Posted by: soniahs | January 9, 2011

Hiking Puu Ohia – Kalawahine Trails

Just mauka (mountainward) of urban Honolulu is a ~19.6 mile system of trails in the Ko`olau Mountains: the Honolulu Mauka Trail System. This system includes the Judd Trail, which I talked about in a previous post. While the Judd Trail is in Nu’uanu Valley, most of this trail system is on the south side of the crest of the Ko’olau range. It’s probably the best-maintained trail system on Oahu, and one of my favorite places to hike.

The map above is centered on the area where the trail system is: the area marked “Honolulu Watershed Forest Reserve” is in the back of Manoa Valley (there are trails all along the ridge lines on all three sides), the central area marked “Makiki-Lower Punchbowl-Tantalus” contains several trails, and then Nu’uanu Valley (which Hwy 61 runs through) has a few trails on the east side. Downtown Honolulu is in the lower left, and Waikiki is just off the map to the lower right.

One of the hikes I’ve done a few times is the Pu’u ‘Ohi’a Trail, which goes to the top of one of the high points in this part of the range, called Pu’u ‘Ohi’a (‘Ohi’a Tree Hill), or more popularly, Tantalus. The summit is about 2,000 feet; the trailhead starts at about 1400 (?) feet. It’s a bit of a climb. Part of the trail goes through bamboo forest, which is a bit eerie- the bamboo (which is invasive) blocks out a lot of light.

Escaped cockatoos live in upper Manoa Valley.

We actually went a bit onto the Manoa Cliffs Trail, which as you might guess from the name, goes along the cliffside above Manoa Valley. I have to say that Manoa is the prettiest valley on Oahu. Others may disagree, of course 🙂

After our quick view of Manoa Valley, we took the Kalawahine Trail, which hugs the western side of Pu’u ‘Ohi’a. The narrow valley on this side is Pauoa Valley. From this side, you get a great view of Nu’uanu valley to the north, and can see across the Ko’olau Mountains to Kailua.

Upper Nu'uanu Valley, with Kailua off in the distance.

Further south along the Kalawahine Trail, you get a great view of downtown Honolulu and Pearl Harbor off to the west, along with the Wai’anae Range (which you can’t see in this photo).

Downtown Honolulu.

The Kalawahine Trail is really botanically interesting: there are actually quite a few native species here. Part of the forest here is fenced (to exclude mainly pigs) and is intended to be a native tree snail preserve. Tree snails were very diverse in Hawaii before human settlement; now habitat loss, collecting, and an invasive predatory snail have made most of the species extinct. A few species are hanging on in remote mountain refuges. Native forest birds are often sighted here, but we didn’t see any this time. There are also quite a few native plants, including a stand of hibiscus trees that were blooming.

This is also a great trail to look at ferns: there are quite a few different species here (both native and introduced). This was a fun place to botanize when I was in college.

For scale, this boulder is about a meter in height.

The Honolulu Mauka trail system has some pretty diverse terrain, vegetation, and views. It’s also pretty accessible from either downtown or Waikiki. You can access it either by car (though parking is limited & the area is sometimes prone to break-ins) or by bus. It’s definitely one of the unique things about living in Honolulu…



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