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West Oahu Scenics
Late Friday evening, hikerphobia had set in. Perhaps it was those e-mailed instructions from the hike czar: “This hike will take approximately six hours; each person should take 2 to 3 liters of water.”
Or, the rain lashing the windows as we set off at dawn for the trailhead in the Wai’anae Range.
Then there was the kind lady at the Department of Land and Natural Resources permit office who had said slowly: “I don’t think you can do this hike all in one day.”
But mostly it was those old deep-seated fears us hikerphobics have that center on:
• Any hike that suggests bringing a rope.
• Any activity that may include hanging on with one hand.
• Any destination where a cell phone is completely useless.
• Any mention of Mount Olomana’s third peak.
• And, for those of us raised in Britain, any outdoor pursuit without a pub at the end.
The Kuaokala Hike in the Wai’anae Range above Ka’ena Point officially is a six-mile loop “suitable for the novice or intermediate.”
From an idea hatched over Thanksgiving dinner, however, our intrepid group decided to ascend from the Wai’anae side, hike along the ridge above Makua Valley, descend along another trail above Mokulei’a, then hike around Ka’ena Point back to the car. Around 10 or 11 hikerphobic miles total.
It is a fabulous hike.
If you go …
• Before you go: To hike on the Kuaokala Trail, you need a permit from the DLNR permit office, Room 325, Kalanimoku Building, 1151 Punchbowl St. Hours: 7:45 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Mondays through Fridays. Bring a picture ID and the license number of your car.
• Getting there: Take H-1 west bound until it turns into Farrington Highway. Continue on Farrington Highway through Wai’anae and Makaha. Turn right into the Ka’ena Point Tracking Station, where you will need to show your hiking permit. You will park at the top of this road in a barren parking lot.
• Safety tips: Inform a friend of your route and your expected time of return. Never hike alone or go beyond your capability. Always bring water, basic first-aid kit and rain gear. Do not drink stream water. Stay on the trail, especially at Ka’ena Point, where wildlife habitats may not be entered.
The Kuaokala Trail loops around the cliffs, ridges and gulches back of Ka’ena Point. The landscape’s muted colors blend mountainsides of heathery-pink Christmas grass and lemon-gum eucalyptus groves with volcanic soil, a cobalt-colored ocean and the white-ribbon sands of Ka’ena Point.
It’s an open-ridge trail that is well-maintained and often shaded. The view into the back of Makua Valley is breathtaking. And looking across to the lofty heights of Mount Ka’ala, the highest point on Oahu, but not much higher than you, is … well, cool.
Another great thing about Kuaokala, literally “back of the sun,” is you can drive up to the trail on the ridge. At wind-whipped Yokohama Bay, surfers huddled watching huge waves smash the shoreline. We turned right at the security post and switchbacked up Kuaokala Ridge past the Ka’ena Satellite Tracking Station and on up into a clutch of pine trees, where the air was cool and quiet.
After leaving the car in a clearing, hikers follow a trail that meanders among ironwoods and gum trees, eventually opening onto spectacular views of both the Wai’anae side and Mokulei’a. There are a couple of short, steady climbs — hikerphobics note: no rope required — but mostly it is easy walking along a wide trail littered with pine cones and berries.
Eventually, the trail intersects with the Keali’a Trail leading down to Dillingham Airfield on the Mokulei’a side, where you can look down on fixed-wing gliders being winched up to cruise on the air currents. The trail down is relentless, but anticipation of lunch blocked out aching hips and wobbly knees.
On the edge of Dillingham Airfield, (with only five miles to go!) spirits and muscles are revived with tangerines, carrot cake, Wheat Thins and deep-fried, crispy vegetables. Ahead, the road to Ka’ena (literally “the heat”) Point stretched into the hazy distance.
On we walked past Camp Mokulei’a to the point, onto its windy, remote apex, passing tidepools, crashing surf and the ghosts of the old Oahu Land & Railway line up on the bluff. On to where Laysan albatross and wedge-tail shearwaters nest and burrow within a protected area close to the trail, we stop to watch an albatross rise vertically like a jump jet, peeling off across the ocean with massive wings outstretched.
Where waves converge at the rocky tip, Ka’ena Point Passing Light, a navigational beacon on a pole, replaced the original 65-foot-high lighthouse built in 1920. From this point, both coastlines are visible and in the far distance is the guard’s station where the hike began.
Along the trail on the Wai’anae side back to the security station, the trail is not as well-maintained, at times crumbling into the ocean, but easy walking.
Back at Yokohama Bay by 5 p.m., satisfaction mingles with relief, hikerphobia was under wraps … until the next time.
Now, where’s the nearest pub?
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