The King's Highway, Maui
When visiting Maui as part of a family vacation, we sought out to experience some of the island's untouched coastline. We were drawn to the King's Highway for its alluring name and history as a 500 year-old trail built for an ancient Hawaiian King. The trail once circumnavigated the entire island as a vital trade route but over the centuries fell into disrepair. Today a small section has been fully restored and can be accessed via the Hoapili trail along the island's southernmost accessible point at La Perouse Bay. Though by no means leisurely, the 5.5 mile (round-trip) excursion traces rugged untouched coastline and is enjoyed by hikers who wish to step back in time to see a side of Maui most visitors never experience.
The trailhead is found by following Makena Road south until the pavements ends at the La Perouse Bay parking lot. The bay was the site of the first European landing on Maui in 1786 and the first area to be mapped by French explorer La Perouse. Ironically, it is one of a few coastal stretches left untouched giving a glimpse into what Maui would look like without modern development. This absence of development may likely be explained by the neighbouring volcano, Haleakalā. Scientists estimate that four years after La Perouse's landing, Haleakalā violently erupted forming rocky lava fields that covered the southeastern slope of the volcano.
The Hoapili trail meandered along the coast before leading into a woodland of Kiawe trees. Black aʻā (sharp) lava rock stretching out to the ocean was speckled with white coral and made for a beautiful foreground to the stunning ocean view.
When the woodland opened up we were met with intense heat radiating from the sharp, angled black rocks of the lava field. It was a completely barren landscape devoid of any plant-life and created a surreal, lunar-like atmosphere that will likely be the closest we ever come to hiking on mars.
The King's Highway
During the 16th century, King Pi'ilani became the first chief to rule all of Maui and initiated work on the first roadway to encircle the entire island, later becoming known as the King's Highway. The trail unified the east and west of the island as a trade route and was maintained for nearly 200 years. By the 18th century the trail had fallen into disrepair and was restored through the gruelling slave-labour of prisoners convicted of adultery.
A more recently restored section of the King's Highway running parallel with the coastal Hoapili Trail can be accessed at a marked signpost in the lava field. Here, the trail abruptly changed from soft rounded stones to jagged lava rock and significantly tested the strength of our knees and ankles. The difficulty of hiking this rugged terrain in the mid-day heat had us silently reflecting on the gruelling conditions the prisoners must have endured.
The trail rejoined the coast at Kanaio Beach, a small bay that provided a treed oasis to shelter us from the sun. Relieved to escape the heat, we sat on a wooden tree swing and took in the cool breeze with a delicious beverage from Maui Brewing. We had found Hawaiian paradise.
Curiosity led us back onto a decrepit section of the King's Highway where large desert shrubs sprawled across the trail making the it nearly impassable. Just when we thought the trail might vanish, we caught a glimpse of another gorgeous shoreline in the distance. This time a larger, more exposed bay with a salt and pepper shoreline welcomed us. It was a beautiful spot but the locals were a little crabby ;)
Nearly exhausted from the intense heat reflecting off the lava, we spotted a returning coastal trail and welcomed its cool breeze as we made our way back to La Perouse Bay. Large lava formations appearing shipwrecked on the beach made for an equally remarkable return trip along the ocean. Back in the car and revitalized by the air conditioning, the ethereal experience of hiking on the lava fields seemed increasingly like a distant memory with each passing resort. It's like no other place on Maui and we highly recommend it to everyone up for the experience!
Note: Due to the intensity of the heat we recommend embarking on this hike early in the day. If the sun is shining be prepared for a very hot hike. A hat is a must, along with plenty of sunscreen and sunglasses. However much water you pack along, double it. We would recommend 3 bottles per person as a minimum. Lastly, good footwear will make walking on the lava easier. Hiking boots would be preferred or a really sturdy running shoe to prevent your ankle from rolling.
For more on this hike and other unique experiences in Maui we highly recommend the Maui Revealed guide book which can be ordered online or, like we did, borrowed from your local library!