Monday, May 12, 2014

Iao Valley is the beating heart of Maui

Iao (rhymes with "meow") Valley is on the tour bus circuit and most visitors do a quick  trip up a long flight of stairs to blast a few selfies with the famed Iao Needle and then haul ass. But there's lots of stuff around the needle at this state park in the center of Maui—where in 1790 Kamehmeha's forces attacked, killing so many of the local  warriors that the fallen bodies were said to have dammed the Kepaniwai Stream and turned its waters red.

On site is a botanical garden loop trail along the banks of the stream. But the real deal for adventure hikers is to hop the rail at the Iao Needle viewpoint (leaving the park and entering a forest reserve) and taking a well-used, unsigned trail to a ridge just above the needle that has spectacular views of the mountains that frame the park, including the 3,000-foot-tall Wall of Tears. A half-dozen waterfalls adorn the cliff face after rains. The trail continues into the Iao Tablelands—the route taken by the few Maui warriors who survived Kamehameha's onslaught—but it gets tangled in the jungle. Don't plan on making it across the island to Olowalu, like those guys who were running for their lives.

In the valley about a mile before the state park is sweet Kepaniwai Heritage Gardens, a county park that is the best garden picnic place on Maui. A Hawaiian village re-creation, Japanes garden, and Chinese pagoda are surrounded by a variety of palms, banyans, and other towering trees. Other buildings create the styles of Portugal, the Philippines, and New England missionaries, all meant as a tribute to the calabash of cultures that have called Hawaii home.

Nextdoor to the park is the Hawaii Nature Center (museum, guided walks), and nearby is Tropical Gardens of Maui, an underrated botanical garden with a cheap admission. Maui Trailblazer has more details on page 94. (Almost forgot: Kapilau Ridge, a little known hike into the West Maui Mountains, is also very close.)

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