Posted by: kerryl29 | February 24, 2020

Hawaii Day 11: West Maui

Earlier in this series I posted a piece talking about all of the portions of the landscape on the islands I visited that don’t fit the Hawaii stereotype.  To those, add a substantial chunk of West Maui.  West Maui is loosely defined as virtually all of the island contained by the northwest semi-circle evident when you look at a map of Maui, less the Iao Valley.  West Maui was where I planned to spend the bulk of my third full day on the island.

First, I needed a convenient sunrise spot and I decided to check out Papawai Point, conveniently located right off HI-30 and right on the way from Kihei, where I was staying, to the West Maui coastal area beginning north of Lahaina.  The sunrise turned out to be a bit of dud but I made a few images nonetheless and determined that if there was a good sunrise later in the trip, this would be a very good location from which to photograph it, given the 180-degree views, easy access and various compositional choices at hand.

Molokini from Papawai Point at Dawn, Maui, Hawaii

Papawai Point at Dawn, Maui, Hawaii

Papawai Point Black & White, Maui, Hawaii

Papawai Point Morning, Maui, Hawaii

This was shaping up to be a mostly cloudy morning and early afternoon, so I made my way north along the coast, past Ka’anapali to Kapalua, to explore part of the Kapalua Coastal Trail.  Before doing so, however, I visited the nearby area known as Dragon’s Teeth,

Dragon’s Teeth Trail, Makaluapuna Point, Maui, Hawaii

Dragon’s Teeth Trail Black & White, Makaluapuna Point, Maui, Hawaii

This twisted, sculpted lava/rock formation, right on the water, sits on Makaluapuna Point, just past the golf course of one of the expensive Kapalua resorts.  It’s a fascinating place, and another locale for which “that’s Hawaii?” has routinely been incredulously asked of me when displaying these images to others.

The northern trailhead for the Kapalua Coastal Trail is only about a half-mile from the Dragon’s Teeth parking area, so I went there next to do some exploring.  The trail begins on the bluff above Mokuleia Beach and fans out to the west and south for several miles, with numerous side trails that cover some of the oceanside cliffs along the route.  The light wasn’t ideal, but I found numerous compelling locations.

Kapalua Coastal Trail, Maui, Hawaii

Kapalua Coastal Trail, Maui, Hawaii

Lanai from the Kapalua Coastal Trail Black & White, Maui, Hawaii

I didn’t hike the entire length of the trail, but held out the possibility of returning later in the trip, time permitting, to cover more of it in (hopefully) more flattering light.

I made my way farther north along the coast, stopping at a couple of overlooks to make images.

West Maui Ocean Overlook Black & White, Makaluapuna Point, Maui, Hawaii

Finally, I reached the spot that was the jumping off point for a hike to the Nakalele Blowhole.  The hike isn’t really an official trail, but it follows the coast past some crazy rock formations (more on this in a bit) on the way to the blowhole.  It’s possible to make a much shorter hike, from farther up the road, to the blowhole, but then you miss out on this wild part of the West Maui coast.

The guidebook I was using refers to the intermediate area with the rock formations as the “Acid War Zone” (because it appears that someone dumped acid on the rocks in this arid area).

Unnamed Blowhole Black & White, Acid War Zone, Nakalele Blowhole Trail, Maui, Hawaii

The lava formations in this area have been sculpted over the years by the wind, the water and the combination of the two in the form of salt spray, and they are indeed fascinating, more reminiscent of numerous locations in the desert southwest of the continental United States (such as the Bisti Badlands in New Mexico) than anywhere else I’ve been.

Acid War Zone, Nakalele Blowhole Trail, Maui, Hawaii

Acid War Zone Black & White, Nakalele Blowhole Trail, Maui, Hawaii

Acid War Zone, Nakalele Blowhole Trail, Maui, Hawaii

It’s easy to forget where you are…except for the pulsating sounds of the ocean waves crashing against the headlands 50-100 feet behind you.

Ocean Overlook Black & White, Nakalele Blowhole Trail, Maui, Hawaii

Ocean Overlook, Nakalele Blowhole Trail, Maui, Hawaii

Eventually–after perhaps a mile, though it feels farther because some backtracking and serpentine wandering in this area is inevitable–you arrive on a shelf above the Nakalele Blowhole.  It’s a simple matter to climb down to blowhole level.

The blowhole is impressive…even when the tide isn’t super high.  And you can get much, much closer to it than the Spouting Horn on Kauai.

Nakalele Blowhole, Maui, Hawaii

Nakalele Blowhole, Maui, Hawaii

Nakalele Blowhole, Maui, Hawaii

Back on the road I bypassed the access area to the feature known as the Olivine Pools.  The roadside was jammed with cars, so I figured I’d move forward and come back later.  My next stop was at the Ohai Trail, a pleasant, if largely unremarkable 1.5-ish mile loop.

Ohai Trail, Maui, Hawaii

There were several nice displays of wildflowers along the trail.

Ohai Trail, Maui, Hawaii

Ohai Trail, Maui, Hawaii

There were also some nice overlooks along the way.

Ohai Trail, Maui, Hawaii

Next on the agenda was what I termed the Mushroom Rock Trail.  Mushroom Rock is a formation on a promontory above the ocean, situated on a wild part of the coast, where large waves beat up on the shoreline incessantly.  The trail, such as it is, navigates a rock strewn bluff, and it requires a careful traversing of a steep hillside to approach Mushroom Rock directly.  It’s not a particularly difficult walk, but it does require some care.  There are numerous coastal views along the way.

Coastal Overlook Black & White Mushroom Rock Trail, Maui, Hawaii

Coastal Overlook, Mushroom Rock Trail, Maui, Hawaii

Coastal Overlook Black & White Mushroom Rock Trail, Maui, Hawaii

Mushroom Rock Trail Black & White, Maui, Hawaii

Mushroom Rock, Mushroom Rock Trail, Maui, Hawaii

Mushroom Rock, Mushroom Rock Trail, Maui, Hawaii

Mushroom Rock, Mushroom Rock Trail, Maui, Hawaii

It was late afternoon at this point and I returned to the Olivine Pools area and, sure enough, there were far fewer vehicles parked on the road near the trailhead, so I stopped and made the hike down to the water.  The Olivine Pools are a kind of natural ocean-water swimming pool. formed by lava flows.  High tides and big waves wash into the pools regularly, cleansing and replenishing them.  People like to frolic and swim in the pools, though doing so during rough seas is extremely dangerous.  If a wave washes over the adjoining natural breakwater anyone in the pools will be tossed around by the force of the water, which could cause injury, possibly serious.  In high seas, the possibility of being swept over the breakwater into the open ocean is a very real threat.  People have, in fact, been injured and a few have been killed at this site.

I didn’t get in the pools myself or, for that matter, get particularly close to the breakwater.  I surveyed the scene from well up on the bluff above this area before descending carefully to water level.  There were about a half a dozen people in the pools when I was there and another few milling about the periphery (some of them shockingly close, in my estimation, to the breakwater itself and a few of them actually climbing on the perimeter lava wall).  The tide was out and the surf wasn’t incredibly high, but I was still amazed how cavalier many of the people at the site were.  There were, in fact, some big waves and, before I vacated the scene, I saw a couple of waves breech the breakwater.

When I was up on the bluff, I didn’t regard the swimming pools to be of particular photographic interest.  And when I descended all the way down to water level I lost any interest I might have had in photographing the swimming pools, captivated as I was by some of the other features I discovered, such as the boulder-filled cave/pool I found…

Olivne Pools, Maui, Hawaii

…and the smooth crevice filled with rounded rocks…

Olivne Pools Intimate Black & White, Maui, Hawaii

Olivne Pools Intimate, Maui, Hawaii

Olivne Pools, Maui, Hawaii

Olivne Pools Black & White, Maui, Hawaii

It 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 another location before losing the light, so I returned to this spot for the third time in the last four evenings.  I think it went pretty well…

Palm Evening, Polo Beach, Maui, Hawaii

Palm Evening, Polo Beach, Maui, Hawaii

Polo Beach at Sunset, Maui, Hawaii

Polo Beach at Sunset, Maui, Hawaii

Polo Beach at Sunset, Maui, Hawaii

Sunset Sail, Polo Beach, Maui, Hawaii

Polo Beach at Sunset, Maui, Hawaii

Polo Beach at Sunset, Maui, Hawaii

Polo Beach at Sunset, Maui, Hawaii

West Maui Mountain at Sunset from Wailea Point, Maui, Hawaii


  1. The diversity in the landscape is amazing. As I’ve said before, your images and descriptions have given me a whole new perspective of Hawaii. The “rock nests” at Olivne Pools are definitely hidden gems probably overlooked by many. The sunset at Polo Beach is more what I expect to see.

    • Yes, I’ve tried to make this very point repeatedly throughout this chronology: there’s so much more to photographing Hawaii than beaches and palm trees…though there are plenty of great beach and palm tree opportunities. And, in addition to what’s already been posted in earlier entries (and this one), there’s plenty more evidence of this yet to come. Wait until I post the images from Haleakala Crater, for instance…

  2. Absolutely stunning – love the dawn and sunset colors!

    • Thanks very much!

  3. Kerry, the texture and grit in some of these landscapes are fascinating – your photos seem like they were taken in the beginning of the earth. The islands continually remake themselves, I think – you continue to share a new viewpoint of Hawaii.

    • Thanks, Lynn. Truth is, there are many, many places on both Maui and Kauai (and other Hawaiian islands) that don’t come close to fitting the Hawaii stereotype. On Maui, for instance…the lush areas I visited were pretty much limited to the Iao Valley and the locations along the Hana Highway, on the eastern part of the island. Areas abutting many of the resorts have been manicured (and irrigated) into a kind of faux lushness, but most of the rest of the island is actually fairly arid, and given that there’s access to the Upcountry and Haleakala Crater, it’s pretty easy to experience these “atypical” locales.

      In short, Hawaii is a terrific location for photography, with the caveats of cost and tourist crowds. The first can be dealt with to a degree, the second makes it a lot like visiting a place like Yosemite.

  4. Interesting how dramatic all those volcanic rocks look. I would love to visit Hawaii!

    • I hope you have the chance to do just that.

  5. […] post covers my time at Papawai Point, a spot I originally visited on Day 11.  The sunrise fizzled that morning, but the location’s potential was beyond doubt.  If only […]

  6. […] to Kapalua, and spent more time on the trail that I’d only had a short opportunity to explore several days prior.  This time I spent several hours poking around, and covered a couple of miles of the rugged […]

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