Directly outside the Kahului Airport you can find an unlikely nature preserve: the Kanaha Wildlife Sanctuary, Haleakala Highway Extension and Hana Highway (808/984-8100). Look for the parking area off the Haleakala Highway Extension (just past Krispy Kreme), and you’ll find a 50-foot trail that meanders along the shore to a shade shelter and lookout. This wetland is the permanent home of the endangered black-neck Hawaiian stilt. It’s also a good place to see endangered Hawaiian koloa (ducks), coots, and migrating shorebirds.
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.
Iao Valley State Monument ★
A couple miles north of Wailuku, the houses grow less frequent and Maui’s wild side 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.
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 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 plants in the Iao Valley Botanic Garden along the stream.
When to Go—Park hours are 7am to 7pm daily and 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. For updated info, visit http://dlnr.hawaii.gov/dsp/parks/maui/iao-valley-state-monument or contact the State Parks Maui office at 808/984-8109.
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 but sometimes precarious road. It’s named after a fierce 18th-century Maui king. 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 Kahakuloa 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. In Kahakuloa, between mile markers 12 and 13, stop in at the wooden roadside stand known as Julia’s Best Banana Bread for world-famous warm, sweet loaves and coconut candy. Note: Check for road closures before heading out, especially if it’s been raining heavily. Call Maui County at 808/270-7845.
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.