Hiking the Maha’ulepu Heritage Trail | Poipu Kauai | August 2018
We began our third and final day of vacation by driving to Poipu, South of Koloa, where fancy resorts and condos line the beach. Our hike for the morning was the Maha’ulepu Heritage Trail, beginning at the end of a cul-de-sac off of Pe’e Road. The trail is 6 miles round-trip, following the coast without much elevation difference.
As we were putting on our hiking boots, a woman came up and asked us if we had been here before. We said no — I had seen this hike recommended somewhere and just thought it would be a fun early morning coastal walk. She gave us a few tips: 1) When we come upon the stream at almost 2 miles in, look for the bridge and don’t cross the stream. 2) Before crossing the stream, look for the sinkhole. 3) Look for the tortoises across the stream that help by eating the non-native vegetation. And lastly, 4) Watch out for the monk seal which was born last April but is still very large. We were unaware of all of this so we were thankful to have run into her. We grabbed our bags filled with water and snacks and began our hike.
The beginning of the “trail” wasn’t so much of a trail as it was following either a beach or pavement running beside a resort. We felt out of place with our hiking boots and camelbacks. Once we climbed up to the small cliff on the East side of Shipwreck beach, we left the resorts behind and were met with a beautiful vista — the first of many stunning coastal views. We wandered along the coast and through kiawe trees on the sand dunes. We came across an area with signs saying it was a sacred sanctuary, and to be respectful and stay on the path. However, beside all this untouched and sacred ground on this beautiful coast was a rather large golf course. It just didn’t seem to fit. It was even more bothersome on our way back when some particularly bad golfers hit several balls that came within feet of hitting us.
Besides that, we really enjoyed this trail. Each rocky inlet seemed to be more dramatic and remote. We saw our first wildlife along the trail, a flock of Nene geese in the golf course.
Because our phones had low battery, we weren’t using AllTrails, and didn’t really know what to expect or how far we should go. We just knew we wanted to see the sinkhole and tortoises. After making our way around some farms and stables, we finally found the “sinkhole” that the woman had told us about. I wasn’t expecting much, but when we came to the first overlook our jaws dropped — it was massive, with palm trees and native plants growing inside far below us. I sat down to rest and take it all in while Curtis walked around the entire thing. There is also a cave along the North side that is open for tours on certain days, but unfortunately not while we were there.
We knew there had to be turtles around here somewhere, so we crossed the bridge and came across the most exciting sign we’ve seen while on a trail. It pointed us in the right direction, a giant fenced in area with signs welcoming you to enter and see the tortoises. We walked around and checked them all out before continuing on our way.
At this point, we could have easily turned around and been content with this hike, but now we wanted to see the monk seal. We followed a dirt road until we found a path to the nearly-empty beach. While there are a couple of small gravel parking lots, we hardly saw anyone out here, and we were all alone walking between the parking areas. We eventually found the monk seal napping in the shade of a tree somewhere along the beach. He had the right idea — the sun was getting higher and the day was quickly heating up. We had brought an umbrella because of the “chance of rain,” and ended up using it to block the sun instead.
After 3 miles, we came upon Mahaulepu Beach, with beautiful, clear turquoise water, fine sand, and smooth black rocks creating little tide pools. This would have been where I would choose to stop, but Curtis wanted to keep going and I agreed. We were nearing a remote mountain called Haupu, and we both wanted to see how close we could get. It started raining on us briefly, but it felt so good in after walking so far in the sun.
Finally, we found our way to Kamala Point, which provided a gorgeous view of both the remote mountain range and the ocean. The mountain range doesn’t have any trails leading to the peak — at least that we know of — but that’s probably for the better. The peak is undeveloped, preserved, free of litter and erosion that comes from hikers. After having walked over 3 miles just to get a closer look, being able to take it all in from this vantage point was reward enough.
On our return trip, we stuck to the gravel roads rather than the beach because they’re easier to walk on. We drank a lot of water and did our best to stay out of the sun. When we finally reached the resorts of Poipu, we discussed whether we would be able to get away with jumping the in the pool. I’m sure all the people staying there were glad we didn’t! We finally reached the car, grateful for the air conditioning. Maha’ulepu Heritage Trail was beautiful and so worth doing, with several exciting surprises along the way — but if you’re visiting in the summer, definitely start early and bring plenty of water! If you’re interested in the details of this trail, check out the AllTrails listing here.