The Wainapanapa Trail is located in Wainapanapa State Park on the windward side (the rainy side) of Maui. Wainapanapa means ‘glistening water’ and although the ocean surely glistens there it probably refers to either a particular spot in a stream or the pools in Wainapanapa Cave. There are cabins to rent but they are currently closed for renovation. There is also a fabulous black sand beach and swimming and snorkeling in the adjacent bay.
But the reason I make the 2 -3 hour’s drive out the Hana Highway (30 miles of twists and turns) is to hike the old King’s Trail that leads from Wainapanapa to Hana. Although the main park area and beach are full of visitors very few hike this trail. It’s a study in vibrant blue ocean waves crashing on black lava cliffs with native Hala forests and the deep history of Ohala Heiau (a sacred Hawaiian temple) and the paths leading to it.
This is a 3.8 mile out and back hike.
How to Get There
You need to get to
The Trail and the Plants
The trail starts just below the private cemetery, from the parking area walk towards the black sand beach to a paved walkway. Look to the right as you pass the lower, ocean side of the cemetery, this is where the trail begins.
You quickly enter a Hala forest whose unique trees have above ground, stilt like roots. Between the Hala trees and the black lava is Naupaka with its brilliant green oval leaves. Sprawling on the ground is a native vine, the yellow flowered Beach Pea. There is some debate as to whether the Hala trees are native to Maui. They are found on most all of the pacific islands. This first part of the trail is a unique vision into the past of what Hawaii used to look like. Hala forests were extensive in parts of Honolulu in pre-contact times, and much more widespread here in the Hana area. It seems all parts of the tree were used. Leaves were plaited into canoe sails. The aerial roots provided cordage material. The male flowers were worked into the finest and softest clothing. Wood was used in construction and flowers and fruit in lei.
As you continue down the coast the waves are surging into the black lava. There is this ‘Hawaiian Rainbow’ of blue Pacific, black lava, emerald green Naupaka and Hala trees waving in the wind; it’s quite a combination. There is a short lava bridge to pass over with water crashing below. Another native clings to the black stone, Ohelo kai, mat forming with bright red berries.
The trail drops sharply to the beach down steps cut into the cliff. The non-native Tree Heliotrope is at the bottom of the steps, a pacific islander that feels at home here. Just ahead is a ‘graffiti’ section with messages in white coral spelled out on the dark lava. After this beach section the non-natives start to take over with Ironwood, a tree from Australia replacing the Hala forest.
Than some history enters with smooth gray boulders forming some sort of path through the rough lava field. These smooth grey stones are the remnants of the King’s Trail that circled all of Maui. Some of these stones were placed here centuries ago. The path is leading to Ohala Heiau, a Hawaiian sacred temple site, and this one perhaps to please the fishing god. The Heiau is 4’ high and was 100’ by 75’ in size. Just before the Heiau there is a section of this old trail several stones wide and in the distance a line of grey stones lie amidst the eroded cliff. So what we see today is only the time-ravaged remnants of the old trail.
The trail moves inland a bit and travels through more non-natives, Brazilian Pepper trees and tall grasses, but there is one native vine, on the left about 2/3 of way through, Huehue with leathery blue-green leaves and small white flowers. Just after this area you return to bare lava and just ahead is the foundation of an old house with a Hala tree growing inside. This may have been part of the Heiau.
Continuing across the lava fields with the Hala trees fading into Ironwood while the ocean buffets the cliffs you reach a rocky point with a short climb that leads to a fishing camp. Here a nearly level area attracts locals who test their angling skill on the edge of a sheer cliff. You climb over another point as you leave the camp and enter a long stretch of lava walking. There are 2 types of lava to negotiate, ‘a’a, the rough lava, and pahoehoe, the smooth lava. It’s easy to miss the trail, look for lighter colored sections in the ‘a’a lava which show wear from hiking, and in the pahoehoe areas there are often lines of dark lava stones marking the path. Scattered among the rocks you find a bright green native fern popping out of the lava, Kaapeape.
As we come to the end of this hike we are greeted with a non-native surprise, Hoya vines growing in the trees and along the ground. I’ve seen them as house plants but never outside in the world. There is another naturalized plant here, the common Umbrella Plant with its bright red fruit that is popular in Lei today. On the left is a sign that says Wainapanapa State Park 3 miles, which my GPS says is wrong. This is where I usually turn around. Just past here the trail drops down into a fairly lush gulch and then comes to Kainalimu Bay with its smooth rocky shoreline
On the way back there are more great views of the blue ocean and black lava. When you get back to the visitor area be sure to go down to the black sand beach and jump in the water.