Horseback riding tours, hikes show other worldly area.
By DEBRA BEHR
Special Sections Writer
Only by going on horseback could we truly rise above it all.
A short way up the south side of Mt.
Haleakala, we gazed down at what remains of the black, ragged path of hardened lava from Mauis last volcanic eruption, a striking contrast to the greenery and vibrant turquoise sea.
The sheer vastness of the lava fields above La Perouse Bay and the Ahihi-Kinau Natural Area Reserve sparks a sense of wonder. Then our guide spotted more that what first meets the eye.
He pointed out small shapes on the ridge below us. Soon we, too, could see Axis deer darting between trees and I silently marveled once again at all the surprises of this untamed area so close to some of the islands best golf courses and resorts.
Our ride had taken us to Kalua O
Lapa, a vent that the last lava flow erupted from in 1640. Our resourceful guide, Patrick
Borge, who has lived on Maui all his life and shares stories of the region, had tied up our horses so we could walk up and peer into the vent. We rested by the rim, sipping the bottled water he gave each of us, and looked into the hole and beyond to the dark, wide swaths of solid lava brushed by greenery, imagining the river of lava about two miles wide that turned what had once been one long bay into two bays. Offshore we could see Kahoolawe, a nearby island recovering from years of being used as a site for military bombing practice, and the crescent shape of
Molokini, a partially submerged crater off Maui, where scores of snorkelers explore clear waters.
Getting to this vantage point can only be accomplished on a horseback ride with Makena Stables. But you can explore historic sites closer to shore at La Perouse Bay on foot, as I discovered on a recent visit.
The horse trail winds along Ulupalakua Ranch, a 20,000-acre open range ranch, and one of the oldest ranches on Maui, dating back to the early 1800s. This part of the ranch, which also encompasses the Tedeschi Winery farther up Mt.
Haleakala, is off-limits unless you are on a guided excursion with the stable, which has been owned and operated since 1983 by Borge and his wife,
Helaine. The 10 well-cared-for horses are available for only one horseback excursion daily and some are shown in rodeos by
Borge, who clearly loves them and takes a good amount of time to teach his riders how to treat his mounts. He guides three-hour rides and La Perouse Bay lunch rides that last five to six hours as well as the two-hour ride we went on.
Our introductory ride included novice riders and a couple from Pennsylvania, Joyce and Jim
Siwik, who make it a point to go horseback riding when they are in the islands. "It gives you more of a feel of the land than just riding by in a car on pavement does," explained Joyce.
As we walked our horses by lava rock fencing built to keep the ranchs cattle contained, we could feel the heat of the sun trapped by lava, and I was grateful the day was cooled by trade winds. It was painful to picture how workers labored to create the many miles of stone fencing in the ranchs earlier years. Our path took us by small yellow, fragrant flowers called
klue, by basil, Hawaiian chili pepper, impatiens, and lions tear as well as mesquite, which was planted for cattle. One species in this area blooms only at night, Borge said.
The ride gave us a good overview of the coastline. Early Hawaiians lived in the La Perouse Bay area, called Keoneoio ("bonefish beach") for hundreds of years. Their parcels of land extended from the sea and up the south slope of
Haleakala, so they relied on fishing in the bays protected waters and planted staples high above their seaside dwellings. Now lava-coated, the area is protected as a historic site, and the foundations for homes and heiaus (shrines) can still be spotted.
Seeing the lava flow from a high vantage point gave me a better perspective of the area hugging La Perouse Bay, which I explored on foot just a couple days before.
Its easy to find this area from Mauis south shore resorts: The road south, Makena Alanui Road, literally ends at the La Perouse Bay area, unless you have four-wheel-drive. From posh Wailea, the road continues by Makena, becoming narrower and winding by the coast, up blind curves, into the Ahihi-Kinau Reserve, and finally through fields of aa, a rough lava, with a distinctly otherworldly look.
Near the parking area, a historic marker noting the area is named for the French navigator Jean-Francois La
Perouse, the first Westerner to visit Maui when he anchored there in 1786.
I walked along well-trod paths across lava by the shoreline, where startling blue waters sprayed against dark lava. I wanted to find a rebuilt portion of the Kings Highway, which was once a trail around Maui established for the king of Maui and his messengers. Just fragments of the trail have been restored, including the Hoapili Trail across aa, which was ordered built in its present form by Hawaii Gov. Hoapili in 1824-40.
Hiking the trail can be hot and uncomfortable if the sun is blazing, but that day the cloud coverage looked like it would last, and cool gusty trade winds were kicking up.
I passed by fishermen and a couple who said a school of spinner dolphins had just gone by. Beyond the beach I came across a hiker with a heavy pack on his back whose advise was "bring a gallon of water." Since I had just a light day pack, my quart of Gatorade would do, I decided, and continued on. I soon found a marker for the Hoapili Trail. The two-mile, one-way trail leads to Kanaio Beach.
At the start of the trail, I could see the blue sea to my right, but as I continued that view was blocked by the aas strange, jagged edges. The footing was uneven and made of wobbly aa pieces placed together. Grateful for my sturdy hiking boots, I wondered how early Hawaiians created footwear offering protection from jagged lava.
Once I could see kiawe trees in the distance, I knew Kanaio Beach was just ahead. Off the trail, I rested by the wave-smoothed rocks blocking the trade winds. I unwrapped the energy bar I packed and relished a remote, little-visited part of Maui I had never seen before.
A light rain began, hurrying my departure, and surprisingly, I discovered I could move far more quickly on the uneven path than I had when I headed for Kanaio Beach. But when it looked like the rain would not become torrential, I slowed my pace. I began noticing more along the way, the twisted shapes of aa, and the raw, elemental power of natures hold on the island.
The sky cleared and I spotted snippets of greenery surviving in the seemingly unlivable area, and even tiny flowers. The soft rain, which made my trek cooler, softened the appearance of some of the aa which shown and looked less brittle.
In a wave of discoveries, I felt closer to those who had journeyed this way long ago, appreciating what island life is naturally about.