Hiking Kahana Valley
RASA’S EXCELLENT ADVENTURES: The Best, Most Family-Friendly Trails on Oahu
By RASA FOURNIER
Just as beach goers who aren't accustomed to Hawaii's waters can quickly run into danger, Hawaii's gorgeous terrain is equally hazardous. Kahana Valley, a tucked away gem as you’re heading north along Oahu's east coast, just past the unwieldily named town of Ka'a'awa, offers some of our islands' most stunning beauty and its most precipitous danger. I've had this hike on my Oahu bucket list for years now, but the meandering trails, stream crossings and pig trails that sidetrack you onto tapering paths to nowhere, had me nervous. Not to mention several tales of lost hikers, including two young Danish women who found themselves stranded above a 2,000-plus-foot cliff for eight days in 2000.
But this is a story about one of my best family hiking experiences, not a tale of caution. For utmost preparedness, I bring my cell phone (a must), my iPod touch with saved information and maps about the area, my GPS, a supply of energy bars, water, a camera and a friend. We turn left at the sign announcing that we’ve reached our destination, stop at the info shack on the right hand side to grab a map of the trail, park in an obvious spot further up the road, just before a small housing development and head out on foot past the countrified outpost. A sign just ahead states that this valley is the wettest on the island. We’re lucky to have stumbled onto a perfectly temperate day. The Nakoa Trail, a 3.5-mile loop, starts to the left of the sign. Families who aren’t up for that long of a journey can head straight down a dirt road to the welcoming depths of a large emerald pool.
We’re there for whatever excitement the 2- to 3-hour loop has to offer and set out on the path hidden just behind the sign. We pass through a field of ferns before being engulfed by the forest canopy where showers of hot pink threads from mountain apple trees color the ground. The area is known for its labyrinth of streams and we quickly approach a couple of picturesque brooks. The path is obvious, easy for the whole family and breathtakingly delightful.
The highlight is at about the half-way point where we encounter a colony of ruins. I’m a kid in a fantasyland as I shoot up the cracked cement wall, making use of the roots encompassing it. I stand atop it, conqueror of the jungle-bound structures, a series of military bunkers used during WWII for the training of soldiers heading to tropical climes far away, in valleys wrought with untold dangers.
This is the juncture where unprepared and overly eager journeyers follow one of the myriad branching paths, only to land stranded at the edge of a cliff or still wandering as sunset approaches and needing to call for rescue. We stick to the clearly marked Nakoa Trail, turning left down remnants of pavement from the old military track. There are wild orchids, and the dappled sun hitting pandanus shrubs with their stilted roots and spiral tufts is the stuff of enchanted forests.
Finally, we come to a shallow, but particularly wide river crossing. I take off my shoes, hike up my pants, and my friend has the brilliant idea to avoid the shoe removal hassle by climbing on my back. We’re both fighting fits of laughter as I inch unsteadily across pebbles and slippery rocks before depositing her onto a large boulder just short of the bank on the other side. As she lands, she grabs my hand to keep balance and … auwe! The precariously situated rock tips over, dumping my friend into the river. And since my hand is firmly fastened in her viselike grip, I am yanked on top of her, drenched to my neck.
I shoot out, onto dry land as fast as I can, depositing my pockets of the iPod, GPS, phone and camera. Then it hits me, on this stream-full adventure, I had overlooked my most important bit of equipment: my waterproof bag. It’s a tough lesson, costing us a phone, iPod and GPS. Miraculously my camera and phone weather the submersion. A short while later we arrive at the deep and inviting emerald pool close to the start of the trail. We shake off our packs and muddy clothes, stripping down to our bathing suits, and jump in to wash off the mud and submerge our worries away, at least for this delightfully carefree interlude.
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