Every day, hundreds of tourists pull in to Waianapanapa State Park. They park their car, and for half an hour lie in repose upon the black sand of Pa’iloa beach, stopping at nothing until their smartphones stumble onto an instagram worthy picture to invoke the ire and jealousy of their friends and acquaintances back home. At this point, galled by the perpetual crowd of other photo hungry tourists that frequent the beach, they get up and continue on their merry way along the road to hana.
Fortunately for those in the know, and unfortunately for 99% of the tourists that stop by the park, Waianapanapa has much more to offer than a crowded black sand beach. There’s world class snorkelling, fishing, jumping, hidden sea caves, sea arches, and a 3 mile segment of what was once a 138 mile trading route that traversed the entire island of Maui.
The King’s Highway, constructed around the 16th century and completed under the rule of King Pi’ilani, used to be an integral part of travel and commerce in Maui. Traversing rugged coastline, deep gulches, and verdant valleys, it was the first trail to circumnavigate the entire island. Hundreds of thousands of basalt lava rocks were laid to make the trail, which today lies in a sad state of disrepair. Hundreds of years worth of jungle growth, development, and neglect have erased most of the trail, of which only segments remain. In light of this, the 3 mile segment that follows the jagged black lava rock coast along the state park is in remarkably good condition. Though at points following the trail becomes a bit of a crapshoot, half of the fun is venturing out off of the trail onto the rugged black cliffside.
The park actually lies at the midpoint of the trail, which goes from the Hana Airport to Hana Bay. If starting from the park, we’d recommend taking the trail north towards the airport. Past the beach, the trail winds along the edge of a hala tree forest and some cliffsides offering stupendous photo opps of the sea arches across the bay. You’ll pass by another small beach before the trail winds into the forest and out onto an expanse of black basalt lava, which juts out further and further away from the forest and the swarms of tourists that generally don’t venture much further than the beach.
Somewhere around this section of the trail you can follow a smaller trail out towards the edge of the water, where you’ll find what might be some kind of shrine, or perhaps a hearth, offering a lovely platform to seat yourself upon while you gaze, slack jawed, at the view that has opened up behind you. Feast your eyes upon by far and away the best view of the foothills of Haleakala to be gleaned from anywhere in Hana, a sweeping 360 degree vista of electric blue ocean, jet black lava rock fringed by neon green canopy, and hala forest giving way to the lush, mountainous foothills of the volcano.
The trail haphazardly continues toward the airport, though we recommend not to bother too much with the main trail and explore the black cliffsides. You’ll see various little half trails branching off towards the cliffs and we have found that in most cases they lead somewhere pretty cool. While exploring the off trail expanse of lava rock around this area we found that the underside of the cliff we were on gave way to a beautiful sea cave, which we were able to climb down into without too much trouble. Keep in mind that climbing down crumbly rock into sea caves leaves you at the mercy of falling off and, especially during high tide, of being swept away and smashed around by the crazy waves that frequent the Hana coastline. That being said, exercising due caution, you can find some beautiful vantage points of the cliffsides, which in sharp contrast to the jagged rock above have been washed smooth by the tides.
With nothing but the sound of waves crashing against the cliffs, you can make your way back towards your car, taking in the blue, green, and black of the landscape before you. And when you pull back out of the park and onto the Hana Highway, feel free to stop by our farm, just a mile down the road from the park!
Written by Amir Hotter-Yishai