Nuu Refuge

Nuu Refuge Trail: Experience the Beauty & Cultural Significance of Maui’s Remote Southeastern Coast
Local Expert's Rating:
5.0 / 5
The Bottom Line:

The Nuu Refuge protects one of Maui’s precious places, a wild seashore with high-quality coastal wetlands and archaelogical sites reflecting long habitation by Native Hawaiians. Managed by the Hawaiian Islands Land Trust, which established the preserve in 2011, Nuu provides a remote hiking experience and plenty of dryland beauty along Nuu Bay.

- The Local Expert Team

In 2011, the Hawaiian Islands Land Trust acquired the 82 acres of the Nuu Refuge. Public access to this special tract of southeastern Maui is allowed, though ecological and cultural preservation is first and foremost on the priority list. 

The refuge encompasses part of the dry southern slope of Haleakala where it sweeps down to beautiful and remote Nuu Bay. This is the “backside” of East Maui, lesser-trammeled and arider than the Road to Hana lushness on the other side of the volcano. Nuu means “height,” and indeed the broad falling upland is as defining a feature of the region as the Alenuihaha Channel of the Pacific to the south.

Nuu Refuge was partly established to protect some of the finest coastal wetlands remaining in all of the Hawaiian Islands. These marshy oases support such native wading birds as Hawaiian stilts and Hawaiian coots as well as various ducks. The skyways above Nuu often come cruised by white-tailed tropicbirds, those stunningly beautiful little seabirds that nest on Maui’s cliffs.

The Nuu Refuge acreage also encompasses some outstanding archaeological sites, including rock art (petroglyphs and pictographs), temple (heiau) ruins, and an ancient canoe landing. The Nuu Bay shoreland here supported a Native Hawaiian village for hundreds of years.

This 0.7-mile hike leads you from Route 31 to Nuu Bay. Bring sun protection, lots of water, and emergency daypack essentials. There are no facilities here, and cell reception is hit or miss. But that’s part of the unique experience of Maui’s quiet southeastern realm. 

Kiawe woodlands and other dryland vegetation immerse you in the quiet of this coastal slope. The oceanfront includes rugged, scenic exposures of aa lava as well as coral-cobble, pebble, and sand beaches. 

Sea turtles nest along this remote seashore, and Hawaiian monk seals often haul out to bask. The seals—found only in the Hawaiian Islands—are critically endangered. If you see sea turtles or monk seals basking, don’t approach them. Give these marvelous critters at least 150 feet of elbow room.

Besides showing respect to turtles and seals, you should absolutely travel lightly on the land here on all fronts. Don’t touch rock art or clamber on the stone remnants of house sites or heiau shrines. Nuu is a land soaked in myth, story, and cultural associations: a Wahi Pana. 

You’re unlikely to see many fellow tourists hiking at Nuu Refuge. Locals have long used this coastline for fishing, so don’t be surprised if you see anglers along the bayfront. 

Nuu Refuge is a wonderful sanctuary protecting imperiled coastal ecosystems and a multilayered Native Hawaiian homeland. The beauty of Nuu Bay is undeniable, but this is not a destination for sunbathing, swimming, or standard-grade beachgoing R&R. Come here to experience the stark beauty of Haleakala’s dry side, and sense the indigenous lives and legends woven into this dramatic segue of wide-open land into the wide-open ocean.

Where Should I Park?
Parking can be found with your GPS: here. Only a 10-minute walk from the Nuu Refuge off of Piilani Hwy.

Insider Tips:
-There might be a few pot holes around the area. Keep an eye out and remain safe while you drive through.
-For the deepest insights into the specialness of the Nuu Refuge, sign on for one of the free guided tours the Hawaiian Islands Land Trust offers through its Talk Story on the Land program.