The verdant slopes of the West Maui Mountains and forests hide a surprising secret.
Tucked away among the local flora is Maunalei Arboretum, a selection of trees from around the world that was established by a former manager of Honolua Ranch.
To discover the arboretum, you need to tackle a mountain ridge trail, and prepare for a long hike.
Plan your trip with our guide.
What Is The Maunalei Arboretum?
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Established by botanist and landowner David T. Fleming, Maunalei Arboretum was planted in the 1920s as a place to exhibit trees and flora from around the world. Nowadays, it’s a semi-popular hiking trail with a reputation for difficulty!
From the mid-1800s, the area around Kapalua and Northwest Maui was primarily used as farmland.
Honolua Ranch was established by the early-1900s, before eventually morphing into a pineapple plantation, and then into the resort town we know today.
Reminders of the farming and plantation history of Kapalua can be spotted all over the land—just take a look at the Plantation golf course, and Slaughterhouse Beach.
In 1911, Honolua Ranch came under the control of David Thomas Fleming. Yes, that’s the same D.T. Fleming that D.T. Fleming Beach is named after.
An avid botanist, he traveled around the world looking for interesting plants to bring back to Maui. At home on the ranch, he planted his trees among the lush valleys of Northwest Maui.
This became the Maunalei Arboretum, where local flora and foreign trees mingle to form a lush path of planting.
Getting To Maunalei Arboretum
The Maunalei Arboretum is tucked among the valleys and slopes that form the outer edges of the West Maui mountains and forests.
Part of Kapalua on the northwest coast, the Maunalei Arboretum trail passes along elevated ridges to look out across the mountains.
To access the Maunalei Arboretum, you have to hike the Mahana Ridge Trail—and it’s a difficult one.
The Mahana Ridge trail is an almost 6-mile hike, passing through dense planting and boggy paths. You do get some spectacular views along the way, but the trail is definitely not a morning stroll.
The Mahana Ridge Trail starts at D.T. Fleming beach, and hikers have to tackle a variety of terrain. At points, the trail feels well-marked and easy to walk.
Other sections are wet and boggy, with the trail almost seeming to disappear. The accessibility does depend on recent weather conditions, as frequent rain can damage the path.
Located at the end of the Mahana Ridge Trail is access to the Maunalei Arboretum trail. Follow this along, and you should start to notice a change in the planting, as the foreign trees that make up the arboretum appear.
Having tackled the Mahana Ridge Trail and discovered the arboretum, take a breath, enjoy a sit down, and snack into some food and water. To get back to Kapalua, you need to go back the way you came.
That means following the Mahana Ridge Trail all the way to D.T. Fleming Beach. So, make sure you save some of your energy for the walk back. D.T. Fleming Beach has showers and restrooms, which you’ll probably be very glad to see on your return!
What’s The Difficulty Level?
The actual Maunalei Arboretum trail is relatively easy, it’s the Mahana Ridge Trail that causes the problems. The hike isn’t the most difficult Maui has to offer, but the path can be incredibly tricky at points.
There are occasional steep climbs, rocky paths with shaky balance, and a heavy canopy of planting that can leave large parts of the trail boggy year round.
The entire tail is roughly 11 miles, there and back. Expect at least a five-hour hike, if you want time to enjoy the planting and views along the way. Although the trail isn’t as strenuous as other Maui offerings, it’s a long walk with no facilities.
Always check the weather conditions before starting a Maui hike. Rain can wash away parts of the Mahana Ridge Trail, and render the path unsafe.
What To Take
It’s a long hike to Maunalei Arboretum, so make sure to pack ample amounts of food and water. Once you’re on the trail, there are no facilities until you’re all the way back at the start.
It’s better to overestimate what you need, than to be stuck without drinking water.
In terms of clothing, you must wear strong boots or shoes, as the trail can be slippery. Do not wear sandals, as they won’t handle the path. Trekking poles or sticks are also helpful, particularly when the ground is damp.
Much of the trail is under tree cover, but we still recommend wearing reef safe sunscreen. Pack some wipes and band-aids as well, to cope with mud and blisters.
What About The Shuttle?
If you’ve visited Maunalei Arboretum before, or you know someone who has, then you might have heard about the shuttle service.
This was a tour group service that operated from the Ritz-Carlton Kapalua, as part of the Ambassadors of the Environment program.
The shuttle bus would take you to the start of the Maunalei Arboretum trail, and a tour guide would direct you around the trail, and teach visitors about the flora that can be spotted.
Unfortunately, these shuttle tours don’t appear to be running anymore, which means there’s no direct road access to the trail.
The road to the trail passes through private property, and the Ritz-Carlton was given special permission to use it. No other vehicles are permitted to use the road.
When the shuttle isn’t running, the only way to access the arboretum is via the Mahana Ridge Trail.
Although the shuttle doesn’t appear to be in operation currently, it’s possible that the Ritz-Carlton Kapalua will offer the tour in the future.
Some visitors have also reported that the staff at the Ritz-Carlton were able to provide them with a clear guide for tackling the trail, and some helpful hints and tips.
The Maunalei Arboretum is a mini paradise tucked away at the end of a difficult trail, and many visitors have no idea it’s there.
If you want to see this unusual example of local and foreign flora, prepare for a long hike. But you will be rewarded with epic views along the way.