4/2/22: S. Maui’s Coastal Walk & Lava Walk in Nature Reserve

Family & friends,

Walking along South Maui’s coastal walk has to be one of the most stunningly beautiful things to do in Maui – or at the very least the best free thing to do! Steven and I have walked many pretty paths in our travels but only one other, in Sydney, Australia, came close to matching the heady combination of irresistible ocean views, to-die-for sandy beaches one after another, perfect weather, ritzy hotels, dreamy landscaping, and the serpentine path of the Wailua trail. Oh wait – we did a lot more that day.

All the best to you and your loved ones,


Views from the Wailea serpentine coastal nature trail:

The path meandered uphill and down past native plants and a billion dollars worth of luxury hotels!

The day before on the way to visiting Maui’s West Side Steven and I stopped at a lookout for the Hawaiian Islands Humpback Whale National Marine Sanctuary. We were therefore surprised that there was also another section of the same sanctuary in South Maui by Wailea. Both were designated in 1992 to recognize that Hawaii’s marine waters are an essential breeding, calving, and nursing area for the endangered humpback whale.

In front of us in the foreground was tiny Kaho’olawe used as a bombing range by the US Navy from WW II until 1993. Since being returned to the state of Hawaii, it is in the process of being cleared of ordnance. It is now recognized as a traditional Hawaiian sacred place.

In the far distance was the island of Lana’i, once covered in extensive pineapple fields. Its longtime plantation community has recently been transformed by several new resorts all in the name of “progress.”

Imagine lounging on this innovative seat and looking out at these gobsmacking views across the Alalakeiki Channel for a long while.

The coastal path passed black lava rocks with views of sandy beaches and ocean vistas that is exactly what one thinks of when Hawaii comes to mind. It also reminded us right away of the trail bordering the equally drop-dead gorgeous beaches in Sydney.

These Hawaiian Coastal Gardens contained many native plant species that were unique to Hawaii. According to a sign, these plants came to the Hawaiian islands by the wind, waves, ocean, and on the wings of birds. These native plants were more prevalent in dry coastal areas such as Wailea but they were soon replaced by more aggressive imported plant species. 

Wailea Point:


The hedge on the makai or sea side of the path had the most intoxicating citrus scent. It contained over 60 species of native Hawaiian plants that were adapted to the harsh, coastal areas of South Maui and had arrived without the aid of man.

To grow in this harsh environment of South Maui, adaptations have evolved which allow the plants to withstand the extremes of heat, salt, and wind. The early Hawaiians depended on these plants for many of their daily needs such as home buildings, lei making, and medicinal tea. The ma’o that we’d seen earlier has been used to develop a pest-resistant genetic line of mainland cotton.


Coastal development, as well as the introduction of aggressive weeds, has greatly modified the habitat for native plants. As a result native plants have become endangered and are represented by only a handful of individuals in the wild. This was the halfway point along the coastal trail.


Staff was setting up for what may have been a wedding at The Fairmont Kea Lani Maui – what a magical place for a destination wedding.

A relocated historical site in front of the resort:

Hawaiian gardenias:

Next to the Fairmont was the uber-swanky Grand Wailea Resort complete with its own chapel on the grounds!

I could certainly be quite comfortable lounging here for a few hours! The canopy retracted just like a baby stroller.

If you ever have a chance, run, don’t walk, to stroll along the Wailea coastal path as it’s easily one of the top ocean walks you can take in Hawaii in my opinion. If you’re having second doubts, just remember it’s free too!

Later, we snorkeled at Ulua Beach where the ocean bottom was shallow and just gently sloped down to deeper waters. The beach is popular with sunbathers, snorkelers, and scuba divers alike. I was thrilled to spot a honu or Hawaiian green turtle as it was so endangered.

Almost as special was seeing this Erythrina aka Red Pencil Sea Urchin as neither Steven nor I had ever seen one before.The scarlet color just shone in the clear water.

The spiny animal poking its head out from the coral was an Emperor Angelfish.

A few miles south of Wailea, the manicured coast changed over to Makena which meant “abundance” in Hawaiian. In the 1800s, cattle were driven down the slope from upland ranches to Makena Landing, now a beach park with boat-launching facilities and picnic facilities.

In the 19th century, this quiet cove was a bustling port for interisland schooners and steamers. Paniolo or cowboys herded cattle for transport to markets in Honolulu. Farmers piled up cargo waiting for ships to arrive. When one did, eager travelers on horseback and in oxcarts hurried to Makena Landing. Ships left stuffed with passengers, pineapples, sugar, livestock, and crops from cotton for the US Civil War to potatoes for the California Gold Rush.

People, goods, and livestock jostled for space aboard interisland vessels. A passenger in 1853 wrote of a schooner trip with 30 pigs, 30 dogs, 75 chickens, 20 turkeys, a pair of oxen, I mule, 14 cords of wood, 11 canoes, and 190 people! Ranchers shipped live cattle out of Makena until the mid-1900s. Ships to Makena even occasionally carried fresh supplies for opium dens!

Paniolo lashed cattle to longboats or shallow-draft vessels where they were hoisted aboard. People and cargo were also ferried to the waiting ship where they climbed or were placed aboard.

A few minutes from the landing on its own cove was Keawala’i Congregational Church which was built in 1855 with three-foot walls from lava rock with coral used as mortar. If we’d been there on a Sunday, I’d have liked to attend the Hawaiian-language service.

We wandered through the cemetery for a few minutes where we noticed some of the tombstones had ceramic pictures of the deceased on them which was an old custom.

We then headed further south to what ancient Hawaiians called Oneloa Beach or Long Sand. The beach was large for Hawaii at more than 100-foot-wide but its shore break is regarded as the most dangerous beach for spinal injuries. That was due to powerful rip currents and ocean swells that approach rapidly from deep water with waves crashing directly on the sand. I didn’t realize that small waves could be as dangerous as large ones. It was really shocking to read that broken bones, necks, and backs all happen at this beach in Makena State Park as it looked so completely safe and innocuous. How deceiving looks can be.

Adjacent to the beach was the 360-foot-high Puu Olai cinder cone. After learning how dangerous the beach was, Steven and I were very comfortable with having walked down to the shore and seeing the cinder cone and not getting any closer to the water.

Just beyond the park was Ahihi-Kinau Natural Reserve which had over 1,000 acres of rare anchialine ponds and hardened lava fields from the last eruption of Haleakala, the world’s largest dormant volcano. I don’t think we’d ever been on a road so close to the ocean before!

A sign indicated that the mission of this reserve was to protect its reefs, ponds, dry landforms, numerous archeological sites, and the youngest lava flows on Maui. According to Hawaiian tradition, all visitors were asked to assume a kuleanna or responsibility when entering a land.

Steven stayed in the car while I explored the lava field a while. I wouldn’t want to do that again as I had trouble finding my way back as all the lava looked exactly the same and there was no one else around to ask for help.

La Perousse Monument was a pyramid of lava rocks that marked the location where Adm. Comte de la Perousse, a French explorer, landed on Maui in 1786. After being the first Westerner to “discover” the island that he described as having a “burning climate,” and observing several fishing villages, he sailed off never to be seen again.

Literally at the end of the road on South Maui was the Hoapili Trail which was described as “walking through history” as it and other trails were built to connect communities to the ocean and each other. A sign said it was still only for hiking and that riding motorcycles, bicycles, or horses weren’t allowed on the trail.

On one of the most deserted trails ever, people were reminded that a first aid kit would be of far greater help than a cell phone as cell phone service was so weak or even non-existent, and emergency response time would be slow on this rocky trail of lava. Despite the warnings that each person had to be prepared for his or her own self-rescue, we still saw people wearing flip flops over lava that could cut so easily. 

No doubt one of the STRANGEST things we’d ever seen while hiking was this truck coming up behind us on the trail that was only a couple of feet wide! For the life of us, we couldn’t fathom how the driver managed to maneuver over and around what I would have sworn were impossibly narrow turns and impenetrable terrain. He must have had indestructible tires as the lava was razor-sharp.

I guess the driver decided the no-vehicle sign on the trail didn’t apply to him. What I would have given to ask how much farther he was attempting to go on a trail that even we didn’t feel safe on and why he was on it.

As we drove back north toward our condo in central Maui, we passed miles and miles of lava fields just like this on both sides of the road.

We hadn’t been successful in seeing a humpback whale breaching on our whale watching tour the day before so it was fun seeing this one in the town of Kihei where we were staying for the week!

Right across the street from our condo complex in Kihei was Kamaole III Beach Park, nicknamed Kam-3, a wonderful place, we discovered, to watch the sunset.

The park was enormous with a large children’s playground, BBQ facilities, picnic tables, lifeguards, and a grassy lawn that met the sand.

Next post: A visit toHaleakala National Park and a lavender farm. 

Posted on April 29th, 2022, from our home in Denver on yet another day where the winds have been blowing furiously and the risk of another major fire is dangerously high. 


5 thoughts on “4/2/22: S. Maui’s Coastal Walk & Lava Walk in Nature Reserve

      1. That coastal trail looks fun and relaxing and with pretty views as well. But it did make me realize how spoiled I am visiting beaches with no or few other people on it. Hawaii seems a bit too busy for my taste; the beaches anyway.

        Don’t step in any of those sea urchins! 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

    1. The vibrant scarlet of the urchin intrigued me as it stood out against the otherwise pretty bland fish we saw while snorkeling in Maui. Glad that a trip to the Hawaiian islands are piquing your interest after my posts. Can’t believe you and Michaela would be disappointed!

      Liked by 1 person

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