Wednesday, December 8, 2021

Ohai Loop

Kahakuloa Head rises above the northwest Maui coast
1.2 miles loop, 180 feet elevation gain
Difficulty: Easy
Access: Windy paved road to trailhead, no fee required

The Ohai Loop is an easy jaunt to see some beautifully lush coastal scenery on the northwest coast of Maui. Far quieter than most other corners of this well-loved island, you can experience what makes Maui so magical here with far fewer crowds.

There are two ways to reach the Ohai Loop from Kahului. On a map, it might seem that the most straightforward approach is to drive the Kahekili Highway along the northeastern coast of the West Maui Mountains to the Ohai Loop, which lies near the northern point of the island. However, past the turnoff for the Waihee Ridge Trailhead, the Kahehili Highway is one of the narrowest, windiest, and most dangerous paved roads on Maui. While a thrilling and spectacularly beautiful drive, one that I personally enjoyed greatly, the Kahekili Highway is not for most drivers. 

Instead, it is easier to reach this trailhead from Kahului by wrapping around the other side of West Maui, taking Highway 380 south and then joining Highway 30 for Lahaina. Follow Highway 30- the Honoapiilani Highway- around the entire western side of West Maui; the broad highway narrows down and becomes windy after passing Kapalua. The Honoapiilani Highway becomes the Kahekili Highway, although this stretch is not nearly as difficult driving as the stretch near Kahakuloa. The road makes many curves but retains a yellow dividing line all the way to the trailhead. The trailhead pulloff is not marked; you'll have to make note of the exact location beforehand. It is a small pulloff on the ocean side of the road with parking for just a handful of cars; if you're coming from the direction of Kapalua, you'll see a "Falling Rocks" sign immediately before arriving at the pulloff.

Two trails emanate from the trailhead: to the left, an asphalt path and to the right, a dirt trail leading downhill. We started by taking the asphalt path, which led quickly to a dead end, fenced-off viewpoint atop a coastal bluff with great coastal views, especially to the northwest of Nakalele Point, the Maui's northernmost point. Even from a distance, I was able to spot the Nakalele Blowhole erupting at intervals. The steep mountains of Molokai rose beyond Nakalele Point. 

View from the Ohai Trail towards Nakalele Blowhole
After enjoying the viewpoint, we returned to the parking area and took the dirt trail heading east to start the actual hike. Two quick turns brought us to a fork in the trail: we took the left fork, which set us on a clockwise journey through the loop. Hiking the loop clockwise allowed us to experience the close-up ocean views first. The dirt trail descended through fields of ulei and ohai- two of the plants native to the area- as it headed towards the edge of the coastal bluffs. The ulei was blooming with small white flowers, but the ohai- a plant endemic to Hawaii- was not showing off its red pea flowers during our visit. The verdant scene with the deep blue ocean as a backdrop was a balm for my soul.

Ohai Loop
Over the next half mile, the trail followed the coast, rarely venturing out directly to the edge of the basalt cliffs but keeping us close enough to see the ocean and hear the roar of the surf. Massive waves pummeled the raw, rocky coast here in a constant and rhythmic but nevertheless spectacular geological drama. Spur trails led out to more precarious vantage points, from which we could look down to see the white froth of the ocean wash over the black volcanic rock of the island.

Hiking through fields of ulei and ohai on Maui's northwest coast
Waves break against the northwest Maui Coast
The loop began to circle back at a viewpoint where we could see down the coast to magnificent Kahakuloa Head, which is surely the most distinctive landmark on the northwest Maui Coast. 

Kahakuloa Head and the coast from the turnaround point on the loop
On the return leg of the loop, we hiked slightly inland but still had good ocean views. Here, the ulei and ohai grew even denser and at times arched over the trail, creating botanical tunnels that we passed under on our way back to the trailhead. We followed the good dirt tread back to the parking lot to wrap up this short and easy but wonderfully enjoyable hike.

Ulei growing along the Ohai Loop

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