Waihee Valley hike is in tune with nature
Plants talk. So do waterfalls, birds, the wind and the rain. All you have to do is listen.
On Maui Eco-Adventures' Rainforest/Waterfall Hike into Waihee Valley, you'll tune in to nature as you've never done before. Five miles round-trip, it offers great exercise, a few thrills and scenery that will entrance you.
Meet: Pickups available at hotels in West and South Maui
Offered: 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. daily
Cost: $120 per person, including a breakfast of fruit, muffins and coffee; lunch of turkey and veggie sandwiches, spinach rolls, vegetable crudités, chips, juice and bottled water; snack of chocolate chip, oatmeal-raisin and white chocolate-chip cookies. Local residents receive a 25 percent discount.
Call: 661-7720 on Maui, toll-free 877-661-7720 from other islands
Web site: www.ecomaui.com
Notes: Minimum age is 8. There's a four-person minimum per tour. Wear sneakers or hiking boots, a hat or visor, swimsuits and casual, comfortable clothing that you don't mind getting wet and dirty. Bring sunscreen and your camera.
The day my friend and I joined eight others on the tour, Bryce Bezy was our guide. Although he's lived in Hawaii for only two years, he's spent countless hours cozying up with books on Hawaiian history, culture and plant life, and he talks about them with the ease of a kamaaina.
We felt as though we were walking in a botanist's dreamland as we made our way deep into the valley, past various flora and fruit-bearing trees including papaya, mountain apple, mango, guava, strawberry guava, breadfruit, passion fruit, banana, coconut, hibiscus, golden shower, night-blooming cereus, banyan, bamboo, Java plum, sisal, kukui (candlenut) and hala (pandanus). It seemed we were stopping every few steps to take a close look at something we probably wouldn't have noticed had it not been for Bezy.
He pointed out the ti plant, which was important in ancient Hawaiian healing. They wrapped its leaves around warm stones for use as a hot pack, smeared medicinal compounds on them to make poultices and dipped them in water to cool fevered brows.
Laulau consisted of fish, pork and taro leaves stuffed into ti-leaf bundles for steaming in the imu (underground oven); it's still a popular luau dish today.
Before 1880 the ubiquitous green ti was the only variety of ti in Hawaii. Other kinds of ti were introduced in the late 1880s, including those colored red, pink, maroon, copper and orange. Some ti plants that caught our eye were streaked or edged with a mix of hues.
We also admired abundant stands and inhaled the seductive scent of the yellow ginger, which, Bezy said, "grows in cool places to begin with, but it also makes areas cooler just by growing there. That's because the plant pulls in a lot of moisture."
Further inland, we examined another species of ginger, called awapuhi kuahiwi, whose flowers yield a clear sap that the Hawaiians used as shampoo (the sap turns sudsy when rubbed between the fingers).
One of more than 200 fern species growing in Hawaii, the fragrant lauae was woven into leis and used to scent tapa. Mature lauae fronds carry spores that turn an orange-brown when they're ready for release. They blow on the wind, and if they land on moist soil, they germinate and grow into new plants.
COURTESY OF MAUI ECO-ADVENTURES
Waterfalls add up to slippery trails that will test hikers' sense of balance.
IN SOME SPOTS, the trail hugged Waihee River and the concrete auwai (ditches) that extend from it. Chinese workers built these auwai around the turn of the last century so that water could be siphoned to sugar cane and pineapple fields in Central Maui.
"It's a real old-school, rope-and-pulley type of system," said Bezy, "but it has worked well for over a century. There are dams in two spots, and Wailuku Water Co. workers come here every Thursday to 'raise the drawbridge' and release water for use by residents and plantations in Wailuku, Kahului and the isthmus between Haleakala Volcano and the West Maui Mountains."
Maui Eco-Adventures classifies the Rainforest/Waterfall Hike as moderate, meaning that although the trail is level most of the way, it does present some challenges. Loose boulders on two riverbed crossings tested our sure-footedness and sense of balance. Rocks covered with moss, mold and lichens made other sections of the trail slippery. There also were places where we had to duck under branches and step gingerly over large tree roots and trunks.
Two swinging bridges were long, narrow and high enough to quicken our heartbeats and slow our steps. A tip: If this sounds like something that would make you nervous, be sure you're one of the first few to traverse the bridges because the more people that are walking on them, the more they'll bounce.
The reward at the end of the 2.5-mile journey was a pool fed by two natural 2- to 4-foot waterfalls and a man-made one created as water from the Waihee River dropped 12 feet over a concrete slab. In the distance, especially during the rainier winter months, you can see as many as 10 waterfalls cascading down an enormous cliff known as the Wall of Tears.
Year round, the pool's temperature hovers between an invigorating 65 and 70 degrees. "The best part is the action of the water," said Bezy. "You can float on your back, and the currents in the pool will take you, without paddling, to the smallest of the three waterfalls. That's a great back massage!"
COURTESY OF MAUI ECO-ADVENTURES
A soak in pools fed by two natural waterfalls and a man-made one is the reward at the end of a rainforest/waterfall hike.
BEZY GREW UP on a corn and soybean farm in Indiana, and since the time he was young, he has nurtured an affinity for nature. Before moving to Hawaii, he lived in Utah, Arizona, Colorado and New Mexico, where he enjoyed backpacking, skiing, white-water rafting and rock, ice and mountain climbing.
He has taken visitors from all over the world on the Rainforest/Waterfall Hike; for many of them, it's their first trip to Hawaii or their first time in a tropical environment.
"The size and variety of the plants we see amazes them," Bezy said. "I've also had quite a few guests who can't swim, but when they get to the pool, they can't resist it and want to go in. I give them a crash course in swimming, and before you know it, they're having a great time in the water."
His narrative never is exactly the same; he reads as many books about Hawaii as he can find and shares the most interesting tidbits on the tour.
"People have a lot of questions," he said. "They want to know about weather patterns, food, traditions, business, real estate, current events, you name it. We talk about every aspect of life in Hawaii."
The hike's leisurely pace allows Bezy to mingle and chat with everyone in the group. "We're not stuck the whole day in the same seat in the same van," he said. "There are very few places as peaceful, beautiful and inspiring as Waihee Valley. Listen to nature, feel its energy, learn about it and yourself. I think the center of Zen is right there."
Cheryl Chee Tsutsumi is a Honolulu-based free-lance writer and Society of American Travel Writers award winner.