A Maui tour operator takes clients on a nature walk and much more

By: Marty Wentzel

Brian Parker has led more than 600 tours along the trail in Waihee Valley, and he claims that it’s different each time.

“It depends on the stream level, the flowers blooming, the weather and lots of other variables,” said Parker, a Maui Eco-Adventures (MEA) guide. “No matter how often I’ve done this hike, I never get tired of it.”

Like all MEA employees, Parker sets out to make each excursion shine for clients, no matter what the conditions, which might be why the Hawaii Ecotourism Association named MEA 2005’s Ecotour Operator of the Year.

Company president Annette Kaohelaulii said MEA earned the award through “its philosophy of stewardship and thoughtful business operations which signify good, sustainable practices.”

Just what does that mean for clients? I decided to find out by joining Parker’s pet trip, the Waihee Valley Rainforest/Waterfall Hike.

I boarded the MEA van near Lahaina and got acquainted with the other participants over coffee Parker provided. As we headed toward the West Maui Mountains, Parker regaled us with facts about the island’s agricultural ventures, historical tidbits and the adventure to come.

“We’re the only commercial operation allowed to hike on the Waihee Trail,” he said. “One of the things that differentiates us from other firms is that we have access to private lands that no one else can enter.”

Parker’s aim to please became increasingly apparent at the trailhead, where he spread out a continental breakfast for us on the hood of the van. While we munched on fresh fruit and muffins, he put our group’s supplies into a backpack.

“Other hiking companies make you carry your own lunch,” he said, swinging the 50-pound satchel onto his back. “For us, the intent is to have a good time, get a good workout and learn about the nature and culture of the area.”

Like a horticultural heaven-on-earth, the 2½-mile trail was lined with trees teeming with coffee, guava, bananas, avocado, rose apples, papaya and ginger. Parker picked and sliced open some lilikoi (passion fruit) and mountain apples for us to taste while talking about the education required of each MEA employee.

“We have a huge reference library to help us learn about the flora and fauna, and the company encourages us to take culture and ecotourism classes,” he said.

Around the next corner, he pointed out terraced taro fields farmed by ancient Hawaiians and irrigation ditches dug in the 1800s.

Billed as family-friendly, the Rainforest/Waterfall Hike still comes with distinct challenges, including two suspension bridges spanning mountain streams. It’s a test of courage, as clients shuffle their feet along a narrow plank and white-knuckle the steel cables to keep their balance. Parker ambled over to the other side first, then cheered us on and snapped photos of each wobbly, yet triumphant, crossing.

At our destination, a shady oasis at the 580-foot elevation, we relaxed by a rushing stream and small waterfall. A few brave souls stripped down to their bathing suits and tested the waters, while the ever- energetic Parker spread out a blanket on the ground and prepared lunch. After passing around hand sanitizer, he gestured to the bounty of sandwiches, spinach rolls, veggies and dip, chips, juice and water, saying, “Dig in.”

On the walk back, Parker said that MEA maintains strong relationships with environmental organizations, donating time and funds to groups like the Nature Conservancy, Sierra Club and Maui Coastal Land Trust, as well as helping restore and maintain trails on the island.

“Our goal is to make authentic connections with Hawaii’s people and the environment,” he said. At hikes’ end, as he rewarded us with cool wipes, fresh cookies and chilled water, I realized that Parker had made equally memorable connections with each of us that day, an award-winning effort in its own right.


Maui Eco-Adventures
180 Dickenson St.,
Suite 102
Lahaina, HI 96761

The five-mile Rainforest/ Waterfall Hike is offered daily from 8 a.m.-2 p.m. for $115 per person, including continental breakfast and gourmet picnic lunch. Other MEA trips include a hike/kayak excursion ($160), a hike into Mauna-lei Arboretum ($80) and a Haleakala Crater expedition ($125). The company’s personal guide service customizes adventures on Maui, Molokai and Lanai, including a three-day helicopter/hike/camp (call for quote).