Do horses zipline? How we discovered the answer on Maui

By | March 27th, 2011

Horses aren’t the first thing that comes to mind when you think of Hawaii. Palm trees. Pineapple plantations. Luau. Hula, maybe.

But horses? No. And definitely not cowboys. But in Maui’s upcountry, far from the beach resorts and the gentle surf and the postcard-perfect waterfalls, there I was, confronted with a funny question.

“Dad, which horse goes down the zipline?”

My six-year-old son, Iden, who’s a pro at coming up with riddles like that–unanswerable ones, usually–was totally serious. He’d seen the zipline course at Piiholo Ranch, on a hillside that leads up to one of Maui’s dormant volcanoes, and then horses, and he’d connected the dots.

“Horses don’t zipline,” I said.

But then I pictured it: Cavalier, the mild-mannered horse he was learning to ride that day, somehow harnessed to a steel cable. What kind of noise would it make as it plummeted down the hill? Would a zipline even support the weight of a horse?

“Do you think I could ride Cavalier down the zipline?” asked Iden, still unconvinced.

“I don’t think so,” I laughed.

“Are you sure?”

“Pretty sure.”

Cavalier’s trainer, Amy, was eager to show Iden the ropes. She helped him get on the horse, taught him how to hold the reins, and how to ride him correctly. (But alas, no ziplining.) Iden smiled ear-to-ear from the moment he laid eyes on Cavalier until he got into the rental car to drive back to the Grand Wailea, on the other side of Maui.


Unfortunately, Maui’s upcountry is frequently skipped by visitors. If you do, you’ll miss the horses and the cowboys, called Paniolos, and some of the most gorgeous views of what many say is Hawaii’s most beautiful island.

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If you make it up there, be sure to check out Bev Gannon’s restaurant, the Hali’imaile General Store. Her fusion cuisine is not only some of the most celebrated on the island, but the restaurant is child-friendly with kids’ fare more than the standard chicken tenders and burgers. Gannon puts just as much effort into pleasing her youngest customers.

Not everything on Maui is for kids, at least not kindergartners. We went surfing over at Goofy Foot Surf School on the west side of Maui, and Iden just didn’t see the point of getting on the board.

He did, however, love the attention from the girls at the shop and eagerly showed them how to draw giant waves. I got in the water with owner Tim Sherer but proved to be anything but the ideal student. When you’re trying to watch your child on the beach with one eye and catch a wave with another, can you say “wipeout”?

Why was Iden drawing giant waves, you ask? Because we were awakened by tsunami warning sirens on our first morning on Maui and were evacuated to the fourth-floor lobby of our resort. The giant wave ended up being only three feet tall, but it left a lasting impression on my son. In his imagination, it was considerably bigger.

There are a few things you don’t want to have to tell your kids when you’re traveling. One definitely is: Wake up, there’s a tsunami coming our way. The other: There’s been a fire on our aircraft. We’re making an emergency landing in Honolulu. (Yes, it happened. We had a tsunami warning and an emergency landing. Thankfully, we survived both.)

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