Story by Kyle Ellison | Photography by Daniel Sullivan
The words beat in my head like a drum: A legend in stone . . . a legend in stone . . . the King’s Trail is a legend in stone.
It’s a phrase William Merwin, two-time U.S. poet laureate, penned in the foreword of The Maui Coast — Legacy of the King’s Highway, a book by photographer Daniel Sullivan, who spent nine-and-a-half days circumnavigating Maui in search of the ancient trail. The words are also particularly fitting, as I find myself hiking a desolate plain of ‘a‘ā — jagged lava rock — crossing a rolling sea of stones on Maui’s southwest coast as I retrace Sullivan’s steps.
The story of the trail begins in the sixteenth century, when Pi‘ilani became the first ruler to unify Maui’s twelve moku (districts). Peace and prosperity flourished on the island during Pi‘ilani’s reign, considered a golden age of construction and growth. He ordered a footpath built around the island, and had it marked with smooth ‘ili‘ili stones that cast a bluish hue.
While Sullivan was searching for sections of trail — particularly in East Maui — locals would always tell him the same thing: “Look for the blue stones.”
Here in Keone‘ō‘io, however, near ‘Āhihi Kīna‘u Natural Area Reserve, I see millions of stones in every direction — but none of them are blue.