Under the airport flight path, next to Maui’s busiest intersection and across from Costco and Kmart in Kahului’s business park, is a most unlikely place: the Kanaha Wildlife Sanctuary, Haleakala Highway Extension and Hana Highway (tel. 808/984-8100). Look for the parking area off Haleakala Highway Extension (behind the mall, across the Hana Hwy. from Cutter Automotive), and you’ll find a 50-foot trail that meanders along the shore to a shade shelter and lookout. A sign proclaims that this is the permanent home of the endangered black-neck Hawaiian stilt, whose population is now down to about 1,000. Naturalists say this is also a good place to see endangered Hawaiian koloa ducks, stilts, coots, and other migrating shorebirds. For a quieter, more natural-looking wildlife preserve, head to the Kealia Pond National Wildlife Preserve in Kihei .
Wailuku, the historic gateway to Iao Valley, is worth a visit for a little shopping and a stop at the small but fascinating Bailey House.
A couple of miles north of Wailuku, where the little plantation houses stop and the road climbs ever higher, Maui’s true nature begins to reveal itself. The transition from suburban sprawl to raw nature is so abrupt that most people who drive up into the valley don’t realize they’re suddenly in a rainforest. This is Iao Valley, a beautiful 6 1/4-acre state park whose verdant nature, waterfalls, swimming holes, and hiking trails have been enjoyed by millions of people from around the world for more than a century. The head of the valley is a broad circular amphitheater where four major streams converge into Iao Stream. At the back of the amphitheater is rain-drenched Puu Kukui, the West Maui Mountains’ highest point. No other Hawaiian valley lets you go from seacoast to rainforest so easily.
To get here from Wailuku, take Main Street to Iao Valley Road to the entrance to the state park. Two paved walkways loop into the massive green amphitheater, across the bridge of Iao Valley Stream, and along the stream itself. This paved .35-mile loop is Maui’s easiest hike—you can take your grandmother on this one. The leisurely walk will allow you to enjoy lovely views of Iao Needle and the lush vegetation.
The feature known as Iao Needle is an erosional remnant consisting of basalt dikes. This phallic rock juts an impressive 2,250 feet above sea level. Youngsters play in Iao Stream, a peaceful brook that belies its bloody history. In 1790, King Kamehameha the Great and his men engaged in the battle of Iao Valley to gain control of Maui. When the battle ended, so many bodies blocked Iao Stream that the battle site was named Kepaniwai, or “Damming of the Waters.” An architectural heritage park of Hawaiian, Japanese, Chinese, Filipino, Korean, Portuguese, and New England–style houses stands in harmony by Iao Stream at Kepaniwai Heritage Garden. This is a good picnic spot, with plenty of tables and benches. You can see ferns, banana trees, and other native and exotic plants in the Iao Valley Botanic Garden along the stream.
When to Go--The park is open daily 7am to 7pm; the entrance fee is $5 per car. Go early in the morning or late in the afternoon, when the sun’s rays slant into the valley and create a mystical mood. You can bring a picnic and spend the day, but be prepared at any time for one of the frequent tropical cloudbursts that soak the valley and swell both waterfalls and streams.
Information--Contact Iao Valley State Park, State Parks and Recreation, 54 S. High St., Room 101, Wailuku, HI 96793 (tel. 808/984-8100).
The Scenic Route to West Maui: The Kahekili Highway
The main route to West Maui is the Honoapiilani Highway, which sidles around the southern coastline along the pali (cliffs) to Lahaina. But those who relish adventures should consider exploring the backside of the West Maui Mountains.
From Wailuku, head north on the Kahekili Highway (Hwy. 340)—though "highway" is a bit of a misnomer for this paved and sometimes precarious road. It’s named after a fierce Maui king who built houses out of the skulls of his enemies. The narrow and sometimes white-knuckle road weaves for 20 miles along an ancient Hawaiian coastal footpath to Honokohau Bay, at the island’s northernmost tip, past blowholes, sea stacks, seabird rookeries, and the imposing 636-foot Kahakaloa headland. On the mauka (mountain) side, you’ll pass high cliffs, deep valleys dotted with plantation houses, cattle grazing on green plateaus, old wooden churches, taro fields, and houses hung with fishing nets. It’s slow going (you often have to inch past oncoming traffic on what feels like a one-lane track) but a spectacular drive. Check for road closures before heading out, especially if it’s been raining heavily.
At Honokohau, pick up Hwy. 30 and continue on to the West Maui resorts; the first one you’ll reach is Kapalua .
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.