Isolated Nuu Bay is one of the magical embodiments of the hardscrabble beauty of the “backside of Haleakala.” It’s a good long way from anywhere, by the standards of Maui’s coast, so it’s not really a destination for casual, spontaneous visits. Those who are prepared for the isolated location can enjoy impressive dryland scenery and alluring, reef-studded waters.
Nuu Bay is located to the west of Kaupo on the southeastern seacoast of Maui. Expect a long drive to get here whether you’re coming from the west (say, from Wailea area) or from the east via Hana. There are no services, and cell reception is spotty. In other words, you’ll want to bring everything you need—including plenty of water.
In 2011, the Hawaiian Islands Land Trust (HILT) acquired some 82 acres of rangeland along this coastline to establish the Nuu Refuge. This is a critical piece of protected land from both natural-history and cultural-history standpoints.
Rare coastal wetlands provide critical habitat for Hawaiian stilts, coots, ducks, and other birdlife in the Nuu Refuge. It also encompasses sites of longtime Native Hawaiian occupation. Remote and quiet now, Nuu Bay supported a fishing village for centuries. Petroglyphs and pictographs along with old stone structures hint at the long presence of former inhabitants.
You can reach Nuu Bay via a gated dirt road around mile marker 31 of the Piilani Highway (Route 31). Those with a four-wheel-drive vehicle can drive down to the bayfront via this track. Others will want to park at the small turnout and walk the dirt road down. It’s less than a mile’s hike. You’ll see rock art along the way, pass through kiawe forest, and nab some nice views of Haleakala’s southern slopes.
(Nuu, by the way—which also refers to the historical land division here—means “height.” The barren, ravine-carved mountainside dropping from the Haleakala rim is a dominating fixture driving this vicinity.)
Edged by a cobbly beachfront, Nuu Bay is beautiful, with a rocky headland cupping it on the east side. Tourists are relatively few and far between here, though locals covet the place for fishing.
The sheltered location, protected from northerly swells, means getting in the water is often an option for strong snorkelers or divers. But you definitely want to study what the ocean’s doing before thinking about getting in. Caution is warranted at all times, not least because help would be a long time coming.
The best snorkeling—with reef exposures and abundant tropical fish—is reached by heading east along the rocky point. Given the impressive drop-off close to shore, divers have much to explore. But beware a strong current running past the headland.
Nuu Bay’s remote splendor and adventurous snorkeling/diving will appeal to self-sufficient outdoor lovers. Remember to come prepared for a remote setting, and to travel lightly on the land (and in the water) here. The Nuu Refuge is an ecologically and culturally sensitive place that warrants responsible visitation at all times.
Other striking landmarks of the lesser-known backside of Haleakala lie not far from Nuu Bay. To the near west, between mile markers 29 and 30, another dirt road affords access to a small black-sand beach—one of the few pockets of sand on this overall very rocky seaboard. And west of that, you can nab views of the far-flung Pokowai Sea Arch.