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

We drop into the original Heritage Trail once again near Punahoa Point, a showcase of dunes formed about 350,000 years ago, making these the oldest in the region. The point is also a perennially popular fishing area. From a shoreline perch, we spot Mahaulepu Beach, our hiking destination and turnaround point, some distance away.

Near the beach we find the maw of Makauwahi Sinkhole, which marks a portion of the largest limestone cave found in Hawai‘i. At the intersection of Mahaulepu Beach and Waiopili Stream are scores of petroglyphs seen only when the sea sweeps away a thick cover of white sand. Sadly, none of the glyph field is visible today.

Unmarked footpaths on Mahaulepu Heritage Trail wind past geological treasures.

According to the Heritage Trail guide, Mahaulepu Beach was named after a battle staged here in the 1300s when Kauai warriors defeated invaders from the Big Island. (Mahaulepu’s literal English translation is “falling together.”) Centuries later, when Kamehameha the Great largely succeeded in uniting the Hawaiian Islands under his rule circa 1795, feisty Kaua‘i and neighboring Niihau continued to resist for another 15 years.

Echoing that stouthearted spirit, a grassroots organization called Malama Mahaulepu has in recent years opposed development plans for this area, essentially the last undeveloped accessible coastal region on Kauai’s south shore.

While exploring quiet Mahaulepu Beach, I kick off my running shoes and stroll along an expanse of wet sand. The waters here can be rough, with strong currents, sharp coral and big swells breaking on the rocks. But today the surf is gentle.

Gazing back toward the trailhead miles away, I'm in awe of nature’s artistry. Malama Mahaulepu refers to this rugged stretch of shoreline as an untamed “living museum” of natural and cultural history.

I hope it remains this way for millennia to come. 

Mahaulepu Heritage Trail
Trail information online at www.hikemahaulepu.org, or by calling (888) 744-0888.

Photos by David Croxford for HAWAII Magazine

(This feature was originally published in the July/August 2013 issue of HAWAII Magazine.)

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