Horseback Riding and Bird-Watching in Central Maui

A paddock with a donkey is in the foreground with a dramatic view of cliffs dropping into the ocean in the distance.

At Mendes Ranch, a family-run operation on the road to Kahakuloa. Photo © Steve Isaacs, licensed Creative Commons Attribution.


Horseback Riding

The most well-known horseback riding outfit on this side of the island is Mendes Ranch (3530 Kahekili Hwy., 808/871-5222), a family-run operation on the road to Kahakuloa. Just before the seven-mile marker on Kahekili Highway, often you will smell Mendes Ranch before you see it. That’s what happens when you have a fully operational ranch with more than 300 head of cattle, but it’s all part of the paniolo experience. While group sizes can be large and the 1.5-hour rides run $110/person, what separates Mendes from all the other ranches is that you can actually run the horses. That’s right: You can gallop at Mendes, so there’s no nose-to-tail riding here. The ride itself goes from the family ranch house down the bluffs to the windswept shoreline, and lunch can be included with some of the tours. Expect afternoon rides to be windy and the morning rides to be clearer and calm. The coastal views here aren’t accessible by any other means, and Mendes Ranch is a fabulous option to see them.

Much closer to the main resort areas is the central Makani Olu Ranch (363 W. Waiko Rd., 808/870-0663), another working cattle ranch set back in the Waikapu Valley. Only 25 minutes from Wailea and 35 minutes from Ka‘anapali, Makani Olu maintains a herd of 100 longhorn cattle and caps the trail rides at only four riders. The two-hour, $125 ride takes guests across Waikapu Stream into the forest behind the Maui Tropical Plantation and eventually turns inland and works its way up the valley. The views from this part of the trail look back at Haleakala and the green central isthmus, and this is the only way you can gain access to this remote part of the island. Unlike at Mendes Ranch, all the tours are at walking pace only, which makes them a better option for novice riders. A lunch option is available with the ride, and experienced riders can opt for a $150, private or semiprivate ride that includes 45 minutes in a round pen working on skills. While this is a nice option for families, all riders must be over 10 years old and under 220 pounds.


Bird-Watching

The best bird-watching in Central Maui is at the Kanaha Pond State Wildlife Sanctuary, five minutes from the Kahului airport along Hana Highway. This royal fishpond used to provide island ali‘ i with a consistent supply of mullet, although the dredging of Kahului Harbor in 1910 altered the natural flow of water. Today this pond is on the migratory route of various birds and serves as a temporary home to dozens of vagrant bird species. Most important, it’s also home to the endangered Hawaiian stilt (ae‘o), a slender, 16-inch bird with a black back, white belly, and sticklike pink legs. The Hawaiian coot (‘alae ke‘oke‘o), a gray-black, duck-like bird that builds large floating nests, may also be seen here. An observation pavilion is maintained on the pond’s south edge, accessible through a gate by a short walkway from the parking area. This pavilion is always open and free of charge. Entry to the walking trails within the sanctuary is free, but only by permit on weekdays from the first day of September to the last day of March. Apply 8am-3:30pm Monday-Friday at the Department of Natural Resources, Division of Forestry and Wildlife (54 S. High St., Rm. 101, Wailuku, 808/984-8100) and supply the exact dates and times of your intended visit.

The best place for bird-watching in Wailuku is the Waihe‘e Coastal Dunes and Wetlands Preserve, an expanse of low grassland where various seabirds and native species can be observed.


Excerpted from the Ninth Edition of Moon Maui.