Friday 12 April 2013

Hana Highway: Day 2

The rains passed, and a new washed sky showed us the beauty of the morning. This small narrow crooked town of Hana hid itself away from the beach, and ran its head into the chalk-lined mountains like an ostrich. It felt like spring, watercolors painted the hillsides with streaks of orange and yellow Hawaiian hibiscus. Bright fallen flowers dotted the cracks in the winding roads like the paintbrush of an artist. It was not a pale arctic morning like the ones I left back in San Diego, it was tender, warm and merciful.

Just as the day before, the highway serves up more than beauty: it's an impressive feat of engineering. How they dug out Maui's precipitous coastline with hand tools to form a highway is beyond me. Clinging to the cliffs, it slinks around hundreds of curves and one-lane bridges. This serpentine coastal route is the perfect antidote to the vagaries of mainland winters and a complete escape from daily life.

Although we could not see the horizon, I could almost believe it was the shape of a bowl. The roundness of it hypnotized me. Hana Highway laid itself in front of us, paralyzed, stunning me into stupidity. The roadways shrank under the sun creating a landscape of total surrender. We came to our first waterfall of the day, right off the side of the road, where we took a quick photo pit-stop then onward we went.

My Maui travel book guided us to the Ohe’O Gulch, also known as the 7 Sacred Pools. Being the amazing sight that it is, aren't actually 7 pools at all, but only got it's name from the owner of Hana Maui Hotel who named it himself to boost its recognition with tourists. It’s an impressive picture of a string of pools that start way up the mountain, following one another over dramatic waterfalls and lining the Kipahulu coastline into the deep blue Hawaiian ocean. Heaps of sea and stone tumble wildly about. The sea does as it likes, and what it likes is destruction. It thunders at the cliffs and brings down the coast as if to take a dip in the sea. The rough, irregular stones point in every direction and design itself in a way to tame all living creatures approaching it. Massive lava boulders have formed dams inside the surrounding pools, each by its own jostling group or crowd, according to its size. People of all ages come to swim here. As children dip in the smaller puddles, others take the risk of jumping from one pool to another. We follow the edge around trying to find a way to scale the perimeter. The crippling stones of the pavement with their many reservoirs of mud and water had no footways and broke off abruptly at the falls, preventing us from entering. The cascading water mirrored the white caps of the waves as they broke upon the neighboring beach, and the specks of sails that glinted in the sunlight far at sea.  

We follow the loop back around and take our chances with the Pipiwai Trail as it clambers up the mountain, welcoming us with a warning. The trail was like a desert, dry and hot and creating pools of sweat across our foreheads. The air was chlorinated, thick and hostile, like the atmosphere of a dead planet. But in front of us, greenery bloomed like bouquets and the sky was full of pin wheeled clouds. The higher we climbed the more my excitement amplified, I could only imagine the height of the waterfall at the end of the trail.

The trail unfolds along streams, pools, caves and smaller falls, and is framed by a lush and diverse tropical rainforest. One minute you’re trapped inside an almost claustrophobic bamboo forest, the next you’re standing in the openness of a canopy covered banyan tree playground, where you can swing, sit and climb. As the day declined into afternoon, the air changed in intervals, sometimes clear enough to see the coast, other times charged with mist and vapor.

It’s a 4-mile trail roundtrip, but it seems much longer on the way there since all you’re doing is going uphill. At every turn, we are proven that the journey is often worth the reward. As soon as we walk across a bridge we are morphed into an immense Zen like bamboo forest. This bamboo is so tightly packed together it’s almost impossible to maneuver through. They rise up so high above the trail, they block all the ambient light of the sun, making it cool and dark. The atmosphere transformed us into an intense state of sight and sound. As the wind blew, the bamboo trees clanked together creating an eerie yet musical sound, reminiscent of an Asian wind chime. 

Following the winding footpath, we turn a corner and are suddenly released from the bamboo and arrive at the base of a towering 400-foot waterfall worthy of an IMAX fly by. We have now gained 650 feet in elevation and what a sight it is, the fantastic Waimoku Falls dropping down a sheer lava rock wall into a boulder strewn pool. It's been a long awaited treasure and well worth the discovery. None of us have ever seen anything like this, even after all the uncountable waterfalls prior to this. It truly is a jaw dropping and jarring spectacle. 

The day is young when we make our way back to the car, so we pile in and conclude our Hana Highway excursion with one of the most serene and peaceful landscapes I have ever seen. The paved highway transforms into a gravel road and the flourishing foliage turns into exposed countryside. A terrain of Maui I would have never imagined existed came into view. Not a structure or soul was in sight, just raw untouched land giving way to the once destructive lava flow that created this striking island. These features were so deeply carved into the Earth’s crust, it was like the Grand Canyon of Maui. The drive back was long calm and quiet except for our growling tummies. Like I said, there’s nothing out here, so we stopped at the first sign that offered food, which fed my lovely meat eaters farm grown elk burgers, while I munched on a delicious sandwich and fresh avocado. There’s nothing like a full belly and a relaxing drive back to Lahaina after hours of hiking and venturing through a world of nature’s splendor and some of the best wild life this world has to offer. I’m so glad I got to share this experience with my closest friends! It's not everyday you get to hike through waterfalls in Maui with your besties, but it's definitely something to remember!