Just below the summit on the rugged volcanic slopes of Haleakala lies Hosmer Grove, a quiet oasis of greenery. This campground is a bird watcher’s paradise and the perfect place to de-stress and get away from the world.
Feel the brisk breeze awaken your soul and invigorate your senses. Listen to the sweet song of native birds as they fly through the trees. Nestled in Haleakala’s cloud belt at 6,800 feet, Hosmer Grove is a must see and just a short distance from the crater.
Captain Cook’s arrival in the late 1700’s sparked a chain of events that caused major damage to Hawaii’s unique ecosystem. Feral animals such as goats, sheep, and cattle ran amok in forests, and many native trees were chopped for timber. The damage to Maui’s watersheds and the resulting shortage of water led the sugar plantations to devise a plan to replenish the forest. Thus, Ralph Hosmer became Hawaii’s first professional forester. He imagined a timber industry on Maui, and in 1910, planted eighty-six different species of trees in the grove to see which would grow best. Only twenty of the species survived. Along with replanting deforested land, Ralph helped to eradicate feral cattle and establish forest reserves. Although, the forest is now a beautiful battleground—where invasive and endemic species strive for dominance.
I recently visited the park and hiked the trail loop. It was 10:30 AM on a Monday morning and no one else was on the trail. There is nothing like being alone in nature, I find tranquility in the solitude. The crunching and snapping of twigs and leaves under my shoes pierced the still silence as I began the loop. This trail is a half-mile and only takes about thirty minutes to walk. It begins in the alien forest then opens up to native shrubland. Forest rangers work tirelessly to keep the aggressive invasive species contained in this area to preserve the native plants. Without their work, the alien species would quickly eliminate all of the native shrubland. A variety of cedar, eucalyptus, and pine trees line the trail. Some of the endemic trees to be seen are the ‘Ohi’a lehua, Mamane, ‘A’ali’i, and ‘Iliahi (sandalwood). The crisp, clean air smelled so good, laden with scents of the trees and damp earth.
The forest is alive, you can feel it, see it, and hear it. Walking through trees that seem to stretch endlessly into the sky is a humbling experience. Every step was meditative. The incessant chatter of native and alien birds echoed throughout the forest. I wondered what they were saying. Over fifty unique species of Hawaiian honeycreepers are found here, including I’iwi, ‘Apanepane, and ‘Amakihi, to name a few. The entire slope of Haleakala is a watershed, feeding water to the streams, plants, and animals below, as well as groundwater. At this elevation, fog and clouds provide moisture that the vegetation soaks up. Maui relies on the health of these native forests to keep the water flowing. Without the trees, erosion and runoff would decimate fresh streams and coral reefs. Ka po’e kahiko (the people of old) divided the land into self sustaining vertical divisions called Ahupua`a. Water flowed from the mountains to the sea, nourishing the land and providing for the people. The loop opens up to a lookout area over the Waikamoi gulch. This is a stunning spot to sit quietly and watch the fog roll in. There are two binocular stations for bird watching, benches, and information signs. There’s something special about watching this native Ohi’a forest get shrouded in fog. A light rain passed through and I continued to the end of the trail, inspired and refreshed.
It’s amazing that places like this are the result of the millions of years of plants and animals adapting and surviving to create one of the most unique ecosystems on the planet. I feel incredibly lucky to have grown up on this island, and I will forever be in awe of it’s raw beauty. I would say it’s nothing short of life changing for someone who grew up in the city or someplace similar to experience this campground. As always, leave the area in a better condition you found it. Pack it in, pack it out, and pick up any trash you see along the way. Aloha!
Article and Photos by Nick Ricca.