RASA’S EXCELLENT ADVENTURES: The Best, Most Family-Friendly Trails on Oahu
By RASA FOURNIER
There's a place not 10 minutes from downtown Honolulu, that’s steeped in legend and ghostly tales. It’s the must-visit Pali Lookout, where an epic battle united all ofthe islands of Hawaii in 1795 and where hushed reports are still circulated of phantom warriors or Nightmarchers haunting the surrounding Nuuanu Valley. The Pali forests are also my own haunting grounds, my nearby “get away from it all” refuge. As I follow the curving roads to the lookout, the history of the area is strikingly incongruous with this windy spring morning, all sunshiny and atwitter with birdsong.
Most visitors pay the $3 for parking, walk out to the cliffs that offer expansive views of Oahu’s Windward Coast from Mokolii Island (Chinaman's Hat) to the Kaneohe Marine Corps Bay, and snap a few shots, while fighting the gusts to keep their clothes on. I head for a less-traveled area just to the right of the lookout where a sign warns “Road Closed.” But I’m only foot traffic, so I head down the road that was constructed in the 1800s, once the only feasible land route from Honolulu to the Windward side. It’s a short 20-minute jaunt to the base of the wildly overgrown paved road, so encroached upon by a tropical rush of plants and creepers that it’s narrowed to just a small path. It’s reminiscent of a science fiction story I read as a child of a planet where the rain is so constant and dense that you can’t go to sleep or the flora will engulf you. Here, the rains make for a lush, welcoming climate abundant with ginger flower groves, guava trees and all variety of tropical foliage.
As a kid I enjoyed a detour about 15 minutes into the trail. It’s a rough path that begins to the right of a palm, just over a cement barrier. It follows a small stream to a trickle that can’t quite be called a waterfall. But escaping off the main path for the rock-strewn scramble beside flowing water made me feel I was somewhere special. It’s an area of 30 yards or so where I’ve since let my own youngsters loose for some exploration.
Back on the main trail, it’s all beautiful views until I reach the road’s end where a gathering of large boulders is the sign that I’ve arrived. Then it’s all back uphill, just enough of a climb to tire out the little ones and get everyone’s tummies rumbling.
For the adventurous and the still-energized — the category that my own brood’s always subscribed to — you can choose to stay on the trail and enjoy a picnic another 20 minutes past the end of the paved road. Hugging the mountain is a path marked by a sign for “Maunawili Trail.” Its fence-lined entrance opens to a fairly flat, easy dirt path that snakes (luckily there’s none of those in Hawaii) through a shaded canopy of guava groves and tangles of hau bushes, alongside hills covered in ferns. Every so often, peaking out from all the greenery, there’s a view that reaches all the way to the ocean. I halt at my destination, a landmark water tank beside one such picturesque view, and I sit down for some refueling.
It’s about an hour tracing my steps back to the car, but one filled with deep breaths of air sweetened by mingled scents of guava, lilikoi and an assortment of scattered forest flowers. And all the while, my imagination is piqued by tales of the warriors who fought here long ago, and the horse-drawn carriages that once navigated the steep, winding, blustery road.
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