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
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
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.
180 Dickenson St.,
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).