Story by Lara McGlashan | Photography by Jason Moore
A thick band of clouds is gathering atop the West Maui mountain and a breeze picks up as my friend Melissa Rajesh and I leave Kīhei and head to Kapalua. It had been an unusually windy week, the sky a mix of clouds and sun, so the previous day I had called Kapalua Ziplines to make sure the tour was still a go. They assured me that they only close in the case of high winds (40+ mph) or lightning. Otherwise, rain or shine, they zipline!
We arrive at check-in and meet up with photographer Jason Moore, who is outfitted with his own official-looking hardhat and a backpack full of photography gear. Rajesh and I get fitted with less-fancy helmets and go outside to meet the rest of our group: a couple celebrating their 10-year anniversary, a family of three from Canada, and a couple from New York — one of whom is a Broadway dancer!
Justin McGreavy introduces himself as our guide for the day. “Like Justin Timberlake — not Bieber,” he jokes. We pile into a van and drive to an inconspicuous gate along the Honoapi‘ilani Highway. McGreavy unlocks the gate and we pass through. We park a little farther up the road, get out of the van and split up into several ATVs. As we trek up a bumpy, twisting trail, McGreavy explains that the zipline company leases 200 acres of land on the slopes of Mauna Kahālāwai below the Pu‘u Kukui Watershed Preserve.
With an average of 350 inches of rainfall each year, Pu‘u Kukui is one of the wettest places on Earth and is a vital source of fresh water for Maui. It’s the largest private nature preserve in Hawai‘i, covering more than 9,000 acres, and also is one of the most sacred places in the Islands. Pu‘u Kukui translates to “hill of enlightenment,” and early Hawaiians considered it wao akua, the realm of the gods. It’s easy to see why. The rich green cliffs jut up into a near-permanent cloud cap, their tops ever shrouded in mystery.
Today, a thick mist tumbles up and over the mountain and into the valley above, but the sun still shines on us below. We pull up to a wooden building, get out of the ATVs and head to a viewing deck that looks toward the ocean. The hillside beneath drops away steeply, and in the distance, we can see all of Kapalua and Nāpili, and across the channel, Lāna‘i and Moloka‘i.