Lilikoi Hunting


Story by Diane Haynes Woodburn

Diane Haynes WoodburnWake up!” My husband, Jamie, is pulling my unresponsive arm. “Let’s take a ride toward Hana and pick liliko‘i!”

“Nnnnnggff,” I groan. Last night we hosted a dinner party for twenty-five friends, celebrating Jamie’s sixty-fifth birthday. The evening was wonderful . . . and I am exhausted. “Besides,” I whimper, “I’ll be eaten alive by mosquitos.”

“You could use a distraction,” he says with his childlike alacrity. (Only night people understand the horror of a spouse’s morning cheeriness.) I pull the covers over my head, hoping he’ll find someone else to play with.

Distraction? What I need is a vacation! Arranging the birthday party had been like baking a cake from scratch while juggling agendas and assembling a Chinese puzzle. Why? Everyone else’s summer travel. Susan and Jim had just returned from Canada, Deb and Jeff from Alaska, Chris and Debbie from Paris. Not to mention that Sandy and Jeffrey were getting ready to leave for Fiji, while Patti and Lee were going on a “luxury” salmon-fishing adventure. (Does the word “oxymoron” occur to anyone but me on that last one?)

Yes, I was jealous. No travel for us.  After the time and expense of my son’s recent wedding — and other obligations, like publishing a magazine — Diane and Jamie are staying on the porch this year.

“Come onnnnnn.” Jamie coaxes. “I made you coffee!”

Thirty minutes later we clamber into the truck with our trash bags for the liliko‘i (passion fruit), insect repellant (for me), and a picnic lunch. Soon we are driving past rainbow eucalyptus, waterfalls, and forests of bamboo, their delicate trunks dancing in unison and clicking like castanets. Below, the ocean is cobalt blue, trimmed in lacy white foam. This is the road to Hana — nothing like it this side of paradise.

Jamie pulls the truck into our secret destination. We rattle along the dirt road into the heart of the jungle. A breeze rustles leaves and branches. Birds sing. Vines laden with bright orbs of liliko‘i drape over tangled foliage. Amid such pastoral beauty, how can I not be moved? I grab my mosquito repellant and begin to spray from the toes up.

“Uh oh. It stopped,” I report with barely controlled hysteria.

“I’ll fix it,” Jamie offers, and before I can argue, wallops the can with a nail and sledgehammer. As the aerosol sprays out with a force just shy of a fire hose, a future of stings, welts, and misery looms before my eyes. Jamie jumps to the challenge, finds an empty cup and covers the geyser. I take a sponge bath in the rescued salve.

Did I mention that when he goes liliko‘i hunting, it is big game? Armed with a commercial-food license, my husband has been known to emerge from the jungle with four times his weight in the fruit, which he’ll later clean, process, and turn into Jamie’s Jams Liliko‘i Butter.

And so . . . after the easy pickings, we head into the interior. Jamie harrumphs through brush like a rooting boar, while I follow as best I can. “Wait! My foot is stuck!” He never looks back. If I fell into a lava tube, I’d be setting up house in there before he noticed I was gone.

We end our quest beside a waterfall. The crystal-clear pool holds its own bounty: Jamie spots some Tahitian prawns, nets them, and brings the wriggling creatures to me, as proud as if he’d found gold. He bags them and goes back for more. I bask in the sun, reach into a nearby bag for my sunglasses, and grab a wriggling prawn instead. “Yikes!” Like miniature lobsters, these feisty contortionists have pinchers and crazy curling tails. I resort to the tactics of a six-year-old and fence the creatures in by building a tiny rock corral.  And move to different rock.

We share our picnic, swim sans clothing, and laugh a lot. (At our age, it’s the best thing to do.)

A world later, we head back to Kula with 600 pounds of fruit, which Jamie will make into his delicious elixir. At home, I open my computer and look over the galleys of this, our Travel Issue. The first story begins where the two of us have just come from. In “Hana by Two Roads,” Marti Rosenquist shares the bliss of a stay at Travaasa Resort, while Lehia Apana goes camping, and has just as much fun on a budget. Marti continues the travel theme with a dining feature that offers culinary highlights to explore on the journey to other adventures. I turn next to Shannon Wianecki’s annual “Shaka List” of things we love about Maui, and feast my eyes on a Technicolor rainbow eucalyptus. Looks Photoshopped. Is real.

Before you can say “likiko‘i butter,” my envy of friends fishing in Alaska, or eating scones in Paris, has evaporated. Our lanai — with its pots of handsome herbs like the ones you’ll find in Emily Bott’s “Edible Lanai” story — looks fine to me. It’s not where you go; it’s what you see and feel on the way (and whom you love) that counts. Travel is in the heart as much as the feet. Even if the trip is just to pick liliko‘i.

Enjoy your journey, wherever it takes you.


  1. Hi Diane,

    Thank you for this post on finding lilikoi in the wild! It sounds super exciting. My family and I, including our two boys 16 and 13, will be in Maui in Oct for the second time. We would love to hunt for and find lilikoi in the wild and were wondering if you might be willing to share a place where our efforts might be fruitful.

    Mahalo in advance!


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