7 Stops to Make on a Loop around West Maui
[West Maui, HI, Nov 24, 2022]
For my 5th day on Maui, I planned on taking a tour of the west side of the island. The towns of Kaanapali and Lahaina are the most popular and are home to most of the resorts on the island. But I planned on taking the scenic route there, starting with a hike on Waihee Ridge (A on the map below), then continuing on another precarious Hawaiian “highway” along the northern end (between points A and D) before going back down towards civilization. Here are the 7 stops I chose to make on this mini road trip.
1. Waihee Ridge Trail
Waihee Ridge was actually recommended to me by my Makawao AirBnB host. She said to get there early to try and avoid the cloud cover that often descends on the ridge in the late morning and afternoon. The weather forecast didn’t look too good even in the morning, but I had to try it.
When I got to the trailhead, a heavy layer of fog had already taken hold. It rained a little as I was getting ready to start, but it stopped soon and I hoped that the sun would burn through the fog, the way it does in Southern California.
I insisted on taking pictures of my surroundings as I went up, even though all you could see was fog and visibility was no more than 30 ft. I kept looking around, hoping that I would see the sun peeking through the dense clouds.
Here’s an example of what I saw vs what I could see… Clearly, I have some unfinished business on Maui!
At the top, the trail dead-ended with a picnic table on a platform, which actually looked inviting.
However, not only did the sun not burn off the fog, but it started pouring right as I got to the top. So, 5 miles, 1500 ft of gain, no views whatsoever and shoes full of water was all I had to show for this hike. In addition, the rain made the trail extra muddy and slippery. Ugh! Obviously, I did not take a single pic coming down.
Next, I got on Highway 340, which hugs the north shore of West Maui. After driving Pi’ilani Highway the day before, I didn’t even bother researching this road – it was all paved and no potholes! I figured it couldn’t be any worse!
The first section was a bit narrow and winding, but overall not bad. Here is a video of the section right before my next stop, Kahakuloa Head.
2. Kahakuloa Head
Kahakuloa Head is a 636-ft natural landmark on the north end of West Maui. Hwy 340 scares most people from making it this far up the coast, so you will not encounter many people here.
The next section, from Kahakuloa Head to ‘Ohai Trail was the most challenging one. Blind curves were the norm and there was one section that was truly down to 1 lane with a cliff on your left and the ocean on your right if you’re going counter-clockwise like I was. There were a few pullouts for people to wait for oncoming traffic to pass. I could see why people would be spooked to drive this road but again, I thought this road was actually much easier than Pi’ilani Highway.
3. ‘Ohai Loop Trail
That doesn’t mean that when I reached the parking lot for ‘Ohai Trail, I wasn’t happy to stop and stretch my legs. The trail is named for the ʻOhai plant, which is abundant in the area. The loop traverses rolling hills along the picturesque northern shore several hundred feet above the ocean. I had great views of Kahakuloa Head and the cliffs facing south. Despite the short distance (1.2 miles) and little elevation gain, I was happy that my hiking shoes had dried off by this point as the mud and rocks required something better than regular tennis shoes. I loved how green this trail was and could not stop taking photos.
4. Nakelele Blowhole via Acid War Zone Trail
The Acid War what now? That’s right, this trail has quite the name. The Nakelele blowhole is a very popular stop in North Maui, but many people pull over at the larger parking lot closer to the blowhole and miss this trail. I stopped a little farther south at a smaller unmarked dirt lot and walked down to a light beacon.
The trail continued down and I could see why it was called Acid War Zone. It looked like another planet! The water had strewn about rocks of various sizes, many of which were severely pock-marked, sculpted, perched precariously, and otherwise dramatically eroded by countless years of salt water spray.
The blowhole was awesome. The spray was quite high and I was delighted to get some good photos of it without sacrificing safety.
5. Kapalua Beach and Kapalua Coastal Trail
I was sad to leave the blowhole as it marked the end of the wild and remote north end of West Maui. From here, I descended into Kapalua, Kaanapali and Lahaina, all built-up with expensive resorts and golf courses. This is not the Hawaii I liked or wanted to see, but I figured I’d check it out since I had no choice but to pass through here on my way back to Kihei.
At Kapalua Beach, public parking was hard to find, as most of the beach-front was taken up by the aforementioned resorts. The wind had definitely picked up, so I didn’t make it too far on the Kapalua Coastal Trail, which started here. Plus, I was getting hungry.
6. Whaler’s Village, Hula Grill and Kaanapali Beach
I decided to have a late lunch at the famous Hula Grill at an outdoor mall called Whaler’s Village.
They were serving a fantastic Thanksgiving meal, which I topped off with the biggest Hula Pie I had ever seen.
Hula Grill was right on Kaanapali Beach, so I took the opportunity to walk off some of the delicious food I had just eaten. The wind was straight up throwing sand in my face, and I was sad I couldn’t really enjoy this otherwise beautiful beach. I later read that Ka’anapali has been suffering some serious beach erosion in decades. I wonder if all the resorts along it have anything to do with that.
7. Papawai Scenic Lookout
I completed my loop back to Kihei with a stop at Papawai Scenic Lookout, which sported a rainbow when I pulled into the parking lot. I had clear views east towards Haleakala. Could this wind blow all the clouds away?
Sure enough, when I got back to Kihei, I could finally see the observatories at Science City free and clear on the slopes of the volcano. I could barely contain my excitement. Could I finally hike my bucket list Haleakala trail the following day? If the forecast held, my luck would finally turn on my last full day in Maui.