A Hike Through the Waihe'e Valley Rainforest - "Swinging Bridges"

  • 01 of 10

    "Latatudes & Adatudes" - Maui Eco-Adventures

    Maui Eco-Adventures Logo
    Maui Eco-Adventures. Courtresy of Eco-Maui

    I had the pleasure of participating in a hike through the rainforest of the Waihe'e Valley on Maui with "Latatudes and Adatudes" otherwise known as Maui Eco-Adventures.

    This tour company, located in Lahaina, offers daily hiking, hiking/kayak, biking and custom group tours which can include a helicopter tour or four wheel drive add-on. Basically, you name it and they can customize it for you. Their specialty, however, is their hiking tours with extremely knowledgeable guides who are experts in the culture and natural history of Maui.

    Maui Eco-Adventures offers daily hiking trips for all ability levels and ages, and of varying lengths of time to fit your schedule. In most cases, the guide will pick you up right at your hotel. You will always be brought back safely and well pleased with your experience.

    Now let's move on with a report on our hike through the Waihe'e Valley Rainforest and the area often referred to as "Swinging Bridges."

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  • 02 of 10

    Hotel Pickup and a Decision to be Made

    Kayaking Along the West Maui Coastline
    Kayaking Along the West Maui Coastline. John Fischer

    Our group originally had several different options to choose from for our adventure with Maui Eco-Adventures. We selected the Hike / Kayak Combination tour which was to take us for a 2-3 mile hike along the Nakalele coastline of northern West Maui. We were then scheduled to kayak roughly two miles beginning at Kapalua Bay along the West Maui coast.

    As the day for our adventure dawned, we were greeted by heavy rain in West Maui from an unexpected storm that struck from the north. We expected that our trip would be cancelled and that we would have to find something else to occupy us.

    Right on time our guide, Brian Parker, drove up with two passengers already in the van. Brian explained that due to the heavy surf, the kayak portion of our trip had been cancelled. He gave us the option to reschedule the entire trip or continue with just the hiking portion.

    The two other passengers requested to be returned to their hotel. Our intrepid group of four wanted to press onward. In fact, we asked...MORE Brian if there was a longer hike we could do since we had most of the day free. He suggested a rainforest hike in the Waihe'e Valley and with little hesitation we agreed that would be the perfect place to go on a rainy day!

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  • 03 of 10

    Getting to the Waihe'e Valley of Maui

    Map of the Waihe'e Valley Trail - "Swing
    Map of the Waihe'e Valley Trail - "Swinging Bridges".

    The Waihe'e Valley of Maui is located in the northeastern part of West Maui, just a few miles north of the more famous I'ao Valley.

    The trip to the Waihe'e Valley from West Maui takes you south from Lahaina around the southern tip of West Maui where you head north again towards Ma'alaea Harbor. After you pass Ma'alaea stay straight on Highway 30. (Don't bear to the right as if you were going to the airport.)

    If you're coming from the Kihei and Wailea area, take Highway 31 until it ends at Highway 30 just north of Ma'alaea Harbor.

    Highway 30 takes you into the small town of Wailuku, the seat of government for Maui County. In Wailuku you'll take a right on Main Street (Highway 32) and in two blocks a left onto Market Street, which will become Highway 330.

    You'll soon come to a Y intersection with Highway 340 where you will want to bear left through Waihe'e Town. Look for the school on your left and then keep your eye out for Waihe'e Valley...MORE Road. Turn left and continue on until you see mile marker 5. You'll see a grass turnout where you can park just past the taro patch on your right.

    Of course, if you travel with Maui Eco-Adventures, you won't have to worry about any of these directions! All you will need to do is enjoy the ride and look at the beautiful scenery. From the Ka'anapali Resort area the trip will take about an hour. From the Kihei and Wailea area, the trip will be somewhat shorter.

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  • 04 of 10

    Gaining Access to the Waihe'e Valley and Swinging Bridges

    No Tresspassing Signs
    No Tresspassing Signs at the Entrance to Waihe'e Valley. John Fischer

    Walk up the road and you will see a small enclosed stand on you left with a portable toilet nearby. The stand sells fresh and roasted macadamia nuts grown on the property, as well as snacks and sodas.

    Access to the rainforest hike in the Waihe'e Valley requires advance preparation for hikers who attempt to go on their own.

    The hike crosses land that is privately owned by the farmer who has set up the small stand. He charges a nominal fee of $5 for tourists and $2 for residents to cross his property and also make use of the toilet. The majority of the hike takes place on land owned by Wailuku Agribusiness and those not going on a tour with Maui Eco-Adventures first need to secure a permit from them at their headquarters in Wailuku.

    When hiking in a rainforest, where conditions can change rapidly, it is best to go with an experienced guide. Therefore, we recommend that you go with Maui Eco-Adventures who will take care of all of the fees and permits required.

    At the end of this feature...MORE are some tips about what you should bring along with you on this hike whether you decide to go on your own or with Maui Eco-Adventures.

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  • 05 of 10

    Lush Vegetation Everywhere in the Waihe'e Valley

    Waihe'e Valley Banyan Tree
    Banyan Tree in the Waihe'e Valley. John Fischer

    In addition to our guide Brian, our group consisted of Quinn, who is in her mid-twenties and Lauren and her husband Mark, who are each close to thirty. I was the old man of the hike at fifty. The big question in my mind was whether or not I could keep up with these younger folks.

    We began our hike in a light rain - not unusual in a tropical rainforest. The rain is what creates such a bounty of lush vegetation. On each side of the well-defined path we found a seemingly endless variety of tropical ferns, trees and vines. We saw magnificent banyan trees, kukui nut trees and swamp mahogany trees.

    We saw fruit trees bearing Brazilian peppers, guava, java plums and mangos as well as lilikoi, morning glory vines and ginger plants. As we neared the river we saw plenty of riverbank bamboo.

    A quarter of a mile into the trail there is a significant uphill stretch. Luckily, after about 100 yards the path once again becomes and stays relatively level.

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  • 06 of 10

    Wailuku Agribusiness Irrigation Ditch

    Wailuku Agribusiness Irrigation Ditch
    Wailuku Agribusiness Irrigation Ditch. John Fischer

    As we proceeded along the trail we noticed the first signs of an irrigation ditch owned by Wailuku Agribusiness. Much like a similar irrigation ditch in East Maui along the Hana Highway, this ditch was built over a century ago to bring water from the Waihe'e River and adjoining mountains to supply the sugar fields of Central Maui.

    The use of this water has been the subject of recent legal action by the Earthjustice legal organization, which has filed a complaint with the state Commission on Water Resource Management. The complaint alleges that much of the water being diverted into this irrigation system is being wasted since Wailuku Agribusiness has ceased production of sugar and macadamia nuts and is in the process of selling all of its lands either to Hawaiian Commercial & Sugar Company (HC&S) for agricultural purposes or to residential housing developers.

    Earthjustice alleges that unused water is allowed to evaporate away or is being released inappropriately. HC&S and...MORE Wailuku Agribusiness deny these allegations.

    In a similar case on Oahu, the Hawaii Supreme Court has ordered that water no longer needed for agriculture must be returned to the stream from which it was being drawn to restore stream flow.

    A walk along the trail is a constant reminder of Hawaii's delicate ecological balance and the never-ending battle between the interests of big business and the interests of the 'aina (the land) and the local Hawaiian people.

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  • 07 of 10

    Swinging Bridges

    Swinging Bridge Waihe'e Valley
    Swinging Bridge. John Fischer

    This hike through Waihe'e Valley is often referred to as the "Swinging Bridges" hike. A little over a mile along the path, we came to the first of two plank-and-cable bridges that we would have to use to cross over the Waihe'e River.

    The first bridge is the shorter of the two and is not as high as the second. In fact, if the volume of the river is low, you can actually walk across the river at this point as our guide chose to do.

    The rest of our group braved the bridge and, despite everyone having to stop midway when my glasses fogged up, we all made it across without incident.

    When we arrived at the second bridge, the river's flow was significantly stronger due to the rain, not so much on us, but higher up in the mountains. This bridge, while longer and higher, is more taut than the first bridge and easier to cross.

    The planks on both bridges were slippery and loose in several places. Our guide showed us where to be extra careful and kept a close eye on each of us along the way.

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  • 08 of 10

    Waterfall over the Kanoa Ridge

    Waterfall Waihe'e Valley
    Waterfall. John Fischer

    After the second bridge, the path meanders along the west bank of the Waihe'e River.

    As the rains increased in intensity, deeper and deeper puddles appeared on the path and our progress into the rainforest slowed. Less than a half-mile past the second bridge the path stops at the river's edge.

    As we looked up into the mountains we were able to see a waterfall in the distance that dropped hundreds of feet to the valley below.

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  • 09 of 10

    Our Hiking Group Decides to Turn Back

    our hiking group
    Our Hiking Group. Left to Right: Mark, Lauren, Quinn and our Guide, Brian. John Fischer

    As we stood on the bank of the Waihe'e River, what was normally a gentle stream was now a knee-deep fast flow. Brian explained that in order to reach the swimming hole, we would need to cross the river both here and again in the opposite direction a bit further upstream.

    While we all wanted to get to the end of the trail, Brian advised us that the crossing would be too risky and we had to turn back at this point.

    We were all disappointed about not reaching our goal, but we realized that Brian knew much more than we did about the dangers of flash flooding in the area.

    Our return trip along the trail was uneventful. The rain actually lessened somewhat and even stopped for a brief time as we arrived back at the farmer's stand. My fellow hikers purchased some of the macadamia nuts grown on the property. Then we climbed back into the van and headed off for lunch at the Kepaniwai Heritage Gardens County Park at the entrance to Ia'o Valley.

    About six hours after our departure we...MORE returned to the Ka'anapali Beach Resort area, much wetter than when we departed, but thoroughly satisfied with our experience with Maui Eco-Adventures.

    On the next and final page of this feature we'll give you our tips for hiking in the Waihe'e Valley Rainforest.

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  • 10 of 10

    Tips for Hiking the Waihe'e Valley

    Dam and Swimming Hole - Waihe'e River
    Dam and Swimming Hole - Waihe'e River Valley. Courtesy of Maui Eco-Adventures

    In order to better enjoy your Waihe'e Valley hiking experience, I recommend the following.

    • Bring your camera, but realize that it may get wet if it rains.
    • Bring a rain parka with a hood. You may need this to keep you and your camera dry. If you hike with Maui Eco-Adventures, they will bring lightweight emergency parkas for your use or loan you a heavier rain parka to wear if you want it.
    • Bring a backpack, ideally one that is waterproof. Maui Eco-Adventures will loan you a waist pack for your use, but a backpack is ideal.
    • Wear good hiking shoes, ideally ones that are waterproof. Remember that this is a rainforest and rain is common. The path is rocky and slippery in places. You will also be walking through ankle deep water in several places.
    • Bring plenty of bottled drinking water. Maui Eco-Adventures will provide water for you to carry if you hike with them.
    • Bring insect repellent with DEET. In the heavy rain, we didn't find many mosquitoes, but when it's not raining, they will be...MORE there to greet you.
    • If you have a walking stick bring it also. Retractable ones are available online. You'll find that a good walking stick makes the hike easier, especially on the hike back downhill if the path is slippery.
    • Above all else enjoy yourself and feel proud that you have experienced one of Maui's best ecological experiences.