Retro post: Camping in Maui

The Vitals

Date: March 4 – 11, 2017

Location: Maui (Haleakalā National Park, Kihei, Waiʻānapanapa State Park)

Partners: Brittany

Distance: 35 km in Haleakalā National Park, 10 km in Waiʻānapanapa State Park, other

Time: 3 easy days in Haleakalā National Park, 1 day in Waiʻānapanapa State Park

Resources: Haleakala Nation Park Waianapanapa State Park

Photos: Brittany

The Trip

Direct flights from Vancouver to the various Hawaiian islands can be dead cheap so we picked up a pair of tickets for one week in Maui. Given these islands’ situation in the middle of the ocean and their extreme relief, there are numerous climate zones and elevations all situated very close together. The small size of Maui means there are no camping trips that could really extend beyond a few days but by combing three different zones we made a week of it: two nights in Haleakala National Park, two nights in Waianapanapa State Park and three other non-consecutive nights on the beach just east of Olawalu or in Kihei.

Hiking in the crater. Start at the bottom left and finish at the top right.

Haleakala National Park

  • Hot tip: The Park entrance fee ($20/vehicle for up to three nights) was payable by credit card only
  • Hot tip: The description of water availability on the National Park website is confusing. There are three rain catchment systems; one at each backcountry cabin including Kapaloa cabin even though the map doesn’t indicate water here. Water needs to be treated.

The National Park has two camping areas, three huts (the camping areas are adjacent to two of the huts), and about 30 – 40 km of trails. The biggest loop you can make with only 1.8 km of backtracking is from the summit area, down the singing sands trail to the far point of the park (Paliku cabin) and then back on the northern parallel trail to Halemau’u trailhead. This direction saves a few hundred meters of elevation gain and was around 35 km with some short side trips.

Road up to the observatory at the crater’s edge.

After stocking up on our first morning, we reached the park around noon. There are designated hitching points so that hikers can wait safely on the side of the road for a ride to the top from the Halemau’u trailhead. BK and I didn’t even need to use it as another party shuttling two cars gave us a lift in the bed of their truck. They were renting out the cabins and were very concerned that Brittany would sit on their egg carton which she mistook for concern for her comfort.

Red volcanic rock at the entrance of the crater.

Starting in the afternoon is a mixed bag. The usual weather pattern has clear mornings at the summit (important for sunrise viewing which is so popular it requires reservations to drive the road as early as 3:00 am) but as the day progresses the crater fills with cloud and obscures the view. On this first afternoon we descended into the cloud from the summit area to Paliku cabin in alternating sun and showers. This trail brings you from 3000 meters to 2000 meters and slowly transitions from fully sharp volcanic rock with only the occasional silversword to lots of vegetation and small trees around the cabin with some more pahoehoe flows. It poured rain while we made dinner and the cabin was locked but it had a small overhang behind the back door that was large enough for two of us to spread out and cook. There were only two other campers, also Canadian, at this site but the birding was prime with a few families of nenes and various honeycreepers.

Rain coming down on the first evening.

The Paliku cabin is situated directly below a massive series of cliffs that form the eastern edge of the park. This might be part of the reason the rain was so intense that evening and why the vegetation is so lush compared to the summit area. It also doesn’t hurt that this area is the oldest part of the crater.

We had intended to remain at Paliku for two nights and hike the steep Kaupo trail down to the ocean and back but were advised numerous times that the 2000 meter loss and gain isn’t worth the effort. Instead, we ambled our way to the other campsite (at Holua cabin) through the transition back to sparse silversword vegetation. Just a mile or two from the cabin the trail winds around a cinder cone and reveals a dead-flat walk with rock that has changed from red to grey in the most dramatic moonscape yet. There are also some lava tubes in this area with up to a 65 foot drop straight down.

Exiting the crater required a series of gentle switchbacks that eventually gained a few hundred meters to get you back to the rim of the crater. We were able to give a lift to the Canadians we had met on the first night who left their car at the summit but already we were too late for any views. As we descended the 22 miles or so down the old Haleakala highway we passed a few groups of the cyclists and a few sections of torrential downpour.

Storms are brewing again.
Storms are brewing

Ka’anapali Beach and Snorkelling

After a few days of high elevation and temperatures dipping near freezing it occurred to us that we may be doing a Hawaiian vacation wrong and decided to spend some time on the beach. Our first dip was next to the Kealia Boardwalk where we donated a pair of sunglasses to the ocean and checked out the cool bird sanctuary set up to help preserve some of the wetland that local and migratory birds both use.

Which way to the turtles?

In the evening we drove to Ka’anapali beach – 3 miles long and once voted America’s Best Beach. Since the beach is situated on the west side of Maui, there was a beautiful sunset as the sun dipped behind Lanai, a small island to the west of Maui that was once a giant pineapple plantation. In front of us was the ocean, inside us was another one-pot-wonder camping meal, on us was dirty camping clothes, and behind us was a strip of classy resorts and beach side restaurants.

Sunset on the beach

The next two days were prime for wildlife viewing. After another night of beach camping, we headed to South Maui to hunt for sea turtles with some rented snorkelling gear. Along the drive we watched two groups of Humpback whales off the coast coming up to breathe with one giving us the small bonus of a glimpse of its tail.

Beach camping along the highway.

Our three stops were Big Beach, La Perouse Bay, and Maluaka Beach. At Big Beach the lifeguards announce every fifteen minutes that if you want to break your neck or back then you’ve come to the right beach. A combination of a strong shore breaks and popularity allow this beach to lead the state in this category. La Perouse Bay is at the end of the road in South Maui and had even more colourful fish and coral than Big Beach. Maluaka Beach was deserted after a brief rain spell and featured a few more fish we hadn’t seen yet.

Brittany prepped for some rain

The next morning before heading out on the road to Hana, we gave it one last shot to swim next to the turtles. We received a hot tip that Keawakapu beach was the place to be. At this point we had returned the rented flippers but Brittany still had her mask and snorkel. I went into the water and swam around for about 20 minutes before giving up. On the way back in, something caught my eye in the cloudy water. A lone turtle! They are HUGE in real life. I left it alone after drifting near it for a few minutes and rejoined Brittany for the drive to Hana but I ticked off one of my big goals of the trip.

Silverswords: Only found above 2100 meters on two Hawaiian volcanos. Bloom once in their life (up to 50 years).

Waianapanapa and Hana

The highway to Hana has a reputation for being twisty, often single-laned, and bumpy. The reputation leads a number of souvenir stores to sell “I survived the road to Hana” T-shirts. Many people do the drive in the morning and return in the afternoon to their hotels. Since we would be staying, we didn’t leave until about noon so that the traffic would be lighter.

Getting more lush.

Our first stop along the way was at Ho’okipa Beach which made our previous days’ search for turtles laughable as there were at least a dozen sunning themselves on the beach. This beach also has a huge break and didn’t seem too inviting for the casual surfer.

The twistiness of the road to Hana was not exaggerated so a few hours of car-sick driving led us to the black sand beach of Wainapanapa. As opposed to the white sand beaches of the west side of the island, the east side is mostly black rock cliffs with basalt columns forming a shelf ~30 feet above the ocean. We went for a swim on the black sand beach after exploring some of the small caves that this rock likes to form.

In the morning we set off on the 3 mile hike south to Hana along the sea cliffs. The trail is mostly on piled and sharp volcanic rock with views of sea arches, blow holes, and a few more humpback whales off the coast.

The south end of the trail was a bit perplexing. Arriving at a small beach, the path suddenly became indistinct so we exited onto the dirt road that had appeared. In these parts there are so few roads that once you find one you can’t be more than a kilometer or two from the highway. As we walked toward the highway, a carpenter in a truck stopped to inform us that we had made some kind of grave mistake by taking that dirt road. In his opinion the locals wouldn’t be too kind to people, “who look like us”. I have doubts about the seriousness of this warning but he instructed us to follow him and he would set us back on the right path.

Feral(?) goat on the short hiking trail to Hana

A few hundred meters up the road was a beach-front house he was working on. He told us to walk through the yard back to the beach and then just follow it as it turned into Hana bay. We thanked him and set off again. Pretty quickly the beach ends and there is no real trail to speak of. We bushwhacked through the bushes and spiderwebs until we reached a property with prominent “No Trespassing” signs. With no other path, we scurried across the lawn and up the driveway to the gate. It had been a sweaty half hour since we had been “set on the right path” so we were surprised to see that we were back on the road directly next door to the carpenter’s job site. I’m still not sure there really is a proper ending to this hike. On the way back we just walked double time on the same dirt road we had been warned about until the signed trail back to Waianapanapa appears seemingly out of nowhere.

While in Hana, Brittany checked out the swimming in Hana bay while I checked out the ice cream situation. By this point in the trip I had gotten a sunburn on the top of my head despite wearing a hat constantly, sunburned arms, and a sunburn so bad on my left ear it was now a weeping blister. We also got directions to the red sand beach to finish our trifecta of beach sand colours.

Stars from our second campsite back in the crater

Our next morning was our last on the island. We woke up at Waianapanapa and simply needed to get back to Kahalui for an ~11:00 pm flight back to Vancouver. There is a road that connects Hana and Kahalui around the southern tip of the island. There is a lot of conflicting information as to whether it is a good idea to take a rental car here and whether or not it voids your insurance. Our verdict is that it’s fine.  The road is well graded gravel in one short section which connects paved highways. It can occasionally wash out as it had a few days before, stranding a few cars, but the road crews are dispatched quickly and those trapped cars were on their way again within a few hours.

Fading light while eating dinner.

On this day the sun was shining as we headed south of Hana. The jungle-like lushness of Hana dried out as we came around the tip of the volcano. Trees gave way to grass and we picked up a young guy from Philly who has been WWOOFing on a fruit farm for 4 months. He has two more to go and wanted to get out to the nice beaches on the weekend. He had a definite lust for travel but was also quite naive. He had a lot of questions like, “Is it true that some hostels are party hostels?”. Brittany was in her element giving him life and travel advice. We had some questions for him as well  and learned that WWOOFing can be a pretty raw deal. He worked 40 hours a week and would get paid $50 in addition to a tent to sleep in. I could understand doing some farm labour in exchange for room and board if it was a short stint like two weeks. After all, you have to be trained on a job and you’re probably doing it just to save a bit on accommodations before moving on, but to do it for six months looked a lot more extortionary from my point of view. He seemed happy enough though, so after the customary “What do Canadians think of Trump?” conversation we dropped him off at the Costco before one last beach day (snorkelling with more turtles at the 5 Graves/5 Caves beach) and a nice fish dinner in Kihei before jetting back to the rain of Vancouver.