On the King’s Trail (VIDEOS)

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Kings Highway - Daniel Sullivan Photography
The trail rewards those who brave the hike with less-well-known views of Haleakalā’s windswept landscape.

That’s because, in 1830, the governor of Maui, Hoapili, rebuilt this section, widening it to accommodate horses, which had arrived with the Europeans. Historians speculate that there might have been concern over ‘ili‘ili stones causing the horses to slip; instead, Hoapili had the trail marked with impressive lava-rock curbs. Accounts from early missionaries suggest that, when patches of pili grass were laid on the trail, the ground was soft and wide enough for horses to canter by moonlight. Today those rocks tear sneakers to shreds — which is why I’m wearing my hiking boots.

In his 1851 book, Life in the Sandwich Islands, the Reverend Henry T. Cheever called Hoapili’s trail “the noblest and best Hawaiian work of internal improvement I have anywhere seen . . . it is as great a work for Hawaiians, as digging the Erie Canal to Americans.” Retired Maui forester Bob Hobdy, who has studied the area in depth, calls it “awesome engineering.” I, too, admire the curbs and the perfectly parallel lines, but as I hike, I think of the hands that placed these stones — and their toil beneath the hot sun.

Shade is a rare and fickle companion in this desolate moonscape, which Rev. Cheever labeled “a chaos of blackened lava.” This stretch is where Sullivan ran out of water, and was forced to hike inland up to the highway to flag down a car for help. He told me he’d brought two Camelbaks of water, so I’d brought enough to fill three.

Even though I’d started before sunrise — as Sullivan did when hiking — the midday sun now shines overhead, and the thought of lifting jagged rocks seems like cruel and unusual punishment.


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