Poli Poli is one of those places that is LEAST understood by the people that live here on Maui. The road has never been an easy one to navigate, even when I started going up there in the 70's to camp in my VW camper. I remember wrapping Christmas presents "by flashlight" with the cold mists of the mountain pressing against the side of my van. It is a pretty bad road and I certainly NEVER take my Miata up there! If it's raining, it's a mud bath for any vehicle. It's truly an "off the beaten track" experience.
Poli Poli, like Kokee on Kauai and other areas in Hawaii (and lost of places in the USA), were part of the CCC (Conservation Civilian Corp) projects that put American's back to work during the great Depression of the 30's. Before the coming of the white man to the islands, the slopes of Haleakala were covered with forests of Ohia, Sandalwood, Koa and Mamani. The CCC forest plantings were a combined effort to re-forest areas that had been wiped out and give the very sad economy of the 30's (50% unemployment) a boost. Many residents wonder what the big deal is because it is a planted forest. Their loss is "our" gain because that means you and I get to enjoy it more :)
As a nature lover and photographer, I adore Poli Poli. I'm also a big fan of the cloud forest-esk environment with magical misty clouds weaving in and out of the stately pines and then a burst of dazzling blue sky, the melodic twitter of the japanese bush warbler and the brilliant flash of crimson when an I'iwi bird darts by. At 6,800 it's COLD up there and can often rain when it is sunny and clear as a bell in the valley below. There is a camp ground (permit only). Rain gear required!!!
Although much of the forest was burned down by a gigantic fire in Dec 2006, the new growth is coming along nicely and actually gives you a better opportunity for bird watching. The I'iwi is one of the very few indigenous birds left in Hawaii and we are lucky on Maui to have a good population. Even though Poli Poli really does NOT have ANY native plants to speak of, these "survivors" find the nectar they need to survive. There is a sage colored bush with pink flowers that they are particularly fond of.
The one trail that was not affected by the fire was the Ranger Cabin Trail.
The cabin is abandoned and surround with hydrangea plants/flowers. It's an easy trail and very enjoyable. Instead of coming into the main part of the park, you can drive up to the Poli Poli ridge area and there are some great vantage points and some hiking areas.
I'm a sunset shutterbug in addition to rainbows, beaches, clouds, sunrises, etc. What Poli Poli has given me are stunning photos of sunlight and sunset through clouds & trees. Refraction of light seems to be the most special element of Poli Poli's photographic charm.
There is good cell service (and internet) in Poli Poli. If you get stuck you can call AAA :) An SUV type vehicle is definitely recommended. Bring tennis shoes if you plan on hiking. Bring a jacket/sweatshirt or something warmer. It was 46 at my house this AM and I'm only at 3,200 ft elevation. Poli Poli is 6,800! Invest in those one/some of those cute little ponchos in a pouch that cost about $3-5. I have one of those lifesavers in my car and in my travel bags. They are small, light and give you the freedom to do things in the rain (whether warm or cold rain). They can also help keep you warm. Don't leave home without it! If you are going to go up for sunset, bring a flashlight (or put the FREE App on your iphone :)
Stop by the Kula Marketplace on your way to Poli Poli (by the Kula Lodge) and get some goodies to eat and WATER! They even sell pizza by the slice!
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