Hawaii 2012 - Day 9: Waihe'e Ridge Trail - Kahekili Highway

Maui Travel Blog

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Waihe'e Ridge Trail,view into the Maui Valley with Haleakala in the background

The nickname for Maui is 'The Valley Isle' for the huge valley that is located between its two sections. The most prominent section is East Maui, formed by mighty Haleakala (see yesterday's blog), the otter section, West Maui, is older, and thus lower. It was created by the Pu'u Kukui volcano, which is now 1764 meters (5788 ft) high. Unlike Haleakala where you can just drive, going to Pu'u Kukui is almost impossible. Every year only twelve persons (selected by a lottery) may visit the summit, which is inside a preserve. West Maui is a part of the island which we had hardly visited during our previous journey to the Valley Isle. So, today that hiatus would finally be taken care of. 

We had a bit of a moral dilemma here.

GPS profile of the Waihe'e Ridge Trail (rendered by GPSVisualizer.com)
There is an official road completely around Pu'u Kukui, it is paved and maintained by the state of Hawaii. Yet, like the road to La Pérouse Bay, a part of it, the Kahekili Highway, is officially off limits for rental cars. In the Maui internet forums I visited there was a lot of contradicting information. Some people stated the road was perfectly OK to drive. Others state they had never been so afraid on a road and called it total madness.

The trailhead of one of the hikes we had nominated for today, the Waihe'e Ridge Trail, is actually at the first few miles of the Kahekili Highway. So, since we insisted on doing that hike we decided to just go there, and then see if the information was exaggerated or true. Those first miles were indeed exaggerated.

GPS Height profile of the Waihe'e Ridge Trail
We could not even tell if we were still on the legal section or already at the Kahekili Highway when we got to the parking lot of the trail.

The Waihe'e Ridge Trail was described as a medium light trail that could be easily hike by elderly people and kids. So, we anticipated an easy relaxing stroll in a lush jungle with some nice views. Well, it turned out a bit more of a challenge. The 3.4 km (2.1 mile) one-way hike negotiates a 461-meter (1512-ft) height difference. Fortunately the trailhead is at 350 meter so, unlike yesterday, we had plenty of oxygen and warmer temperatures. The views remained great. At the summit, which we reached after 1.5 hours, we saw many commercial helicopters flying by really close. The tourist inside saw the same thing we did, only we could enjoy it as long as we wished. And we had worked for our view!

The way down took less than an hour.

Waihe'e View from Kahekili Highway on the Kahakuloa Bay (photo: Stephan van Gessel)
And then we decided to just try the Kahekili Highway. And yes, at some points the road was a little scary. It could be narrow, with lots of sharp curves. The majority of the road was a single track with some passing places. Only at the steepest sections were guard rails. At other places a wrong turn would result in a fall down a steep hill. I personally found the evidence of falling rocks the scariest thing. Not huge boulders but 4-5 inch rocks that can easily wreck your roof, hood, or windscreen. And no, we were certainly not the only "rental car law breaking" persons. While driving the forbidden section we saw at least 50 other rental cars coming our way. We were lucky to come across a rather big school bus, just at one of the scarce broader sections. We only once had to trackback a few meters to yield to an oncoming car.

In the meantime the scenery was just amazing.

Warning sign at the Nakalele Blowhole (photo: Stephan van Gessel)
Since the road is high up the mountain the views on the rugged coast were an extra bonus. We passed through the village of Kahakuloa. Because it's isolated location it looks like what many village probably have looked a long time ago, quiet and rural. Dogs and chickens were on the roadway. We had a delicious shave ice and I purchased some great banana bread and continued our quest on the winding narrow road to the western border where we were finished up on the "legal" road again. 

The last attraction for today was the Nakalele Blowhole at Nakalele Point.

Nakalele Blowhole (photo: Stephan van Gessel)
This blowhole is not as easily accessible as the Spouting Horn Blowhole on Kaua'i that we visited earlier. A small hike scrambling down sharp lava rocks was needed. Nakalele Blowhole can spew water as high as 30 meters (100 ft). But not today! Only a few small blobs of water appeared and mostly when the camera was down. Nevertheless at times it can be a beast. In July last year a man who came too close to the hole and got surprised by a big wave was washed into the hole. His body was never found.

I unfortunately found out that the memory card of my camera had probably not been replaced properly since none of the pictures I took today were found on the card. I have just one picture which I took with my blackberry. I post some of Stephan's pictures which he kindly provided. This website also gives some scarier pictures of the Kahekili Highway.

More pictures below!

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photo by: danielrice20