As winter clenches us in its icy fist, it's time to dream about making the trip over Hawaii. Peak tourist season for the islands is just now getting underway. That makes it key to find places where you can escape the hoards -- a lonely but beautiful beach, a remote rainforest waterfall pool or a hiking trail with no one on it.
On the west side of Maui, you don't have to be a guest of the high-end Kapalua resort just to set foot in its groomed hiking trails. Kapalua's Coastal Trail, which stretches for 2 miles along prime beachfront, is always busy with walkers, runners and cavorting kids. But newer trails let you get away from all those crowds. High in the hills above the golf course, the historical Maunalei Arboretum is practically deserted. Here gentle footpaths wind through shady groves planted with native and non-native arboreal species. Even kids will enjoy the 0.5-mile Lower Loop, or the 1-mile Banyan Loop that passes by those exotic gargantuan trees.
More of a cardio workout, the 1.25-mile Honolua Ridge Trail climbs from the arboretum's tangled maze of shorter trails to an impressive forest lookout. If you want a real adventure, follow the epic Mahana Ridge Trail another 6 miles downhill to the ocean, treating yourself to gorgeous views of Lanai along the way. When I hiked this trail in October, I didn't see another soul. The side loop through a sugi pine grove was a cool relief from the hot sun, but the spur through overgrown pineapple fields was a bush-whacking waste of time, because none of the plants were flowering or fruiting. Still, it was one of the most memorable hikes I've done on Maui.
If you plan to do the entire 7-mile Honolua & Mahana Ridges route, wear shoes with good traction and bring plenty of water. Surprisingly, you'll stumble across chilled drinking water and flush toilets about 2 miles from the end of the trail, at its intersection with a paved access road. When you get to the end of the trail at D.T. Fleming Beach Park, you'll need to march your muddy, sweaty self for another 10 or 15 minutes uphill through the grounds of the Ritz-Carlton hotel to get back to the Kapalua Adventure Center. Prepare yourself for disapproving looks from snooty resort guests.
The Kapalua resort provides a free shuttle service from the Kapalua Adventure Center, near the driving range and golf course, uphill to the arboretum several times daily. Currently, the shuttle picks up at the center at 8 a.m., 9:30 a.m., 11 a.m., 12:30 p.m., 2 p.m. and 3:30 p.m., returning from the arboretum at 9:50 a.m., 11:20 a.m, 12:50 p.m., 2:20 p.m., 3:50 p.m. and 5:50 p.m. Make sure you sign a liability waiver and pick up a free hiking guide booklet at the check-in desk inside the Kapalua Adventure Center before hitting the trail. Note that private vehicles are not allowed to access the arboretum or its trailheads.
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Photo: Puu Kukui Watershed Reserve, Maui (Michael Connolly, Jr.)