Coastal West Maui offers short hikes with spectacular scenic payoffs including smashing surf, otherworldly lava formations, and lush, cluttered rainforest.
Today’s post is the first of three about hiking on the tropical, volcanic island of Maui, Hawai’i (see Exploring America: Maui, Hawai’i). This post focuses on three short coastal trails in West Maui, the northwest section of mainland Maui that encompasses most of the extinct, heavily-eroded volcano, Pu’u Kukui.
All three hikes, which feature diverse, stunning landscapes, are north of Kapalua and accessed from Highway 30, a twisting coastal road posted with helpful mile markers. In mid-February 2019, I and my family leisurely hiked the trio of easy to moderately difficult trails within a four-hour span that included travel to and from Honokowai and a bag-lunch break.
Two-tiered Tide Pools of Honolua
The trailhead for this easy .6-mile (1 kilometre) in-and-out trail is just before mile 34 on Highway 30, as you drive north. Parking space is a turnout on the ocean side of the road. The hike takes you downhill past a grove of gorgeous ironwood pines with long, weeping needles and then through meadows and scrub to rugged, rocky shoreline vegetated with grass and stunted, wind-blasted evergreens, overlooking Honolua Bay.
On our hiking day, the tide was high and the wind up, slamming blue-green surf against shoreline rocks and filling the Two-tiered Tide Pools with churning white foam. Just offshore, an elegant white-tailed tropicbird winged past the cliffs below us, its long tail feathers like streamers floating behind it.
Short and sweet, this coastal West Maui hike rewarded us with spectacular views and geared us up for more outdoor adventure on Maui.
Acid War Zone to Nakalele Blowhole
Our second hike was the moderately difficult 1.5-mile (2.5-kilometre) in-and-out Acid War Zone trail to Nakalele Blowhole. Parking for this trail is at a turnout near mile 38 on Highway 30. From the turnout, we hiked makai (“toward the ocean”). The first section of trail followed an old vehicle road downhill through grassy clearings, the landscape similar to that en route to the Two-tiered Tide Pools. A Pacific golden plover inspected us curiously from a grassy hillside, and pink- and yellow-blooming wildflowers added delicate colour to patches of dense ground cover. We walked alongside a forest of long-needled evergreens that exuded peace and past a beacon overlooking the rocky shore, where coastal cliffs comprised of lava rock layers plunged to the ocean.
After the beacon, the trail faded and the terrain changed dramatically as we hiked east through the Acid War Zone, a barren, alien-looking landscape of eroding, dissolving lava rock pockmarked with holes. Sparse vegetation gave way to raw rock faces, some sculpted into bizarre shapes. Ocean spray drifted through the air, its salt one of the main contributing factors to the coastal erosion. At the rocky shore, small red crabs clung to vertical cliff faces, just over the shoreline edge.
We made our way east through a gorge bordered by red-rock walls, past a small blowhole, and across a boulder-strewn expanse, the large rocks riddled with acid-worn holes.
After about thirty minutes of hiking from the trailhead, we reached Nakalele Blowhole. There, pounding surf forced into a shoreline lava tube blasted upward out of a hole in a circular rock basin, propelling a plume of spray tens of metres into the air. The blowhole, fueled by high tide and heavy waves, provided a fantastic climax to our hike.
After a quick bag lunch in narrow shade cast by a rock face, we retraced our steps, taking time to explore some of the otherworldly rock formations. The Acid War Zone is truly a unique landscape, unlike anything any of us had seen before. All in all, this is a short hike with big rewards. After we returned to the trailhead, we bought banana bread and passion fruit butter from a roadside vendor for a Maui taste treat.
Honolua Bay Access Trail
Lured by the beauty of lush rainforest, we stopped in at the turnout for Honolua Bay Access Trail (near mile marker 33) on our return drive to Honokowai. A gentle walk, the .6 mile (1 kilometre) trail led us beneath towering trees ensnared by philodendrons and hung with curtains of vines. Papaya trees grew in clearings, and red jungle fowl scratched about under trees at the edge of stony Honolua Bay beach. Surfers rode waves out on the bay. In winter, Honolua Bay is a surfing hotspot, while in summer, it’s a snorkeler’s paradise. For us, the trail offered a peaceful, shady oasis of rich, green life—a complete contrast to the exposed, barren terrain of the Acid War Zone.