Where in Hawaii can a sunrise stroll take you past five white sand beaches, eight world-class resorts and, weather and season permitting, shoreline views of breaching humpback whales, sea turtles and four islands in just a mile and a half?
The answer is the Wailea Coastal Walk along Maui’s famed, sun-kissed south shore resort area.
Can’t wake up for the sunrise? The Wailea Coastal Walk is also one of the best spots in the Islands to bury your toes in the sand and catch one of Hawaii’s world famous sunsets.
One morning, clear and splendid as only a Maui morning can be, I was strolling the Wailea Coastal Walk, when I spotted Sports Illustrated shooting models in bikinis on the beach for their annual Swimsuit Issue. The shoot required a crew of 14. It was, as photo shoots often are, slow, repetitive work, with the models changing swimsuits in a giant, gray pop-up tube.
I can’t promise you swimsuit models—but the real, enduring beauty here is the mile-and-a-half Wailea Coastal Walk itself. The paved path takes you past five crescent-shaped beaches. It offers stunning views of four islands: West Maui, Lanai, Kahoolawe and Molokini (the small, partially sunken volcanic crater between Maui and Kahoolawe). The waters along the walk teem with sea life. It’s easy to spot honu (sea turtles). In season, this is an ideal spot to see humpback whales.
Best of all, the coastal walk is free and easily accessible to the public.
Wailea Resort was developed in the ‘70s. Unlike Waikiki, which just sort of grew, Wailea had a master plan. That plan included a coastal path running from popular Keawakapu Beach in the north, past eight resorts and condos, to Polo Beach in the south.
Each resort was responsible for building and maintaining its own section of the path—but not only for guests. The idea was to provide beach access for all. Along this mile and a half, there are five public beach access areas. All have parking and showers; three also have restrooms, barbecue facilities and picnic areas.
You can use this path to get from one of the Wailea resorts to another. Many people walk to and from dinner in the evening. In the morning, the path is full of joggers. I once spotted actor Eddie Murphy running down the path backwards, shadow-boxing.
Easily accessible parking can be found at a free beach parking lot just south of the Grand Wailea resort, and a county park with parking lot and facilities at the south end of the beachwalk.
To me, the best use of the path is strolling. If you start from the Keawakapu end, the path is sand. It traverses a dune here, and it’s illegal on Maui to pave a dune. By the time you reach the Renaissance Wailea Resort, the path is a boardwalk. From then on, the path is paved, with a few small bridges to make getting around easier.
The walk eventually climbs Wailea Point—the most interesting part of the journey. The heights make this a perfect whale-watching spot in season (November through May). The area’s been planted in native vegetation, the kind that thrives seaside. There’s even the ruin of an ancient Hawaiian homestead.
Imagine it in your mind’s eye: On the one side, you have the manicured grounds of a condominium, on the other, the blue Pacific beating on rugged lava shore. You’re out in nature—vast sky, native greenery, islands, some of the most beautiful coastline on the planet.
Yet, all along the walk, you are just steps from civilization—any time you want a drink, a cup of coffee or something to eat, you can stop at a beach concession or hotel restaurant.
(This article was originally published in the January/February 2010 issue of HAWAII Magazine.)
Photos: Ryan Siphers