The Hawaiian island famous for its luxury resorts still has a satisfyingly wild side
A WALL of fog is rushing towards me, enveloping the jagged cliffs of the volcanic crater. As I lug my backpack across a lava field, I can barely see the trail between the black rock formations, twisted like eerie sculptures. Is this Patagonia? Iceland? Mars, maybe? No, I am in the heart of Maui and I’ve been trying to find the island’s secret corners, the jewels that lie off the tourist tracks. But right now, inside the dormant volcanic heart of Haleakala Crater, I wonder if I might not have gone a little too far into the land of the forgotten.
The temperature is dipping rapidly; at night the crater floor gets down to near freezing. And then it starts to rain. Flecks of icy water sting my face. I look up at the angry sky gods. What’s the Hawaiian word for help, I wonder.
I think back to a week earlier when I eased myself into the Hawaiian lifestyle by lounging around a swimming pool at Kaanapali Beach with a fluorescent mai tai cocktail. But even on that first day, I realised there is a lot more to the island than fivestar resorts when I spotted a half dozen whales breaching off-shore.
‘‘Maui is still a seriously wild island,’’ Barrett, a surfer dude in reflective glasses, advised me as we took in the nature show. He wanted me to know that Maui’s luxury, complete with spas and golf courses, is just a facade. ‘‘More than 80 per cent of the island is inaccessible by car,’’ he enthused. ‘‘There’s a side to the island that few people know about, filled with overgrown trails, historic cabins and ancient ruins.’’
So that’s why I have hired a four-wheel-drive and set out. Over the next few days, I do everything I can to take the roads less travelled. Up north, I visit Kahakuloa village, a tiny outpost that feels like Polynesia pre-Captain Cook, and turn off into forgotten empty beaches. Down south, I head for La Perouse Bay, where I hike for four hours along the ancient Hawaiian King’s Highway, a 200-year-old trail once used by royal couriers. At the end of the spectacular Hana Highway, I end up in a forest of giant bamboo trunks that reverberate in the breeze like a natural orchestra. Inspired, I keep on driving, looking for the hippie subculture that supposedly thrives in a remote area known as Kipahulu.
At the end of an impossibly verdant coastal road, I spot a handmade sign adorned with a painted rainbow, announcing the entrance to an organic farm, Laulima. I walk up to an open shed overflowing with fruit and meet a half dozen sun-bronzed hippies lounging on stools. I spot a couple of their tree houses, looking like the roughhewn homes of elves.
‘‘Aloha!’’ chirps a fresh-faced girl in overalls and pigtails, her skin the glowing result of her purist leafy diet. Standing like a sculpture in the centre of the dirtfloored store is, of all things, a dragster bicycle with a yellow plastic seat. Only it’s missing its front wheel, and the chain is hooked up to what looks like a vintage Sunbeam blender. ‘‘What’s this?’’ I ask. ‘ ‘ Self-powered j uicer, enthuses one lanky figure.
‘‘Make your own fruit smoothie,’’ says another. ‘‘It’s carbon neutral.’’
And so I do, tossing in passionfruit and tamarind, and it is delicious. But all this is still too tame: I want to fall off the map completely. And that means heading for the island’s ultimate challenge — Haleakala Crater, the forbidding volcanic cone at Maui’s heart.
This ancient so-called Hawaiian House of the Sun is so vast that it takes up about 75 per cent of Maui’s total area. The hippies tell me that there are three tiny historic refuges from the 1930s inside the crater itself, each one at the end of a tough hiking trail. What else can I do? I sign up for three nights.
From the rim, the crater is a beautiful but daunting sight: far, far below, its floor is an extraterrestrial expanse of brilliantly coloured cinder desert. But taking
man,’’ a deep breath, I set off with my backpack into the wild, descending the switchbacks of the Halemauu Trail down an almost sheer cliff face. By the time I reach the bottom, the fog has rolled in. Somewhere across a lava field, 8km away, is my bed for the night.
Soon I’m traipsing between giant cinder cones, feeling like a character in a post-apocalyptic movie. But up close, the scarred landscape is far from lifeless. My pace is sporadic as I zigzag around hundreds of exquisite plants called silverswords — spiky, glistening balls that survive in the fine, black volcanic soil and flower only once, after half a century of life, their single spires bursting into scarlet blossoms. I’m also shadowed by native geese and the rare Hawaiian petrels that let out peculiar, canine yaps.
As the rain gets heavier, the trails become harder to make out. Soon I realise I’ve hiked around the wrong cinder cone. I consult mymap; I have no idea where I am. Haleakala is starting to seem like a terrible idea.
To my relief, I spot two other figures battling the fog, the only people I’ve seen all day.
It’s a Maui couple in their early 30s. They’re dressed in T-shirts and shorts, as if they’ve just stepped out of a beach bar.
‘ ‘ We know this crater pretty well,’’ the husband says when I show him the map. ‘‘We come down here at least once a month to go hiking.’’ It turns out I missed a key turn-off; they point me in the right direction, then head off.
‘ ‘ Aren’t you a little underdressed?’’ I ask as they go.
‘‘We have down jackets in our bags. But it’ll clear up.’’
And so it does. Two hours later, when I finally spot myberth for the night, the Kapalaoa Cabin on the crater floor, it’s bathed in sunlight.
I almost go down on my knees in thanks.
It’s a simple wooden refuge, with bunks and a wood-burning stove. I get the fire going, then poke around in the cupboards. Inside are a couple of bottles of cheap chardonnay, evidently left by other hikers.
I take the wine outside with my cheese and crackers, spreading out a sunset picnic on the tiny patch of grass. It’s an incredible view, as the sun paints the raw mountains gold, then red. There’s not another soul for miles in any direction. Tonight, it’s just me and a pair of nenes, or Hawaiian geese, that are picking at the few strands of grass. I raise a toast. Even in the wildest corner of the island, Maui still manages a few creature comforts.