Steve piloted his Pilot westwards, up laid-back country roads that ran across the lower slopes of Haleakala. This area is a pleasant mix of farmland, ranchland, green tropical vegetation, clean upscale-looking little subdivisions, botanical gardens, and quaint little four corners-type towns. We drove through the town of Kokomo - made famous by the Beach Boys - and along some of the roads that we would come bombing down on the bikes four days later. The whole area is known as the 'Maui Upcountry'.
Our route continued west, then soon started to bend south, making a big curve around the western slopes of Haleakala. We got to know quite a bit about Steve as we drove along. He was very talkative, almost continously regaled us with tidbits about Maui, about his life, his hang-gliding crash, his observations on spirituality and life's forces - you name it.
Steve in his Office
The road became more remote and the vegetation more sparse as we continued to round the western end - and the leeward side - of Haleakala's great bulk. We were now on what is known at the Piilani Highway - a little-used stretch of road that runs along the southern coast of the island of Maui. In places up ahead, we knew, this highway was not much more than a narrow dirt track. For now, though, the highway was wide and well-paved.
Under beautiful sunny skies, we started to head back east along Maui's southern coast, over gentle ups and downs and with a deep blue sea off to our right and gentle but never-ending slope to our left.
Steve's Friendly Demeanor
The highway gradually got narrower as the scenery got more spectacular. First, there would be an occasional constriction in the pavement of the highway, then a larger stretches of narrow highway; then the centerline disappeared entirely, and we were on a narrow little track of smooth asphalt. It lent a nice air of remoteness to the place (and so did the fact that there was next to no habitation around).
The narrow, nicely paved asphalt track continued for some time, and it now twisted and turn its way through deep gullies, across narrow bridges, and around eroded old volcanic cones. Steve commented that the highway's nice asphalt paving had been significantly extended since he was last through, and it was true - the pavement looked quite fresh.
Soon, though, the nice pavement ended, and we started along a stretch of very patched pavement. In fact, it was so patched that there seemed to be nothing left of the original pavement - it seemed to be entirely composed of the patches. It did make the road look 'old', though, and that was scenic in its own way. We continued through beautiful ranch country between the slopes of Haleakala and the ocean. We could also now see the Kaupo Gap high up on Haleakala. Our ascent trail would lead us up through that very gap.
We arrived at the only settlement of any sort along the south coast of Maui - a tiny place called Kaupo. There is exactly one store in Kaupo, and it is called - unsurprisingly - The Kaupo Store. It's quite an old establishment, nearly one hundred years old, and it has retained an old charm that makes it an authentic historic attraction. Plus it sells lots of goodies - although they aren't cheap way out here! We stopped briefly for a visit, and met the owner of the store, Linda (Steve and Linda knew each other, apparently). I told Linda of our plan to camp near the Huiahola church, and matter-of-factly told us that wasn't allowed. But all was not gloom - she suggested an alternate campspot on a nearby grassy peninsula. And then, we were on our way. We'd be returning on foot later on after we had set up camp.
The trail we were going to take to get up the mountain the next day is known as The Kaupo trail, and starts off from a trailhead uphill from Kaupo. As a result, the Kaupo area is where we intended to camp for the night. I'd had learned that it was possible to camp on (or as it turns out, near) a historic church near the coast.
Old Road, Old Volvo
Before any of that, though, Steve needed to drive us a little further east along the Piilani Highway to the Kipahulu section of Haleakala National Park. It was there that we would get the necessary backcountry permits for our 3-day climb.
Arriving at the park, Steve dropped us off at the visitor center and waited as we went inside to fill out the permit forms and watch an eight-minute orientation video. The video turned out to be extremely generic - something you could have played at any park in the country - and didn't tell us anything we didn't already know. But, I suppose it might be useful for the absolute outdoors newbie that might want to do some backpacking.
More usefully, one of the rangers showed us a sequence of printed photographs that described the access to and the lower reaches of the Kaupo Trail. Because the lower part of the trail crosses a lot of private land and is not well-used or marked, this was important information. For reference, I took low-resolution pictures of each of the prints.
Haleakala Backcountry Prep
After completing our permit and orientation processes, we got back in with Steve and retraced our route back west for about 6 miles, to the vicinity of Kaupo. We stopped at a small grassy peninsula not far from the historic church that planned to camp at (thanks, Linda, for the guidance).
Horse rides on the Piilani
We had gotten quite attached to Steve during the nearly four hours that we had now spent with him today. We took some nice scenic photographs of him and his Taxi with the glorious south Maui coast as a backdrop, and then he invited us to look at his photo album that he had conveniently tucked away in the luggage compartment of his taxi. We spent some time reviewing some pretty neat old photographs of Steve - hang-gliding, travelling, and looking like a 70s-dude. Did you know that Steve was also once a model? Yes, indeed.
Steve and his two new buddies
After saying our goodbyes to Steve, he was off, heading back west towards civilization. And here we were, alone on the south Maui coast with all of our backpacking gear, ready for a four-day adventure that would bring us across half of Maui.
Our Kaupo Campspot
What a spot it was, too - A windswept point of grass above black basalt cliffs and crashing surf. Apart from the narrow gravel track of the Piilani highway, which was hidden from view above us, and the historic Huialoha Church across the small bay from us, there was no sign of civilization - just sea and cliffs and surf and grass. Oh, and a pretty, bright rainbow! hmm.... we knew what that meant! Quickly we set up our tents before the rainshower hit.
Interactive Trackmap - The Drive to Kaupo - Double-click map to expand