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Walk on the Wild Side: Hiking Kauai's Mahaulepu Heritage Trail



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Tradewinds from the northeast shape the sand dunes on the Mahaulepu Heritage Trail on Kauai.

Climbing onto craggy sand dunes near the dry, southernmost tip of Kauai, I immediately, unexpectedly catch my first glimpse of the reason I’ve set aside an afternoon to come here.

Before me is near-pristine shoreline, winding all the way from the eastern end of Keoneloa Bay, near the resort area of Poipu, to secluded Mahaulepu Beach and beyond to Kawailoa Bay, even more remote.

My view from the top of a rough-textured cliff area called Makawehi Point has the feel of a landscape umpteen millennia in the making. Framed by cloud-streaked, azure skies and seawater partitioned into perhaps a half-dozen shimmering shades of aqua blue, the sun-bleached and wave-eroded lithified ridges of my intended hike, the Mahaulepu Heritage Trail, are starkly stunning.

Makawehi Point, also known as the Paa Ridge, is among several geological points of interest on Mahaulepu Heritage Trail, a series of unmarked footpaths clinging to about three miles of the Garden Isle’s paa (rocky and dry) south shore. The trail has no formal markers so its true mileage is anyone’s guess. But, for me, the guesswork required in wandering this self-guided hike is part of the fun.

As outlined in a guide map produced and distributed by the nonprofit Poipu Beach Foundation, the Heritage Trail begins at Keoneloa Beach, also known as “Shipwrecks Beach.” Decades ago, a fishing vessel is said to have run aground on Keoneloa Bay’s sandbar, stranding it on the beach. Any remaining splintered remnants of the vessel are now lost to sand and sea, but the nickname lingers.

The Heritage Trail’s overall elevation ascent of a mere 150 feet ranks it among the least difficult hikes on the island. When I mention this to my camera-toting companion, he smiles and seems a bit relieved. With or without a backpack filled with heavy photo gear, my friend prefers easygoing ambling.

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