Posted by: kerryl29 | February 18, 2020

Hawaii Day 10: The Kipahulu District

As I detailed in the second installment chronicling Day 9 of my trip to Hawaii last year, by the time I reached the Kipahulu District of Haleakala National Park, on the far western edge of the Hana Highway, it was well into the afternoon, the parking lot was jammed and it was too late to spend any meaningful time there.  But I did want to explore the area–the ‘Ohe’o Gulch (a.k.a. the “Seven Sacred Pools”) and the Pipiwai Trail, in particular–so I knew I would be back at some point during my time on Maui.  As a function of the weather forecast, it turned out that the very next day was the best time to return, so that’s what I did.

Given the location of the Kipahulu District relative to the rest of the Hana Highway, it’s pretty enticing to approach it from the west, rather than doing that I had done the previous day.  As I noted in the first installment covering Day 9, I made the clockwise drive; heading from south Kihei, I photographed sunrise at Ho’okipa Lookout and then continued the long drive to the east and south.  This made sense given that I wanted to explore all of these areas of the Hana Highway.  But, since I wanted to reach Kipahulu as quickly as possible on Day 10, I had to question whether it made sense to approach the area from the north.  The drive from Kihei to Kipahulu would, I guessed, take something like three hours and it would mean negotiating move than 50 miles of the winding, blind curve strewn, one-lane bridge laden Hana Highway.  Didn’t it make sense to approach it from the other direction?

The answer was maybe,  There is a road that accesses the area from the west, but to get to it from Kihei you still have to drive all the way to Kahalui, then head to Muai’s Upcountry area via HI-37 and then drive through the barren, deserted region of southwest Maui on the somewhat sketchy Pillani Highway (a Maui County road).  At first glance, it seems like little to choose from.  The northern route–the one I took on Day 9–is 73 miles.  The Upcountry route is 65 or so.  But the second option is estimated to shave more than a half an hour off the trip.  Besides, I hadn’t seen this area before.  So, the Upcountry route it was.  I figured I’d leave in the predawn darkness and would find a place to shoot sunrise along the way.  Maybe.

I drove for about an hour and was beginning my descent from the Upcountry area of Maui into the unpopulated southwest nether regions of the island when day began to break.  I was on a very, very lightly traveled two-lane road at this point but couldn’t find anywhere to pull over until I saw a sign for Sun Yat-Sen Memorial Park.  You may well be wondering why there is a park on Maui dedicated to the memory of Sun Yat-Sen.  I know I was.  Dr, Sun Yat-Sen (yes, he was a physician) was a key leader in the early 20th Century Chinese democracy movement–the first leader of the republic that was established after the overthrow of the Qing Dynasty in 1912.  I knew all that.  But what has that to do with Hawaii?  Turns out that his brother had a home on Maui and, for parts of 31 years, Sun Yat-Sen lived there.  That part I hadn’t known, but it explains the motivation for the park, which was founded in this relatively obscure portion of Maui’s Upcountry in 1989.

The park was completely deserted–save for a fairly noisy group of feral chickens–when I arrived.  Since the light was changing by the minute, I hustled.  I found a spot with a view overlooking the islands of Molokini (the small semi-circle) and Kaho’olawe (the much larger island in the background), and made a couple of images.

Kaho’olawe at Daybreak from Sun Yat Sen Park, Maui, Hawaii

Back on the road, I continued to descend toward sea level and the road began to deteriorate a bit.  I was driving through a barren area that is about as uncharacteristic of the Hawaiian stereotype as could be imagined.  In addition to the arid, rocky landscape–this is the south side of Haleakala Crater–I passed the occasional herd of feral goats, with virtually no signs of human existence other than the winding, bumpy road itself.  If not for views of the ocean off to my right, I would have sworn I was in New Mexico or Arizona.

There was a haunting beauty to this landscape and, eventually, I was inspired to pull off the road and capture some of what I was seeing in the diffused light of morning.

South Side of Haleakala, Maui, Hawaii

South Side of Haleakala, Maui, Hawaii

As I continued to journey east, the road deteriorated further, to the point where the pavement ultimately disappeared altogether.  I was now on a rather poorly maintained unpaved road.  Now I understood why practically no one comes this way.  As I got closer and closer to the Kipahulu District, the road got worse and worse.  It never reached the point where I was concerned that I couldn’t make it through, but I had to slow to a crawl not infrequently, dodging bumps and potholes.  In an earlier installment I talked about the reputation that the old Hana Highway had (and to some degree still has), based on horrible maintenance.  The part of the Pillani Highway that I was now on reminded me an awful lot of that old Hana Highway.

After passing some fascinating locations (including a huge, rocky black sand/boulder beach) that I regretfully didn’t have time to investigate closely, the road improved again (it was now paved and decently maintained), and I arrived at the entrance to the Kipahulu District of Haleakala National Park.  It was still quite early in the morning–long before the tourist crowd would arrive en masse–so the parking lot was almost empty.  The entrance station was manned; I paid my fee and the park ranger told me that the ‘O’heo Gulch pools were closed to bathing today.  No problem, I thought.  Good, in fact, because bathers would just get in the way of my photography.  I wasn’t interested in going in the water myself.  I hustled to a parking spot, slathered myself with sunscreen, even though it was still mostly cloudy, and quickly hit the relatively short ‘O’heo Gulch Trail.  After winding my way through forest for about 1/3 of a mile I reached the gulch’s cliff side.

‘O’heo Gulch is quite a sight and I couldn’t wait to make a close exploration of the area.  But I quickly discovered that “closed to bathing” really meant closed to everyone.  You could look at the gulch, and its pools, from up on the trail, but you weren’t allowed to descend to water level.  That was disappointing.  But I decided to try and make the best of it.

‘Ohe’o Gulch, Koloa Point Trail, Kipahulu District, Haleakala National Park, Maui, Hawaii

‘O’heo Gulch is where a high country stream, one that emanates from far up the Haleakala mountainside, empties directly into the ocean.  It does so as a series of waterfalls and cascades before accessing a black sand beach and then, the Pacific itself.

‘Ohe’o Gulch, Koloa Point Trail, Kipahulu District, Haleakala National Park, Maui, Hawaii

I think you can see fairly readily why I was disappointed in the inability to descend to water level.

‘Ohe’o Gulch, Koloa Point Trail, Kipahulu District, Haleakala National Park, Maui, Hawaii

The bridge you see in the above image carries the Hana Highway itself.

‘Ohe’o Gulch, Koloa Point Trail, Kipahulu District, Haleakala National Park, Maui, Hawaii

The confluence of the stream and ocean can be seen in the image below.

‘Ohe’o Gulch Convergence, Koloa Point Trail, Kipahulu District, Haleakala National Park, Maui, Hawaii

The trail, which probably doesn’t run more than about 3/4 of a mile all told, loops around through a forest, higher up in the gulch.

‘Ohe’o Gulch, Koloa Point Trail, Kipahulu District, Haleakala National Park, Maui, Hawaii

Before I knew it, I was back to the parking lot and preparing to take on the Pipiwai Trail.  This trail runs for about two miles along the stream and terminates at the 400-foot Waimoku Falls.  Along the way, another tall waterfall is passed, the hiker has numerous views of the stream and passes through an extensive bamboo forest.  The trail isn’t very steep or particularly long, so what you mainly have to deal with is the heat and humidity, both of which are considerable.  The trail itself is notoriously crowded, though by getting a relatively early start I beat the worst of the crowds.  When I was on my way back, things were beginning to get a bit out of hand.

In any case, the first attraction along the trail is Makahiku Falls, about half a mile up the trail.  it’s a very impressive waterfall (a 200-foot tall gusher), but the photographic options are extremely limited, as all you’ve got is an overlook view.

Makahiku Falls, Pipawai Trail, Kipahulu District, Haleakala National Park, Maii, Hawaii

There are plenty of options to access and photograph the creek itself and its unnamed smaller waterfalls, if you’re so inclined.  I did a bit of this myself.

Pipawai Trail, Kipahulu District, Haleakala National Park, Maii, Hawaii

Pipawai Trail, Kipahulu District, Haleakala National Park, Maii, Hawaii

Then comes the bamboo forest.  If you haven’t been through one–particularly one this thick–you’re in for quite an experience.

Bamboo Forest, Pipawai Trail, Kipahulu District, Haleakala National Park, Maii, Hawaii

Bamboo Forest Black & White, Pipawai Trail, Kipahulu District, Haleakala National Park, Maii, Hawaii

Bamboo Forest, Pipawai Trail, Kipahulu District, Haleakala National Park, Maii, Hawaii

Shortly after emerging from the bamboo forest, you begin to hear Waimoku Falls before you see it.  Eventually, however, it comes into view.

Waimoku Falls, Pipawai Trail, Kipahulu District, Haleakala National Park, Maii, Hawaii

The stream has to be crossed a couple of times and that’s either relatively easy or fairly difficult, depending on water flow.  I was able to scramble my way across fairly easily.  The last crossing puts you smack in front of the waterfall.  The spray is so intense–it reminded me of what it was like getting close to Bridalveil Falls, or Lower Yosemite Falls, in Yosemite National Park–it’s impossible to photograph from this spot without water droplets getting all over your lens.

So, I retreated behind the first crossing, found a spot right along the creek and went to work.

Waimoku Falls, Pipawai Trail, Kipahulu District, Haleakala National Park, Maii, Hawaii

Waimoku Falls, Pipawai Trail, Kipahulu District, Haleakala National Park, Maii, Hawaii

And then, I had something of an eye-opening experience.  I was standing astride the stream, with one tripod leg in a couple of inches of water, and made the image you see below.

Waimoku Falls, Pipawai Trail, Kipahulu District, Haleakala National Park, Maii, Hawaii

I then adjusted my position slightly, with one tripod leg still in the water.  I was looking down–messing with the controls on the camera or adjusting the tripod, I don’t recall exactly–when I heard what sounded something like a crash, in the direction of the falls.  I looked up, somewhat startled, but didn’t see anything noteworthy.  Then made the image you see below.

Waimoku Falls, Pipawai Trail, Kipahulu District, Haleakala National Park, Maii, Hawaii

No change, right?  Look again.  Take a look at the waterfall.  Can you see how much more water is coursing through it?  The “crash” I heard was a wall of water firing down the cliffside.  In a matter of seconds–less than 10 certainly–I noticed the creek itself start to rise.  Suddenly, that tripod leg that was in two inches of water was in something more like 10 inches of water.  I quickly pulled my tripod out of the creek and myself a couple of steps back from the creekside itself, which was now lapping against my feet (I had been at least a foot clear of the water previously).  And the water in the creek itself had turned a chocolatey brown color.

What clearly had happened was that a flash flood, somewhere upstream on the mountain, out of sight, had taken place and I was now seeing the effects.  The creek itself was still rising, right in front of my eyes.  All of this had taken place in a near blink of an eye.  I remembered that I still had to cross the creek one more time just to get back to the main section of the trail, and I very quickly got my things together and reached the creek crossing.  What had been a simple matter to clear the creek earlier was now going to be a lot more difficult as the water level was much, much higher now.  Rocks that had been high and dry and easily accessible were now wet or completely submerged in the creek.  And this was all taking place as the trail had become much more crowded than it had been earlier in the day.  People were trying to cross the stream in the opposite direction, and struggling to do so.

I managed to cross the stream without incident and, once safely on the far bank, took a couple of parting long lens shots of the falls.

Waimoku Falls Sectional, Pipawai Trail, Kipahulu District, Haleakala National Park, Maii, Hawaii

On the way down, I stopped at an impressive ancient banyan tree that had caught my eye on the hike in.

Banyan Tree, Pipawai Trail, Kipahulu District, Haleakala National Park, Maii, Hawaii

On the hike back to the trailhead I noticed that the stream was running much move heavily than it had on the way up and, again, was a deep brown as all the extra flow dragged an immeasurable amount of topsoil along with it.

When I got back to the parking area, I made a detour to the park’s visitor’s center where I buttonholed a ranger.  This gentleman, a native Hawaiian who had been working as a ranger for the National Park Service for more than 15 years, proved to be a font of information.  I told him about my experience up at the falls and he asked me several pointed questions about the conditions I’d observed.  After absorbing my answers he shook his head and said, “see, this is why we close the pools so often.  We’re routinely criticized for being ‘overprotective,’ but the truth is these kinds of events happen essentially without warning.  We get a forecast about an upstream downpour, but we’re never sure exactly when it’s going to happen, if it’s going to happen at all.  But if if does, the effects are going to be felt before we can do anything about them.”

He was right.  The guidebook that I was using on this trip had an entire section railing on the park service for closing certain areas–including the ‘Ohe’o Gulch pools–far too frequently and gratuitously.  But I’d had a first hand glance as to why the claims of cavalier behavior on the part of the park service might be a bit overwrought.

It was mid-afternoon and sunny by the time I finished the hike and I decided not to try to photograph along the Hana Highway, given how crowded things were and given that the sunny skies weren’t flattering to the waterfalls.  Instead, rather than retracing my steps on the awful part of the Pillani Highway, I decided to take the Hana Highway north and exit the area that way.  I got back to Kihei late in the afternoon and decided to spend the rest of the daylight hours photographing along the same section of coastline as I had on Day 8:  Wailea Point.  I was now familiar with the location and, having been sidetracked the previous visit by the discovery that my ultrawide angle lens was on the fritz, I was anxious to get back there and perhaps cover some of the ground I had missed.

The light was already very nice when I arrived.

 

Wailea Point Evening, Maui, Hawaii

Wailea Point Evening, Maui, Hawaii

It was during this shoot that I discovered yet another equipment problem.  While my workhorse 24-70/2.8 lens was fully functional, the rubber grip on the zoom part of the lens was loose and coming off.  Great.  I knew that I’d have to be very careful with the lens for the rest of the trip–another 4-5 days–because if this lens stopped functioning my photography would be at an end.

I tried to put the new lens problem out of my mind and not have it ruin another evening of shooting.

Wailea Point Evening, Maui, Hawaii

Wailea Point Evening, Maui, Hawaii

Wailea Point at Sunset, Maui, Hawaii

As the sun kissed the western horizon, I made it down to the sand at Polo Beach, at the southern end of the Wailea Point pedestrian walkway.  This is where I spent the remainder of my time on this evening.

Polo Beach at Sunset, Maii, Hawaii

Polo Beach at Sunset, Maii, Hawaii

Polo Beach at Sunset, Maii, Hawaii

Polo Beach at Sunset, Maii, Hawaii

Polo Beach at Sunset, Maii, Hawaii

Polo Beach at Sunset, Maii, Hawaii

Polo Beach at Sunset, Maii, Hawaii

In time, the scene moved into the blue hour…

Polo Beach at Sunset, Maii, Hawaii

Polo Beach at Dusk, Maii, Hawaii

…and ultimately all of the light was gone.  Fortunately the walkway was lit and I was able to make my way, roughly a mile and-a-half, back to where I had parked.  It had been another long day in a series of them.  Day 11 would be no different.


Responses

  1. These photos are stunning in their beauty and light. My friend is in Maui presently and I am feeling some envy as the wind chill here dips to -40

    • Thanks, Jane!/

      I think you have a right to feel envious…those wind chills are no picnic. (Of course I say this from the warmth of south Texas….)

  2. I traveled the Hana Highway almost 30 years ago and I still remember the beautiful pools and waterfalls along the way. Your pictures are lovely! 🙂

    • Thanks very much!

      Prior to last September, my only experience with what is now known as the Hana Highway (it was “the road to Hana” previously) was roughly 40 years ago. It’s changed a lot since then, but still retains its quintessential Hawaiian beauty.

  3. Kerry, it is so fascinating to see your photos and your amazing eye in a tropical environment. The skies seem to have a beautiful creamy quality – did you find the ambient reflection of light from the ocean a factor when you were shooting? The path through the bamboo forest – pure mystery and beauty. I feel as if I have seen a very different Hawaii than the expected through your eyes. As always, thank you for sharing these amazing journeys.

    • Thanks, Lynn.

      In an attempt to answer your question, I want to make a couple of antecedent points. First, most of my oceanside shooting in Hawaii was done at or near the edges of the day. And second, I quite literally saw almost no instances of cloudless, or nearly cloudless, skies. There was one day on Kauai that was, mid-day, pretty close to cloudless, but that day started with a downpour and ended with partly cloudy skies. I was there for two full weeks and literally never saw a true blue-sky day.

      Reflected light–off the water and off the clouds–was absolutely a factor during numerous sessions while I was in Hawaii. Some of the most obvious examples of this, I think, are demonstrated in the evening images from Kekaha Beach and sunrise images from Kealia Beach. If you have a moment, take a look at these photos, if you haven’t seen them already, and let me know if what I’m saying makes sense.

  4. […] was a fairly long drive back to Kihei and it was rapidly approaching sunset when I arrived at the now-familiar Wailea Point area–Polo Beach, specifically.  Late as it was, I didn’t have time to check out […]

  5. […] was a fairly long drive back to Kihei and it was rapidly approaching sunset when I arrived at the now-familiar Wailea Point area–Polo Beach, specifically.  Late as it was, I didn’t have time to check out […]

  6. […] to do.  I wanted to check out the coastal area of Maui south of where I had already explored in Wailea,  so I headed in that direction–south from Wailuku.  But, just shy of Kihei, on HI-310, I […]

  7. […] beaches, I stumbled across a large herd of feral goats.  I’d seen some feral goats back on Day 10, on the way to the Kipahulu District of Haleakala National Park, but hadn’t had the […]


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