South of Wailea there’s a tall marker at the end of a narrow gravel road. The obelisk stands in honor of a French Naval Officer and explorer, Captain Jean-Francois de La Perouse, the first European to set foot on Maui in 1786. The monument’s sleek sides stand in stark contrast to the tumbled, jet-black lava fields sloping up towards the green lowlands of Haleakela and down to the bright blue sea. Hawaiian’s call the place Keone’o’io. The last lava flow on Maui in 1790 still imprints this wild region at the end of the road in the Maui South Shore area.
Remnants of the most recent lava flow on Maui.
We’d found the inviting bay by accident online while researching for snorkeling spots. From Google satellite images it was easy to make out a series of curling inlets dotted with tiny, bright sand beaches. They looked remote but not too difficult to get to. The morning we ventured south of our hotel, the Fairmont Kea Lani, it was an easy drive past luxurious, manicured neighborhoods full of resorts and private villas to a gravel road that ended at a small parking lot.
Protected La Perouse Bay
Luckily the lot wasn’t full on the morning we arrived but a crowd was building. Rumors are that Spinner dolphins often rest in the bay and Turtles glide through the shallow reefs. We never saw them.
Quickly we tugged our light wetsuits on. On the way into the water over the sharp and uneven rock I was happy for my dive booties but less fortunate swimmers struggled over the sharp rubble.
The bay is part of the Ahihi Kinau Natural Area
protected, nature preserve and several areas were fenced off. I didn’t see anyone harassing fish or trashing the beach. The water was fairly clear and in the shallows bright schools of fish dodged the surges expertly.
Afterwards we wandered away from the crowds and to hike down a thin trail over coral-ruble and lava stone into a spindly forest. The air turned mercifully cooler. A pair of wild goats grazed confidently until we came close, then strolled back into the shadows of overhanging brush.
Wild goat in the forest near La Perouse Bay
I wondered about the low, stacked rock wall that ran along one side of our path. Was it the remnant of an ancient encampment or a temple? My passage slowed as I stooped to pull sharp, spiking thorns out of my flip flops. Perhaps ghosts were watching and disapproved our intrusion? There was a hushed reverence to the place and I felt like a trespasser although no signs prohibited us. We did pass one makeshift memorial with a broken surfboard. That was the only evidence of how wildly dangerous and unpredictable the waters can be there.
Surfboard Memorial, La Perouse BAy
A little further on we ventured closer into the tide pool waters to cool off before our return hike. Lunch and drinks were in order. Along the way back a couple of Food Trucks offered Shaved Ice and BBQ temptations but we ended up at the the Monkey Pod Kitchen
in the Gateway Center close to our hotel. Their cold beer on draft and fresh salads revived us before the next adventure – exploring our hotel resort.
If you go to the Maui South Shore:
- Wailea is the most southern resort area of the popular Kihea Coast.
- The resorts were built in the 1970’s and host some of the most luxurious accommodations on the island.
- The road to La Perouse Bay, Makena Road, narrows to two lanes and becomes gravel past Makena Park and Big Beach.
- The gravel lot at La Perouse Bay has a couple of Porta Potties but no other amenities.
- Bring sunscreen, water and snacks.
- Wear hard or thick soled shoes for hiking across lava rubble and thorn patches.
- Don’t leave valuables in your car.
Next week more about Maui South Shore – Wailea: Luxury at the Fairmont Kea Lani
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