Alright. Let’s get this over with. Blowhole. Blowhole. Blow hole? BLOW, HOLE! Blow! Hole?
Okay, okay. I’m done.
This short, free-form adventure packs a wallop in terms of scenery, fascinating geology, and sheer fun. Although you can hike the entire route in under an hour, you’ll get the most out of the experience if you take as much time as possible to poke into every nook and cranny.
Along the rugged northern coast of West Maui, the gentle beaches of the Lahaina/Ka’anapali area yield to rugged, volcanic sea cliffs and wind-swept points. This breathtaking landscape is the principal attraction on the drive between Kapalua and Kahakuloa (a must-visit destination for everybody who loves banana bread – more on this later). For tourists looking to “go around the head,” a side trip to Nakalele Blowhole is an absolute must.
Along a volcanic shelf in a particularly rugged part of the coast, erosion has cut a 2-3’ hole directly through the shelf. The relentless pounding of the ocean has undercut the shelf, allowing water to flow in and out of the space below. When the waves hit this space at the right intensity and trajectory, it shoots some of the water straight through the hole. When water “blows” through the hole, it shoots straight into the air like a geyser.
The volcanic rock around the blowhole is under a nearly constant barrage of sea spray and hard-hitting waves. The surf is particularly violent during the winter time, when swells coming in from the north produce waves in excess of 20 feet high. Salt water is a very corrosive substance, and its acidifying effects on the brittle, porous basalt has created some wildly imaginative erosion. Many of the rocks look as if buckets of acid had been lobbed around happenstance. Porous cavities, honey-combed pits, and jagged crags dominate the area between the highway and the blowhole.
Of the two ways down to the blowhole, the longer route from mile marker 38 is the more interesting. From the parking areas near the mile marker, follow the remnants of an old jeep trail downhill toward the sea cliffs. You’ll notice a few things right off the bat: a labyrinth built of stones, a pair of sea arches getting pounded by the surf below the cliffs, a light beacon, and a ravine choked with ironwoods.
Make your way along the sea cliffs toward the light beacon, passing down into a ravine heavily shaded by non-native ironwoods. My wife likes to refer to ironwoods as “weeping pines,” since these coniferous plants have filamentary leaves that droop and sway in the breeze. As you emerge from the ironwoods, you’ll pass the light beacon before dropping down through another rocky ravine void of vegetation.
Here’s where the real fun begins. At the bottom of the ravine, you’ll reach a flat expanse of volcanic rock bounded by taller outcrops. Within this flat, you’ll find the first instances of bizarre erosion played out across many of the boulders and outcrops in the area.
As you pick your way east through this jumble of weirdo boulders, you’ll drop down a few times onto a succession of shelfs before the ocean comes into view. Bend toward the right along the cliffs. By this point, you’ll probably walk through your share of ocean spray. The blowhole lies on your left on the lowest shelf next to the ocean. Pick around for a number of spots from which you can watch the blowhole doing its thing (which reportedly involves blowing things through a hole. Okay. Enough). Use caution: some of the rock becomes slippery when wet.
While the blowhole will take plenty of your attention, be sure to take a good look east along the cliffs. You’ll notice a prominent crag jutting into the sky in the distance (Kahakuloa Head), as well as some impressive cliffs towering above the surf. These sea cliffs, the tallest on Maui, are explored via the nearby Ohai trail.
Once done, carefully retrace your steps back to the car to continue on your journey to Kahakauloa. What?! You weren’t planning to go to Kahakuloa? Well, I’m glad to dispel this illusion for you. You ARE going to Kahakuloa because, if you like banana bread and other sweet Hawaiian treats, you will find the best damn banana bread (look for Julia’s banana stand) and sweet treats (look for Loraine’s frozen chocolate-covered bananas) on the entire island. If you don’t like banana bread and sweet treats, then I’m afraid there is nothing more I can do for you. At least you’ll get to continue the epic journey around the West Maui Mountains.