Captain Cook Never Sailed Here

Haleakala, Maui

   

Clouds of red dust puff up from beneath our horses' hoofs as we head higher into the upcountry of Maui. We're miles from the beach here. This is the badlands. Angry-looking gashes of dried, shiny, black lava have riven the mountainside, drying into wide stripes where no vegetation grows. Thorny kiawe trees line these lava paths, along with straggly ohia trees. Otherwise there's a parched, desert look to this landscape, beautiful, but in a gaunt, Wild West kind of way. This ain't honeymooning country.
But it is Hawaii. We're on the southern flanks of Haleakala, spiritual center of Maui. Most visitors make the standard pilgrimage to the peak's summit for sunrise. But equally impressive, while much less frequented, is the smoldering, ashy crater we're riding toward, midway up the mountain, site of the volcano's last great eruption.
We rein in. We've been riding for two hours since leaving the stables. Now, just ahead, a jagged, dirt-banked crater rises. A telltale swirl of 200-year-old lava laps its top like dried frosting. We dismount and soberly stare into its depths. Somewhere far below, lava bubbles. Haleakala remains the world's largest dormant volcano.
Remounting, we ride back down the dirt path to the shore. At trail's end, we enter the Ahihi-Kinau Natural Area Reserve. Fingers of lava reach all the way into the waters here. Neon-bright fish play in the volcanic tidepools. This is the Hawaii honeymooners seek. The crater we just left created it.
To arrange a horseback tour of Maui's volcanic backcountry, call Makena Stables in Makena (808-879-0244). A two-hour trail ride costs $99; a guided three-hour sunset tour is $130.

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