Maui un­bound

The Hawaiian is­land fa­mous for its lux­ury re­sorts still has a sat­is­fy­ingly wild side

The Weekend Australian - Travel - - Travel & Indulgence - TONY PER­ROT­TET

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.

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