Early one morning we drove to the top of the mountain to watch the sun come up over the crater. We passed the sleeping towns of Wailuku, the county seat, and Kahului, the island’s port and chief air terminal, cut through rural avenues lined with cane and pineapple, then switch backed up the dark mountainside through cattle pastures and eucalyptus groves. The road narrowed to eight feet before we finally passed timber line and reached Kalahaku Overlook at 9,324 feet.
And overlook is the right word: Below the restraining rail the crater wall dropped with frightening suddenness into a black abyss whose boundaries we could not see. Only the wind broke the stillness, a chill wind that kept us huddling in our warmest clothes, remembering ruefully the balmy seashore temperatures we had left below. Beneath us a majestic sea of clouds sur-rounded the mountain to the north and east. Warm, moist clouds often pile up against Maui’s windward slopes, dropping as much as 400 inches of rain a year in places.
With the coming of daylight—as pinks turned to yellow and gold and overwhelmed the purple shadows—Haleakala’s full dimensions spread before us. On the floor half a mile below, a black river of hardened lava and a dozen or so huge cinder cones—red and brown and black—gave evidence of volcanic eruptions since the present crater was carved out by water. Nearly seven miles away rose the steep wall of Paliku, the pali (cliff) that encloses the crater on the east.
At the crater’s southwest corner and just under its summit (10,023 feet), we found a gathering of gleaming white domes that seemed strangely out of place in this austere, lifeless world from payday loans online. They are observatories, taking advantage of Haleakala’s clear, rarefied atmosphere. Collectively known as “Science City,” they carry on research for the University of Hawaii, the U. S. Department of Defense, the Smithsonian Institution, and other agencies.
By day a handful of men at Science City study the constantly changing face of the sun. At night other men monitor the passage of missiles and satellites, and photograph infrared emissions from the stars.
Two well-marked trails enter the crater: Halemauu Trail, a series of steep switch¬backs best descended on horseback, and Keoneheehee (Sliding Sands) Trail, a longer but gentler route.
We opted for Sliding Sands, and in the company of Larry Guth, one of the rangers for Haleakala National Park, began a two-day trek through the crater.
The trail is well named. For several miles it loops across a broad, smooth slope of cinder and ash. Shoes grip with difficulty. Larry told us of a couple who left the trail, in violation of park rules. “They slipped and there was nothing to stop them. When their long slide ended, one was dead and the other badly injured.”
Silence Mantles a Lifeless Realm
An unearthly silence settled over us shortly after we began our descent. No sound of plane or machine filled the thin air, no voice of man or animal, no insect hum. On this barren slope, neither tree nor shrub nor grass rustled in the breeze. Just dead silence, a disquieting ab¬sence of the everyday noises with which man always lives. Only the scuff and crunch of our boots on the cindery path brought us back to reality.
It was the House of the Sun we had en¬tered, but the sterile wasteland of fragmented lava, dotted with rock and boulder, seemed more lunar than solar. “I felt like the Last Man, neglected of the judgment, and left pinnacled in mid-heaven, a forgotten relic of a vanished world,” wrote Mark Twain in Roughing It after first looking into Haleakala. His words seemed especially appropriate at this point.
At length we reached the bottom. By now we were finding vegetation: bunch grass, bracken fern, an orange-berried shrub called pilo, and a heatherlike evergreen, called puki¬awe, with red and white berries.
But most exciting was an occasional glimpse of the silversword, a spectacular plant found nowhere in the world except on the arid vol¬canic heights of Maui and Hawaii (page 540).
A member of the sunflower family (although superficially there is not the slightest resemblance), this silvery globe displays a hundred or more thick spiky leaves densely covered with silky down. After growing for as long as 20 years, the plant produces a tall stalk with scores of purplish blooms, then dies.
Once abundant, the silversword has been all but exterminated by wild goats, cattle, and thoughtless souvenir hunters. Today it is pro¬tected and slowly making a comeback.
After a brief lunch of apples, cheese, and raisins at Kapalaoa Cabin, one of several shelters maintained by the Park Service, we moved on through a sea of coarse cinders and clinkers where Pele, the goddess of volcanoes, seemed to have emptied a thousand ash bar¬rels. Waist-high ferns almost blocked the trail at times. We passed a rare sandalwood tree, heavily festooned with moss.
Suddenly Larry stopped and held up his hand. “Listen. You can hear the nene.”
Sure enough, three Hawaiian geese—grey birds with striped throats and black caps—were honking at us no more than a hundred feet from the trail—the first animal life we had spotted (page 541).
“The nene is like the silversword,” Larry said; “it exists naturally only on the islands of Maui and Hawaii. It was once extinct on Maui, but in 1962 the. Park Service brought a few birds from the other island. So far, no goslings have lived, and the nene’s future here is uncertain—more the pity, since it is Hawaii’s state bird.”*
Part of the nene’s undoing is the mongoose, a weasel-shaped animal imported into the is¬lands in 1883 to kill rats on the plantations. The mongoose preys on birds’ eggs. Ironically, it is ineffective as a rat fighter—the mongoose hunts by day, but the rat is nocturnal.
Goats Pose a Threat to Island Park
Throughout the day we had seen clouds flowing through the two gaps and hanging in tendrils from the palis to the north and east. Now, as we rounded Oili Puu, last of the cinder cones, mist dampened our faces. Rain threatened ahead. We stopped under a mamane, a small shrublike tree with tiny leaflets, to empty the sand from our shoes.”Notice the tree’s umbrella shape,” Larry said. “Goats have stripped it as far as they can reach. That’s a sure sign of overbrowsing.”
We had heard the bleating of goats from the cliffs, though we had not been able to see them. But a few moments later, a black-haired billy and his harem of five brown nannies scampered across our trail. These handsome animals, possibly descendants of the goats originally introduced by Captain Cook, run wild on the mountain. Many slopes show severe erosion because goats have chewed vegetation to the roots. By controlled hunting, the park tries to keep the population in check.”Portagee” Lilt Flavors Cowboys’ Speech Paliku ranger cabin, a welcome sight after our ten-mile hike, stands in a meadow of heavy grass at the very base of a sheer thou¬sand-foot cliff. No sooner were we safely in¬doors than the rains came down.
Larry explained that this end of the crater gets a great deal of spillover from the torren¬tial downpours of windward Haleakala.
“In 1968 we got 250 inches of rain here at Paliku. That’s far wetter than the wettest place in the continental U. S.”
The jangle of spurs and the blowing of horses announced the arrival of company—three employees of the park who had been hunting goats and checking on the nene. They were members of a substantial Portuguese community at Makawao, which provides many of Maui’s cowboys.
Supper featured venison from Molokai and meat from the goats the men had killed. Con¬versation turned often to the exploits of horse¬men, with sentences ending in the lilt so characteristic of Hawaiian “Portagee” speech.
In my bunk after dinner, as I drifted into slumber, I heard one of the men telling how his horse had once spooked on Halemauu, throwing him over the cliff….Early the next morning we headed for Kaupo Gap. Misty veils drifted across the precipitous cliffs and gulches. Our trail led through sopping-wet grass, sometimes waist high, and our shoes squished with every step.
Against the thunder of waterfalls we heard the song of the crimson apapane and the squeaky call of the iiwi, whose vermilion feathers were eagerly sought for cloaks for the Hawaiian chiefs of old.
Heavy growths of ferns, mosses, trees, and flowering plants created a lushness that had been starkly absent when we entered Haleakala Crater the day before. Halfway down the mountain, under a giant koa tree, park ranger Tom Vaughan met us with a four-wheel-drive Scout for the rest of the journey. We were on our way to Hana.
Hana is an isolated village at the eastern end of Maui. It is also a district. In a 36-mile stretch along the deeply indented flowering coastline—from Keanae’s lava tongue on the north to kaupo, the last outpost before the desert begins on the south—live a thousand souls. But above all Hana is a state of mind, a way of life that harks back to old Hawaii.
Most of Hana’s people are related to one another. The Polynesian strain is unmistak¬able—the strong, handsome faces, the brown skin, the love-of-life disposition, and, in a few cases, the huge bulk of the chiefs of old. Some can boast of pure Hawaiian blood (and even a little Hawaiian blood is a reason for pride in the islands).
You can leave Hana by air, or you can drive a frighteningly narrow, tortuous sea-cliff road (a roller coaster on its side) that repays your apprehension with stunning views of sharply slashed gulches, cascading waterfalls, and an exuberance of vegetation.
But few of Hana’s people seem inclined to leave; they already live in their version of paradise. They even call it “Heavenly Hana.”
At first glance, life at Hana seems about as modern as anywhere on the island. At Hasegawa’s General Store (given a measure of fame in a song written by Paul Weston some years ago) you can buy almost anything you want. TV reception is very poor in most places, because the mountain blocks trans¬mission, yet I saw families parked along the Hana road watching portable TV’s plugged into their car cigarette lighters.
But Hana is different, nonetheless. Even a haole (white man) outsider can sense it. Change comes more slowly here. Far more people can still speak the Hawaiian tongue, with its distinctive staccato sounds. And those who do not speak Hawaiian are adept at pid¬gin, a form of makeshift English with Hawai¬ian and sometimes Oriental words thrown in.
“Pazi [finish] this one before you fellah go home,” says the supervisor. “Soah my body [I'm sore all over],” says the patient. “When you kaukau [eat] you food, you kaatkau one peel [pill], and moemoe [sleep] time you kau¬kau one moah,” instructs the nurse. “Da kine movie one man take,” is a film lecture at the community house. “Da kine movie all talk” is a film lacking in action.
A teacher in Hana High School has used pidgin to get across difficult points in Shake¬speare. And a year ago the community pro¬duced its first play to an overflow crowd—My Three Angels, done entirely in pidgin!
Talent for Feasting Survives in Hana
I found that the luau, or feast, still plays an important role in Hana life for celebrating a wedding, the first birthday of a child, or mov¬ing into a new house. At such a time, regular work takes second place to preparations for the luau. What is more important, after all, than net-casting for fish in the cove behind Kauiki Head? Or wading into a pool in Makapipi Stream to net opae, fresh-water shrimp? Or clambering down the cliffs near Keanae to pry the suc¬culent opihi (limpets) from the tidal rocks?
The old arts and crafts have not been totally lost at Hana. Mrs. Maria Marciel, an English-Hawaiian whose serene face belies her 75 years, showed me how to weave lauha¬la mats, and Wilfred Kala demonstrated how to pound taro tubers into the mucilaginous staple called poi that Hawaiians love to eat. Machines now make poi all over the islands.
Ti Leaves Take Danger out of Pork
Traditions, customs, and religious ideas never die easily. Even today, a century and a half after the coming of the missionaries, the ancient Hawaiian spirit world has not been banished completely. Nowhere is this more evident than at Hana.
For example, as Dr. Milton Howell, Hana’s beloved haole doctor, told me, “It is unwise to ask a man if he is going fishing. If he reveals his intentions, the spirits might over¬hear and drive the fish away. It is also taboo to take anything red in the fishing boat, and if you bring bananas along, you will be most unpopular; they mean trouble.
“It is also considered bad to take pork along on a trip. The car will not work, or you will have an accident. However, if you wrap the pork in ti leaves, there is no danger.”
Spirits are widely supposed to hang about the sacred places; I heard many stories about drums beating and lights shining at the heiaus, or temples, where human sacrifices once took place. Some Hawaiians stay away from such spots on principle.
I found the largest heiau in the islands—a stone platform 425 feet long and 50 feet high on one side—hiding in a jungle just a few miles by jeep from Hana town. The stone¬work itself is being cleared of a heavy cov¬ering of guava, pandanus, and kukui trees.
“It won’t do you any good to try to photo¬graph it,” one old-timer told me. “The spirits fog the film.”Fortunately the spirits weren’t working very hard when I snapped my pictures.
One day I sat down to “talk story” (chat) with a group of Hana people whose memories go back a long way. I was particularly inter¬ested in learning about the aumakua. Every Hawaiian family once had an aumakua, a personal ancestor-god, quite distinct from such shadowy, august deities as Ku, the war god. The aumakua might take the form of a shark, a lizard, or an owl, but whatever its form it served as a family protector.
“Does anyone still believe in an aumakua?” I asked.”I don’t know anyone who does,” said one tutu (grandmother) quickly. Then she smiled. “But I can tell you one thing—our aumakua is the shark!”
Another woman added, “Our aumakua is the shark, too, but I wouldn’t go near one!”
Because the aumakua was supposed to enter the body through the head, a man’s head was considered kapu—sacred or forbid¬den. To this day it is wise not to pinch the cheeks or pat the head of a Hawaiian child. I asked about the akualele, a destructive flying spirit.
“I saw one once,” said Miss Eva Kalama, who has lived in Hana all her 70 years. “I was a little girl, maybe ten. My father was a mailman and he had to go to Haiku. Between Keanae and Honomanu gulch—we were on horseback—we saw a big ball of fire, two feet across. It had a long tail, like thread.
“I asked my father about it. He said it was an akualele, and it was going to a sorcerer. Then my father yelled, and bang! The ball of fire broke into pieces and fell in the ocean.”
Learning to Cherish Tradition
Can Maui continue to preserve the best of its past? Can it weather the forces that have turned some of the world’s places of beauty into nightmares of noise, crowds, pollution, high rise, and bad taste?
The answer may be found in part with men like Sam Kaai and Tim Mitchell in West Maui. It may also be found in Hana town in East Maui.
Directly below Kauiki, the cottages of the Hotel Hana Ranch merge so deftly with the landscape that you scarcely know they are there. It was by design that the original build¬er kept the hotel unobtrusive, and the current owners intend to keep it that way.
Taylor A. “Tap” Pryor, whose Makai Corporation operates not only the hotel but also the surrounding 7,000 acres of Hana Ranch, has strong feelings on the matter:
“Hawaii is a very fragile being. It can be seriously hurt by thoughtless, unbridled development. Our aim is not to change the culture but rather to add to it, to keep a bal¬ance between pasture and people and visitors.
“We see Hana as a useful microcosm of society, of cultures pressured by civilization. But the people there have a lot to offer if they can maintain their traditional ways. We want to give them an economic base but not change them with that base.”
Part of the answer to Maui’s future is also to be found in Kipahulu Valley, an almost untouched wilderness of virgin forest and rare birds a few miles southwest of Hana. For a look into the valley, I climbed with ranger Tom Vaughan along a slippery, water¬logged ridge, through tangles of fern and vine and fallen trees, to a promontory called Pa¬likea. Behind us the green land gave out in a froth of white surf against black lava and an endless wash of blue Pacific. Ahead a mag-nificent cloud-dappled valley choked with green climbed in one sweeping turn all the way to the rim of the Haleakala Crater.
“Not many men have ever looked into this valley,” Tom told me. “Far fewer have gone into it. It’s one of the truly wild places on earth, an almost impenetrable rain forest.”
A Wilderness Saved for Posterity
An expedition sponsored by the Nature Conservancy and the Department of the In¬terior struggled through Kipahulu in 1967. It found that 90 percent of the plant species in the upper reaches are native to Hawaii; in most other places in the islands exotic plants have all but crowded out the indig¬enous growth. Moreover, the scientists found a number of birds, varieties of honeycreepers, that are exceedingly rare. One, the Maui nukupuu, had not been seen for 71 years.
Through a gift of part of the valley by Laurance Rockefeller, and through the efforts of the Nature Conservancy and of many citizens, virtually the entire sweep of Kipahulu from sea to crater has recently become part of Haleakala National Park. Thousands of acres will never be opened to exploitation. For the foreseeable future, Kipahulu will be safe as a primitive wilderness and a textbook of na¬ture’s past—and one of the things that makes Maui very special to me.
Often on the island I heard the expression, “Maui no ka `oi.” That means “Maui is the best.” With that sentiment I most certainly agree.