PHOTO: Hawaiian Paddle Sports guide Rowdy with outrigger boats on Maui's Kapalua trail. (photo by Rosalind Cummings-Yeates)
Embraced by 30 miles of pristine beaches and sprinkled with waterfalls and lava rock formations, Maui's beauty is legendary.
But despite the accolades and Insta photos, you really can’t understand just how magical the Maui landscape is until you actually immerse yourself in it. As the second largest Hawaiian island, it offers endless opportunities to connect with natural beauty.
Here are few unforgettable eco-experiences that will have you wishing for the aloha life long after the scent of plumeria flowers and the ocean breeze fade from memory.
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Haleakala National Park
The stunning volcanic summits and sub-tropical rain forest of Haleakala National Park is a Maui landmark, serving as a symbol of the island’s ancient tradition of preserving rare landscapes as sacred ground.
While it seems like half the island convenes at the top of the volcano to view the sunrise, don’t let that deter you. Filled with sights and species that you’ll never see anywhere else in the world—like endangered nene birds and gleaming silversword plants—this is far from the stereotypical tourist trap. Grab a hat and jacket if you want to view the sunrise but make reservations in advance.
Clouds and mist float around the craggy angles of the summit for an other-worldly feeling. For native Hawaiians, the summit is wau akua, which means wilderness of the gods. According to the legend. it was here that the demi-god Maui ensnared the sun to slow its progress across the sky so that his mother could dry her kapa (barkcloth).
You can also hike through the wilderness area and take in the unusual plant life or head to the Kipahulu Biological Reserve where bogs and lush rainforests provide a striking contrast to the summit area. Haleakala Park boasts one of the most spectacular landscapes on Maui and it’s a panorama not to missed.
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Outrigger Canoe Tour
Ancient Hawaiian canoes were carved from the trunks of Koa trees, with the outrigger being formed from a single tree. The tradition dates back to 200 AD, and gliding along in an authentic Hawaiian outrigger represents the intertwined relationship between Hawaiian culture and the ocean.
At Hawaiian Paddle Sports, that connection is taken so seriously that the company's motto, e malana ike kai e malama ike kai ("to care for and respect the ocean”) is emblazoned on all guides' shirts.
Our native Hawaiian guide, Rowdy, was well-versed in the culture’s traditions, escorting us through the serene world of outrigger canoeing. Our seats in the boat were arranged according to height, and then we gripped the sides and launched the boat into the water. She instructed us that “hut ho” was the phrase we had to follow to switch the sides of the canoe as we paddled.
Floating in the middle of the ocean, surrounded by mountains is a blissful feeling. Rowdy pointed to a shallow section of crystalline water called the “turquoise highway,” where we spotted coral and brightly colored fish.
As we pulled the canoe back onto shore, I learned that the little end piece on the stern, called a manu hope, has a special purpose. “It’s where the menahune sit,” she explained, referring to the pixie-like like people of Hawaiian folklore who were famous for master building skills and mischief.
You know that you’ve benefitted from a true Hawaiian nature experience if these forest dwelling dwarves were involved.
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Ambassadors of the Environment Coastal Hike
At Ritz Carlton Kapalua, the Ambassadors of the Environment Program partners with Jean-Michel Cousteau’s Ocean Futures Society, introducing guests to Maui’s natural environment and the Hawaiian traditions that honor them.
The program supplies a variety of excursions, from whale watching to snorkeling and underwater photography but I opted for the scenic coastal walk along the Kapalua Coastal Trail. Catherine, a naturalist for the program, kicked off the hike with a walk around the resort’s garden and grounds, examining breadfruit, guava and coconut trees.
After discussing the organization’s principles that everything is connected and biodiversity is good, Catherine explained that Hawaiians came from the Marchesa Islands and Tahiti in 1500 AD. They brought along food that lasts a long time, focusing on the taro plant, which is used to make the Hawaiian staple of poi.
Hiking through the path, she pointed out local plants like naupaka, a sea lettuce and canoe plants, whose leaves are used for hula skirts and to wrap food.
Passing by cliffs that spread into the water and viewing the Mauna Kahalawai Volcano in the distance, I perched on a rock just above a tide pool. As I glanced at the volcanic rocks, Catherine informed me that it’s bad luck to take lava rocks because the Hawaiian goddess of volcanoes, Pele, doesn’t want you to take her children.
I smiled as we hiked back down the trail, aware that the Hawaiian landscape and the Hawaiian culture will always be connected.