The south coast of Maui doesn't seem like Maui at all: For about 25 miles, Highway 31 rolls and twists through an arid seascape, punctuated by bouldered beaches, a sea arch, side canyons filled with birdsong, ancient ruins. Very few people and no buildings at all. Don't come looking for brunch. Though the above photo shows a pockmarked section near Huankini Bay, much of the road is smoothly paved and the new concrete bridges are state-of-the-art.
In Manawainui Gulch are centuries-old fishing heaius (temples). From here, a rugged section of the ancient King's Trail hugs the coast for 8 miles, heading toward La Perouse Bay. Just before reaching the gulch is the holy grail for adventure seekers: a scramble through catci and brush to the mysterious Menehune Footprints, where small bare soles are imprinted in smooth lava. This site is called "New Tahiti," since its hills were guiding landmarks for the first Polynesian argonauts.
That the south coast was once heavily peopled is evidenced by the petroglyphs at Nu'u Bay.
Some of the walls in the area are ancient, while others date from more recent (but still old) ranching history. When the ocean conditions are tame, the Nu'u Landing, a rough ramp into an inlet from a lava point, serves up some of the best snorkeling on Maui.
St. Joseph Church has stood since 1862—with Haleakala (hidden by clouds in this pic) rising to 10,000 feet a few miles inland. Much of the south coast was included in an expansion of Haleakala National Park. Just down the road is the quirky Kaupo Store, which is open 24/7, except when it's not, a policy that dates from 1925. Near the store is the Kaupo Trail: climb 5,500 feet over 14 miles into Haleakala crater.
Most people see the Kaupo coast (if at all) as the homeward leg of a clockwise journey from the Hana Highway—though a few miles of this connection are iffy at times due to narrow sections and rockslides. For adventure seekers who want to spend the day here, Maui Trailblazer devotes five chapters.