Maui: The Monarch Tree at Sun Yat-Sen Memorial Park

Monarch Butterflies at Sun Yat-Sen Park on in Maui, Hawaii

After the hardest run of our lives, we spent the next day on Maui pretty much chillin’. Sam and his dad went golfing, so I lounged around the ocean-side condo with Sam’s mom for a few hours. I’m sure I could elaborate on how great it was lying in the hot sunshine for a few hours–save for a few dips in the ocean to cool off–but I can’t bring myself to write a love letter to tropical climates while I’m sitting wrapped up in a blanket in my long-johns as subzero temps creep into our apartment through single-pane windows. But I digress.

To be honest, I’m not a good relaxer. I prefer to be walking or running or biking or checking things off my list or somehow contributing to the glob of good things in the world. Whenever I turn on Netflix, I’m usually doing something else while “watching” my show. I’ve cooked entire meals with my computer propped up on the counter next to me. So you can imagine that, after reading for a few hours in a beach chair, I was pretty much losing my mind despite being in paradise.

When the boys came back from golfing, I let Sam gather his wits for about fifteen minutes before nagging him about what we were going to do in the afternoon. After a little research and Sam politely asking me to chill for another half hour or so, we decided to venture to the south coast of the Road to Hana. 

Driving the south rim on the Road to Hana in Maui

Upcountry of Maui, the south rim of the Road to Hana

The Road to Hana is the biggest attraction on all of Maui, especially after they paved the full 64-mile road a few years ago. If you’re driving in from the north (leaving Paia and heading south into Hana), the road is smooth, pitch black, and in practically pristine condition. However, it also has 620 curves, 59 bridges, and bumper-to-bumper tourist traffic. Despite being only 64 miles, most guides recommend taking 3-6 hours to drive to Hana and back because of the incredible scenery along the way. It’s definitely one of those “journey not the destination” kind of things. I’ll share more about our trip on the entire road soon.

But the part Sam and I were most interested in was the southern rim of the road, which isn’t counted in the 64-mile distance cited on every Maui tourism site. That’s because the south rim–which leads west out of Hana back to the west coast of Maui–is the exact opposite of the newly paved road. There’s eight miles of gravel, one-way roads wrapped around blind cliff-hugging corners, and car death traps plunging down steep hills. Rental car companies on Maui will void your insurance policy if you drive this stretch because it’s so rough on cars.

The only thing we really knew about the south rim was that it was said to be the most beautiful part of the drive when we consulted some local resources. Plus, from where we were in Kihei, it was closer for us to tackle Hana coming from the west and going east instead of driving east across the island just to come back west along the coast. It was already early afternoon and we knew we didn’t want to be anywhere near the Road to Hana at night (after driving it, I can absolutely see why), so we set out quickly with a few snacks and full water bottles.

We rapidly gained elevation as we climbed out of Kihei and drove south. The sky was blue, the sun was shining, and since it was only our second day on the island we were googly-eyed and awe-struck by Maui’s beauty. As we got higher and higher, we looked down at the ocean and our tiny town and felt our hearts fill with an entirely new appreciation for this place. I could not stop talking about the view while Sam drove, and luckily a little park popped up with a fantastic overlook opportunity.

Maui Upcountry, stop on the south road to Hana: Sun Yat-Sen Park

Maui Upcountry, overlook stop on the south road to Hana: Sun Yat-Sen Park

We’d stumbled upon Sen Yat-Sen Memorial Park, in the Upcountry region. There wasn’t anyone around except some guy weed-whacking the crap out of everything, but it looked like a public place so we got out to take in the vista and stretch our legs. The park was filled with Chinese-inspired sculptures and structures, plus the normal beautiful plants dotting every Maui landscape. We spent a good bit of time talking to the feral chickens running around up there and snapping pictures, both of us flabbergasted that we’d never even heard of this place and suddenly here we were, on top of the world.

Upcountry overlook on Maui's Road to Hana: Sun Yat-Sen Park

Upcountry chicken on Maui's Road to Hana: Sun Yat-Sen Park

Upcountry on Maui's Road to Hana: Sun Yat-Sen Park sculptures

Plant life in Upcountry on Maui's Road to Hana: Sun Yat-Sen Park

As we strolled around this tiny hillside park, I walked over to a blooming tree to take some pictures. I didn’t have my glasses on, so it was hard to see at first, but all of a sudden I was certain…yes, definitely certain…the tree was moving. It wasn’t blowing in the wind or anything, it was straight-up moving on its own free will. I got closer, and almost felt my heart stop when I realized what was happening.

“Sam!” I shouted, because he was still talking to a chicken, “Monarchs!”

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Monarch Butterflies in Maui: Monarch Tree at Sun Yat-Sen Park

Monarch Butterflies in Maui: Monarch Tree at Sun Yat-Sen Park

Monarch Butterflies in Maui: Monarch Tree at Sun Yat-Sen Park

Monarch Butterflies in Maui: Monarch Tree at Sun Yat-Sen Park

The entire tree was engulfed by monarchs. On every flower, there was at least one, sometimes two, even three or four monarch butterflies searching for nectar. They flitted around from blossom to blossom in their lazy butterfly way and perched on flower rims gently opening and closing their wings. There were easily a hundred butterflies on this single tree, basking in the sunshine and wholly disinterested in us. I took about a billion pictures of the monarchs because I have never, in all my life, seen something so remarkable. It felt like a dream.

The day was creeping to a close and we had to continue onward, so we reluctantly left the butterflies and hopped back in the car. There was still a lot of open road in front of us and daylight was dwindling, but the butterflies kept flying in and out of my thoughts for the rest of our trip. I can’t guarantee they’ll be there if you stop by, but it’s worth the pit-stop just to check. If they’re there, you’ll be glad you took the chance.

8 thoughts on “Maui: The Monarch Tree at Sun Yat-Sen Memorial Park

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