Wonders of the Kapalua Rainforest

I recently went on a “Maunalei Magic Hike” at the Kapalua Maunalei Arboretum Rainforest in Hawaii, and if you think you have to leave the United States to find rich, tropical biodiversity and exotic plant life you’ve never heard of, think again. The Maunalei Arboretum, just below Pu’u Kukui Watershed Preserve, is home to an endless supply of plants thriving in the volcanic soil — some local, some planted in 1926 by D.T. Fleming. And it’s less than an hour to the nearest Office Max.

I saw many amazing things up there — and ate guava and passion fruit right from the trees — but want to tell you in particular about three: banyan trees, moa and awapuhi.

Banyan trees are ficus relatives which grow to over 100 feet tall and have “aerial roots,” long roots that grow down from the branches and eventually plant themselves in the ground, where they continue to grow and eventually look like tree trunks themselves. The aerial roots can cause one banyan tree to look like a whole forest, as was the case with the particular tree above in the Maunalei Arboretum. This tree was so old and so vast, the ground space it covered was larger than my apartment — and you can swing on the aerial roots (click here to watch me do it) and even bounce on the root-filled ground beneath it (above). Can you do that on your ficus? I bet not.
Moa is, as our guide Jaclyn from Jean-Michel Cousteau’s Ambassadors of the Environment center at the Ritz-Carlton (she’s featured in that root-bouncing video above) told us, is “nature’s gold bond powder.” Scrape the little yellow bits off this bright green plant and put them wherever you’re sweating — yes, even in your pants — it’s what Hawaiians have been doing for centuries. Oddly enough, “moa” means “chicken.” The weird, section-y, bumpy texture of the plant made ancient Hawaiians think of a chicken leg.

Awapuhi, also known as “shampoo ginger,” is an ingredient you might find in your Paul Mitchell shampoo. Why? Because if you squeeze that bud, it has a rubbery crunch and a natural shampoo pours out — locals have been known to use just that to wash their hair; no other ingredients necessary.

There are a lot of good reasons to visit Maui, but a hike through the Maunalei Rainforest is one of the best. If you’re still not sold, check out the views from the near-summit (mountaintops are sacred in Hawaii, the path stops just a few feet below) in the gallery!

This trip was paid for by Kapalua Resort & The Ritz-Carlton, but the views expressed within the post are 100% my own.