West of the junction of Piilani Highway (Hwy. 31) and Mokulele Highway (Hwy. 350) is Kealia Pond National Wildlife Preserve (www.fws.gov/kealiapond; tel. 808/875-1582), a 700-acre U.S. Fish and Wildlife wetland preserve where endangered Hawaiian stilts, coots, and ducks splash about. These ponds work both as bird preserves and as sedimentation basins that keep the coral reefs from silting from runoff. You can take a self-guided tour along a boardwalk dotted with interpretive signs and shade shelters, through sand dunes, and around ponds to Maalaea Harbor. The boardwalk starts at the outlet of Kealia Pond on the ocean side of North Kihei Road (near mile marker 2 on Piilani Hwy.). Among the Hawaiian water birds seen here are the black-crowned high heron, Hawaiian coot, Hawaiian duck, and Hawaiian stilt. From July to December, the hawksbill turtle comes ashore here to lay its eggs.
The best way to explore this golden resort coast is to head for Wailea’s 1.5-mile coastal nature trail ★, stretching between the Fairmont Kea Lani Maui and the kiawe thicket just beyond the Marriott Wailea Beach Resort. The serpentine path meanders past an abundance of native plants (on the makai, or ocean side), old Hawaiian habitats, and a billion dollars’ worth of luxury hotels. You can pick up the trail at any of the resorts or from clearly marked shoreline access points along the coast. As the path crosses several bold black-lava points, it affords new vistas of islands and ocean; benches allow you to pause and contemplate the view across Alalakeiki Channel, where you may spy whales in season. It’s nice in the cool hours of the morning (though often clogged with joggers) and at sunset, when you can watch the burning sun sink into the Pacific.
A few miles south of Wailea, the manicured coast returns to wilderness; now you’re in Makena. At one time cattle were driven down the slope from upland ranches, lashed to rafts, and sent into the water to swim to boats that waited to take them to market. Now Makena Landing [S] is a great spot to launch kayaks and dive trips.
From the landing, go south on Makena Road; on the right is Keawalai Congregational Church (808/879-5557), built in 1855, with walls 3 feet thick. Surrounded by tī leaves, which by Hawaiian custom provide protection, and built of lava rock with coral used as mortar, this church sits on its own cove with a gold-sand beach. It always attracts a Sunday crowd for its 7:30am and 10am Hawaiian-language services.
Farther south on the coast is La Pérouse Monument, a pyramid of lava rocks that marks the spot where French explorer Adm. Comte de la Pérouse set foot on Maui in 1789. He described the “burning climate” of the leeward coast, observed several fishing villages near Kihei, and sailed on into oblivion, never to be seen again. To get here, drive south to Ahihi Bay, where the road turns to gravel. Just beyond this is Ahihi-Kinau Natural Reserve, 1,238 acres of rare anchialine ponds and sunbaked lava fields from the last eruption of Haleakala between 200 and 500 years ago. Continue another 2 miles past Ahihi-Kinau to La Pérouse Bay; the monument sits amid a clearing in black lava at the end of the dirt road. If you’ve got plenty of water, sunblock, and sturdy shoes, you can embark on foot on the King’s Trail, a rugged path built by ancient Hawaiian royals.
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.