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 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.
Walk up the road and you will see a small enclosed stand on your 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 for tourists and even less 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.
On each side of the well-defined path, you'll find a seemingly endless variety of tropical ferns, trees, and vines. Enjoy magnificent banyan trees, kukui nut trees, and swamp mahogany trees.
You'll see fruit trees bearing Brazilian peppers, guava, java plums and mangos as well as lilikoi, morning glory vines, and ginger plants.
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.
Wailuku Agribusiness Irrigation Ditch
As you proceed along the trail, you'll notice 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 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.
This hike through Waihe'e Valley is often referred to as the "Swinging Bridges" hike. A little over a mile along the path, you'll come to the first of two plank-and-cable bridges that you 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.
The second 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. Be extra careful.
Waterfall Over the Kanoa Ridge
After the second bridge, the path meanders along the west bank of the Waihe'e River.
Less than a half-mile past the second bridge the path stops at the river's edge.
You can look up into the mountains to see a waterfall in the distance that drops hundreds of feet to the valley below.
From there, in order to reach the swimming hole, you will need to cross the river both here and again in the opposite direction a bit further upstream. If the water level is high or flowing quickly, proceed with extreme caution or turn back around.
Tips for Hiking
In order to better enjoy your Waihe'e Valley hiking experience, we 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.
- Bring a backpack, ideally one that is waterproof.
- 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.
- Bring insect repellent with DEET.
- If you have a walking stick, bring it. 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.