Story by Kyle Ellison | Photography by Matt McDonald, Daniel Sullivan & Mieko Horikoshi
Consider these words: “Maui” and “sunrise.” What pops into your head?
If you’re like most people, odds are high that your next thought is “Haleakalā Crater.” The 10,023-foot summit has become world-famous for its morning light show—so much so that in 2017 the park service started limiting sunrise entry to 150 cars. The good news for visitors who aren’t able to get reservations is that other Maui locations can offer an experience as good—if not better. Bonus: You might even be the only one there.
Waihe‘e Coastal Dunes & Wetlands Refuge Central Maui
Even if you’ve lived on Maui for decades, there’s a decent chance you’ve never visited this spot. Owned by Hawaiian Islands Land Trust, but open to the public, the Waihe‘e Coastal Dunes and Wetlands Refuge is a 277-acre preserve on an undeveloped shore.
Hawaiians knew this area as Kapoho, and along the flat, three-mile loop trail you can make out evidence of early habitation; some estimates date it as far back as 300 to 600 B.C.E.
Though the refuge is located in Central Maui, the shoreline is oriented to the east, which makes it a prime area for seeing the day begin. At Kalae‘ili‘ili—a rock-strewn point that’s covered in driftwood and fringed by naupaka shrubs—you can watch seabirds winging toward the rising sun, and waves breaking on one of Maui’s largest offshore reefs.
When the orange and red have given way to blue, explore the rest of the refuge by hiking the loop trail, and observe the spot where Waihe‘e Stream goes rushing into the sea.
DRIVE TIME FROM
West Maui, 50 minutes | South Maui, 35 minutes
TIP: Access is via a short dirt road off Halewaiu Road. If it’s recently been raining, or the road is muddy, park where the dirt road meets the asphalt and make the trek in on foot. (Bring a flashlight!)