Every May, OluKai and the local Maui ‘Ohana take time to work the ‘aina (land) after completing our two day ocean festival called Ho’olaule’a. This year our Giveback Partner, Maui Cultural Lands, arranged for our group to spend time in an upper native forest area called Wao Akua (Realm of Gods) where it is purported man is not meant to live.
As we ascended the mountain’s rugged terrain, it became clear this was no pedestrian journey, rather a 2,500 foot
vertical climb into one of Hawaii’s most extreme environments. The Kaheawa Windfarm is a location with such powerful wind torque that its 168-foot tall windmills are the shortest in existence in the world.
It is captivating observing a single windmill up close, the 115-foot blades whistling along at 27 MPH. And quite impressive when you consider the 34 total windmills generate over a third of electric power demand on Maui.
After navigating several seemingly impassable stretches up the 4x4 vehicle-only-road, with muddy tires slurping up and down each rutted out section, we reach our destination in Wao Akua. The torrential sideways rain, wind and cold air, unimaginable as we left the 85 degree sunny beach just a short time ago, makes for a laughable intensity, after all we are in Hawaii still, right?
Our group piles from our vehicles, trying to ready ourselves for the mission of the day: planting 30 Koa trees in this majestic mountainous region. Amongst the 75+ people in attendance are several retailer partners from the mainland, local volunteers as well as OluKai employees. Everyone seems a bit out of place with the weather, but eager to accomplish our tree-planting goal.
People often ask us why we make high-grade, rugged work boots with all-weather outsoles and water resistant characteristics. The day was living proof of how variant the climates of Hawaii can be, requiring a set of footwear tools appropriate for severe weather conditions.
After about two hours of wet, muddy hard work to clear the required ten-foot diameters of soil, the team successfully planted the Koa trees into the majestic grasslands. Koa planting is a very traditional act, albeit with limited immediate gratification - in 70 years the trees would be large enough to harvest to carve into a traditional Hawaiian canoe!
It was only after the last tree was planted that we began to contemplate our way off of the mountain. Since our arrival we had endured a steady stream of wind and rain, making already slippery road conditions even worse, and with several steep climbs to make back to the main road, we realized our biggest challenge still lay ahead.
After several unsuccessful attempts to clear a rather steep, muddy and rutted out section of the trail, we realized the 4x4 vehicles were useless against Mother Nature. As the situation sank in, our group dynamic changes from cultural volunteerism to a wilderness rescue teamwork. Between members of Maui Cultural Lands, Hawaiian Lifeguards and guests from a few of the country’s best outdoor specialty retailers, the mental transition occured naturally and everyone began to work their way out of the situation as a collective unit.
There is a saying we’ve learned from studying Hawaiian history, Pupukahi I Holomua: unite in order to progress. It was inspiring to see everyone join together in this spirit to help the collective group achieve our impromptu goal: ensuring everyone got off the mountain safely.
After a successful decent back down at Papalaua beach, the scene was surreal as the most intensely colorful rainbow came out of the mountains and touched down on the ocean. Perhaps a symbolic and thankful gift from the Gods of Wao Akua that our mission was complete.