The other day I went on a spontaneous photo adventure with my friend Jon (find him on Instagram under @jonnyhooksphotography), and we found ourselves at the Kealia Coastal Boardwalk, located halfway between North Kīhei and Māʻalaea Harbor. Fortunately, we came from Māʻalaea side, and we were allowed to turn into the parking lot (if you come from the Kihei direction, you are not legally allowed to make a left turn into the parking lot, so you have to drive further down the road, pull off on the shoulder and make a very dangerous u-turn to enter the boardwalk’s fourteen spaced parking lot.
I have a serious love/hate relationship with the Keālia Coastal Boardwalk. I love the fact that there is a raised boardwalk that takes visitors deep into Kealia Pond, which is a bird sanctuary and wildlife refuge. It is amazing to be allowed to walk into that kind of environment without getting your feet wet or destroying the natural habitat of so many birds and other animals. What makes it even more enjoyable is the fact that there are pavilions built into the boardwalk, so you can stop and sit, or learn something from the informational signs mounted along the railings. The boardwalk even has ramps leading you to the beach, away from the wildlife sanctuary, so you can step off the boardwalk and put your toes in the sand.
On the other side of the spectrum, the boardwalk took forever to build, came in way over budget, the parking lot is tiny and unsafe to get into from Kihei, and people treat the boardwalk like everything else in their disposable lifestyle: one big trash bin.
I believe the boardwalk originally broke ground in 1786 by French explorer Captain Jean-François de Galaup, comte de La Pérouse (I may be slightly off on the historical timeline here, but it sure feels like it was in the works for that long). The boardwalk was almost completed in 2003, but the material used (a special plastic) began splintering and failed to hold the nails in. After selecting a different special material, the boardwalk was then completed in 2007, but again, failed to open to the public due to a laundry list of reasons. In summer of 2009, the opening was delayed even further due to the fact that someone stole the “No Left Turn” sign (mentioned earlier). Finally, in September of 2009, the boardwalk over the bird sanctuary was opened to the public (the explorer La Perouse was unavailable for comment on the grand opening, as he and his crew disappeared with their ship back in 1788 and haven’t been seen or heard from since).
The contrast between a major thoroughfare, the ponds, and the Pacific ocean all within a few feet of each other is intense. Standing on the boardwalk, as you look north towards the ponds your eyes are drawn to the three white stacks of the Maui Electric Company’s Māʻalaea power plant. If you look west towards Māʻalaea harbor, your eyes move upwards to the spine of the West Maui mountains and you can watch the silent windmills dance in the wind. Looking east you see the immense size of Haleakala and the view to the south gives you the ever blue Pacific Ocean.
The boardwalk is a wonderful place to walk and take in the sights on Maui. The real problem, as with anywhere naturally beautiful, is with the people who abuse it.
In March of 2013, some person (or persons) of low intelligence, questionable morals, poor hygiene, probably with herpes, and I will assume a substantially smaller than average penis set the end pavilion ablaze and burned it down. So instead of getting to the end of the half-mile boardwalk and being able to sit and relax or read informational placards, you are greeted with a sign which reads “Boardwalk closed until parking area completed.” In defense of whomever placed the sign at the end of the boardwalk, it does look like they tried to make it say “Boardwalk closed until repairs are completed.”
I am not a birder, but the birds are aplenty out on the boardwalk. The main attraction is the endangered Hawaiian stilt or ae’o, but you may be fortunate to see the endemic and endangered Hawaiian coot as well. Other birds that are out and about are plovers, herons, egrets, ducks, doves, francolins, cardinals, and the ever-present myna birds.
The Keālia Coastal Boardwalk is a great place to take a long walk off a short pier…and you won’t even end up getting your feet wet. If you want to go for a nice leisurely stroll with sweeping views of Maui and plenty of wildlife to look at, the boardwalk is the place to be. If you want action, adventure, and a chance to lose your money…try the Atlantic City boardwalk instead.