage for becoming a Hike Maui guide. And I feel fortunate for having spent the day with an individual who’s a true treasure trove of knowledge, with a passion for sharing his love of the Islands with others.

–heidi pool

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