Columnists :: Kilian Melloy

No Ka ’Oi: A Maui Adventure

by Kilian Melloy
Monday Jan 30, 2012

Wade Holmes arrives early in the morning in his Ford Explorer. Wade is an athletic 36-year-old with close-cropped blond hair and bright blue eyes. His friendly smile exudes a confidence born of expertise.

If you want adventure on Maui, this is the man to see. With degrees in zoology and ethnobotany to his credit, countless hours under his belt exploring the nooks and secret spots of the Hawai’ian islands, and education in Hawai’i’s culture, language, and history, Wade knows Maui better than the back of his hand.

Hell, he knows Maui better than I know the back of my own hand: Over the course of a ten-hour day, Wade proves himself capable of answering any question my husband and I might think to ask him. Our adventure tour ranges from the gorgeously lush and fertile slopes of the ’Iao Valley to a hidden gem of a waterfall, to coastal tide pools and blow holes, to a smattering of ancient petroglyphs--with time for an introduction to the world’s tastiest banana bread.

From Mormon to Maui

Barely two years ago, Wade started No Ka ’Oi Adventures, a tour company dedicated to the "alternative traveler"--which could mean gay travelers, but doesn’t have to, at least not any longer.

Wade, who is gay and lives in Kihei with his partner, grew up Mormon in Rochester, New York, and attended Brigham Young University. A short-lived summer job on O’ahu led to what seems to be a lifelong love affair with the islands; Wade calls Hawai’i his "spiritual home," and if every home has a hearth, he’s found his on the isle of Maui.

After six years on O’ahu, where he earned his second degree, in ethnobotany (he studied "the cultural context of psychoactive plant use"), Wade made the move to Maui. There, after stints as manager at the ’Iao Valley branch of the Hawaii Nature Center and as a middle school teacher at Sacred Hearts School in Lahaina, he combined his love of Hawai’i, his passion for the outdoors, his academic knowledge, and his skill as an educator into what might just be the world’s best job. Even better, Wade would seem to be the best man in the world for that job, and that’s not just my opinion. The dozens of testimonials about Wade and his company to be found online all rave about him--every last one of them.

"It’s only a matter of time," Wade tells my husband, smiling--a matter of time before things go wrong, or someone decides they didn’t enjoy their adventure, or a client simply feels mean and in need of badmouthing him on the Web.

But perhaps a more pressing worry is just how fast his business, and his reputation, has grown. Wade has been written up plenty in the gay press, but the wider world is also starting to take note. He’s been the location scout for two upcoming programs on the Travel Channel, but even better the grapevine (or, as they call it in Hawai’i, the "coconut wireless") is abuzz about his tours. Any business owner can tell you that word of mouth is the best means of marketing, and the word on No Ka ’Oi is that it’s simply the best.

It’s only a matter of time before the man with the world’s best job might start to see that job grow larger than he can handle, and Wade makes it clear that he has no interest in hiring any assistants. This is a one-man show; specifically, this is Wade Holmes’ show. Only Wade can do what he does so well, namely be his own highly knowledgeable and affable self, making his clients right at home as he shows them the secret, beautiful places that make Maui such a treasure. He’s not putting on a show. This is his authentic persona, and he’s tickled to show visitors the natural beauty he enjoys so much himself.

EDGE asks the guide whether he fears becoming a victim of his own success. "Oh, I do," Wade says, laughing. But the laughter has a serious undercurrent: "It keeps me awake at night."

Tailor-Made Adventure

Wade started out marketing largely to the gay community (he credits gay resort Maui Sunseeker with helping him find business in the early days of his business), but now, he tells EDGE, his customers run about two-thirds straight and one-third gay.

Regardless of sexual orientation, Wade tailors each adventure to the needs, and the abilities, of his clientele. Where, he inquires, have we been on Maui?

We confess, not without a tinge of meekness, that we’ve spent almost all our time at Makena’s Little Beach.

So... Have we been to Hana?

Er, no.

Wade looks at us skeptically.

Not yet, we hasten to add. But we’re going. Next Tuesday, in fact.

Wade regards us a moment more, clearly taken aback. "And you’ve been coming here how many years?"

Well, ten. Not every year, mind you, but.. A lot.

Wade looks almost scandalized. Then he sighs, just a little. "You have a lot to see."

Wade decides to start us off with the nearby ’Iao Valley, home of the famous Needle (a formation of volcanic rock that has, like the striking formations in the American Southwest deserts, assumed its shape through millennia of erosion). The valley is home to a wealth of native and introduced plants: kukui trees (from which the ancient Hawai’ians derived oil to light their torches and lamps), coffee, banana, avocado, Brazilian pepper, the highly invasive strawberry guava...

If you were to find yourself stranded here, and knew what was edible, you’d do pretty well at surviving, Wade reckons. In fact, this gorgeous valley used to be the province of the ancient Hawaiian elite; they alone were allowed to reside there. The other 99% were invited once every year to enter the valley and partake of its riches.


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