After 40 years on Oahu, and an avid hiker, I figure I’m familiar with most trails on the Island. It’s a rare treat when the name of an unfamiliar trail enters my sights. Such as it did with a recent story I was writing on the Sierra Club of Hawaii. In doing my research on the club, I discovered it’s been highly active in protecting the Kaiwi Shoreline Trail. Kaiwi Shoreline Trail?

The very next morning, I was on the trail by sunrise. A supremely psychedelic time of day. As that blinding molten ball peeks over Makapuʻu Lighthouse hill, soft blues and pinks that have suffused the horizon are suddenly eclipsed by a light show that is nothing short of paralyzing. If no one is around to hear it, do the gasping sounds humans make at the sheer explosiveness of a brilliant Hawaiian sunrise still make a sound? You bet. Every shivering leaf, blade of grass, and inert rock are suddenly awake with life, all transfixed in that dazzling show of glory that spills over the etherial darkness like a rushing of lava.

It’s not that I wasn’t familiar with this general area. After all, I’ve hiked the Lighthouse Trail untold times, and spent carefree childhood days in the foothills, at Kaho‘ohaihai Inlet, where my brothers and I would jump off a log tucked into the shoreline boulders, a makeshift diving board. I’d sometimes bring my snorkel to commune mermaid-style with the fairyland of attractive fish that abound in this crystal cove. It’s just that until my Sierra Club research, I hadn’t realized there was a shoreline trail that extended even beyond Kaho‘ohaihai Inlet. When something is so utterly spellbinding as this tiny, paradise-perfect bay is, why look any further?

Today, I revisit my childhood memory, that inlet at the foot of Pele’s Chair, a rock outcropping that resembles a rudimentary spot for a giant to recline. And then I continue along the shore to the right, where a salt and pepper splash of trail is comprised of black lava rocks offset by equally eye-catching ashen white rocks.

Farther along, as the brightening sky begins to reveal the jagged asymmetry of Koko Crater’s gaping rim in the far distance, Ka‘ili‘ili Bay, on my left, makes its presence known with fingering inlets that present marshy vegetation. Pools have gathered here and there in the flat, inland sands and given rise to surreal clusters of mangroves. Their myriad roots are spindly appendages rising in arching symmetry from the sandy floor of nature’s reflecting pools.

As the path veers away from the beach, there’s a shift from oceanside lava rock to tall, dry, grassy fields, reminiscent of golden African savannah. But here, the gold is doubly vivid, like a glowing vision from a treasure chest, as a flood of rays drenches the rich veneer of the morning across the land.

Every picture is perfect here. Layers of the horizon, when looking toward the ocean, change from straw-ochre to plush green, provided by an outcropping of hearty naupaka clusters, that contrast drastically against an inky black silhouette of sharp-edged lava rock. Gnarly rock protuberances segue through a stretch of tide pools into an expanse of liquid blue that meets the sky’s fiery vibrancy of atomic yellow. There’s no silver lining here. It’s more of a celestial caldron boiling up such a flaming brew in the heavens that plump clusters of clouds stand out like a hovering convergence of alien spaceships.

Next on my path is Kaloko Inlet, a waterway that requires passing over picturesque Wawamalu Bridge. The inlet reaches all the way to Kalaniana‘ole Highway, which at this point is parallel to my path. A network of side paths spread through the grasses and sands, but I’ve kept to the one along the shoreline. Pre-1800, this entire Kealakipapa Valley was once home to the farmers and fishermen of Wawamalu Village. The village’s name suggests shade, in reference to forests that once stood here. A ranch was established in the area in the 1920s by Alan Davis, with some locals still referring to Kaho‘ohaihai Inlet as Alan Davis Beach. A tsunami wiped out the ranch’s several houses, horses, and cows in 1946. Since then, groups like Sierra Club have lobbied to protect this magical stretch of shoreline from development, with its sunrises that are worth more than gold.

The trek ends shortly thereafter at Wawamalu Beach Park, and I wend my way back toward my car, against the harshness of the risen sun. The day is already hot and I seek shade after my dreamy morning that’s already bidding me return to these mystical shores, and soon.

TRAIL: Kaiwi Shoreline Trail

LENGTH: 2.5 miles round trip

HOW TO GET THERE: From Waikiki, take Kalakaua Avenue to Diamond HeadRoad. Follow the signs for H1 freeway going east. H1 quickly turns into Kalanianaole Highway. Go past Hawaii Kai, Hanauma Bay, SandyBeach, and Hawaii Kai Golf Course. About a mile past the golf course, turn right onto Makapuu Lighthouse Road, entering an open gate marked by a sign that reads “Ka Iwi Scenic Shoreline.”