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Exploring Maui’s Keoneʻōʻio (La Perouse Bay)

The Keoneʻōʻio area (also called La Perouse Bay) is a must-see hiking and snorkeling spot on Maui. Situated on Maui’s south side in the ʻĀhihi-Kīnaʻu Natural Area Reserve, La Perouse Bay is located past the town of Kihei, and the Wailea and Makena resort areas. In fact, its remoteness is part of its attraction. The area is largely uninhabited by people. And with pure black lava fields set against the rolling green hills of Upcountry Maui on one side and the blue Pacific on the other, Keoneʻōʻio/La Perouse Bay has scenery unlike anywhere else in the world. But even more than that, this area holds a rich geological and cultural history as well.

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Keoneʻōʻio (La Perouse Bay) as seen from Hoapili Trail (King's Highway)

La Perouse Bay was named by Westerners after Jean-François de La Pérouse, a French naval officer and explorer. In 1785 La Pérouse was appointed by Louis XVI to lead an expedition around the world, and in 1786 he became the first European to arrive on Maui, landing at Keoneʻōʻio. At the time, there were at least four villages in the Keoneʻōʻio area, settlements based on dry-land crops and fishing.

The Reserve is home to many archeological sites from pre-European contact. These sites from ancient Hawaiian times include religious sites (heiau), burials, old homesteads, and a lighthouse. Nine of these sites are on the Hawaii Register of Historic Places.

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Views of Haleakala on the Hoapili Trail

When Haleakala volcano erupted in 1790, the basaltic lava from the Kalua o Lapa cinder cone covered Keoneʻōʻio and destroyed the villages in the area. As a result of being home to Maui’s most recent volcanic activity, hikers can now experience the path of the lava flow through hiking Hoapili Trail, also known as The King’s Highway.

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Lava rock dominates the landscape of Hoapili Trail, so bring the right footwear!

The trail was originally built under Maui’s governor Hoapili in the 19th century to connect the Moku districts of Honuaʻula to Kaupo and circumnavigate the island. Today, King’s Highway is the furthest south that visitors can go along the coast, and offers impressive views of cinder cones, hidden beach coves, and blowholes. Of course, none of these are visible from the crowded parking lot, so we encourage you to get away from the crowds and take a hike through a lava field. Because lava rock is sharp, it is important to wear good shoes while hiking Kings’s Highway.

Encompassing Keoneʻōʻio and the surrounding area is The ʻĀhihi-Kīnaʻu Natural Area Reserve, which was established in 1973 as a marine life conservation district. The Reserve protects the lava flow area from its Upcountry source down to the ocean. Additionally, it is one of nineteen reserves in Hawaii’s Natural Area Reserve System, administered by the Division of Forestry and Wildlife.

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Kanaio Beach, an oasis among the lava fields

The history and marine life make the Reserve family friendly and enjoyable for visitors of all ages. The tidal pools are exciting for children to look at, and the quiet coastal coves are sometimes home to pods of spinner dolphins. It is against the law to harass any marine life in the area, and also against the law to remove any lava rocks, so please kokua, and respect the land and ocean of Keoneʻōʻio, and ʻĀhihi-Kīnaʻu Natural Area Reserve. And while this Honua'ula area of South Maui makes for great hiking, some of the Natural Area Reserve may be closed to snorkelers from time to time in order to prevent damage to the natural surroundings from overuse. So we recommend checking with the Hawai'i DLNR to verify availability of certain snorkeling spots along the ʻĀhihi-Kīnaʻu coastline.

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Black rocks turn to soft sand at Kanaio Beach
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