Ideas for Solo Hiking – Near Central Maui

In April 2020 we are required to keep a distance from people outside of our own household to slow the spread of the coronavirus COVID-19 and to allow our health and other services to take care of those who need help. Sierra Club has therefor canceled all organized outings until further notice. But we are still allowed to venture out on our own or with members of our own household for exercise such as walking, running, hiking, swimming and surfing. No need to stay cooped up at home all day. Just keep at least six feet between yourself and anyone you meet. This is the third of several posts on good places to go hiking/walking without a guide.

The Waihe‘e Coastal Dunes & Wetlands Refuge is a wonderful place to hike and explore, easy to get to from Central Maui. If it wasn’t for the current “social distancing” restrictions, it would be an excellent place for a picnic and spending the day as well. The refuge is open to the public.

Here is some information from the Hawaian Islands Land Trust (HILT), the custodians of the refuge:

Once slated for development as a golf course, the Waihe’e Coastal Dunes and Wetlands Refuge protects over 24 acres of coastal, spring-fed wetland, 103 acres of dune ecosystem, over 7000 feet of marine shoreline and more than 8 acres of riparian habitat for the recovery of native birds and native vegetation. The Land Trust took fee ownership of this very sensitive 277-acre site in 2004. Active restoration programs have enhanced critical native wildlife habitat, while preserving the area’s rich archaeological and cultural resources. Once populated with two thriving ancient Hawaiian villages, an extensive inland fishpond and several heiau (Hawaiian temples), the Waihee Refuge is among the most significant cultural sites in the state.

The Hawaiian Island Land Trust (HILT) aims to restore the Waihe’e Refuge to reflect the cultural and natural state it would have been in 200 years ago. This vision requires a lot of labor intensive work; when HILT (formerly Maui Coastal Land Trust) acquired the Waihe’e Refuge, roughly 95% of the plants found on the site were considered to be invasive species.

Restoring the Waihe’e Refuge to its historical, natural state will encourage native plants to take hold of the site again, thereby enhancing the natural resilience of the system. A healthy, more resilient landscape could buffer the impacts of climate change better than a damaged landscape could. The wetland is now up to 70% native species and native plants and birds have begun to naturally repopulate the surrounding landscape.

In testament to the returning health of the ecosystem, eight different endangered species have taken up residence at the Refuge in recent years. With the wetlands primarily cleared and habitat-appropriate plants now thriving, the area is host to many native Hawaiian bird species, including ae‘o (stilt), alae ke‘oke‘o (coot), koloa (duck), and even nene (goose).
Quiet and pristine, the Waihe‘e shoreline is a favorite retreat for endangered Hawaiian monk seals and nesting green sea turtles. Off the coast, the extensive reef is one of the longest and widest on Maui. It’s believed that this reef system provided excellent fishing in ancient times and it is, in fact, still a favorite among local fishermen today.

Parking for the refuge is either on the grass next to the refuge entrance or in the beach parking lot next to it. To get there, take Halewalu Road from Kahekili Highway. Halewalu Road leads to the Waiehu Golf Course and there are signs at the turnoff for both the golf course and the refuge. After 0.4 miles the turnoff from Halewalu Road to the refuge is on the left side. There is a sign. The road ends after 0.2 miles with the refuge entrance on the left and beach parking on the right.

This map shows a hike of 2.6 miles round-trip on level ground:

After entering the refuge, after 1,000 feet you will arrive at a fork in the trail. The old dairy is on the right and there is a map and interesting information about the refuge to read here. You can continue straight at this point, parallel to and close to the ocean, or you can take a detour off to the left as in the map. The detour takes you past areas where volunteers have been working on planting native Hawaiian plants and then rejoins the coastal trail. Either way, you will continue along the coastline until you reach the mouth of the Waihe‘e River. That is the turning point.

Coming back along the coastal trail, you can opt to walk for a stretch on the round rocks on the beach before continuing on the trail back to the parking area.

There has been very little trash the last few times I have been there, but please bring a bag just in case. The area most likely to have washed up plastic debris is the last beach before getting back to the parking area.