The Mud Kingdom

A magical place, an independent spirit.

Trip Report: 2023-12 Maui, HI

Formed from the ocean floor millions of years ago, twin volcanic cones, known as a “volcanic doublet” rose out of the waters of the Pacific Ocean as an island in the Hawaiian Archipeligo. Maui is host to a diverse range of landscapes and microclimates over 727 square miles full of natural wonders.

LengthAbout a Week
ActivitiesCar Camping, Backpacking
TransportRental SUV
ConditionsWarm, some rain, otherwise fairly nice.
DoggoAt home with grandma.
GearAirplane-ready backpacking kit, window screen, rented cooler, and rented beach chair.
RatingAdventure: 8/10, Repeatability: 2/10, Satisfaction: 10/10
Quick Trip Info


Four months before my trip, Lāhainā, one of the towns on the island of Maui had suffered a devastating wildfire that destroyed most of the buildings and hurt nearly every family on the island. I wanted to visit as soon as tourism was welcomed back on the island to walk among the people of Maui, patornize their businesses, and take part in any way that I could to help the people of the island. While the island called for tourists, much of the infrastructure was not fully prepared. Services definitely weren’t at the level you’d expect from before and were hard to come by. Few affordable lodgings were available despite the lower tourism numbers, lost to temporary housing on an island that found itself suddenly shorter on housing overall.

Having found practically no hotel for less than $500 a night, I decided to car camp for this trip, which freed me to explore the entire island away from the highly developed touristy areas. Maui has a YMCA facility in Kahului, giving me access to a gym and a hot shower if I got tired of bathing in the ocean, rivers, or cold outdoor showers. So I planned for a road trip around the entire island and to hike across Haleakalā National Park – what I call the heart of Maui – to take in the whole island. It would have been too much of a hassle to bring the mud doggo, so she got to stay at grandma’s house and watch my niece and nephew for a week.

The Trip

I landed in the late afternoon and went to wrangle a rental car. I had reserved a medium sized SUV which the rental agency took to mean a small crossover, so I asked them to upgrade me with my status and landed a Dodge Durango, which might have actually been too large, but much better than the Kia No-Room-In-Trunk. I’m over 6′ tall, putting a premium on a vehicle in which I can lie down flat inside of, in case I pull into camp late at night in pouring rain. The first night I arranged to overnight at cheap private campground just outside of town on the way to Haleakalā and the my instincts told me turn off the road when I saw a marker on Google maps pop up for “Mama’s Fish House.”

Let me tell you that my instincts were WRONG but also oh so right. I was expecting a low-key roadside restaurant with a patio serving up some comforting everyday favorites. Instead, the first thing I was met with was brick-paved parking lot with a valet stand. I exhaled on the realization that this was going to HURT. I did come to the island to spend tourist dollars, however, and I knew that my instincts are not always completely off. This was definitely not what I was aiming for, but that didn’t mean that it wasn’t going to be a huge hit. I left the rental with the valet and went to see if I could get a seat at the bar without a reservation. There was a fifteen minute wait, but that really wasn’t a problem considering I could just take a short walk on the beach.

This one really hurt the wallet and I had to sit in the car and breathe in and out for a minute before I drove away, but my instincts didn’t do me a disservice. I had found what locals tell me is the best food on the island. It was awesome and you should definitely plan on stopping in if you visit the island. I lingered at the restaurant for a long time – the bartender was cute, and the food was frankly worth savoring – plus the fans kept conditions pleasant enough that I wasn’t sweating. I drove away in the dark in search of a private, minimally developed campground to wait for the morning light. Not being able to see anything, I pulled into what looked like a good place to park the car and setup for the night.

Car camping setup in temperate environments below 8,500′ (thar be bugs) is pretty easy. You’ll want a windows screen replacement, available in rolls at any hardware store for less than $20. Cut it in half and drape them over your car windows so that when you close the door, the screen is held in place by the door seal. Then you can open the windows for airflow without letting in the bugs. If the doors are shaped strangely or you have other issues, a cheap roll of masking tape will do the trick to tape up one side. Then fold the seats down and roll out your mat, put down your pillow, and catch some Zs until the sun comes up. In the morning I found the garden hose shower stall, cleaned up, and fired up the Durango to drive into town.


There are a number of items I needed that would have been at least a potential hassle to bring on the plane – so I planned on picking up some items I needed for backpacking across Haleakalā from Walmart and Easy Camping Maui (recommended). Unfortunately, the Durango popped a check engine light so I also had to go by the airport to exchange the rental. I also have a long standing list of places I’ve seen on food or travel shows that I want to try, so I had plenty to do in town. My timed entry and planned camping trip into the national park wasn’t until the next day, Friday, so I had time to wander around town, shop, and sit by the beach.

First things first – breakfast. I woke at sunlight and decided to go to Zippy’s for standard Maui fare, like spam musubi, egg fried rice, and caffiene. From Walmart I picked up a canister of isobutane. At the airport, I swapped the sick Durango for a fresh Ford Explorer. From Easy Camping Maui I rented a cooler, umbrella, and beach chair and got some good advice from the guys on how to modify my trip to get more out of it. Groceries from the local Safeway for the next few days rounded out my chores. I stopped for a lunch rice bowl with pork belly at Tin Roof Maui. I was close to the YMCA so I decided to check out the facilities there – no hot tub, but there were hot showers. I drove to a nearby beach park and just hung out, listening to the waves come in while occasional light showers kept the crowds away. When the sun began to set, I grabbed some photos fo the city from the beach, snagged a pizza from the roadside, and turned in for the night.

Haleakalā National Park

From the beach I got up before dawn and drove up to the summit of Haleakalā. I managed to snag a sunrise entry ticket for Friday morning and, after a few hours, found myself back over 10,000′. A small crowd of people joined me in the parking lot and we waited together for the sunrise. I wanted something hot to drink but I decided to hold off on setting up my camp stove in the parking lot in case some kids came barreling through without looking and just dropped the mix into a cold bottle of water.

View from the Summit of Haleakalā

I left a little before the crowd to drive 6.6 miles down to the Halemau’u Trailhead, where overnight parking was allowed (always check with the Park Service as these details may change) and a hitchhiker’s turnout across the street let you thumb for a ride back up to the summit. I was a bit early for the regular tourists and most of the sunrise visitors were just heading back down the mountain, but I managed to get picked up by a contractor that was on his way to the summit observatory to install a door. The plan was to hike down into the “crater” (actually a valley caused by erosion), spend the night in a campsite near Palikū Cabin, then hike back out to where I parked my car to see it all.

Caution: I spent a lot of time this year in higher altitudes. High altitude can severely affect your athletic performance even at low intesity. Don't be shy about turning around - there plenty of views and trails on the way back. If you walk down in the crater, the trouble is that you have to walk back out.

The hike from the visitor’s center down into the crater via the Sliding Sands trail was something unlike anything I’ve ever hiked before. As you are in the eroded remains of a millions of years old volcano, the surface is all wind, rain, and sun eroded volcanic rock ground into gravel in the higher parts of the crater. The landscape can be described as otherworldly like something you’d expect on a brown-colored Mars. Life flourishes here even though the environment is harsh enough to keep vegetation down to a minimum. The surface started to change past Kapalaoa Cabin from fine gravel to larger and coarser lava rocks. The last couple miles down to the Palikū Cabin was just strewn with boot-sized and sharp lava rock boulders. Sturdy hiking boots are highly recommended if you head in this direction.

One pet peeve I wanted to mention. The National Park service requires reservations for the beds in the cabins, typically ones you have to reserve months in advance. It was my experience that these reservations are abused by people that don’t care about the fees or are getting day-before refunds, because I visited three cabins and none of them were at even half capacity – meaning a bunch of those people never showed up. I should have just tried to take a bed in the cabin anyway and paid on my way out (and obviously surrendered the bed if the reservation showed up). But then again, considering the fires, I suppose it could have just been a forgotten detail for locals or tourists that had to figure out alternative plans for their trips.

Once I got down to Palikū Cabin I sat exhausted from the last two miles of the hike over the sharp boulder fields. Those really did a number on my feet and thus my legs, I was wearing mid-height trail runners and I was sorely wishing I had brought something with a stiffer sole. I boiled some water and made an early dinner in an attempt to stave off complete muscle destruction. Frankly I didn’t eat enough on the way and would pay for it the next day. I ran into some Nēnē around the cabin while I was setting up camp. Nēnē were Canadian geese that were blown off course thousands of years ago and there is very much a resembelance.

Late at night a pair came up to my tent and started squaking at me, so I got up and went outside to see what all the fuss was about. It turns out that the bush I peed on in the middle of the night was their home and they came to register their complaint. I made three quarter-mile trips down to the water source with my water jugs to get enough fresh water to flush their house out until they were satisfied. I got back to sleep and the same pair of Nēnē came to hang out with me in the morning as I made breakfast.

A Pair of Nēnē

Camp consisted of a hiking pole backpacking tent staked down to the ground, foamie mats, a lightweight sleeping bag, an inflatable pillow, and not much else. The ground was relatively soft and lower in elevation compared to the rest of the hike, so the rest was fairly decent. It was difficult to move in the morning, but it wasn’t anything that you wouldn’t have expected. The day ahead was the biggest challenge: the climb out of the crater. A few thousand vertical feet across a couple miles of switchbacks, after two miles through boulder fields, and climbing up and down the rim of the crater. The trek back across the crater on the other side was rougher than the Sliding Sands trail, but at least there was a cabin to stop and rest at before I had to tackle the last three and a half miles and climb out of the crater.

The climb out of the crater really took it out of me. This was a 1:8 vertical to horizontal feet ratio for 3 miles with seemingly endless switchbacks on mixed surface conditions on the side of a cliff. I took three liters of water, filtered from the non-potable cabin source, just to be sure that I had enough and halfway up I poured one out just to save myself the 2.2 lbs of the 44 lbs on my back. It was a fight, but a goregous and memorable one. I fought it for two hours and finally stumbled back to the Explorer where I mercifully had fresh food and drink in the cooler. With the taste of victory and Coke Zero on my tongue, I left the national park behind mid-afternoon.

Road Trip to Kīpahulu

I was definitely hungry after that 20 mile hike. The plan was to drive around the south of the island to Kīpahulu, where I planned on staying a couple nights. Driven by single-minded hunger, I drove the Explorer an hour until I saw something open – a tiny roadside stand called Bully’s Burgers that sold burgers out of a nearby ranch. I had a burger but I couldn’t tell you which one. I remember it looked fairly good, but I couldn’t tell you if it was any good or not. It tasted like the cure to starvation and that meant it was extremely good in a very vague sense where I can’t actually describe anything about it. I feel like this place is pretty good though, but I really don’t know for sure!

I continued down highway 31 for another hour – there were some minor views to look at, but nothing I thought was worth stopping for as I wanted to get to Kīpahulu campground before dark. Highway 31 was much less road than I believed. The state highway narrowed to one lane at times with idiotic tourists cresting hills in the center of that lane without any thought to what might be coming from the other side. There were also a lot of suspicious tire skid marks leading off to the side of the road where there was nothing but a cliff, 50 ft fall, and a heap of rusted car on the rocks below. To no surprise, you’d occasionally get passed by a local that seemed drunk or were driving 40+ mph over the speed limit.

At some point the road narrowed and entered a heavy jungle canopy, where I saw signs for a farm selling fresh fruit that I stopped at immediately and basically ate everything they had for sale. The Laulima Farm has 13 acres on a mountainside in Kīpahulu valley. They struck me as being a commune but the “family” practices their form of sustainable agriculture on the land, as well as growing an incredible diversity of crops. Some of the items in their sampler I wasn’t incredibly impressed with, but I do remember being very impressed by their avocados and their bananas. To me, it was well worth the stop, even if I feel this was the only place on the island in December that I was desperate for bug spray.

I checked into the Kīpahulu campground early in the evening. There was still time and light so I drove into nearby Hāna to get gas and restock drinks. While in town, I also noticed a food truck pod across from Hana ranch, so I stopped for a couple hours to grab dinner, sit in the car, and catch up on a couple podcasts. Cell service was spotty throughout the island, as the wildfires damaged more than just Lāhainā, but managed to take out a lot of the island’s cell network. What signal I could get was from towers stationed in the sea and the bandwidth wasn’t so great. In Hāna, I was able to get a signal and just barely enough bandwidth to download some low-res videos and look up which birds were nesting in Hawaii in December.

In the morning I just explored Hāna in the car and Kīpahulu gingerly on foot, as I was still hurting from the climb out of Haleakalā. I snagged a couple photos despite the weather. Kīpahulu camp ground doesn’t offer showers, but the beach park in Hāna has a couple shower heads on the boardwalk with zero privacy. On the way into town, I came across Wailua falls, which I thought was a great opportunity to do a little drone photography, but some local complained to me about it and told me that certain birds were nesting in this time of year – so I put the drone away.

When I got to town I looked up which birds were nesting in Hawaii in December. When I got back to Kīpahulu I double checked with the park rangers too to see if there were any other reasons not to fly my drone. Turns out, that local was just jerking me around so I drove back out to the falls to respectfully, to the environment, get my video.

I slept in late again, but this time I was feeling much more recovered from the Heart of Maui hike. For Monday, I had a full day planned as my next overnight location was clear across the island just outside Lāhainā. In the morning I returned to Hāna bay beach park with the intention of making breakfast and showering, but as early as it was, I wondered if I wouldn’t get a better alternative to washing up. I did cook myself some Portugese sausage, eggs, and fried rice in the morning – which I’m told is very bog standard for Hawaiians. It definitely felt very right. After breakfast, I hit the reverse road to Hāna.

Caution: bodies of water and life within are very sensitive to many types of human activities. Most soaps are significantly damaging - even for mild biodegradable soaps, it takes 160 gallons of water to dilute one ounce of soap to not kill fish, much less smaller, more delicate marine life. Please do not use any soaps, even biodegradable vegan soap in natural bodies of water. Biodegradable soap degrades much better, faster, and safer in soil and should go into the ground away from water. Hawaii's coral reefs are especially vulnerable to surfactants and oil based suncreens.

There’s a ton of small stops on the road to Hāna – little gems of the island from tall waterfalls to iconic postage stamp bridges spanning the many streams and rivers that run off the mountain and into the ocean. One of the first ones I stopped at was Pua’a Ka’a Falls. Designated as a rest stop on the road and being early enough in the morning I knew that it would be very lightly traveled on the part of the road away from the city. I grabbed my biodegradable soap, went into the restrooms on the side of the road, soaped up a few places, and rinsed off in the sink. Then I was ready to luxuriate in the best bathtub I’ve gotten to soak in for a very long time.

Pua’a Ka’a Falls
Editor's note: in doing research for this blog entry, I noticed that the Hawaii state parks website for Pua'a Ka'a Wayside Park carries a no-swimming symbol. While I believe this means there are no swimming facilities, it's the visitor's responsiblity to follow the laws. When I was here in December of 2023, there were no signs indicating that you couldn't go in the water and there were parks employees doing maintenance on-site while I was in the water. Things have been changing in Hawaii due to an overburden of tourists doing wierd things.

I floated the pool beneath the falls for some time until tourists started to show up. I made a number of little stops for photo ops or just to look around, including a short hike through a bamboo forest. The trail through the bamboo forest was on private land and the entrance is not marked, but there was sign on the ground indicating that the owners didn’t mind so long as you didn’t trash the place. The number of people and cars increased as I got closer to the city.

On my return to Kahului, naturally, I went to go find lunch, hit the Y for a post-hike hot shower, do a little laundry, get second lunch, then drive to Camp Olowalu just outside of Lāhainā. If you didn’t know, Hawaii has excellent Japanese food and you should be getting some at least every other day you are there. It’s downright affordable compared to typical American restaurant fare and it’s quite good. Minit stops offer convenience-store style food with decent fried chicken and a Hawaii style chili served on rice that works really well for me (not pictured). It’s just a great way to grab a meal for less than $10.

I didn’t really take any photos after this point. I spent the day lazing about several beaches. Later in the day, I remembered that I needed to send a postcard and grab souveniers for the folks at home, so I went into town and ran across a hostel that didn’t look like it was full. I inquired inside and was told they did indeed have beds available – I was in need of an evening with air conditioning and somewhere to take care of my foot. Some raw spots on my toes were bothering me and it would just be nice to have a hot shower somewhere I wasn’t fighting off mosquitos. I gladly took the bunk for my last night on Maui.

From the hostel, I explored Wailuku on foot, searching for the food of the people, visiting markets, and just seeing what life was like in the area around the laundromat I went to the day before. I hung out at the hostel and spoke with some fellow travelers, as well as the volunteer hostel staff, including with a guy that wanted to tell me all about his charity work with inner city youths and wanting to bring them to Maui. I was also chatting with a retired chiropractor from the Seattle area, where I had just left a few months before, and while we were talking about the Pacific Northwest (PNW), a young lady suddenly piped up because she was headed there next herself.

Although I didn’t see a soul hiking the Heart of Maui on a Saturday (save for the few that seem to have done the shortest routes to get to the cabins), it’s always good to know that people do like to travel and adventure anyway, even if there just aren’t many that will find themselves trekking across the crater. By the time I woke up, cleaned up, and left the hostel, it was all chores: returning the rental equipment, filling the gas tank, and finding just the right snacks for the plane. Then the big bird home. Smell you all about it, Maggie.


One response to “Trip Report: 2023-12 Maui, HI”

  1. I forgot about the one trail runner. There’s always the one trail runner that stops near you to eat a tiny gel pouch like a baby then run off into the distance.

Leave a Reply