Friday, February 22, 2013

Maui's Best Walks for Wildlife Watching

Some tourists visit Hawaii just for the scenery: think sunsets on the beach, towering volcanoes and rain forest waterfalls. But if you take a closer look at the landscape on foot, you'll be amazed by the biodiverse wildlife living on these Polynesian islands. Hawaii's flora and fauna spectacularly show off the same evolutionary principles that naturalist Charles Darwin famously found in South America's Galapagos Islands.

Evolving in isolation, a single kind of honeycreeper that arrived in Hawaii centuries ago eventually became dozens of new species, each better adapted to its new island home. Today few places in the world offer such a variety of biomes and wildlife as do the Hawaiian Islands - and there's no better way to see it all than by hiking.

On Maui, Haleakala National Park is has many of the island's top trails for wildlife watching. To spot a rainbow variety of bird life, start with the short loop around Hosmer Grove or sign up for a longer guided hike into Haleakala's wet, wild Waikamoi Cloud Forest, managed by the Nature Conservancy. Day hikes and overnight treks around the park's volcanic summit will bring you almost nose-to-beak with nēnē, the endangered Hawaiian goose. 



Back along the central Maui coast, Kealia Pond National Wildlife Refuge has built a boardwalk that lets you spy on not just rare native and migratory Pacific birds, but also sea turtles basking down below on golden sands. In West Maui, the Kapalua Resort's hiking trails are open to the public. Explore the shady Maunalei Arboretum of native and exotic trees, then trace the coastline of Kapalua Bay, where humpback whales swim and give birth in the warm offshore waters in winter. 

You can find out more about all of these hikes in my book Top Trails Maui: Must-Do Hikes for Everyone, available in print from Wilderness Press and as an Amazon Kindle ebook. 

Related links:
Slow Down, Save an Endangered Nene on Maui
Hidden Hiking Trails in West Maui
The Best Hike on Maui Is...

Photo credits: Haleakala National Park, Kihei & Kealia Pond National Wildlife Refuge (Sara J. Benson & Michael Connolly Jr.)

Thursday, February 7, 2013

How Not to Hike on Maui & in the Iao Valley

Every week on Maui, 911 dispatch operators get a phone call from a lost, stranded or injured hiker. On a tropical island that seems so small and innocuous, hundreds of tourists every year are tempted to hike off-trail, maybe to reach that hidden waterfall, to see that next beach or recently, to find a back door into the Iao Valley.

In central Maui, Iao Valley State Monument is where you'll find that iconic postcard shot of the Iao Needle, a jungley spire covered in thick vegetation that shoots up skyward. The paved walking trails that lead around the park, past an ethnobotanical garden and a freshwater stream, are so tame that I wondered if I could even classify them as hikes in my book Top Trails Maui.


So it's not surprising that some hikers - typically young men between the ages of 18 and 35 years old - would try pioneering another way to explore the valley on foot. Usually I see tourists start hiking beyond the "No Trespassing" signs to ascend the needle itself, an attempt that's foolhardy given the chance of flash floods, crumbling mountainsides and no maintained trails.


Over on Maui Now, Vanessa Wolf has written a hilarious guide about what not to do while hiking on Maui, including how trying to hike from Olowalu to Iao Valley can kill you. Her tongue-in-cheek advice ("Water is for cowards" and "By all means, wear inappropriate footwear") is a fantastic anti-checklist that you can use to prepare yourself for your first hike in Hawaii's wetland forests and lush stream-fed valleys.


As Wolf points out, Maui EMS will "thank you in advance for not getting airlifted." Besides, isn't calling search-and-rescue embarrassing when the situation is pretty much your own fault?

Related links:
Dear Would-Be Olowalu to Iao Hiker
Men Attempting Olowalu to Iao Hike Rescued
Our National Parks: So Wild That You Should Sue?

Photo credit: Iao Valley State Monument (Sara J. Benson)