Waihee Ridge Trail
One of the great pleasures of hiking this trail are the great views of Maui. Looking down on the harbor and across to Haleakala from the West Maui Mountains gives a fresh perspective of the island.
This is a 5 mile, round trip hike.
How to Get There
You need to get to Kahului Beach Rd., 3400N.
Coming from Upcountry or Paia take the Hana Highway, 36N, to Kaahumanu Ave., 32W, to Kahului Beach Rd., 3400N, and turn right.
From Wailuku take Kaahumanu Ave. and turn left at Kahului Beach Rd..
From the rest of the Island come into Kahului on Puunene Ave., 311, and turn left onto Kaahumanu Ave..
Once on Kahului Beach Rd., ride north along the harbor. You can see Waihee Ridge in the distance on the left.
Turn right on Waiehu Beach Rd., at the Jack in the Box. You will pass over a bridge at Iao Stream, that finally has water running it in again to the ocean. Come to a stop sign and turn right on the Kahekili Highway, 340, and head to Waihee Town. As you look straight ahead to the ridge with trees, this is the trail site.
Passing through Waihee, an old local town with nice gardens, look for the hedge of orchids on the left. Soon after this is Waihee School with Royal Poinciana’s that have nearly orange flowers rather than red.
There are old Macadamia Orchards Mauka (mountain side) of the road.
You cross a bridge at Waihee Stream, at mile 5, and start climbing. There are great views here, but watch where you are going, the road is very curvy.
On the Mauka side of the road there are many large mats of Osteomeles, a native member of the Rose family. Most everything else is non-native.
Approaching mile 7 you see ‘Mendes Ranch’ at a sharp left in the road. Just after the turn quickly look left and turn into this road. Drive up the road, .9 mile, to the end where there is a parking lot. The trail starts just as the road turns into the parking area.
The Trail and the Plants
This is a great trail for the plant lover. At the beginning non-native plants dominate, but the upper part of the trail is packed with Hawaiian natives.
You begin the hike by negotiating a hiker’s gate, designed to allow only those on foot to pass. Then you quickly reach a steep concrete access road (to water tanks above). Here there is a cacophony of non-native, invasive species. Tall Cane Grass, blue flowered Vervain, Lantana, Guava, Pink Sensitive Plant, Yellow Partridge Pea, Haole Koa, Brazilian Pepper, Turkeyberry, Balloon Plant and many others. There is no space left for natives. At the top of the concrete road the actual trail spurs off to the left, crossing a grassy field and heading towards a Pine and Eucalyptus forest in the distance.
Below the taller Pine and Eucalyptus is a lush green grove of Guava. To the lower right of the Guava (facing north) there is a cluster of silver-green leafed Kukui Nut (the Hawaiians brought this tree so not a true native). Just as you reach the first Guava you find Koster’s Curse on your right with its sharply ribbed leaves and white flowers. Attractive but a scourge on the Aina (land).
You then pass through another hiker’s gate, near a metal road gate and enter a shady forest of Cook Pine and Guava. Cook Pine is emblematic of the old Plantation days in Hawaii. There is another similar species in Hawaii, the Norfolk Pine. You can tell the difference by viewing them from a distance. The Cook Pine is a nearly perfect column while the Norfolk is pyramidal in growth.
Clothing the ground on both sides of the trail is Awapuhi or Shampoo Ginger. Squeeze the bright red pods to find the shampoo lotion.
There are myriads of ferns in Hawaii, both native and non-native. Christella and Blechnum fern enjoy this shady retreat.
As the Cook Pines end you enter a grove of Queensland Maple, a highly prized cabinet and musical instrument wood from Australia. With glossy green leaves and fragrant white flowers this can also be a great specimen tree. The flowers are on the tips of the upper branches, usually out of sight, but you know when they are blooming by the carpet of small white petals on the trail.
The Trail turns sharply to the right and soon reaches the .5 mile post. Here the Queensland Maple fades away into Guava and Eucalyptus.
Sword Fern appears in great numbers with the increased light from the more open canopy of the Eucalyptus.
Next you arrive at a bench that overlooks a great view. The falls of Makamaka’ole stream in the distance. Kukui’s light green leaves line the gulch. The lusher green leaves are Guava and the sparser trees are the native Ohia’s. They are affected by fungal rust that partially defoliates them. Surrounding all is a light green carpet of Uluhe. This trailing and twining native fern dominates the hillsides.
The trail hairpins left. As you climb further look to the left for the flowers of Queensland Maple, as you are now looking down on them. Now we reach the first pronounced ridge top and can peer into the adjacent Waihee Valley. Molasses Grass is on the right. It’s beautiful pink blooms are impressive but it covers the ground shading out any other plant.
A surprise greets us with several dead Guava trees. They have been girdled by the Forest Service in an attempt to control this highly invasive plant.
Masses of Uluhe fern line the trail on both sides. They are nearly head high. This shows you why you should not try to go off trail. This fern is everywhere is nearly impenetrable. I should know, I’ve tried. Even when it’s not very high it obscures holes and drop offs of the ground.
You now reach a second bench with an overlook of Waihee Valley. Below are the famed Swinging Bridges. This trail is now closed as the owner’s liability became too great. They were hauling visitors out by helicopter on a regular basis. This bench is situated next to the last Cook Pine with an unusual split upper trunk.
You head down a narrow ridgeline towards the final hikers gate. The highly invasive Cane Tibouchina appears on the right. You also get a closer look the Ohia’s sparsely leafed due to rust. Remarkably there are many yellow flowered trees here (usually red). On a clear day you can see Pu’u Kukui, the highest peak in these mountains. The first of two non-native orchids, the Phillipe Orchid, with its purple blossoms rises out of the green undergrowth.
Past the hikers gate is the 1.0 mile post and then a large live Guava. Just past this, on the right, is a lone native tree. I’m not sure what it is as I have never seen it’s flowers. Note the different look of the bark.
There are a few larger ferns pushing above the Uluhe, this is Uluhe lau nui, or great Uluhe. At a sharp turn left a gulch full of natives is revealed. 5′ away is Kawau, the native Holly, with white flower clusters hanging under the leaves. Also growing is Naupaka kuahiwi (mountain Naupaka), a white flowered ‘Fan Flower’ (look at the plant catalogue under Scaevola), Ieie (a climbing Ti like plant) and both Monono and Kopiko, two shrubs with rounded elliptical leaves and small green berries. They are really hard to tell apart until you see their flower.
A few switchbacks later Tree Ferns appear on the right and then in a few yards the first of a series of steps that help us over the steeper parts of the ridge. Between the first and second set of steps, on the left is Pilo, a large shrub with orange berries. Uluhe has recently overpowered this one due so much rain in the last year. But part of it is still showing. Behind this shrub are 2 Hame with very large, glossy elliptical leaves. There is a large tree fern at the base of the second steps.
As you ascend these steps over the narrow ridge line stop and enjoy the great views.
Just after the top of the steps you reach the 1.5 mile post and just beyond is a valley lined in front with Melaleuca and Cook Pine. These trees must have been planted here but I don’t know any history of it. Hame is on the right and left of the path as you near the Melaleuca. There are many new ferns growing at the base of the Melaleuca trees. One of the ferns is a beautiful native, Kikawaio, with large arching fronds and nearby the non-native Deparia also with fairly large fronds.
Past the Melaleuca you drop into the valley. It can be quite muddy crossing the valley floor, tennis shoes don’t work well here.
On the far side of the valley the hillside is clothed with an Iris like native plant called Uki. There are two speices here, most with dark green leaves but a few with lighter gray green leaves.
The native plants are great from here on out!
The whole area is native now (except for some grasses). Much more Naupaka kuahiwi and the glossy, shiny leaves of Olapa with its clusters of black berries mingle with the Uki. There are several bowl shaped bogs loaded with more natives.
There are stumps of old trees; this area was forested in the past. I have been studying a cluster of young Ohe Mauka trees. At maturity they can be 30 feet tall but these young plants are only 3-4′ and have been this size for many years, they are very slow growing. When you read Maui’s history this slow growth is one of the main reasons early settlers planted non-native trees. They needed faster growth to replenish the watershed areas that had been denuded. But they made a big mistake. The new thirsty trees drew water away and did not help the watershed. In fact they made it worse.
Next on the trail you pass a small pool of water on your right. Then the trail switches sharply right and climbs further. At the top of the pitch, on the right, is Hoawa, out native Pittosporum. There are several in the area with white flowers and curious wrinkled seedpods.
The 2.0 mile post comes quickly. A very curious pine like plant, Wawaeiole, surrounds the area. I thought at first they were young Cook Pines.
The stumps of the old trees have native ferns growing on them. The single fronds of Hoe a Maui resemble tongues.
Just before the summit, at the last sharp turn in the trail is a cluster of very cool plants. One of the rare Hawaiian Mints, Kamehameha Mint, with white flowers snakes through the grass. Our native Hydrangea, Kanwao, shows its beautiful cluster of lavender flowers. And red Ohelo berries hang from this delicious native shrub. (Note: this one is not very tasty, a little bitter)
There is a picnic table at the end of the trail. Enjoy the views. On the left a large bowl holds many more interesting plants.